Are expensive pickups worth it?

Swirling Snow

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All that being said, I don't think "expensive" pickups (or even budget replacement pickups) are worth it to everyone at every level.
This. So much, this. And that's why there are varying opinions and people asking WHY?$?$?$?

And the irony is, those of us who can play well can sound good on beginner guitars, and great on anything over $600.

I'm not looking for tone, I'm looking for expressiveness. I want a pickup that amplifies the inflection of my fingers. A pickup that gives me more control over the amplifier. I will pay for that.

Everyone needs a self-assessment. "Are my pickups holding me back?" Only if they are, is any money worth spending.
 

voskarp

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I would never pay more than about $230 for a pair of tele pickups or $350 for a pair of humbuckers, that's more than good enough for me, and I would probably be satisfied with a set at half that price...
 

TunedupFlat

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I would gladly pay for quality handmade products.

I swap pickups if it doesn't resonate with me. I also do pickup swaps if I am playing and need some separation soundwise from other players.

I have american made teles that have fancy pants pickups, I have a squier that has stock pickups and is absolutely fine.
 

wraub

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I have a set of expensive pickups I won in a drawing. Not having any investment in them, I think they sound great, and others have said the same. There's no way I could have afforded them, so I'm glad to have them. If I could afford them I might buy them, but if I could afford them I'd also be looking at other makers.
 

LowHeadRoom

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The best pair of REPLACEMENT Buckers I ever had came from AliExpress. I know, it sounds insane. I ordered another color from another vendor expecting the same results, and the other ones sucked. You just get lucky sometimes when you take risks. I checked the other day and those humbuckers are still selling like hot cakes. I guess the word is out. :/

Push-pull pots too. I could almost get my LP to sound like a Tele if the neck pickup was far enough away from the strings.
 

Maguchi

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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??
Yes.
 

Peegoo

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I have a pair of Tom Doyle humbuckers in a guitar. Do they sound several hundreds of dollars better than a $50 pickup? No way. They sound like me. If you're unaware of Tom, he's the guy that worked on Les Paul's personal guitars. He's also an accomplished player.

Are they well made? Yes they are.

I got these pickups when I bought a weird Ibanez for $200 about 10years ago. I was not interested in the Ibanez; I saw the pickups were Doyles, and snapped it up.
 

myfenderissues

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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??
 

Swingcat

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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??
There are LOTS of aftermarket pickups out there. However, there are not a LOT of things that can make them better or worse. They all rely on magnets & wire. The magnet strength & configuration make a difference. Usually, alnico 2 or 5, or ceramic magnets are used, which create different tones. The wire size and number of winds create variations as well. However, there are only so many variations in magnets and wire. My absolute favorite are EMG ACTIVE pickups, which CAN be tuned for more and different variations. I use EMG T pickups in all my Turbocaster Electric Guitar T style guitars, which give me a richer and more articulate sound, with cleaner cleans than any passive pickups I've ever used. They also give a wider range of tones. Yeah, I know. EMG's are rock pickups, right?? WRONG! While many ARE made for high gain, the Tele style pickups are pure Tele, but more, and NO hums or buzzes!! Amazingly, they're in line price wise with other high end pickups!! Yes, you have to replace a 9v battery every couple of years, but well worth it for the tonal extras you get!
And now, they're just coming out with a Jazzmaster set!! I have the prototype set in my main guitar and WOW!!!!
 

myfenderissues

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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??
some hand wire the coils and people insist these sound better than machine wound pickups. when cbs took over fender in 1965 they immediately switched over to machine wound pickup coils though. as for dual coil pickups, the wire's actually too thin to wind by hand reliably in larger volume, so they've always been machine wound. low priced pickups tend, though, to be over wound with higher resistance and then they use powerful c magnets. that makes them hotter than typical stock pickups. for someone with not much experience and probably playing through a not so great solid state amp, the high output, big volume, sounds more impressive than the beautiful voicing of a paf through a deluxe reverb.
 

dspellman1

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Marketing, hype, brand positioning, perception
Mostly this. In volume, the materials to produce a pickup cost less than five bucks (less if you're working in Asia). There are no magic solutions, no fancy parts that make a difference. I have pickups on offshore guitars (offshore if you're in the US) that are OEM bits that sound amazing. You can buy pickups for about $25 that are excellent.
 

ping-ping-clicka

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Mike Rutherford of Genesis recently toured with a new Squier Bullet Stratocaster that costs less than most of these pickups that have been mentioned here. His tech did put locking tuners on it to make it easier/quicker in a live setting to fix a broken string, and he put noiseless pickups in it due to the lighting in these venues. Those are quite reasonable reasons to upgrade that guitar. But it should be noted that Rutherford was happy with the stock guitar and it was only when he went on tour that he made those upgrades.

