Traditionally, Why is the Bridge Pickup “Lead” and the Neck “Rhythm”?

Discussion in 'Telecaster Discussion Forum' started by SonicDiveBomb, Feb 12, 2019.

  1. SonicDiveBomb

    SonicDiveBomb Tele-Meister

    Jun 15, 2014
    I’m assuming it’s because bridge pickups cut in the mix much better, and are much easier to hear over other instruments. But why?

    Sonically, does the bridge cut more because of its increased midrange? Why is it so easy for the neck pickup to be lost in the mix but the bridge pickup cuts right through?
  2. muscmp

    muscmp Tele-Holic

    Jul 1, 2008
    i agree. bridge is brighter and the neck is darker. bridge cuts thru while neck is warmer and plays nicer with rhythm.

    play music!
    uriah1 likes this.
  3. JazzboxBlues

    JazzboxBlues Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 6, 2014
    Crook County IL
    Makes sense why traditionally it is but I like the neck pickup.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
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  4. TheMindful

    TheMindful TDPRI Member

    Feb 7, 2019
    Sacramento, CA
    Just frequency. Bass and drums don't cover much of the higher frequency range so the brighter sounds of a bridge pickup have more tonal space than the lower frequencies of a neck pickup, which may get lost behind the rhythm section.

    Bridge pickup gets all the treble because of its proximity to the bridge, where the string has the most tension. The strings by the neck pickup are looser and have more give to produce longer low-frequency waves.
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  5. Andy Summers

    Andy Summers Friend of Leo's

    Jul 26, 2006
    Actually a great question...

    I tend to stay on the bridge (of any guitar) all the time when playing with the band. Unless it’s a nice clean part where the neck pickup will actually cut through..but 99% of the time I’m on the bridge...but At home when I’m just chilling out and have the guitar in my hand, it’s usually a nice and mellow neck pickup...
  6. sonny wolf

    sonny wolf Friend of Leo's

    Jun 16, 2009
    austin texas
    The electric guitar was a new and evolving instrument in the 1950s and playing amplified solos on a guitar though an amp was a new innovation.So in a primitive thinking sense,it was deemed that the bright bridge sound was suited to playing solos or melodies as that was popularised by lap steel guitar players in the 1930s and 1940s.And neck pickup tones on guitars in the 1940s were popularised by Jazz players.So the idea of fusing those two approaches was brought on by this new electric guitar instrument that can cover both those bases.But then players started blurring the lines...why not play rhythm on a bright bridge pickup(like power chords ect) and soloing on the neck pickup with sustain from the amp.Eventually the rules changed as new players would come along and create their own sounds.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
  7. strat a various

    strat a various Friend of Leo's

    May 9, 2008
    Some of the DeArmond "monkey-on-a-stick" type pickups (The one I used to use was called a Rhythm Chief, I think), had a button that you pushed when you wanted to take a solo. It was a high pass filter, so for rhythm, you got a thinner tone that cut through the Big Band for chunky chords, and for solo work, you got a deeper, fuller, bassier sound that gave a more mellifluous tone. So, trebly for rhythm, bassy for solos. Makes more sense to me.
    Tony474 likes this.
  8. Colo Springs E

    Colo Springs E Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Mar 4, 2003
    Colorado Springs
    Same here! I learned back when I was gigging (an 80s/90s pop rock cover band) that I could have easily gotten by with playing a single (bridge) pickup guitar. There were one or two solos I played on neck pickup. NEVER played rhythm parts on the neck pickup.
    Andy Summers likes this.
  9. Ash Telecaster

    Ash Telecaster Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    I often use them in the reverse of those terms, neck for leads and bridge for rythm. Those are perhaps marketing terms that dont reflect reality.
  10. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 18, 2014
    Near Detroit, MI

    google 'chart of music instrument frequency range' and you'll see how they overlap.

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  11. John C

    John C Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Sep 20, 2005
    Kansas City
    It could go back to how the Tele was set up with vintage wiring - where the 3-way switch positions were bridge pickup + tone control, neck pickup + tone control, and neck pickup with the capacitor (the "dark" setting) that was to cover the bass frequencies - before Leo developed his first electric bass.

    So the neck pickup with that bass capacitor was a "rhythm" setting and the other settings were the "lead" setting. Over time it became more and more just the bridge pickup as the "lead" setting on other guitar designs.
    Chicago Matt likes this.
  12. Chicago Matt

    Chicago Matt Friend of Leo's

    Aug 23, 2014
    I think the answer is that the bridge pickup "cuts" more in an ensemble, and also relates to the original Tele wiring. But for what I'm doing, with a Tele or Strat in my trio, I'm probably on the neck-only position 85% of the time - both rhythm and soloing. With the trio, I don't have any other instrument in my "sonic space" that I need to "cut" through. I do love all the combinations though.
  13. Doctorx33

    Doctorx33 Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 8, 2014
    Because Leo said so, dude.
  14. ScubaGeek

    ScubaGeek TDPRI Member

    Jan 22, 2016
    Someplace called Ohio
    I alway sfound it interesting that on some of the early one pickup guitar designs like on the ES-150, or whatever the name of the guitar that Charlie Christian played, you had one pickup up by the bridge. So apparently, early on, they weren't thinking about "cutting through the band", or maybe they didn't realize if you put a pickup back by the bridge you'd get more top end.

