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Bill Lawrence Keystones Vs. Microcoils

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by Whoa Tele, May 7, 2011.

  1. Whoa Tele

    Whoa Tele Tele-Afflicted

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    I've got a set of Keystones and have been considering the micrcoils for a new gtr. Does anyone have both sets and if so could you describe the tonal differences. Thanks
     
  2. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    The micros have a stronger voltage output, stronger fundamental, less coloration and have greater sensitivity to changes in technique and dynamics.
     
  3. Whoa Tele

    Whoa Tele Tele-Afflicted

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    Does the stronger output mean that they will sound darker/smoother or brighter than the Keystones?
    Thanks
     
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  5. GCKelloch

    GCKelloch Tele-Afflicted

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    From both demos and my understanding of the design, MC's have deeper/clearer bass and a more extended, but smoother high-end than any other Hi-Z PUP on the market. Basically, they sound like a very sweet, wide-frequency range Lo-Z PUP. Some typical Hi-gain amp tones won't respond the same as a Keystone will, and visa-versa. There is an MC "Q-tone" switch/knob wiring-guide using a single P/P knob for emulating more tradition PUP "r" values, here:
    http://guitarsbyfender.yuku.com/topic/10702?page=1

    For the "warm" tone, using an average 500pf cable, a single 2-3nf cap should be all that is needed. unlike resistors, caps values add up in parallel. It's very easy to do, and it will really be worth it.

    If you appreciate the versatility of lower "L" PUP's, I outlined an idea for a "Hi/Lo-Fi" guitar using dual coil PUP's for both standard Hi-Z, and a balanced Lo-Z inputs: http://guitarsbyfender.yuku.com/topic/10725
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2011
  6. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    The voltage output doesn't directly tell you about the tone. However, since the microcoils give a stronger fundamental to the note, it's easier to get a fuller-sounding response across all the notes. This is an aspect you can't EQ in. "More fundamental" is a bit different from "more bass". Whether you'll end up wanting to turn the treble control up or down at the amp, I couldn't tell you. I recommend starting with Fender amplifiers set to 8-10 on the mids, bass 2-4, and treble 1-3 (but highly variable with the demands of the speakers' performance). This way, you get the fundamentals on the notes on the higher strings so they're not overly thin and trebly, and avoid making the bottom strings too "boomy". This works incredibly well with both the Keystones and micros, as they're both very clear. Try it out if you haven't! I love the micros, but the Keystones are pretty special too :)
     
  7. gatc

    gatc Tele-Meister

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    Maybe I 'm wrong but I had the impression that the Keystones design was the first step towards the microcoils.
    Both models are essentially low inductance single coil pickups.
    I assume the Keystones were designed as direct drop in replacement, whereas MicroCoils are targeted towards enthusiasts who want to add their own coloration using different capacitors and pole heights.
    I'm curious to know if there is a fundamental difference in design between the two models (apart from the lower inductance in MicroCoils). Maybe Derek can explain the science behind Bill's single coil pickups?
     
  8. Suicideking

    Suicideking Friend of Leo's

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    From the descriptions thats what I think too, it seems like the Microcoils do what the Keystones do only a little better maybe? The Keystones are extremely clear and have great note articulation. Looks like I will have to give the Mc's a try now since Keystones are currently in my #1 and I love them..
     
  9. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    I'm pretty sure that the inductances don't compare as people may suspect. If I remember correctly, the standard Tele set for micros is 2H neck, 2.8H bridge, while the Keystones have a 1.6H neck, 3.2H bridge. The microcoils use finer wire and are of course incredibly low noise, but it's important to note that the Keystones also use finer wire and pick up considerably less noise than standard Tele offerings.

    The best way that I could explain the difference is this: the Keystone line is Bill's reinvention of the best Fender-style pickups from the early '60s, without any of the inconsistencies across pickups, incorporating some of Bill's improvements to pickup design. This means less sharpness to the resonance (which can contribute to sounding too bright, harsh or tonally uneven, especially if the cable capacitance lands the resonance in the wrong range - icepick!), placing the coil correctly in relation to the magnetic structure (to prevent phase cancellation that unpleasantly distort the frequency response of a note), and eliminating eddy currents (caused by shorts in the coil or traditional metal covers, can make a pickup sound harsh, muddy and unbalanced, prevents consistency across strings and pickups). There are several finer points of consideration, but if you imagine the best early '60s pickups (with their beautiful bell tones) redesigned by Bill, you understand what the Keystones are.

