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. awasson

    awasson Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Nov 18, 2010

    +1 on the average output pickups. I also like give some room between the strings and the pickup. It takes a while to figure out where they sound good but it’s worth it. You can get a whole lot of flexibility by changing the height of the pickups.

    For humbuckers I like he sound I get from an Alnico 2 pickup. I haven’t tried Alnico 2 single coils yet but that’s on my todo list or a hybrid like the new Fender V-mod Alnico 2/5 Pickups. I’ve read good things about them.
    etype likes this.
  2. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Friend of Leo's

    Jun 2, 2014
    west coast
    How do you suppose the sound should change depending on whether the bobbin is made of polycarbonate or butyrate? What if you use 1018 vs 1022 grade steel? What if the hookup wire uses triple strand braid instead of double strand? Are you absolutely sure that every detail matters to the sound?
    grooveiron and DugT like this.
  3. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Friend of Leo's

    Jun 2, 2014
    west coast
    It's all a popularity contest. Whenever it comes to granting an award for the "best art", it's never about the art, and it can't be, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It comes down to how well regarded the artist is.

    That's why celebrity endorsement deals are such a critical part of the guitar pickup market. Even the pickups that are not direct endorsement deals tend to have celebrity associations, such as the SSL-1 and John Frusciante, or the SSL-4 and Ritchie Blackmore, or the SSL-5 and David Gilmore. It starts out with "I heard the Pearly Gates is an exact replica of Billy Gibbon's 59's PAF!" so then someone sinks $200 into a set, and now they're psychologically committed to liking it because they put $200 on the line, and spent a half hour installing the pickups, and to not like the Pearly Gates is like a personal affront to the great bearded one, so to prove how much they love their investment, they go on forums and recommend the pickup to everyone else. You know this is true by how frequently people say, in so many words "this art is the best art". No art is the best art, so the claim itself should be evidence enough that there are unseen motivations behind the assertion.

    Most all pickups, especially those from the Seymour Duncan, all feature the same bobbin dimensions and steel parts, and so it should be fairly apparent that they only difference between them is electrical. All of the various models have cute names and descriptions, but in truth they nearly all have identical response curves, and differ in the cut off frequency, which closely correlates with inductance, and loosely correlates with DC resistance. Pickups that use different steel parts have mildly different effects, such as the amount of treble that is damped, and the efficiency of the magnetic circuit. It's usually an aesthetic consideration, to look modern or to look vintage.

    The different magnet types merely determine how strong the magnetic field is. The weaker magnet grades give you the sound of a lowered pickups without having to have the look of a lowered pickup. The stronger magnets give you the sound of a pickup that is close to the strings without having to have the pickup really close to the strings.
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2018
    Boiled_Strings and etype like this.
  4. jimbo735

    jimbo735 Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 19, 2011
    I have noticed every pickup I have purchased and tested through my ROCKMAN they all make me sound like Tom Scholz of Boston.
  5. 3-Chord-Genius

    3-Chord-Genius Friend of Leo's

    Apr 3, 2015
    Winchester, VA
  6. DHart

    DHart Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 12, 2012
    Scottsdale, AZ USA
    Everything makes a difference, even if very subtle. But you may hear little, if any, of that subtlety if you play with a distorted tone quality.

    I’m sure you’ve read my posts extolling the tonal virtues of Gibson Classic ‘57s in one of my Teles. And my post asking what SD pickup would most emulate the Gibson Classic ‘57. I, like most humbucker players, love the Gibson Classic ‘57. It is one of the most widely played humbucker pickups there is.

    Some may not like the ‘57, but that could have as much to do with the particular guitar that they are in, the specs of the volume and tone pots, and especially whatever tone modification they like to employ with a pedal board and amp settings.

    Many payers who buy humbuckers are into heavy overdrive. Once you introduce heavy overdrive (either by pedal board, or by amp, or combination of the two) it becomes much more difficult to determine the subtleties of one pickup vs another.

    I play mostly without pedals and like a clean, bright tone. I like to hear all the subtle overtones that a pickup can bring. When played this way, I find Gibson Classic ‘57s sound great to my ears... rich, clean, and full of overtones. I especially like the Classic ‘57 neck pickup with a change from AlNiCo II to AlNiCo V rough cast magnet, which opens up a more sparkly tone to the high frequencies. I also like to use 500k volume and a no-load tone pot, which allows the full breadth of the pickup’s tone range to come through. Played in this way, I hear no mud whatsoever from a Classic ‘57, just a full range, rich & fat, and sparkly bright tone.

