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Do pickups really vary THAT much?

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

  1. littlebadboy

    littlebadboy Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 25, 2016
    Midwest, USA
    Thanks! And yep, 1 meg vol pot with no load at the top! Why? I wanted to hear what is coming out from the pickup 100%, and I think it wasn't so bad, would you think? If it was too bright, I would have just adjusted my patch settings.
     
    etype likes this.

  2. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 2, 2014
    west coast
    Gain clipping definitely blots out the difference between pickups, because the difference lies in the upper harmonic content, and clipping causes new higher harmonics to be generated, competing with, or completely blotting out the natural harmonics that the pickup delivers in a clean context.

    The pickups that are known to be good for gain are dark pickups, and that's because their lack of natural high harmonics creates a blank space for the clipping harmonics to fill in, giving you a nice "chain saw" overdrive, where as a brighter pickup with a higher Q factor, like most Fender single coils, causes an audible overlap of natural and clipping harmonics that results in a muddy tone.

    Even clean, it's impossible to make a genuine comparison video in this manner, because a person would have to strum in exactly the same place, with exactly the same about of attack force, folding the pick at the same angle, with the same degree of pressure, and so on, in order to ensure that the resulting harmonics had the same exact amplitudes and durations, test for test. The subject of the thread is "Do pickups really vary THAT much", one thing I can tell you for sure is that how a person strums, and the type of pick they use, if any, makes more difference than the pickups, in many cases. I know there are a lot of YouTube videos demo'ing pickups back to back, but that's mostly just people hearing what they want to hear.
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2018
    hellopike likes this.

  3. DHart

    DHart Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 12, 2012
    Scottsdale, AZ USA
    Yep... once you introduce any significant amount of distortion, most of the subtle sonic differences between various pickups is pretty much destroyed. I think if I were one to play with a good bit of distortion, I wouldn't be nearly as attuned to, and picky about, the tonal characteristics of different pickups.

    This is why some people say they can make pretty much any two pickups sound pretty much the same... crank the amp loud enough, tweak the tone controls a little, distort the crap out of the signal, hammer hard at the strings... and they're almost all pretty much alike at that point.

    Subtlety? None to speak of remains.
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2018

  4. D_Malone

    D_Malone TDPRI Member

    Age:
    47
    25
    Jul 28, 2018
    Ferndale, MI
    I agree with this to a point. Distortion does mask a lot of subtle nuances, but it can also reveal shortcomings, e.g. harshness, fizziness, muddy low end, etc. that might not have been as obnoxious when playing clean.
     
    DHart likes this.

  5. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 2, 2014
    west coast
    If you understand why the clean signal results in a fuzzy, muddy low end to begin with, then you will recognize that, clean or not. And since the gain stage is not inherent to the pickup, the extent to which you get those outcomes depends on the type of overdrive you're using. For example, a lot of overdrives/distortions/fuzzes have built in attenuation that is unique to their circuit, so even if the pickup is delivering higher or lower harmonic content, the circuit chops them off for the sake of a particular overdriven tone.
     

  6. littlebadboy

    littlebadboy Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 25, 2016
    Midwest, USA
    I have to disagree with you, sir.

    I have been playing and listening hard rock/metal for more than 30+ years. I'm not a pro and still a beginnner, but I think I could hear the difference in metal driven sounds. In my demo above, I used exactly the same tone settings for the different pickups on the very same guitar and tried to play exactly the same way with the very same pick (Dragon heart pick).
     
    awasson likes this.

  7. DHart

    DHart Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 12, 2012
    Scottsdale, AZ USA
    That’s great. I say go with what you think sounds good and ignore everything else. What you like to hear is all that should matter in the choices that drive your sound.

    Certainly; there can be sound differences, even with loud and distorted tones, from one guitar to another and one pickup to another. No doubt about it. But to more fully hear and determine the tonal differences from one pickup to another, playing them clean helps considerably.

    And of course, if “your tone” happens to be heavy distortion, then selecting pickups while hearing them heavily distorted would certainly be the way to do it, as hearing them clean wouldn’t tell you much about how they would sound distorted. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2018
    littlebadboy and CFFF like this.

  8. littlebadboy

    littlebadboy Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 25, 2016
    Midwest, USA
    This, I would totally agree!
     

  9. chiefline

    chiefline Tele-Holic

    942
    Mar 18, 2014
    new jersey
    Foung a bridge pickup that i bought on Ebay that is the most fantastic pickup I ever can across in my life. That is until i put it in a different telecaster and it sounded like crap. Needless to say it went back in the first tele and now it sounds amazing again. Yeah must be the guitar....
     

  10. CFFF

    CFFF Tele-Meister

    356
    Oct 31, 2016
    .
    Or maybe the control center in second guitar did not work well with the pickup?

    If you try again and move the plate and controls from the first tele it might sound differently.
     
    jvin248 likes this.

  11. tfarny

    tfarny Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 4, 2008
    Hudson Valley, NY
    Going down the rabbit hole of pickup selection can make you crazy. Yes, they can sound pretty different but they are all variations on a theme. If you really don't know what will work, I suggest you buy used pickups from well known brands - even buy a few different ones and take some time with each one before swapping out. You can then easily re-sell the "losers" and will have satisfied your curiosity without breaking the bank. Be careful that the "new strings effect" doesn't influence your opinions too much. Personally I think the Classic '57 is the reference standard for PAFs and it's where I would start, but the Duncan A2Pro is pretty close and less expensive. And as much as I think people like Lollar make a great product, it's hard to see what you are getting for your $200 above and beyond what you get with, say, a Duncan.