    And I also find it interesting that even when playing two pickup guitars, those jazz guys use just the neck pickup. I remember reading an article in Guitar World about Herb Ellis back in the 80's, and at the time, he had a signature model that was made by, Aria Pro II, I think. He said it only had two pickup because the guitar company insisted it would sell better, and Herb himself never used the bridge pickup. First of all, isn't the point of a "signature model" is to offer a guitar the way the guitarist wants it, especially when the situation (in this case, cutting a whole in the top of a hollowbody guitar for an extra pickup that the guitarist isn't going to use) will change the way the guitar sounds? Secondly, why wouldn't you at least occasionally use the the extra pickup. It was like those guys were happy having just one guitar tone.

    Obviously, the Esquire had one pickup back by the bridge, but were there any other single pickup guitars like that? Most of the ones I remember seeing, prior to Eddie Van Halen, had a pickup up by the neck, including Fender's own Musicmaster model. Eddie was possibly the first to put one pickup back by the bridge, apart from the Esquire, and then when everyone went gaga over Eddie, suddenly everyone starts making guitars like that.

    Another thing I find amusing about this kind of thing is the Telecaster always outsold the Esquire, even though most guitarists used just the bridge pickup (supposedly because the neck pickup was so "disappointing", I guess that's why so many guitarists replaced the neck pickups on their Teles). I remember someone saying it was because the Tele was perceived as being more upscale or whatever, like the Esquire was somehow a "student" or "budget" guitar (interestingly, many of Fender's "student" models have two or more pickups).

    I think Eddie Van Halen may have single handedly made one pickup guitars "cool". If I'm not mistaken, a lot of the hard rock guys in the 70's used just the bridge pickup anyway.

    But back to the original point: I personally don't like the bridge pickup on my Strats. I used them with the middle pickup, for the Mark Knopfler type tone, by itself, OUCH! If I use one pickup by itself, I prefer either the neck or middle pickups. The middle pickup has a nice chiming quality, while the neck pickup sounds very warm, both of which are great for both clean and distortion type tone. Didn't Hendrix and SRV play a lot of solos off the neck pickup?
  15. unixfish

    unixfish Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 20, 2013
    Northeast Ohio, USA
    ...because some marketing type put that in a publication, then Gibson picked up on that for a label on the pickup selector switch, and it just stuck.

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  16. memorex

    memorex Friend of Leo's

    Jan 14, 2015
    You can put anything you want on the selector ring:

  17. RadioFM74

    RadioFM74 Tele-Afflicted

    I think that the DeArmond circuitry made (and still makes) sense in the context of the swing music of the era (‘40s and ‘50s). The idea was that the “rhythm circuit” would (a) take away some volume and (b) take you closer to the traditional sound of the rhythm acoustic archtop (or banjo) playing those “four-to-the-bar” chords. Ever heard one of those? Not bassy AT ALL :) Whereas in the jazz of the era, the “guitar solo” sound was basically identified with fuller, juicier tones. Suggested listening: Charlie Christian, or Eddie Durham in the “Kansas City 6”, i.e. the two foremost pioneers of the electric guitar (without wanting to minimize the impact of others, such as George Barnes, who had very different tone).

    As others said, when developing the tele Leo had in mind western swing most of all, and associated the “lead tone" to the bright sound of the lap steel.
  18. Seasicksailor

    Seasicksailor Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 26, 2012
    Bristol UK
    It's impossible, but I'd love to know how and who had that realisation first. I suspect the convention pre-dates the Gibson selector labels.
  19. Tony474

    Tony474 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 16, 2007
    North Bushey, England.
    Actually, I'm glad you mentioned this, because it's something that's always bugged me on both guitars and amps – and I've been at this game a long, long time.

    On guitars, because it's designating a specific purpose to each pickup. OK, so what if i want to play a solo on the neck pickup? Am I going to get arrested by the Guitar Police? In fact more often than not I do exactly that, the neck pickup not being short of mid frequencies that push through the mix just fine but have a fullness that adds warmth to the tone. Of course I also solo on the bridge pickup (or even both) when the style calls for it, but I don't see that as being its sole function. For rhythm work I tend to use both pickups together for lively stuff, although for softer material I do use the neck pickup, thereby satisfying the "authorities", though that isn't why I do it. It just sounds better that way.

    On amps it absolutely infuriates me that some makers label the clean channel as the "Rhythm" channel, which essentially suggests that any and all lead or solo work must be played with distortion. That is manifestly total bollocks and I refuse to even consider buying an amp labelled thus, no matter how good it is considered to be or how great it actually sounds. I have a principle to uphold!
  20. David Barnett

    David Barnett Doctor of Teleocity

    Les Paul Junior
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