Are expensive pickups worth it?

hopdybob

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some thoughts after reading.
why do we love the sound of a pickup and hate the other from the same brand?
reason, they can be different and the reason is sometimes obvious, sometimes not.
a guitar that plays well is the first attraction when you get in in you hand and play is dry.
it will keep you playing and trying, then the sound.
old strings, wrong pickup height, are the first reasons for not liking the sound.
and then maybe wrong pickups, in this, wrong build in attitude from the pickup maker.
and in this, not wrong/bad pickup but a voicing you don't like.

but its strange, builders like Bootstrap, Cavalier, Wilds Bill&Becky Lawrence make ... of a pickup and bang for the buck.
the others could do that to, but that is there choice and we may ore may not accept their bill ;-)
 

TX_Slinger

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I recently bought my first set of SD's for full retail. I'm no more satisfied than when I bought a set of Toneriders. I basically paid for the joy of having a US made product. The OEM Korean pickups in my Schecter are pretty nice, and I've used Korean Artec pickups (same as Giovanni now) and Wilkinson Premium (NOT M series junk) for years with good result. I do think there is likely more attention to R&D with big domestic pickup manufacturers so you get more balance in their recommended pairings. I can't see ever paying more than $250 for a set of pickups.. I was on the fence between TV Jones Classic +/Classic humbucker sized set but ended up trying the SD Psyclones this last time and wasn't disappointed. Nicely finished and the coils are filtertron spaced so they're actual F-trons like the TV's, though SD makes Psyclones that are vintage configuration also.
 

Telekarster

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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.

Wow. That was a real score man. How did you know they were Doyle's? Were you able to pull em out first before you bought the guitar or?
 

Peegoo

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Wow. That was a real score man. How did you know they were Doyle's? Were you able to pull em out first before you bought the guitar or?

They were his original rails humbuckers from the 1980s and have 'T.W. Doyle' printed right on the cover.

Tom-Doyle-Humbucker.jpg


Funny thing is most guitar players have no idea who Tom is.

 

1 21 gigawatts

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I will add that effects, overdriven amp, modeling amp, etc all change the equation too. Everything that we do to make a guitar sound cool is destroying the original signal from the pickup. The more that you do to change the clean signal, the less that the quality of the pickups matter.

Until recently, my amp was the Boss Katana. With it, I could make any of my guitars (single coils, P90s, HBs) sound pretty much the same. It wasn't until I got a simple 5W tube amp that I began appreciating the differences between the pups. I've since added some dirt pedals so I can go back to destroying the pup signals.:lol:
 

kohoutec

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It's probably already been said but doesn't it just boil down to the fact there are good cheap pickups and good expensive ones? (And vice versa). If you like how it sounds, and are happy with the price you paid that's surely all that matters.
My main Tele is a partscaster, it's basically a body I bought and sprayed, a Baja neck and bridge. (The original body was once of the very heavy ones). I fully intended to put both the pickups from the Baja in there, but the twisted Tele neck pickup was too high to fit. So it ended up with the broadcaster bridge pickup from the baja, and a very cheap Iron Gear 'Steel Foundry' neck pickup.

And you know what? It's perfect. I think I actually prefer that neck pickup to the twisted Tele, and we all know how well thought of they are here.

Likewise another guitar has an expensive hand wound Creamery humbucker in the bridge, and a cheap (again Iron Gear) P90 neck.
Originally it had a Bare Knuckle Nantucket there, but thought I would experiment a bit, and whilst BKP make great pickups, that Iron Gear sounds just as good...
 

GearGeek01

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In my experience, for Mexican and Asian Strat-types (3 x single coils guitars)... before changing the pickups, for about $30 in parts and a little soldering iron butt time..., swap out everything BUT the pickups first, and see where you are tone wise. I have a 1993 MIJ Fender FotoFlame '57 Re-issue, and did the inside completely walled with copper shielding tape, then replaced all the electronics BUT the pickups. Whew... got an incredibly much better sounding guitar.

The fellow at TheArtOfTone has decent prices on whole kits or bit by bit pieces (much better prices than, say, Stew Mac who is high as hell on everything they sell)...
 

11 Gauge

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I've now mostly determined that I prefer pickups wound to fairly certain specs, which ends up putting the resonant frequency within a certain range (in combination with certain loading, in the form of pots, caps, and cabling).

So if pickup makers publish such specs, then I can just pick the one with the lowest price.

Actually, the cool thing about the resonant freq. is that you can actually get a pickup with one that's a bit higher than you might want or like, and then you can drop it down by adding some capacitance to ground.

Anyway, since there's no way to use the same old winding techniques and achieve some kind of 'magic' resonant frequency, and since it also relies on your guitar cable and other stuff in the chain, I just personally see no need to buy more expensive pickups.

Probably the only exception to any of this is if someone makes a noiseless version of Tele or Strat pickups, since I'd expect there to be design changes that you don't have with the simple old things that Leo came up with. But even then, I can find affordable stuff by DiMarzio and Bill Lawrence, which IMO demonstrates that updated design and construction don't have to be costly.
 

uriah1

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Would you get a cheap shifter for your vette.