    I have never swapped pickups and afterwards thought "this sounds pretty much like it did before" - and I HAVE thought that when changing bridges, pots and caps, etc.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2018
    awasson and DHart like this.

  12. bcorig

    bcorig Tele-Meister

    358
    Mar 11, 2018
    Chino Hills CA
    Wow! I was unaware of these points. So many confounding variables. Thanks.
     

  13. awasson

    awasson Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Age:
    54
    Nov 18, 2010
    Vancouver
    That’s for sure. I did that with a Telecaster a few years ago. A year later I ended up with nearly the exact same I started with too.

    Also pretty disheartening to read all the reviews, make your choice and buy the pickup, install it and it just doesn’t do it for you. I found that with the DiMarzio Chopper T with standard Telecaster volume & tone controls. I switched to 500k pots and all of a sudden it came alive in a really good way. Lesson learned; it’s a humbucker and was too dark with the 250k controls. 500k made all the difference.
     

  14. P Thought

    P Thought Poster Extraordinaire

    I read halfway through this interesting thread hoping I'd get an answer in one of the posts, then couldn't stand it no more. I almost asked my stupid question: what means PAF?

    Then instead I googled up the Wikipedia page. :rolleyes: Patent Applied For. Interesting.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2018

  15. awasson

    awasson Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

    Age:
    54
    Nov 18, 2010
    Vancouver
    I always consider a PAF as a pickup that is similar to the original humbuckers Gibson used. Not overwound and with a nickel silver cover.
     

  16. Hudman_1

    Hudman_1 TDPRI Member

    Age:
    49
    49
    Jul 21, 2018
    Michigan
    Me too. My 490’s sound awesome.
     

  17. Tele-phone man

    Tele-phone man Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 11, 2006
    Asheville, NC
    I went through a number of pickups trying to find a set with a snappy, cutting bridge pickup sound and a clear, not-too-bassy neck pickup sound for my Washburn HB-35 (335-style guitar). The stock pickups were muddy and dark (copper covers, yuck!).
    The SD jazz makes a good neck position. The SD59 was a bit too mid-heavy, both neck and bridge. The Wilde L600 was too weak sounding, and was terrible with drive sounds. The Wilde L90 (4H neck, 6H bridge, as advised by Becky) was FAR too bassy in both positions, no cut AT ALL in the bridge position. The Wilde L609 just sounded weird, nothing like a humbucker OR a single-coil. The GFS Classic '59 was way, way too muddy and dark.
    I finally found my sound with the GFS Classic II Alnico II set. Just perfect clarity and output level, fantastic bite in the bridge position.

    These pickups all sounded DRAMATICALLY different in the same guitar. So, the answer to the OP's question is YES, different pickups really do vary a LOT.
     
    awasson likes this.

  18. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 18, 2014
    Near Detroit, MI
    There is a mile of copper wire wrapped around a pickup bobbin. The wire is so thin that the act of winding the wire can stretch it in spots so it necks down increasing resistance. The tension and winding pattern can make the bobbin loops pack tighter or with more air space or even cross over each other or bunch up in the center, the top, or the bottom of the bobbin -- these interacting loops act like a capacitor on a tone knob. Steel slug chemistry changes batch to batch. Magnet chemistry changes batch to batch. Magnet charging equipment can change over time or piece to piece.

    Abigail Ybarra pickup winding at Fender, she talks about what she does to ensure 'consistent' winding or 'checks' -- so all those nuances can alter the output if anyone but her winds these pickups. Some players seek out her signed pickups specifically. If you look up the old ~1952 Fender Factory video on youtube you can glimpse a young Abigail winding pickups. This video was taken near to the time she retired.



    Check the pots and caps in each guitar, not the numbers stamped on the cases but the actual readings. Changing those parts can alter the output just like swapping pickups. It's a system.

    These charts are from the GuitarNutz2 forum, comparing output from different nominal value tone caps and pots -- real guitars have tolerance variations in pots and caps from guitar to guitar. volume pots can vary 20%, tone pots can vary 20%, tone capacitors can vary 10% (we could be up to 50% variation range if unlucky between a pair of guitars), and pickups can vary 'some large %' that no factory willingly divulges/reports -- partly because it gets practically meaningless if too wide where two or more pickup models overlap or the spec may be so huge it even frightens the villagers to assemble with pitchforks and torches.

    The only saving grace for the musical instrument business is the magic of regression toward the mean plus actual production variation of each part follows a normal distribution curve. This will naturally cluster 'most' guitars in a 'similar' tone given the same styles of parts (say single coils vs humbuckers). Players have been conditioned to 'run the racks' to 'find the good one' since there is so much guitar to guitar variation.

    [​IMG]
    (legend is # setting on the pot zero to ten and the tone cap value)

    [​IMG]
    (Legend is pot/cap nominal)
    .
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2018
    Chicago Matt likes this.

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