Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

Do pickups really vary THAT much?

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by etype, Sep 6, 2018.

  1. Zepfan

    Zepfan Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 30, 2013
    Horn Lake, MS
    Every part of the guitar can make a difference. Changing electronics and wiring schemes can help and it's cheaper to try that first. Then you can try something different with pickup swaps. You got a 50/50 chance with just a pickup swap. i have a set of pickups that have been in 4 different guitars and have had 4 different results. 2 had little difference and 1 had a big difference.
  2. DugT

    DugT Tele-Holic

    Sep 22, 2017
    northern CA
    Based on your experience, what varies most in pups that are supposed to be the same? I would think amp gain and Bass/mid/treble adjustments could easily correct any differences in the "Same" pups. I'm a rookie and guessing at this based on my limited understanding of electronics. I respect your comments on this more than my guesses.
  3. 24 track

    24 track Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Nov 6, 2014
    kamloops bc
    I have 490 and 498 in two differnt les pauls, the guitars sound very much different but after they go through the pedal board I cant hear any differnce, and the only time I can hear the subtlies is straight into a clean amp , I can hear a differnce to covered and uncovered humbuckers with the uncovered sounding bluesier at least to my ears , I have a set of Lace Alumatone humbuckers Im looking to install in a guitar I know they will sound outstanding ( Ilove the ones in my strat) and will not sound like anything else

    21057-3.jpg alumitone-humbucker-silver-bottom.JPG
    naneek and etype like this.
  4. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity

    Mar 2, 2010
    Yeah, right, in the misinformation age, lotta chaff in the wheat!
  5. hopdybob

    hopdybob Tele-Holic

    May 28, 2008
    here is the beginning of the 'problem'
    define that sound?
    what are you aiming at soundwise
    tell us about your guitar you want to put it in, incl pot values and pot layout.
    and than you have some kind off a chance that you will have a first hit 100% score to get the pickup you are looking for.

    accept that sound is the total of many factors, strings, setup, amp, effects, cable.
    but most of all, ears (and the loss off freq when you grow older, like all the others that share their thoughts about this subject)
  6. etype

    etype Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 23, 2014
    I have played both an American Pro Deluxe Telecaster (Shawbuckers) and a Gibson Les Paul (with 490s) that both had the sound I wanted. But alas, they are out of reach financially. I also have a bad back and prefer my guitars < 7lbs (3.1 kilos). So I have been looking at used Epiphone Wilshires (they are lightweight and $350ish) which have come with Epiphone Alnico Classic pickups (roundly disparaged online). You cannot find a Wilshire at any store so I am just considering options if I don't like the Alnico Classics. A set of 490s is about $300, Shawbuckers more like $200 and Seth Lovers or Pearly Gates are $220.

    But mainly this was a more general question about how knowledgeable folks can have such differing opinions on the same pickups.
    telemnemonics likes this.
  7. Paul Jenkin

    Paul Jenkin Friend of Leo's

    Aug 17, 2017
    Essex, UK
    I have a MIJ 70s RI Tele. I lived with the factory-fitted pickups for a while but, eventually, decided I needed something a bit more ballsy. Coincidentally, I attended a guitar show where am artisan manufacturer was present and we got chatting. Much as I'd like to have bought one of his guitars, I couldn't afford it. However, he put me onto the company that winds and supplies pickups for his guitars. So, I got in touch with them and told them what I wanted. They made me a set of pickups which are now in the Tele and the sound is very much to my liking - and very different to the guitar as I bought it.

    I also have a PRS SE Tremonti and I'm finding the pickups (Tremonti-voiced HBs) to be a bit raucous. I'm not sure whether to trade the guitar or get the pickup manufacturers who supplied the pickups for my Tele to provide some less aggressive sounding pickups (as I like the body shape / balance, etc, of the guitar).

    I'm absolutely sure that a lot of how a guitar sounds will vary as a result of the strings, playing style and a host of other variables. However, I'm equally convinced that pickups also have a significant bearing on the sound.
  8. Digital Larry

    Digital Larry Tele-Holic

    May 30, 2017
    Silicon Valley, CA
    I just got a G&L Tribute S-500 with the PTB tone control and lemme tell you that bass cut knob goes a LONG way towards controlling low-end mud. I'm surprised more guitars don't incorporate that.

    Also, using a variety of guitars with one amp (in my case a Katana 100W 1x12), you might need to tweak gain/tone settings when swapping guitars but that's a bit of a hassle and there really aren't enough preset slots to have 4 basic tones for 4 different guitars. So you get it dialled in for one guitar and then you plug in the other one and think "this guitar sucks".

