Are expensive pickups worth it?

gb Custom Shop

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We all know there are a ton of pickup winders these days, and pickups can be acquired at just about any price point.

But I never fully grasped how certain pickups command their price. I see some pickups priced at less than $50 (typically offshore produced), and most commonly we see pickups in the couple hundred dollar range, but then there's some sets out there fetching $500-$1000 for a set.

The latter, expensive category never fully made sense to me, all things considered equal. What sort of secret sauce do these winders have? What makes those pickups command their high price tag? What makes those pickups "better" than those in the mid-priced category that use the exact same materials??
 

Si G X

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I've had both cheap pickups and fairly expensive pickups that I really liked and really didn't like.

The ones I liked were worth it, the ones I didn't like weren't.

In my current guitars, I have pickups from £25 to £125 each, they were all worth it to me.
 

ndcaster

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so I see a couple things that merit adequate compensation

- using rare materials, like cunife
- making things by yourself (labor cost)
- matching an original design perfectly because you know all the details
- making a limited quantity (realizing no economy of scale)
- enforcing perfect quality control

.02
 

Thinline casket

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I've had bootstrap pickups and they were good. But I generally use Lollars. Why? I've tried Duncans and I don't like them. I tried Lollars and I liked them. So I tried another set, and another. They are consistent. Maybe Fralins are the same. Maybe bootstraps are the same. But if one brand consistently gives me what I want to hear I'll keep going back. (I wouldn't keep going back for $500, lol.)
 

Ringo

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As was posted above, I've had cheap pickups that were great, and some name brands that I didn't care for. Swapping pickups can be a never-ending expensive rabbit hole to go down. I really liked the Fralin pickups that I have tried in Strats and Telecasters, but I've also had some inexpensive import pickups that were great.
 

Timbresmith1

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The cool part is trying a guitar in which you have no idea what the pickups are, but they are amazing so you have to ask.
I “Discovered” Tom Holmes, Fralin, Throback, Arcane, and Bare Knuckle in precisely this manner. The 5-10 minutes spent playing those pickups were enough to convince me that there’s something there. Bardens, I knew of, but when I played them, I was sold.
I have also played (and purchased) other pickups that did not pull me in quite as much, but are fine and I would have no prob recommending them to anyone.
“Worth it” is up to you. Some people are inspired by Silvertone tube amps. For what I do it was wet cardboard useless. For Jack White or the Stooges? Pure fire.
 

Milspec

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I think it depends on the quality of the player and how they want to sound. I am a hack, so it really doesn't matter all that much...sort of like asking a bad cook which pans they prefer. I have Fralins, Custom Shop, Duncans, etc. and they are all playable and all sound good to me. My primary telecaster is running SD Vintage Broadcasters and they were pretty cheap.

Bottom line: Having the set that sounds good to you is what matters....not the price tag. It isn't like buying wine where the higher price equates to the better tasting wine. It just doesn't work that way with instruments, amps, pickups, etc.
 

Cali Dude

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It really depends on the player's goals. To me, I have only switched out for custom higher end pickups twice. The Lollar Imperials that I put in my Hamer really brought me the sounds that I had been wanting but couldn't attain with the stock set in that guitar. I also put some Texas Tele pickups in a Tele that also gave me the sound I was looking for.
 

24 track

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We all know there are a ton of pickup winders these days, and pickups can be acquired at just about any price point.

But I never fully grasped how certain pickups command their price. I see some pickups priced at less than $50 (typically offshore produced), and most commonly we see pickups in the couple hundred dollar range, but then there's some sets out there fetching $500-$1000 for a set.