The generic ones I find are usually hit or miss. Sometimes
production run issues or are just plain wonky.
 

Antigua Tele

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but its strange, builders like Bootstrap, Cavalier, Wilds Bill&Becky Lawrence make ... of a pickup and bang for the buck.

"bang for the buck" often implies you're getting something less than perfect, but that's often not the case with pickups. It's an electrical device first and foremost. We pay fractions of a cent for the caps and resistors that comes in the electronic devices we buy all the time, and nobody thinks twice about it. They can be cheap because all they have to do is regulate electrons and nothing much else. Guitar pickups have no mechanical function any more so than a capacitor. The coil of copper wire does most of the magic, and it represents the most expensive material cost aside from AlNiCo magnets, both of which still only cost a few dollars per pickup, wholesale.

A lot of the high price has just come from the fact of their being made in America, which is as much a matter of customers service as anything, and not especially efficient business models, having something manufactured in the U.S. which it's far cheaper to have it made overseas, and there being no benefit to producing it here. Seymour Duncan, EMG etc. have to pay California priced utility bills, taxes and wages, and the upside is that they are in close communication with professional musicians, but the downside is ridiculous operating costs.

An interesting thing about aftermarket pickups is that the domestic made ones, like Seymour Duncan, Fender Custom Shop and all the boutiques still seems to be a bigger market than the lower priced import options like Tonerider, which tells me that aftermarket pickups is still more about the art of the hobby, doing something for the sake of doing it, bragging rights to say your guitar has fancy pickups. People will say they're doing it for the improved sound, but stock pickups usually don't even sound bad to begin with.
 

11 Gauge

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We pay fractions of a cent for the caps and resistors that comes in the electronic devices we buy all the time, and nobody thinks twice about it. They can be cheap because all they have to do is regulate electrons and nothing much else. Guitar pickups have no mechanical function any more so than a capacitor. The coil of copper wire does most of the magic, and it represents the most expensive material cost aside from AlNiCo magnets, both of which still only cost a few dollars per pickup, wholesale.
And not only are caps and resistors so cheap, but are also part of the L/C/R circuit in conjunction with the pickup, the pots, the guitar cable, etc. And yet we tend to only talk about pickups in isolation.

I threw together a parts build that was just a Strat with a bridge humbucker and 500K volume pot last year. It never really sounded to my liking - just too much higher frequency 'squeak' that I was attributing to fret buzz. About a month ago, I added a .022uF cap in series with a 510K ohm resistor from the hot lead to ground. It's now one of my favorite guitars for some stuff. The bigger point is that no pickup in that guitar by itself, premium or otherwise, would have sounded good, until I added the cap and resistor.

But it's funny how we think we need 'premium' stuff only in some instances, like guitar pickups, and then there's all of the super cheap stuff that we never think twice about. As someone who loves pedals, I always think about all of the holy grail ones that are chock full of general purpose semiconductors, and super cheap ceramic, film, or electrolytic caps. If anything, some of those pedals actually benefit from inferior op amps with (very) low (by hifi standards) slew rates.

...It's almost a very similar thing with tube amps, IMO. I think that much of what we love about them has to do with the horribly high output impedance, and very low damping. There's just nothing 'premium' about it, at all.
 

Jack Clayton

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Can we get a list of pickup winders who offer great pickups for a modest price? Thinking of the pickup builders to look into who offer less expensive product at reasonable prices--below say the costs of Fralin and Lollar---
That list would have to begin with Bootstrap. I've tried a few different sets from them, and they're the best for your buck I've ever played, if you're looking for something that's in the "vintage" style.
 

Happy Enchilada

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I've had extremely good luck with Bootstrap pickups in Telecasters.
Their P90s ain't too shabby neither.
Can't tell @ their humbuckers - always "out of stock."

That being said, I have a MIM Tele with SD "Hot Tele" pickup set and it rocks.
Stock P90s in my Indonesian Hamer Special are amazing.
Just put a Lollar P90 in my Indonesian Hamer Junior and it sounds better now.

Back in the day, I relied heavily on the SD humbuckers in my double cut LP to do everything.

End of day, if I was weldin' up a partscaster, I'd check Bootstrap out first.
 

Happy Enchilada

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Dusty, our new little gray kitten, is both an adorable little angel and a turbocharged little devil, depending on the time of day. All those millions of years of sabretooth tiger DNA in a handy one-pound package. When he's all tuckered out, he curls up in an old Amazon box with a scrap of yellow polarfleece in it from my wife's sewing stuff. It cost nothing, but he loves it.
1661040779313.jpeg

If Dusty had a guitar, it would look like this:
1661039199302.png

And it would roar like his inner lion. With a single P90 of unknown origin.

I want to be more like Dusty.
 
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Vibroluxer

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Look at Bootstrap. Fiber bobbins, cloth covered wire, made in the USA in Ohio and a Strat set costs less than $50.

I put the 54 Sparkles in my Ventura Modified and haven't looked back.
 
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