Road to becoming a guitar guru?

Seeing as how we are fortunate to count Paul Gagon as a member here, it seemed like a good time to give him a home to stretch out in and relax a little. Maybe exercise the grey matter and present a little history of the guitar and bass (amps too!) from his perspective as one of the eminent designers of our time.

Got questions? Great! Good questions might be, "What kind of windings are on the S500 pickup and why?" Or, "What was the thought process behind the MJ-4?" Troubleshooting questions should remain in the regular forums (he reads those too). Finally, please be mindful of how I feel about tech questions via PM or email.

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Road to becoming a guitar guru?

Postby mikemjr12 » Tue Nov 29, 2016 1:14 pm

Hi Paul - or really anyone else with input

I was curious about what the path to becoming an engineer such as yourself might look like today. What sort of education or degree (if any) is highly desirable? How about starting work experience? I've got an interest in guitar gear and how it works, but I imagine the road to working on pickups or designing your own pedals requires significant technical and hands-on training. Any info you have is appreciated!

Mike
Guitar player in a Rhode Island band called The Kick Ups. Owner of an ASAT Special, Bluesboy, Comanche, & S-500.

https://thekickups.bandcamp.com/
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Re: Road to becoming a guitar guru?

Postby Paul Gagon » Tue Nov 29, 2016 4:48 pm

mikemjr12 wrote:Hi Paul - or really anyone else with input

I was curious about what the path to becoming an engineer such as yourself might look like today. What sort of education or degree (if any) is highly desirable? How about starting work experience? I've got an interest in guitar gear and how it works, but I imagine the road to working on pickups or designing your own pedals requires significant technical and hands-on training. Any info you have is appreciated!

Mike

Hi Mike,

I'm not sure what that path looks like today to end up where I ended up. My journey started many years ago. I can share with you my path. That might help steer you a bit. Here we go. I really don't remember a time when I wasn't interested in music and electronics. My Dad got me started in electronics when I was around 10, I'm 61 now. He was a VP at Northrop and was over the technical department. I was alway getting bags of components and old tube gear to experiment with and I had a whole collection of electronics books to read. My Dad and I built nearly every Heathkit item they offered. Most everything I learned in my early years came from reading, experimenting, and my Dad. Once I hit High School, I took several Electronics elective classes and became good friends with the teacher.

I didn't go the traditional college route. I got a job at Fender Musical Instruments in 1978 working as a repair technician. While I was at Fender, I took a 4 year electronics course from Capitol Radio Engineering Institute. In 1979 I was moved into engineering doing R&D on pickups, guitar and bass preamps, and amps. I learned my trade from all the incredible engineers around me at Fender. Around 1984 I went to Charvel/Jackson and continued learning by reading, experimenting, and designing gear. From 1991 to September 2014 I was at BBE/G&L designing BBE units, Recording gear, pickups, and instrument electronics. I know this sounds like bragging but I actually have a point.

The path to working in a field like the one we both love is first, an insatiable hunger to learn everything about it. This comes from talking to people in the field, getting involved in discussion groups, reading, and finding some local classes in beginning electronics. Second, getting on the internet and looking up schematics on pedals you like (start with simple ones) and try to build them. You will make mistakes, but you will learn. Third, if possible, get a job at a place that makes what you are interested in (pedals, pickups, guitars/basses...) and finally, never be afraid of a challenge. Push yourself and be willing to try anything. Understand that not everybody is going to dig what your doing but many a great products have come about in the battle field of opposing views. While I was at Fender, nobody wanted me to make a preamp with a mid boost for a Strat but I wanted to. I made it, had others play it, not everybody thought it was cool. But you know where that preamp ended up? In Eric Claptons model of the Strat. He thought it was cool. Point is, you just never know where you will strike gold.

Wow, this has ended up with me just rambling on. I apologize. As you can tell, I'm quite passionate about the field I worked in for 36 years. Although I've been gone from G&L for over 2 years now, I'm still active with friends doing designs and enjoying myself. I hope this has been helpful in some way. The electronics engineering landscape today is a bit different than it was when I started out but certain thing still hold true. Hopefully they made themselves clear during my babbling.

If you have any specific questions please feel free to bring them up. This forum is filled with many gifted and intelligent people that always seem ready to help.

Paul
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Re: Road to becoming a guitar guru?

Postby mikemjr12 » Fri Dec 02, 2016 10:30 am

Wow, thanks for sharing your response Paul! I appreciate you taking the time to share some of your experiences and shedding some light on your particular journey!
Guitar player in a Rhode Island band called The Kick Ups. Owner of an ASAT Special, Bluesboy, Comanche, & S-500.

https://thekickups.bandcamp.com/
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Re: Road to becoming a guitar guru?

Postby bdgotoh » Sun Dec 04, 2016 9:20 pm

Awesome post Paul!
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