Why do vintage pickups sound better?

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by Marquee Moon, Jan 18, 2019.

  1. Guitarteach

    Guitarteach Poster Extraordinaire

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    I think of saying it’s all the mind... but then I play my ‘64 Casino with its original P90s and they have a depth, quality, bite and airiness that my similar spec modern P90s do not have. They sound more focussed and narrow.

    I put some of it down to looser windings and dried out wax potting and magnets with 50 years of natural aging. The guitar is a system too, so the old, dried out woods and softened edges all play their part. Microphonics colour the tone a lot.
     
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  2. denny

    denny Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

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    The difference between a good sounding vintage pickup and a so-so new one is about 10,000 hours of practice.
     
  3. Middleman

    Middleman Friend of Leo's

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    Well, some of the vintage pickups sound different, not necessarily better. I played a $60k telecaster at GC Hollywood that was in this vein. The guitar sounded like piano strings i.e. clarity and tone like when you pluck a piano string. Most telecasters don't sound as clear as this one but as others have pointed out, the magnets were almost 70 years old. The low output nature along with the decrease in magnetism plus, I'm wasn't sure the wiring hadn't shorted and I was hearing less than the full coil of the pickup. This happens as the coating on the wire ages and the wires make contact with each other and you can get an even lower output pickup as you are hearing just a portion of the coil. I believe this is the holy grail sound a lot of people refer to when talking about vintage pickups in telecasters.

    On the Gibson side of things, pretty much the same thing, a lot of the holy grail Les Paul guitars from the 50s/60s have lost some magnetic properties and you start to get string clarity vs more homogenized sounding tone. The "Beast" has this property (lookup this LP) . But that said, I have a Custom Shop 58 with Burstbuckers which is a 2007 Reissue that sounds pretty much like original LPs from 1958 that I hear on YouTube. It sounds uniquely different than almost all other LPs which is why I bought it. It has this piano like quality and clarity. Just beautiful tone. I played almost 50 LPs before I settled on this one.

    Last thing, the anniversary year of telecasters, 2011, had several production models with OV pickups and lighter than most year ash bodies. If you can still find one, those had a unique sound not found in your average tele. I have 3 teles and the one from 2011 is quite unique.

    Also note, a lot of guys with vintage guitars are trying to get the highest dollar when selling. It's in their interest to declare the unique properties of their guitar.
     
  4. Jakeboy

    Jakeboy Tele-Afflicted

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    I am friends with a pickup maker you all love and he tells me the magnets today (with few exceptions) are not made the same as the mags BITD.
     
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  5. luckett

    luckett Banned

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    Yeah, but can he prove it by showing the internet forum post where he learned that?
     
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  6. Tootle

    Tootle Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    Mojo is generated by ladies bent over converted sewing machines. Modern production methods actually require whatever minute trace of mojo is generated to be gassed off to avoid clouding of contemporary guitar finishes or bubble packaging.
     
  7. Random1643

    Random1643 Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    This is a very limited example in response to the OP's broad stroke question. I'm in love with the sound of late-70s Bill Lawrence L-90 pickups - liquid, clarity, balance, musicality; they're amazing. I bought a 1977 L-90XL off ebay and then eventually decided to buy a new, made-to-order L-90 (less powerful) from Wilde Pickups. I had em installed in an MIK Gretsch thinline semi-hollow, the XL @ the bridge and the straight up L-90 @ the neck. So that's a span of 40 years between pickup manufacture on the same guitar. The sound quality, to my ear - understanding that the bridge has that grittier snarl, etc - of the 2 pickups is seamless. To me, they sound like one pickup as I transition from all neck to blended to all bridge. And they both sound great. Wilde IMO delivered an exact match to park in the neck position. (And they did it in exactly 2 weeks.) Again, just one man's experience, ears vary, etc.
     
  8. luckett

    luckett Banned

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    Don't forget about the unique nitrocellulose they used back then that allowed the wood to breathe. The nitro they used back then is different than what's in use today. The stuff they used in the 50s came from one of two operational nitrocellulose lacquer wells in southern california and both of those nitro wells are closed today. They no longer drill or operate nitrocellulose wells in california.

    [​IMG]
     
  9. Telecasterless

    Telecasterless Friend of Leo's

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    Cuz they got "game" on 'em.
     
  10. alathIN

    alathIN Tele-Holic

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    And, the vintage guitar with the muddy pickups might be the one that someone pawned off in 1972 when they needed cash, and got bought by a 15 year old who painted it with house paint and it wound up in a dumpster - or maybe just some metal head replaced the pickups with DiMarzios in 1981 - whereas the guitar with the awesome pickups stayed intact and is still here for us to listen to.

    We're not hearing the crappiest 25% of pickups from 1962.
    We're hearing the best quartile of pickups from 1962: the survivors.
     
  11. alathIN

    alathIN Tele-Holic

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    My other guess: the sounds of vintage pickups are in vogue among guitar afficionados.
    If this was 1983, we'd be saying "Man these old pickups suck. We're so lucky to be living in the era of super distortion plus."
     
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  12. rangercaster

    rangercaster Friend of Leo's

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    Who says vintage pickups sound better?... It's an opinion, not a fact...
     
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  13. luckett

    luckett Banned

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    It's a fact and the secret of vintage pickup tone is described in this video linked right here.
     
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  14. archetype

    archetype Fiend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    Hmmm. Are you trolling this thread, or do you believe this?
     
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  15. JustABluesGuy

    JustABluesGuy Friend of Leo's

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    I’ve heard that vintage cast iron is better for the exact same reason, so it must be true*!

    *Sarcasm
     
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  16. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Ducking under my bridge!
     
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  17. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Well this is interesting because I have many vintage Stanley cast iron planes, which for some reason were Stanley brand yet also labeled in the iron "Bailey", which was the foundry that cast them.

    I've also used a lot of Record planes and examined some other high dollar Stanley copy planes, and find that the older castings are just incredibly fine, while the later castings were gradually more coarse and less refined.

    I'd guess this was due to foundry process being speeded up more than any change to the iron.

    The later coarser castings had new features that were effective improvements, but I still find the really early ones are superb tools in hand at work.
    Early being 19th C, middle being early 20th C, and mediocrity setting in just after mid 20th C, which was a lot like the current big money iron planes quality.
     
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  18. Ripradiant

    Ripradiant Tele-Afflicted

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    There is also much corksniffing involved!
     
  19. Guitarteach

    Guitarteach Poster Extraordinaire

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    You need to source metals cast pre 1950s.

    Everything made since is irradiated from nuclear testing and those particles mess with your tone as well as sensitive equipment.

    Got to pull your magnet materials from old shipwrecks.
     
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  20. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    OK so I went to the link and we see a pickup maker ad featuring special steel alloy pole screws.
    Fishy snake oil maybe, I'm not buying the product, but at the same time there is a lot about steel that consumers don't need or want to know.

    Like the idea or fact that steel has grain pattern and direction.
    It seems established that the steel used in transformer laminations effects the sound.
    Most of us don't really educate ourselves in transformer lamination steel.
    It is certainly well established that different steel alloys have different hardness potential, toughness, brittleness and rust resistant characteristics.
    We might study up on this if we like to cut stuff with knives that we sharpen ourselves. Some of us never sharpen knives though, yet we may comment on steel.

    The fact that steel has grain may be little known.
    Casting creates no elongated directional grain but rolling does, as does hammer forging. Cast steel will have grain size and shape, but no direction.

    I note this only as an interesting yet little used tool when faced with our tendency to assume.
     
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