Abigail Who? She Did What for Guitars? Queen of Tone?

Abigail Ybarra, Fender, Stratocaster

Abigail Who? She Did What for Guitars? Queen of Tone?

Week 17 | August 24, 2017
By the Forgotten Woman, JoOnna Silberman

Hello all, sorry this one is going to be short because I am traveling, but I didn’t want to miss another week. Short though it may be, it is certainly worth the read. If you do not know this woman’s name, you should.

What do Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Joan Jett and countless others all have in common? Besides all being exceptional guitarists and Rock Icons? Bet most of you don’t know the answer to that question. The answer is Ybarra, better known as the “Queen of Tone” or simply Abby.

Abigail Ybarra, Fender Guitar, Pickup winding

In 1956 a small unknown woman, looking to support her family after her father died walked into the 10- year old Fender Electric Instrument Company looking for work. Fender, growing at a rapid rate of speed after the release of its Stratocaster just a few years earlier and is so doing. They needed to keep up with the demand for their guitars and sought out women to fill these roles. Abigail Ybarra came from a long line of Latina pickup winders. She needed a job and Fender needed people. In just two years she systematically changed the tone of rock music and the sound of the guitar. Her guitars were coveted and requested around the world and are still highly revered and cherished to this day. At the age of 77 years old she finally retired from Fender, but at the age of 80 is still dabbling in the art of pick-up winding, which is for her a passion. One has to wonder if Rock Music would be the same today if not for her and a few other trailblazers who changed the face of the instrument, such as Fender. However, the others are not who we are her to honor. It is rare that a woman is singled out or given the credit they deserve.

I was waiting at the doctor’s office when I picked up a copy of Glamour Magazine. In there was an article “A Quick Lesson in Rock Herstory” (I know, catchy title…LOL). I was like “What the hell is this?” a little bit surprised that Glamour, of all places, was doing a piece like this and who was it. Never heard the name. I suppose if I was a guitarist I would know, but since I am not and just a simple lowly marketer, music loving, production company owner, I had no idea. I also have to wonder how many people truly know the history of some of the greatest instruments in music and rock history or how these instruments became so integral and where the sound that they produce actually came from. I am sure everyone has heard of the Stratocaster and Fender, but guitarist, musician or not, I am unsure how many people know her name and exactly what she did to change the face of music and the sound produced by the guitar. Needless to say, I ripped the article from the magazine (I am sure that either someone is very pissed or nobody noticed) and am now blogging about Abigail Ybarra.

So for the non-guitarist reading this blog. What is Pickup?

“A pickup device is a transducer (specifically a variable reluctance sensor) that captures or senses mechanical vibrations produced by musical instruments, particularly stringed instruments such as the electric guitar, electric bass guitar, Chapman Stick, or electric violin, and converts them to an electrical signal that is amplified using an instrument amplifier (such as a guitar amplifier) to produce musical sounds through a loudspeaker in a speaker enclosure. The signal from a pickup can also be recorded directly, using a DI box (a common practice with the electric bass) or broadcast on the radio or television. Most electric guitars and electric basses use magnetic pickups. Acoustic guitars, upright basses and fiddles often use a piezoelectric pickup.” Wikipedia ( http://bit.ly/2g6OPaH)

What is the importance of pickup? Well the best article I found for that was in GuitarPlayer.com, in an Article by Dave Hunter “All About Electric Guitar Pickups”

“WHEN WE’RE TALKING ABOUT ELECTRIC GUITAR tone, pickups are where it all starts. Certainly wood, strings, hardware, and fingers all interact to produce the note, but the pickup translates it into the signal that makes it electric. The beating of that alnico butterfly’s wings triggers the sonic motion that peaks as a hurricane of tone at the cone of a speaker several yards of wire away. The complexity of that interaction between magnet, coil, and metal dictates that any little change in the design or construction of a pickup will alter the sound it produces.

A pickup does the reverse of many electromagnetic devices that we might be more familiar with in everyday life, such as speakers and small electrical motors. Instead of receiving an electrical signal and translating it into motion by manipulating magnetic forces, a pickup senses motion (string vibration), and, through this motion’s disruption of its magnetic field, translates that motion into an electrical signal.

A guitar pickup consists of two main “active ingredients” alongside a collection of inactive ingredients. The actives are the magnet( s) and the wire coil. The inactive ingredients are the coil former (or “bobbin”), and a number of other parts that are used in some designs, but not in others, including a base plate, a cover, pole-adjustment screws, wooden (or other) spacers used to keep certain parts from contacting each other, and wax or paraffin used to seal the coil to keep out moisture and dampen vibrations” …read more

Because of her small hands, Fender needed her to do the hand-winding and where others found winding boring, it fascinated her, and she was so enthralled with the sound and experimentation with the wire tension, that she developed an entirely new tone which reverberated across the rock industry and is still in high demand today. While there were people before her and who were trained by her, there is something about her method that is unique and guitarist just find exceptional. Her tone is unmistakable and one wonders if the winding itself has to be credited for some of the incredible guitar sounds we have come to enjoy today. So remember this name and share it, because rock music would probably not be what it is today without the impeccable work of Abigail Ybarra.

The last guitar she helped build was purchased by Keith Richards if that tells you anything in 2013. And included in the Glamour article was this from Allyson McCabe rock journalist for NPR stated “When you look at the artists from the sixties and seventies who requested Ybarra’s guitars, there guitar tone is unmistakable. She is called the ‘Queen of Tone’ because she literally helped change the tone of rock music” Cue the kickin’ solo!

There are some great articles on this woman which you should read if you would like to learn more:




Cheers and Thank You for reading,

JoOnna Silberman, The Forgotten Woman at Forgotten Man
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