People so often replace the pickups on their guitar for no good reason, and often they "sidegrade" from Chinese made stock pickups to Chinese made GFS (or similar) pickups. Guitar pickups are an easily-understood 1930s technology. Neither Seymour nor Lindy have some magic formula for only $199 that will make you sound great. You don't need Fralin, SD, "hand" or "scatter-wounds" (LOL!) or any boutique pickups to have GREAT sound. It's insane the money some guitarists waste chasing tone. But sure, "noiseless" (low-noise) single coils are certainly worth it if that hum affects you.

I know some of you who have wasted thousands on such pickups want to "chime" in, but don't expect to covert me. I know better.
I have a squire mini Strat with Dimarzio hum canceling pickups and a Seymour Duncan PAF that I go used in the neck position. It's very capable of delivering great sounds . The bridge and the tuners are stock. No tuning problems , for that matter I've had no problems at all.
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz  hand torture.jpg
 

OrioleTooter

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I have an Epiphone Firebird I that came with an Epiphone FB 720. It is an Alnico II and fantastic tonality. Not a humbucker but more of a double bladed pickup. I am a single pickup person but an FB 720 in the neck position in a Telecaster would be great. They are $34 per pair.
 

Jay Jernigan

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I have tried a lot of different pickups. None of them were particularly expensive. I tend to put them in a guitar and see what happens. Most of the time I have something that I can use. My preference in "tone" is a revolving door. Right now, my favorite guitar is a home rolled T type with GFS single sized hum cancelling puppies. Next month it might be a bone stock CV WB.
If you hear one, and only one, sound in your head: God bless you and your search for the perfect pickup. I'm kind of glad that I like 'em all.
 

DeanIversen

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really depends on what you are working with and what you call "expensive" pups vs anything other than?

there are several fairly priced very GOOD pups for sale on the bay these days, well made, tuned and potted, hybrids, alnico 5's whatever.. some will even do custom SSS under a hunsky..

first you need to define "worth it" a guy like Ted Nugent can get away with the cheapest microphic ceramics around, his sound requires this feedback high impedance set up.. live and or studio however in the studip my guess is they run his Byrdlands through a feedback analyzer so they can dial it in perfectly.. why Ted sounds so much better live, raw and effective... and not the same on the PRS and Les Pauls..

whats worth it mean to you? the name? the components? the looks? age? potted? magnets? what?

for me I like that vintage sound, so i like older pups where the magnets have had time to degauss and settle in, marinate if you will...

but at the same time I am not talking junky import vintage, even though those actually get better with time as well..

I like a good vintage pre CBS strat tone, a good 50's Les Paul scream, perhaps a good 70's shawbucker will do for me as the other original PAF's and PAT's are so spendy.. so the shawbucker is a fine replacement for me, 70's.. since original pre CBS are so spendy and difficult to find I am down with the 70's early 80's Tokai, Greco, alnicos singles so forth.. they really capture that essence well ..

I do prefer a potted pup tho since I do not use tons of feedback like Uncle Ted who relies on this for his overall tone..

IMHO to really determine what you want or need is to determine what sound you are going for, many a hit song was written using a cheapo import ceramic specially in the 60's and 70's so if you are shooting for that sound that's what you want..

you need to hear your tone in your inner ear before you can begin the hunt, what do you hear your leads or rhythms sounding like? go from there...
 

Telenator

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Man--what a gorgeous build. Too bad you cant get your sound out of it.
That guitar remains one of my greatest lessons and disappointments. I went through a honeymoon period with it where I was just plain excited to be playing it. It plays beautifully. But the sound has just never moved me. I was at Jim Weider's place a few few years ago playing some guitars and handed it to him to try. 3 or 4 notes in he just made a face and handed it back to me, LOL!
It has had several pickup sets in it and none have worked.

That are guitars that just won't be saved by a new set of pickups.
 

1 21 gigawatts

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Tone is completely subjective, so the pickups responsible for that tone are too. Materials, magnets, winds, etc make a difference in the tone, but what is better or best is up to the ear of the beholder.

In the 70's, everyone was chasing hotter pickups and ceramic magnets were an upgrade. Now everyone wants "vintage" pickup magnets and winds. People will play their $400 boutique pickups through a $300 boutique pedal into their $1,000 amp to recreate the sound of a Silvertone amp with a torn speaker.:D Point is, if it is the tone that you want, it doesn't matter how you got there.
 
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