    Finally, my big gripe about pickup mfrs is that they COULD publish some sort of standardized spec regarding the expected output levels and frequencies in a stock test fixture, and some mfrs offer a super simplified "three bar" spectral comparison between their own models, but nobody really wants to let the cat out of the bag. Gotta contain that mojo y'know.
    CFFF likes this.
  9. Commodore 64

    Commodore 64 Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

    Mar 1, 2010
    Kent, OH
    I've switched out enough pickups to convince myself that they don't vary all that much - as in the sum of the parts. Adjusting pickup height can mitigate changes in magnetic field strength. Adjusting knobs on the amp mitigates just about everything else.

    It's important for me to feel good about what's in my instruments. Otherwise I won't like what I hear. Doesn't mean the pickup has to be expensive, aftermarket, or scatterwound. But I have to want it in there otherwise I won't like how it sounds.
    jsnwhite619 likes this.
  10. hopdybob

    hopdybob Tele-Holic

    May 28, 2008
    there are some positive reviews off the Donlis brand pickups here on tdpri, tele and HB pickups.
    you know what you are looking for, maybe some readers can help you with an advise?
  11. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity

    Mar 2, 2010
    Seems like you're fairly forgiving of pickup sounds, but it's safest to go with a pickups you've tried and liked.
    While we (hopefully) all know the guitar influences the pickup sound you end up hearing, I'd suggest just buying some used 490s and putting them in whichever guitar you end up with.
    On Reverb there are Gibson 490 singles for under $50.

    I could never understand buying new pickups to put in used guitars when the used pickup market is flooded with all the pickups we keep trying and selling.

    Since you like one of the pickups that's not popular on the internet right now, you can buy them used for great deals.
    Maybe next year some pop sensation will put them in all their guitars and the internet will love them, so buy while the market is weak!
    etype likes this.
  12. joealso

    joealso Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

    Dec 25, 2012
    East Haddam, CT
    I used to live in Richmond, VA and I had the opportunity to speak with Lindy Fralin from time to time. He said that the same pickup can sound very different in different guitars, even if the guitars appear to be identical. I suppose that's why he allows returns.
  13. kennl

    kennl Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 6, 2007
    Moon Township, PA
    Yes and no
    My Duncan Li'l '59 Tele bridge pickup is nothing like my Kinnman Broadcaster pickup.
    This brand of Tele "vintage spec" versus that brand - not much difference
  14. rich815

    rich815 Friend of Leo's

    Aug 22, 2016
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Exactly. Especially the ear part! I’ve heard pups that a buddy used and love and I think “meh”, then I bring over my strat that I just put some pups in I really like and he’s all “meh”.

    I recently bought a Gibson A3 Custombucker bridge pup that the seller described perfectly (think Joe Walsh on “Life’s Been Good”). He said he liked it but somehow it just didn’t hit the sweet spot for him in his particular LP. I put it in mine and then played through my Marshall DSL40CR and I think I died and went to heaven. Now THERE’S the tone I’ve been after. I knew I could get this LP to sing the way I wanted! It’s never sounded so good. And surprisingly I also loved the way it matched up with my SD Pearly Gates neck pup I already had in there. Heck even better than the Pearly Gates bridge pup. Go figure....
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
    awasson, etype and Bruxist like this.
  15. kingvox

    kingvox Tele-Meister

    Mar 23, 2017
    CT, USA
    Pickups are the heart of the electric guitar. The source of your signal. They vary a lot.

    It depends what you mean, though. Two pups made to the exact same specs will not vary much, if at all.

    Finding what range you like for each position (neck/middle/bridge) is what matters most.

    For example, I like Strat neck pups with 7,600 turns of 42 AWG over A5 mags, and this is after building and demoing dozens of pups with different mag grades, wire gauges and turn counts.

    Layman's terms, I like neck pups under 6.0k. I tried degaussing the mags, different grades and turn counts and all that. Settled on the plain old late '60s Fender recipe.

    Bump that turn count up by 1,000, and you'll have quite a different pup. Less high end and more midrange.

    Fiberboard and rod mag Strat style humbuckers sound very different from PAFs as well. The differences between pickups go on and on.

    Again...settling on a range helps a lot. I recommend going a bit crazy and trying everything in every position. Pickups sound very different depending on their placement. It's important to remember that.

    I'm currently experimenting with 43 AWG overwound pups and am liking what I'm hearing so far, for example. Mostly just in the bridge position.

    Overwound neck pups frustrate me and I always end up missing that high end, hollow sound from an underwound neck pup. Middle and especially Bridge pups are another story.

