A brief introduction to the wonderful world of cow magnets.

Cows are not rocket scientists. Everyone knows that much. Actually, cows have become so inbred in the past 50 years that their brains hardly function at all. So much so that now they only exhibit a few basic cow behaviors: mooing, eating, shitting, running away and (in a limited way) making little cows. As far as cow magnets are concerned, we only need concern ourselves with the eating and shitting aspects of cow behavior. Here's the basic idea. Just for the record, the following information is 100% absolutely true. NONE of it is made up. Really. Here goes.

Since cows are fairly nondiscriminatory in their eating habits, they commonly ingest all sorts of odd things that find their way into the feed. One of the most problematic results of this nondiscriminatory feeding is that cows can (and do) swallow things like bits of soft iron baling wire: the stuff that farmers use to bind hay bales together. If a rancher isn't careful when cutting hay bales apart to feed to his cows, it's easy to get pieces of that baling wire mixed in with the hay: the hay that the cows eat. If a cow ends up with pieces of that iron wire "stuck" in its digestive tract, it is very possible that the wire will eventually end up perforating the wall of the digestive tract. The result of such a puncture is that the cow dies a slow, agonizingly painful death by peritonitis. Not a nice way to go. But there is a solution: cow magnets. High tech it isn't.

If a rancher determines that one of his cows has ingested bits of wire, he'll shove one of these really strong cylindrical magnets (a cow magnet) down the cow's throat -- forcing the cow to swallow the damn thing - to "collect" the stray bits of wire as it passes through the cow's digestive tract, and out the back end. It works surprisingly well too. A day or two after force-feeding a cow one of these magnets, the cow shits out the magnet with all those nasty little bits of wire stuck to it. You can always hear when a cow is shitting out one of those magnets. They bellow like ... well ... like a cow shitting out barbed wire. It has got to hurt. But at least they don't die of peritonitis. Such is the legitimate function of cow magnets. They have many other uses as well (they are the stuff of legends in farming country), including forming the basis of very strong guitar/bass pickups.

At least in the US, cow magnets are readily available at virtually any farm supply store for about $2.00 apiece. There are, believe it or not, a couple of different versions (honestly now, who sits down and designs a high-tech cow magnet?), but the model I always use is the old-fashioned smooth chromed bar magnets, which are strong enough to lift a 1000g weight (like a steel fire poker). These are seriously strong magnets!

At one time I discovered (and used) a cheap source for coil-winding wire: the windings inside of discarded speakers or car engine coils. Most car junk yards will just give you a dead coil, and there is plenty of wire inside the case of each coil. Just be absolutely certain to TOTALLY DISCHARGE THE COIL BEFORE CUTTING IT OPEN. They can store up a dangerous amount of capacitance, just like capacitors in amplifiers, and can give you one hell of a shock if they aren't handled carefully. Obviously I discovered this the hard way. Maybe it's a better idea to just use the windings on old speakers, eh? Yeah, forget that crap about car coils. Too dangerous. For your own safety, just go and buy a roll of #46 Formvar or whatever ... it isn't very expensive.

L-R: cow magnet, plastic box, coil wire. Put it all together and you get one extremely potent MOO-TONE pickup ... great for basses.

I use the old-style "bar" cow magnets (about 2.5" long x 1/2" diameter), wound with 46-gauge copper wire and stuffed inside the small plastic display boxes that screws and nails come in. It works. Really. Forget those Soviet telephone microphone pickups. Here's what I'm talking about.

The finished product isn't much to look at though. Here's the underside of the pickup before filling the box with slow-cure epoxy. The magnet/coil/lead wire are wrapped with clear bandage tape.

For the record, I only use new cow magnets, not used ones. Who wants a pickup made out of a magnet that has passed through the digestive system of a cow? Those magnets sound like shit.

Here's the finished product, above a non-bovine-oriented pickup to give an idea of the scale.

This wonderfull article is written by Jamie Chivers -

Guitartech Jamie Chivers,
Over 30 years of quality repair experience
Kettle Falls, WA
Monday - Friday
10am - 6pm
Set Up * Wiring * Refrets * Customizing

Here are a couple of pictures of new cow magnets from the internet:

home | guitars | effects | articles | links | search | shop | email | forum | about
Cheesy Guitars owns no copyright on pictures and texts published on this site. Feel free to copy, modify and recycle.
CheesyGuitars - on the web since 2001. Project coordination and design - meatex Z.