The Norwegian Guitar Hero

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The Norwegian guitar builder, Thomas “Toneshaper” Nilsen, has developed his own “Cream T. Pickups”. Billy F. Gibbons was his first international big client.

Thomas Nilsen has been a professional luthier since 1995. His interests and abilities, however, go well beyond that. He grew up in a home where his father was a professional musician and a drag race mechanic, so he spent vast times both playing guitar and tinkering with electronics.

In 1992 Thomas accidentally met Seth Lover, who invented the humbucker, or hum-cancelling electric string instrument pick-up, most often used on the electric guitar. Thomas managed to pick his brain on how he made the legendary pick-ups, and the result was Cream T pickups.

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From there the word spread to Keith Richards who tested the pickups live for the first time at the second Prudential show in New Jersey.

Keith Richards
Keith Richards

You may wonder why the Cream T pickups are so popular among professional guitar players.

“When you’re travelling around the world, you’re playing in different weather conditions and both temperature variations and humidity can effect the performance of pickups,” explains Thomas. “When the Winter Olympics were held in Norway in 1994 we were playing outside and it was minus -20C. And the output of the pickups dropped about 1.5k! So, temperature changes can affect the pickups and over time that will affect the magnet as well,” he adds.

Thomas dived into all the old books he could find on the subject and experimented to create the pickup with the ‘magic’ and weather resistant tone.

Billy Gibbons Cream-T
Billy Gibbons Cream-T

The Cream T Custom ’61 pickups are hand made in Norway. Among Nilsen’s customer are blues master Joe Bonomassa and British legend Jeff Beck. The breakthrough, however, wasn’t until early 2009. Thomas had made some prototypes which had more tone and dynamics than in any of the old ones he had used as yardsticks.

He contacted guitartech-extraordinaire Elwood Francis and asked if he would be kind enough to test some of the pickups. The verdict was good. Nilsen’s creation offered consistent dynamics across the fretboard.

Thomas also came up with a special blend of wax that keep the pu’s as responsive and tone-true as if unwaxed.

Cream T Pickups is still a one-man operation, and Thomas is busy expanding the range which now include different humbuckers, p-90’s and single coils and J and P bass pickups.

The Norwegian Guitar Hero, written by Tor Kjolberg