Humbucker Adjustment - PUP height vs. Pole height

Singin' Dave
December 16th, 2008, 12:07 PM
I'm curious about the difference in tone can be gained from adjustments to a humbucker position within a guitar body vs. adjusting individual pole pieces within the pickup itself.

I know that raising the entire pickup closer to the strings will increase output and can lead to earlier gain characteristics, while lowering the pickup as a whole can "clean up" a humbucker's tone w/ lower output due to less magnetic pull between the pickup and strings.

Is this theory the same with the pole pieces? Are they there to allow for individual string balance in similar fashion? I would assume so, but I'm interested in the more considered answer.

December 16th, 2008, 02:39 PM
You can balance out the levels of individual strings with the adjustable pole pieces though I've never found it to be necessary.

You can also make the pickup sound brighter (to my ears) by lowering the pickup and raising the pole pieces.

Deaf Eddie
December 18th, 2008, 03:14 PM
You can balance out the levels of individual strings with the adjustable pole pieces though I've never found it to be necessary.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that was the whole idea behind having adjustable pole pieces in the first place. But, like you, I have never found much balancing adjustment necessary. I guess it was more of a problem back in that days of heavy flatwounds, because you'd see a lot of pickups with the polepiece under the B string greatly reduced or backed off - even occasionally eliminated.

You can also make the pickup sound brighter (to my ears) by lowering the pickup and raising the pole pieces.

Ah, there ya go!

I have LONG thought that by adjusting ALL the polepieces to an exagerated height - in OR out - you could "unbalance" the two coils of the humbucker - meaning, the two coils will have slightly different output. It's been postulated that some of the PAF tone-mojo was caused by the imprecision of the coil-winding operation, resulting in unbalanced/unequal output coils. It's never what the adjustable polepiece was intended for, but I think that it works.

FWIW, I do this ("unbalancing") to every neck pup of every humbuckered guitar I own.


Not really off-topic, but wandering around it a bit...

MORE: I have been lowering the pickup and raising the pole pieces for years, but recently a re-think had me try raising the neck pickup and lowering the polepieces, and I seem to be getting the same affect. The reason for the change in plan was to see how this scheme of adjustments might work:

1. I always turn the bridge pup around so that the slug coils are closest to the bridge, the screw coils closer to the neck pup (I have done this for years). I do this because when I do coil-shunts, I like to keep the screw coil active, so that I can have some adjustment, and putting the screw coils farther from the bridge puts them where they might be getting more kinetic energy - the string describes a wider arc.

It's why bridge pups are usually wound hotter than neck pups, to "balance" properly - the farther from the bridge, the more kinetic energy, louder the pickup will be.

By raising the polepiece screws in the bridge pup AND rotating it, I think I can get a louder single coil sound out of it - so the coil-shunt tone isn't such a big drop off in volume as it might be.

2. NEW: for the neck pup, leave the slug coil active (instead of my usual screw-coil idea). Now, when I have the pups in coil-shunt and play them together, I still have a noise-canceling pair of coils playing. This is something new for me, but I think PRS has done this with their humbuckers from the get-go (coil-shunt leaves a noise-canceling pair). So on my neck pup, with the slug-coil active, I'm LOWERING the screws down into the pickup to make the slug-coil the hotter of the two, again, to unbalance the coils and make the change from humbucker to coil-shunt less of a drop in gain.

3. BECAUSE I have turned the bridge pup around, the two coils playing in shunt are the two closest together, giving me the best "quack" - just as the old-school coil-shunt setup of shunting to ground has always given you the "inside" coils - IF you didn't rotate the bridge pup as I do. So, this is new for me.

So now when I go to coil-shunt: I've got a noise canceling pair; it plays the two coils closest together; and the the coils playing are the louder of the two (unbalanced) coils of each humbucker. Whoohoo!

I JUST did these adjustments to my LP Special, and in the music room it sounds pretty good - I must say, I'm amazed at how much better the gain/volume balances between the coil-shunt and full humbucker tones.

Could just be the "new toy" syndrome, but I really like it... and I'd like to give you a solid thumbs-up stage report, but I ain't gigging anymore, so this axe probably won't see a stage until our annual reunion jam next spring. But the results of my testing so far have been encouraging enough that I'm probably going to make this change to my ES-333 and faded V, soon.

So, I'd love to hear from someone else who wants to try this. If you already have coil-shunts in your axe, it's really a pretty simple collection of ideas: change the shunt lead for ONE of your pups, rotate the bridge pup, adjust the polepieces as indicated...

October 15th, 2010, 12:13 PM
Yeah, I'm pretty sure that was the whole idea behind having adjustable pole pieces ...

Thanks for the info. - I have been experimenting on these things as well. I do find the sound cleans up and there is more chime to the tone with the pole higher compared to the muddy sound of raising the whole pickup. I will be spinning my pickups 180 deg as suggested and post my results which I already think will be good.

May 1st, 2011, 09:30 AM
bump... I was wondering about pole screws too.. and what they (can) do..

I was surprised there wasn't more discussion?.. how does the above info stack up,etc?...

it would be interesting to hear from any of the resident pickup builders posting in here... with their views on the subject..

perhaps there was another in depth discussion thread I've missed.?..

I'm toying with mounting some PU's hidden under the guard.. so relative magnet/pole screw heights are some things I'm dealing with now... trying to find the best PU for a longer distance under the strings... without losing too much.. ooomph...

Keyser Soze
May 1st, 2011, 10:39 AM
Their are some basic principles that may predict what would happen if you raised the entire pickup vs raising just the poles.

But the best thing to do is simply try it and see what happens. Get a sheet of paper and start making adjustments in 1/2 turn increments, recording the changes as you go. You can also use a small ruler to measure the distance from the strings to the poles (I do this with the strings fretted at the 12th fret.)

That way the entire process is easily reversible or repeatable.

Crank the entire pickup up a couple turns, measure the height above the strings, play it for a while to see how it sounds.

Then re-set the pickups back where they were, crank the poles up until they measure about the same distance from the strings as in the previous setting and play for a while to hear what (if any) difference there is.

Lather, rinse, repeat until you start to draw your own conclusions and can then become a pickup tuning guru.