    The Dimarzio PAF Master is one pickup that is known for it’s open, bright high-end. If you like that quality from a humbucker, this is another good choice. If you prefer a darker, rounded-off humbucker tone, pick something else.

    But once you introduce distortion or heavy overdrive with pedals, and/or from overdriving an amp... that’s a completely different ballgame that some may love and others avoid like the plague. It also masks many, if not all, of the subtleties that different pickups can provide.

    Yes, different humbuckers can sound VERY different. Just compare a pair of the factory supplied BHK off-shore production humbuckers in a Tele Blacktop HH to a pair of Gibson Classic ‘57s in the same Blacktop Tele. BIG difference that you can easily hear. How do I know? Because I bought that BHK equipped Blacktop and changed the pickups to Gibson Classic ‘57s. The increase in clarity and articulation is quite apparent, if you listen to the pickups played clean. Some may prefer the darker, less articulate BHK pickups, especially if they play with a good bit of overdrive or distortion. But those who like a clean, articulate tone will almost certainly prefer the Classic ‘57s.

    I have another Tele, an FSR HH that the factory equipped with BHK off-shore humbuckers. Same deal: they sounded less articulate, not as “clear”, and lacked the overtone richness that the set of Dimarzio PAF Masters that I replaced them with has.

    Let’s take another humbucker that I use in one of my Teles... the Duncan ‘59. This one has a more rounded-off character, not as sparkly bright as the Classic ‘57 or the PAF Master. TO my ears, the SD 59 is better suited to a jazz style, where a more rounded-off tonal quality is typically preferred. Or, if you like that rounded-off overdriven fuzz humbucker tone, exemplified by the American Woman lead guitar tone.

    So I’d say that if you are the kind of player who thrives on the clear, articulate, tonally detailed quality that pickups CAN provide, and you play a relatively clean/undistorted tone, yes... there are differences between pickups that you can definitely hear and appreciate.

    On the other hand, if you play a very loud, overdriven/distorted tone quality... you are not so likely to be able to discern many of the subtle differences between different pickups.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2018
    Deneb, Geo and etype like this.
  7. awasson

    awasson Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Nov 18, 2010
    :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :twisted:
  8. Mincer

    Mincer Tele-Meister

    Dec 19, 2017
    Tampa Bay Area
    If only there were some kind of chart that proved this...
  9. hopdybob

    hopdybob Tele-Holic

    May 28, 2008
    if i compare a lawrence l280, l200 and l45 there is definitely difference in sound, especially the attack of the l45 is softer.
    if this is design-wise i don't know, do i have a favorite? yes, the 280 ;-)
  10. ndcaster

    ndcaster Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

    Nov 14, 2013
    this all depends on 3 things

    1 how much treble you want on tap

    2 how simple/pure you want your signal chain to be

    3 whether you want to put up with single coil noise
    Antigua Tele likes this.
  11. rich815

    rich815 Friend of Leo's

    Aug 22, 2016
    San Francisco Bay Area
    By why would you want to do that other than to prove a point? Musically it makes no sense. I can make everything in the world look black, just gouge out my eyes...
    DHart and CFFF like this.
  12. DHart

    DHart Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 12, 2012
    Scottsdale, AZ USA
    Indeed. And, viva la difference! That's one of the reasons why we enjoy having multiple guitars - for different sounds.
    etype likes this.
  13. Dickey01

    Dickey01 Tele-Meister

    Jul 19, 2017
    Personally, I think a lot of it is psychological. I think the main difference is between single coil & humbucking, but I think if you took 100 different humbuckers & 100 different single coils & compared 'em blindfolded, you wouldn't be able to hear much difference in tone. Maybe output, but that's about it.
    etype likes this.
  14. DrBGood

    DrBGood Tele-Meister

    Jan 30, 2015
    Sutton QC, CANADA
    That ...
    That too ...
  15. supersoldier71

    supersoldier71 Tele-Holic

    Nov 22, 2009
    Fayetteville, NC
    Regarding pickups: it depends.