The latter, expensive category never fully made sense to me, all things considered equal. What sort of secret sauce do these winders have? What makes those pickups command their high price tag? What makes those pickups "better" than those in the mid-priced category that use the exact same materials??
an original set of late 50's early 60's PAF buckers command premium because of rarity today , how ever seymour duncan can spec you out a set at a reduced cost , but still premium in coins.
it depends on what you are looking for and what sounds great to your ears personally.
for my self I dislike any factory installed fender single coil strat pickups plus I dislike strat wiring scheme, took me 10 years to luck upon a switching combo I like and now my 2 strats rock, but thats just me.
some guys dislike gibson 490/498 pickups , its personal taste .
Dicky betts once said " Any good guitarist can make any guitar sound great " . and i agree.
what we are missing here is , the fact most of us never take the time to work with our gear or learn it before we accumulate more and then fail to work with that ,

as stated original non available pickup today cost a ton , any boutique pickups you will pay premium, generic pick ups may be the answer for joe average , until some one becomes a proffesional musician then then expirience will allow you to make an informed descision as what you feel you need .

but this all subjective
 

Timbresmith1

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I think it depends on the quality of the player and how they want to sound. I am a hack, so it really doesn't matter all that much...sort of like asking a bad cook which pans they prefer. I have Fralins, Custom Shop, Duncans, etc. and they are all playable and all sound good to me. My primary telecaster is running SD Vintage Broadcasters and they were pretty cheap.

Bottom line: Having the set that sounds good to you is what matters....not the price tag. It isn't like buying wine where the higher price equates to the better tasting wine. It just doesn't work that way with instruments, amps, pickups, etc.
Except when it DOES work that way.

I ponied up for a Soldano within 5 minutes. I tried every Boogie,Crate, Marshall,Peavey, Laney, Buddha in the place. I had no intention of even purchasing an amp that day. But I put a deposit on that Soldano immediately.
 

beyer160

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If your goal is to win bragging rights at your local Wednesday night blooze lawyer open mic, definitely.

"Whaddaya got in that Collings Custom? Oh... you're still playing the stock ThroBaks? Yeah, sure, those are OK I guess... I only play Emperor's New Clothes, myself. You've never heard of them? Yeah, I guess a lot of guys who only play Guitar Center stuff don't know about them, they're pretty high end. He only makes pickups during a full moon because that's the only way to really align the magnetic flux. I got rid of my Lollar Imperials as soon as I found them, the ENC really make the Lollars sound like Artec junk. Now if you'll excuse me I have to get my Dumble onstage, it's my turn to get up and jam my tasty licks"
 

gb Custom Shop

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I totally get the subjective aspect of tone, and am a firm believer in that nothing is 'THE' best. All that really matters is the players satisfaction, however route they get there

But, it seems like there's boutique pickups, like Fralin's and many others, and then there's "ultra-boutique" - like Ron Ellis or Tone Specific, which can be double+ the price of Fralin's! Is there any merit to that, or is it all just a marketing ploy?
 

bgmacaw

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If your goal is to win bragging rights at your local Wednesday night blooze lawyer open mic, definitely.

"Whaddaya got in that Collings Custom? Oh... you're still playing the stock ThroBaks? Yeah, sure, those are OK I guess... I only play Emperor's New Clothes, myself. You've never heard of them? Yeah, I guess a lot of guys who only play Guitar Center stuff don't know about them, they're pretty high end. He only makes pickups during a full moon because that's the only way to really align the magnetic flux. I got rid of my Lollar Imperials as soon as I found them, the ENC really make the Lollars sound like Artec junk. Now if you'll excuse me I have to get my Dumble onstage, it's my turn to get up and jam my tasty licks"

Tell the truth, you cut and pasted that from TGP, right?
 

beyer160

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I totally get the subjective aspect of tone, and am a firm believer in that nothing is 'THE' best. All that really matters is the players satisfaction, however route they get there

But, it seems like there's boutique pickups, like Fralin's and many others, and then there's "ultra-boutique" - like Ron Ellis or Tone Specific, which can be double+ the price of Fralin's! Is there any merit to that, or is it all just a marketing ploy?
Fender and Gibson pickups of the '50s and '60s are generally revered as benchmarks, and those were haphazardly made by people who had no clue about any of the science behind what they were doing. They just wound wire on coils 'till they looked OK then dropped them in a bin. Maybe I should start a company doing that- "Authentic 1950s Fender style pickups, built the same way as the originals!" and just sit there eyeballing everything while chainsmoking Camels all day.
 




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