Our story dates back to 1934 and Armstrong Pickups remains a family-run business today. Take a look at our journey through the years...
The story of our company goes back to the birth of Daniel Kent Armstrong at 1:45pm on the Sunday the 7th of October 1934, in Wilkinsburg hospital, Pennsylvania, USA. With an early fascination with electronics and music, Dan started playing the guitar at 11, joining the school band at Lakewood high school.
During his senior year and after graduating Dan played gigs in the local area, learning his trade. It was around this time that he married his first wife, Donna. They soon welcomed the eldest of the five children they had together, Kent. Dan continued to gig further and further afield as the requests for his talents grew, until he finally knew he had to make a move to the beating heart of the music industry at the time, New York City. On the right is Dan marrying his second wife Cynthia.
In New York, Dan set up in Eddie Bell’s Music, doing repair work. He soon became the go-to repair man and guitar technician for the city. Famous names such as Jimi Hendrix, Jack Bruce, and Wes Montgomery would come to see him work his magic on their guitars. Building on his growing reputation, he opened his own shop in Laguardia Place. The history of this period has been extensively researched by Mark Schnoor.
Dan with Bill Wyman backstage at Madison Square Garden in '69.
In 1969 Dan teamed up with Matt Umanov and Bill Lawrence to design and build one of the most recognisable guitars in history. Produced by Ampeg the “Dan Armstrong Plexi” was truly an original and innovative series of basses and guitars. Yes, the look and style of them was great, but they also had other benefits, such as an easy-to-replace pickup which could be released by unscrewing a single screw at the back. This allowed players to have very different sounds from the same instrument almost immediately.
It was around this time that Dan started dating, Carly Simon, there is little doubt that her song “Dan My fling” was written about Dan Armstrong. It may be a little too vain of us to say that her most famous song had anything to do with Dan, but as far as we’re aware she has never denied it, no doubt some of the sentiments in that song would have related to Dan in her mind.
The list of players who have enjoyed the Plexi over the years is extensive, from Keith Richards to Dave Grohl. The pictures here are of Paul McCartney with what is thought to be the only left-handed Dan Armstrong Plexi guitar ever manufactured.
This video has Keith Richards showing Jimi Hendrix a Dan Armstrong Plexiglass guitar - you can see the guitar from around 30 seconds in.
In ’71 Dan moved himself and his two eldest boys to London, England. Here, he continued his innovations including his own line of amplifiers and effects units. While certainly considered retro by today’s standards, at the time they were bringing high technology and new sounds to the bass and guitar world.
Around 1972, Dan, along with jazz guitarist Tony Pitt, designed and began to manufacture the Dan Armstrong London guitars. The innovation in this guitar was the idea of a sliding, low-impedance pickup which used a transformer to boost the signal. This allowed the pickup to be smaller, giving it the space to move up and down a rail, allowing the tone of the guitar to be modified extremely easily.
Kent finished college in the UK in ’75. While he had already worked with Dan in his shop in New York (being trained up by the legendary Bill Lawrence), Kent knew that he needed his own income. After working with Dan on the Dan Armstrong London guitars, Kent set up his own business in Brighton. On top of fixing and rewinding pickups, he would design and build his own pickup range. In ’78 he set up a company with the name of Rainbow Products.
The Z+ pickup was one of the designs by Kent that Dan immediately loved. It was an original design which sounded distinct from other humbuckers. After Dan took the design to Schecter Kent and Dan disagreed on how to proceed with the project and soon after this Dan returned to the US to work on other projects.
By the end of 1980, Kent had established not just a business, but his own family, celebrating the arrival of his second child, Aaron. Five years later, both family and business moved to a small village in the Kent countryside. It was here that Kent began to develop his pickup range. In ’88 Kent again worked with Tony Pitt, who had been instrumental in the design of the London guitars over a decade before. Around this time Kent went over to Czechoslovakia, as it was back then, to meet up with Juraj Turza, a keen guitarist who was looking at opportunities in the guitar world. With Kent’s advice Juraj, began his foray into capitalism, building pickups and Kent was happy for him to trade under his name, providing a great product at a price affordable to guitarists in Eastern Europe. While Juraj is no longer making as many pickups as he once did, you can still get your hands on them if you ask nicely.
Kent has built and rewound pickups for many of the world's leading players, including BB King, Brian May, Carly Simon, Dave Stewart, Douglas Adams, Gary Larson, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, John Pisano, John Pizzarelli, Pete Townsend, Robbie Robertson….. and many more
In 1986 Kent was introduced to Larry Davis, who along with his wife Wendy Davis (W.D.), had started up a custom scratch plate manufacturing shop in Fort Myers, Florida. This was quite niche at the time as it was hard to get replacement scratch plates, and it formed the basis of what was to be a flourishing guitar parts business. Kent was always being asked if he could supply pots or capacitors alongside his pickups, and he soon realised that by linking up with Larry they could help to supply the UK market.
In 1998 Kent moved back to the USA, setting up shop in Vermont. His son Aaron took over the manufacturing of pickups for the UK and European markets, while the rewinds part of the business was taken on by Andy Blake, who had been working and training with Kent for some years. The newly set up Kent Armstrong and Son pickups, along with W.D. Music UK, moved to a beautiful location in the heart of the Kent countryside near Bethersden. Aaron began to take a more active role in the accounts and the running of the business, along with Ben Green who took over as general manager in 2004. Around this time Andy Blake set up wizard pickups, which led to Aaron taking over the rewind services.
With a life spent doing what he loved, making music and helping others do the same Dan passed away in June 2004 at the age of 70.
In 2005 Kent and Aaron attended the NAMM show where there was a memorial for Dan. There they ran into an old friend who had known Kent since he was a teenager - the legendary Jeff “skunk” Baxter, known for his stints in Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers.
In 1995 Ampeg approached Kent about doing a run of plexi guitars to celebrate Ampeg's 40th anniversary. Kent and Aaron agreed to work with them on the project, suggesting a few improvements and hand-making all the pickups.
Kent had been introduced to Shi Kag Yu back in 1994 at NAMM. Mr Yu was already making pickups in South Korea but was keen to partner with Kent to gain a deeper understanding of the art and science behind it. Kent flew to South Korea to talk with Mr Yu about pickup design. Kent was happy for Mr. Yu to manufacture using his name, and Shi Kag Yu (SKY) is still making Kent’s more affordable range of pickups today. These included the pickups for the re-re-release of the Dan Armstrong Plexi in 2005.
Kent built a log cabin on his land in Vermont and continued to make designer pickups for the US market, with his jazz pickups being especially renowned for their smooth, warm tones. He also built and re-released the Dan Armstrong FX units from here.
In 2019 Aaron moved W.D. Music, Armstrong Pickups and his own household, onto the same property, to a beautiful location in the south east of England, making for a greatly improved work/life balance.
Whilst continuing to make pickups Aaron started his own family marrying Harriet in 2010, having their first child in 2012 (seen here learning to wind coils at the age of 2) followed by their second child in 2015.
In 2022 it was decided that W.D. Music should become Armstrong Music, still providing the same products and great customer experience, but with more of a link to the historical pickup side of the business, and with a name that has been known in the industry dating back to the beginning of our story. Long may the story continue…
Watch a video documentary of Kent and Aaron Armstrong discussing their family history, along with in-depth discussion regarding pickup construction methods.