    I had a MIM Standard Strat and the stock ceramics didn’t sound good at all to me. Duncan Classic Stack Plus install and everything was lovely. Sold that guitar to an Australian friend.

    My Wildkat had horribly overwound, muddy, microphonic stock pickups. Custom hand wound replacements and again, we’re lovely.

    But application matters. The amp matters a lot. Playing style matters.

    The 498T/490R set in my LP Special work for just about everything through my Peavey Classic 50 but become muddy through smaller combos.

    It’s hard to generalize and most of the process is based on at best, educated guesses.
    etype likes this.
  16. John O

    John O TDPRI Member Gold Supporter

    May 22, 2016
    Yes, pickups matter.
    That's one of the reasons I like G&L guitars. Aside from excellent build quality, their p'ups are superior, as are their PTB tone circuits.
    Leo had a few more good ideas, well after he left "Fender."
    Most p'ups on well built guitars sound good in the basement.
    But, at performance/band levels/conditions, great p'ups make a huge difference in tone, attack, sustain/decay, etc. Also, the way they interact with an amp, especially the pre-amp/gain stage.
    Personally, I think guitarists obsess about p'ups too much. But no question in my mind,
    they do matter.
    etype likes this.
  17. sothoth

    sothoth Tele-Holic Platinum Supporter

    Nov 24, 2010

    I had a pair of really nice Bareknuckle Abraxas HBs in an Epiphone SG and was really disappointed. Moved them to a Gibson SG along with the pots and wires and caps, and they sounded great. I obviously can’t blame the pickups.

    I built a cabinet with celestion greenbacks and didn’t like it but for a long time assumed it was the amp until I experimented with different speakers and was able to get tone that was far better to my ears with the same amp.

    Opinions on pickups are like... and everyone has got one. You have to experiment to get it perfect to your ears. And then the next guy/gal is going to think your perfect isn’t perfect anyway, so be ready to try different things.
    etype likes this.
  18. awasson

    awasson Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Nov 18, 2010
    That’s why unless I know the sounds (I’ll purposely avoid the word tone) of a well worn guitar, I’ll record it before and after, dry with the pickups at the same height and the controls maxed.

    I’m not sure I can tell the difference between a ceramic single coil and another ceramic single coil but I can tell the difference between a ceramic and an A5 or an A5 and something else. I can’t predict which will sound better or hit that sweet spot but I can certainly tell the difference and same goes for overwound pickups vs regular or vintage wound. they sound different and again I can’t predict which will be better or the scope of what someone (especially someone on the Internet) is looking for.

    With humbuckers I’m more accurate because I’ve had 40 years to figure out what I like or don’t like with them. I can’t predict what you’re going to like but I do know that I don’t like overwound “hot” humbuckers. I’ve had some recent good experience with A2 humbuckers with coil resistances of 7k - 8k. I like a humbucker that’s less scooped and with a little sparkle in the top end. I’ve got some somewhat decent A5 pickups with similar resistance and inductance to my A2 set but they sound flatter, more brash with less sparkle to me.

    My all time favourite humbucker is a Seymour Duncan Screamin Demon (SH12) bridge pickup I play in the neck position. I bought it as a bridge pickup but prefer it in the neck and prefer it over any others I’ve tried. It’s got A5 magnets but it’s less scooped than most A5’s I’ve tried. It’s not a super hot pickup which the name would lead you to believe; it’s got a coil resistance of around 10k. I haven’t measured the inductance. It’s hot enough to push an amp ok but I really like this pickup for clean playing and lead guitar. It’s got a really good sound to it.

    Anyway I got carried away but my point was that yeah, I can tell the difference between a stack of single coils or a stack of humbuckers. They sound different. Some good, some not so good.
    etype likes this.
  19. littlebadboy

    littlebadboy Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 25, 2016
    Midwest, USA
    I have been trying different pickups, and yep, they do sound different from each other. I only had the opportunity to try out affordable pickups though.

    I made a video demo of stock pickups vs Guitar Madness' Dirty Digits:
    etype and awasson like this.
  20. etype

    etype Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 23, 2014
    Nice! Now that's the way a comparison video should go! I need to watch it again (I gotta get to work), but 1m pots? Aren't 500s the standard for humbuckers? If I have my facts right, that would brighten it up a bit. Interesting choice without a tone knob.
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