    The overwound bridge pup is warmer and rounder and hits the amp harder. Great breakup, big and bold. Do you like feeling more power when you flip the switch to the Bridge pup, or do you want it roughly the same output? Something to consider.

    I like a stronger Bridge pup compared to the other pups, personally.

    What sounds muddy and muffled in the neck position can sound perfect in the bridge. The Middle position is just a bit more elusive and interesting.

    At the end of the day though, it's about as simple as turn count. Higher count = more mids and less high end. And it'll push the amp harder and they'll break up earlier.

    All depends what you're after. Remember pickup height makes a huge difference too.

    Ideally the rest of the circuit is constant: amp, speaker, pedals, and guitar electronics. I like the idea of tailoring pickups for your rig, not the other way around.
    telemnemonics, kookaburra and etype like this.
  16. CleanBoostCasey

    CleanBoostCasey TDPRI Member

    Jul 30, 2018
    Johnny Ramone once said something along the lines of “they all sound the same if you turn it up loud enough.”

    I tend to agree. Hand me any guitar and any amp. I will find a way to make them all sound the same. To sound like it’s me playing. The rest is marketing.

    Otis Fine and jsnwhite619 like this.
  17. DugT

    DugT Tele-Holic

    Sep 22, 2017
    northern CA
    For this reason I prefer low or average output pick ups. This way I can get great clean acoustic like tones that I can't get out of high output pickups and I can always crank up the amps gain to get all the dirt I want.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2018
    awasson and Chicago Matt like this.
  18. Chicago Matt

    Chicago Matt Friend of Leo's

    Aug 23, 2014
    this has been my experience too, amplification remaining equal. Each guitar has it's own sound and sounds like itself no matter what pickups are in there IMO. You can tweak it with pickups but the primary tone of the guitar remains. I know a lot of people disagree, but I've proven this to my self many times over a lot of years with a lot of guitars. To me, the amp is still the biggest factor by far (outside of the playing) in the sound you get in the end.
  19. jsnwhite619

    jsnwhite619 Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

    Sep 10, 2013
    Adjusting pickup height can add a lot of range to whatever you are using. Even if they end up looking slanting, crooked, jacked-up, whatever, you can tune the sound more than you would think.

    Couple personal examples - my Nashville that I bought new 15 years ago. I've rewired it 50's style (which I do on all my guitars now), and changed the pots and cap a few years ago. I can't even remember the value right now. But, through the years my pickups had creeped their way closer to the strings because I was wanting a hotter, stronger signal. One day I went to the local music store I know and the guy is playing a few of his personal Tele's and the sound was so much better than mine -- brighter, twangier, sharper. Especially because I've been playing Tweed amp clones I've built for the past few years - not exactly known for pristine clarity. So, I shopped around online for pickups, had it narrowed down to a few choices, and on a whim, I looked up the factory specs and realized how tall my pickups were standing on there. Dropped them back down and BOOM, there was the Tele twang again. I fine tuned a little, but it's the best it has sounded in years.

    The other was my '72 Deluxe RI. I couldn't be satisfied with that thing no matter what amp. I rewired it 50's and more humbucker friendly guts inside, helped, but not cured. I finally plugged it into my Tweed Champ clone, cranked it up, and I started turning screws until I was happy. They ended up with both angled up toward the center, neck lowered on the bass side, bridge lowered on the treble side, and they look crazy on there, but it sounds great now (10 years after I bought it).

    Anyway, I've learned that I like lower pickups on everything these days. My Pearly Gates on a Les Paul can fake a Telecaster when I need to, and I don't have to change anything on my amp or pedals if I swap from it to my Telecaster. Like someone said earlier, give me enough time to tweak and adjust things, and I seem to end up making every guitar & amp sound pretty dang close to each other.
  20. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Nov 21, 2012
    A great thread that displays the different experiences out there. We are all on a different quest for tones with our personal guitars through our personal amps and pedals. I experienced very similar results as already mentioned by going through the various steps independently on my Sheraton II over a decade. I started with 50s wiring, tone caps, then pots, but not until I experienced some uncovered humbuckers that I knew what to do next and put in very inexpensive uncovered low output Alnico IIs and finally hit the sounds I always wanted ... for me. I believe all of the changes were instrumental for me to acquire the final results. The differences are astounding from where I started.

    It is a sonic adventure. Enjoy the ride.
    awasson likes this.
IMPORTANT: Treat everyone here with respect, no matter how difficult!
No sex, drug, political, religion or hate discussion permitted here.