INTERVIEW: Thomas V Jones of TV Jones, Inc

TV Jones, Inc was formed 1993 by guitarist and luthier Thomas V. Jones in Whittier, California. Now based out of Poulsbo, Washington, the company is known for their brilliant recreations of classic Gretsch Filter’Tron pickups in the form of the TV Classic, as well as more modern variations on the theme, like the TV Classic Plus, Magna’Tron, Power’Tron, Power’Tron Plus (developed with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top) and Super’Tron. They do plenty more too: for the full range check out TVjones.com

How di

d you get started? Did you follow the classic ‘accidentally destroy a lot of cheap guitars as a kid’ route, or more traditional luthiery?

As a kid I took my guitars apart out of curiosity. Later on I did many repairs and even attempted to build a double neck electric guitar (6 string and mandolin). Around 1990 I decided to become more serious about guitar repair and construction, so I got a job at a violin shop called The World of Strings in Long Beach, California. I worked in the guitar department for almost three years, and learned to repair and construct stringed instruments based on orchestral instruments. So I got started as a luthier.

What is it about the FilterTron tone that is so magic for you?

The growl, clarity in the bass, and compression –– it is magical.

I imagine you must have disassembled, analysed and reassembled quite a few vintage pickups over the years – what have you learned from this process? Was there as much variation between FilterTrons as there was between classic-era PAFs?

I learned that it’s not just the coils, or coils that make a great pickup, but the combination of superior materials that make a great pickup. Most vintage pickups were made with high quality materials –– that’s all there was. We choose to have our components and materials made in the USA –– the birthplace of the electric guitar pickup.

How do you go about reproducing a 60-year-old magnet? We use USA-made alnico magnets. We work with the original company that supplied magnets for the vintage Filter’tron.

It must be the ultimate compliment to see your pickups being used by so many great players. Do you ever see your pickups being used in a genre you don’t expect?

Yes, I have been watching the Palladia live music network lately and have noticed our pickups being used in country, alternative, rock… It’s not just a rockabilly pickup anymore. From Katy Perry’s band to Dave Davies band, and all in between.

Tell us about your association with Brian Setzer came to select your pickups for his Hot Rod guitar line.

I have worked on Brian’s guitars since 1993 and got the opportunity to participate in a blind sound test with Brian in 1998. He loved the tone of my TV Classic Filter’tron and chose it for his new Gretsch Hotrod guitar line.

You go so far as to manufacture your own pole screws in the USA for use in your pickups. What can you tell us about the different alloys and their respective tones?

Sorry, that’s a trade secret… But I must say, I find it remarkable how the choice in a particular alloy can effect the tone of a guitar pickup.

So many of the pickups we use today are based on designs from the 40s and 50s. What was it about that era? Why do those tones still work for us so well?

The original pickups were designed to work well with certain amplifiers (the pickups impedance was closely matched to the input of the preamp) –– many modern amplifiers are based on old designs.

Most of your pickups are available in different mounting sizes for different guitar types. Do these different casings influence the tone? Do you need to tweak a design in a particular casing to compensate for the tonal quirks of that shape/size?

Not really, the tone remains consistent. Tweaking is only necessary if the shape of a bobbin is larger, or smaller. Most of the internal assemblies remain exactly the same –– except for backplate, and / or pickup cover.

What were you aiming for when you designed the Spectra Sonic Supreme? I imagine it was the product of years of mods, tweaks, ‘I wish there was a guitar with THIS,’ etc?

The Spectra Sonic guitar was inspired by T-Bone Burnett’s K-161 (Kay Thin Twin). I liked the how large and thin it was.

For more info on TV Jones visit Dominant Music.