    The microcoils are more about maximizing versatility and best providing that "clear glass of water" that Bill has often mentioned. They provide more fundamental to the note, greater dynamic response, more sensitivity to tonal changes, etc. This really opens up the types of tones you can get by manipulating the amp a bit, using the tone pot with a well chosen cap, or changing your technique. The overall effect allows you to take out a fair amount of EQ you might have otherwise used for traditional pickups at the amp, and give your guitar a much fuller, clearer voice, with much better balance across strings, helping expose what you and your guitar are doing. Worth noting: I generally recommend investigating "flatter" amp settings with all of Bill's pickups (see the earlier post). If you love the Keystones for those qualities, you might be interested in checking out the micros, but I really think the Keystones are amazing for what they're meant to do. The micros are more the "for every need" pickup, but it's not just about versatility - the performance of the microcoils can't be beat.
     
  10. gatc

    gatc Tele-Meister

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    Derek, thanks for the info!
    Do you happen to know how Bill reduced the noise level on the Keystones?
    It seemed to me that the only way to reduce noise on a traditional single coil pickup was to reduce the size of the coil, which is exactly what the MicroCoil is about.

    I am tempted by the microcoils, but I am a bit unsure I want something as transparent as a "clear glass of water". I suspect many folks will tune the coloration to achieve a more traditional Fender tone and that would be a waste of time, considering the Keystones already do that.
     
  11. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    The finer wire used for the Keystones over traditional designs means they also have a denser, smaller coil, which increases voltage output and decreases noise. You might refer to the Keystone as a "minicoil" - Bill's use of finer wire is an innovation shared across the Keystones and all of his Wilde line. The micros just take this further.

    The type of coloration you would add to the micros wouldn't be to make them sound more like a traditional Fender tone (in most instances). You can get qualities associated with higher inductance pickups (such as PAFs or P90s) for warmer, more aggressive, or darker sounding voices, using the tone control to balance the coloration with the crystalline high-end that the micros have. This sounds especially amazing on the bridge pickup. It's worth noting that Jimi Hendrix got a comparable result through using an incredibly high capacitance coiled cable to get a great distortion tone with a resonance around 1.9-2.0 kHz, but since he used cable capacitance instead of a tone control to achieve this, he had the dramatic high-end drop off after the resonance people often get with higher inductance pickups. With the micros and a couple well chosen caps on the tone control, you can get the coloration that makes high inductance pickups desirable in some circumstances, without sacrificing the performance of the micros.

    With a 1.9 kHz resonance on the bridge position, you can raise the voltage output 2-3x. You begin to understand how important the resonance (a result of the pickup's inductance interacting with the cable's capacitance) really is when evaluating a pickup's color or voltage output - if you didn't have that resonance, which is particular to the cable capacitance you're using, the pickup would sound entirely different! It's easier to control it on the tone pot than to get both the pickup inductance and cable capacitance high enough for those results, which would prevent you from using another cable length if you wanted to preserve your tone.

    edit: Just to clarify, the best Fender neck bell-tones have resonances around 4.2-4.5 kHz, which you can get with either the micros or Keystones. It's a relatively high resonance and would need finer control of cable capacitance, etc, a little unlike the ease at which you can add lower upper-mid coloration to the micros.
     
  12. TNO

    TNO Friend of Leo's

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    IMO, the microcoils are very clinical sounding and have a lot of magnet pull. Of course, since BL is a god and I'm just a guy with a pair of ears I must be wrong.
     
  13. honeycreek

    honeycreek Tele-Afflicted

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    I'm just curious...Did you try putting caps in parallel to the pickups? I wasn't getting what I wanted out of some of his twin blades. I put mini switch with different caps and the pickup character completely changes. From what I have read, these pickups aren't really meant as drop in's with no tweaking.
     
  14. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    The magnetic strength directly on top of the screws isn't directly important, but of course the amount of pull near the strings is important. This is determined by the magnetic structure. For example, for two Alnico rods of varying lengths but equal magnetic strength on the top of the pole, the shorter rod will have less pull as you get further from the pole. This gets more complex when you consider a design like the microcoil. A good designer will avoid string pull as part of a well-designed pickup. I hope you saw my response in the other thread.
     
  15. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    I don't think I would say they're not drop-ins, but I do agree that it really helps to completely re-evaluate how you set your amp and use your tone knob. Changing the location of the resonance can radically alter the character of the pickup. That resonance is really one of the most important dimensions of a pickup's performance - you could easily go from not loving the bridge position to feeling it's absolutely indispensable when it's set perfectly.


    TNO - What amp. speakers and cables do you use?
     
  16. Guitar_Ninja

    Guitar_Ninja Friend of Leo's

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    Hahaha. Yeah, I had Keystones in my tele for two or three years and then tried the Microcoils for a month. I've since put the Keystones back in.

    The Microcoils are definitely good pickups, very low noise. But I didn't care for the neck pickup, as it lacked the sparkling highs of the Keystone. Overall more "clinical sounding" than the Keystones, which I believe are voiced by Bill for that AlNiCo mid-60s tele sound. The MicroCoil pickups seem to be voiced flatter across the frequency spectrum, which you may love or hate.

    Having said that, I actually preferred the Microcoil bridge, as it has more midrange and a fuller sound than the Keystone bridge. I'll probably be putting it back in when I have some time to see how the Keystone neck and Microcoil bridge play together.

    But they're not for everyone.
     
  17. GCKelloch

    GCKelloch Tele-Afflicted

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    You make some good points about the MC's. No matter how much anyone explains the technical attributes of a PUP, it's not going to make anyone like, or dislike it. Let your ears be the judge. I can see why people wouldn't prefer the tone as is.

    It is important to note that even if you don't like the tone of the MC's with your normal amp settings, the MC's will be more sensitive to playing techniques. If you decide to tailor the tone more to your liking using on-board caps/coils, or just with your amp's tone stack, the MC's should still have better dynamic response than standard Hi-Z PUP's including Keystones.

    The advantage is that, using on-board LCR components, MC's can emulate the sounds of the Keystones and many other single coil PUP's with the added benefit of better sensitivity, but the Keystones can not emulate the inherent tone and added sensitivity of the MC's.
     
  18. Whoa Tele

    Whoa Tele Tele-Afflicted

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    I don't really know enough to understand alot of the tech talk but if the Micros are an improvement on the Keystones, I might be tempted to try them. I have a set of Keystones in a CV50 and they hold their own with the Mares and Fralins in two of my other teles. Each set has it's on vibe but I think it would be hard to beat the Keystones at twice the price.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2011
  19. elelpe

    elelpe Tele-Afflicted

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    Please kindly report, especially how is the sound of MC bridge - KS neck, both in paralel and in series. Thanks in advance.
     
  20. blargfromspace

    blargfromspace Tele-Afflicted

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    I have both sets. The MCs are indeed a very clear pickup, I like that 'clear glass if water' description - if you can play well and have a nice amp they'll sound great. It's kind of like the God of pickups. I haven't noticed string pull.

    That said, to my ears, the Keystones have more character. And that's important. IMO you can't lose with any of BLs pickups, but I'm a bit of a fan.
     
  21. GCKelloch

    GCKelloch Tele-Afflicted

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    Here is a list of the meanings for the symbols in this post:

    C=Capacitance
    R=Resistence
    r=resonant peak
    L=inductance
    H=Henry(term used for L value)

    I'm am surprised that this hasn't been posted yet, but there is thread that gives the r values for various C loads at the MC's H ratings: http://guitarsbyfender.yuku.com/topic/10702/microcoil-coloration-guide

    Whether you prefer the character of the KS(Keystone)'s, MC's, or any other PUP, you can use caps/coils to create alternate tone options. Lower L PUP's will have more tone options.

    It is probably true that, at the same C and R load, the KS's might have a steeper r, and possibly a higher mid-range ratio than the MC's, which would be considered "character" attributes. We may prefer one PUP's inherent character over another.

    Among other factors, the H rating of a PUP will determine the mid-range ratio at a given R load. To make a more accurate comparison, it would be good to know the H value of the KS's.

    The guitar lead's C value should not be underestimated. The total C load determines the r for a given L. When you combine two PUP's in parallel, the total L drops to somewhere in-between half the value of each PUP. The same is true for R's. Math is not my strong suit, so here's an online calculator for the exact values: http://www.1728.com/resistrs.htm
     
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