Are expensive pickups worth it?

Fenderbaum

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Just ordered a Haywire Tele Bridge from Don Mare. He is the only winder im curious about. Winders like him who takes orders, deal with customers, winds, pack, ship, deal more with anxious customers etc. etc. deserve their dollars. Always busy and working hard.

But i think $200 is the maximum ill pay for a set.
 

Jakedog

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I’ve spent boutique money on pickups, I’ve spent dollar store money on pickups. I could definitely tell the difference. However, the best bang for my buck has always been DiMarzio. They’re well made, insanely consistent, you could buy ten of the same model built years apart and not be able to tell any real difference between them, and they’re priced very fairly. Not to mention they make a model for pretty much everyone, and every conceivable style and sound. If they truly don’t have anything that would make you happy, which I’d have a really hard time believing, they’ll be happy to make it just for you.

So I guess my cutoff, if I’m replacing pickups, is whatever they’re charging for whatever I need. That’s if I change pickups. Most of the time I’m happy with whatever came in the guitar. But I also buy quality guitars. I’m way over the whole “let’s buy a $300 guitar and spend $400 on parts” stage of my life.

Most US made, name brand instruments these days come with pickups that are just dandy. I have to believe if I can’t get a useable sound out of them, the problem is probably not the guitar.
 

ReverendRevolver

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Corn pone opinions.

I bought my first set of "good" pickups without hearing them. Because squier strat pickups on a '99 affinity sound worse than almost anything else, and I was like 13ish and got a deal ona set of used lace sensors.

Ever since then, there's been rhyme and reason. I didn't think my Toronados stock pickups sounded quite right. So I started flipping through musiciansfriend catalogs. I wrote down which Gibsons came with pickups that were also sold separately. Then Duncans. Played a few LPs, a dean, and a squier tom delonge model. Ruled out burstbucker IIs, dimebuckers, invaders, and kept coming back to LPs that had a 57 classic at the neck and a classic plus in the bridge. This took teenage me trips to GC, Samash, String Shoppe, and Sheets and Sons. Bought a pair of Gibsons off MF, and had the then just opened Guitar Guys install them.

Next guitar I wasn't happy with stock pickups on was my Mustang. I shopped around for ages to decide what to put in it. Bought a duosonic, disliked the pickups. Alot. Did research. Knew 70s Mustang pickups were something I enjoyed. Discovered Fralin made Mustang pickups a bit hotter than those. Found a maker in PA selling on reverb. Described what I wanted. Got exactly that.

In light of that experience, I ordered pickups for the Mustang (humbuckers). Tried a Bootstrap Serrano in the bridge, Duncan p rails in the neck. Both on a 3 way slider for coil selection.

It did what I wanted, but the Bootstrap Serrano outshined the Duncan. I don't mean louder, it just sounded better as a 'bucker, and the p90 side of the Duncan was the only part I used often.

I don't "need" to replace the pickups in either tele. I might do it anyway someday, but don't "need" to.

Most companies sell good pickups at higher prices than they probably should.

Bootstrap is up there in quality with Duncan etc al, as far as thier currently offered pickups are concerned. I don't think they will offer a pickup if it isn't up there in quality. I'm sure that Bareknuckle is good, but the fact that they have done nothing to prove they should be more than Cavalier, Fralin, Duncan Antiquity, Rose(who stopped making pickups), Buddha, or Bootstrap means I w8nt be buying any. I will never need to.
TV Jones is WAY different. For one specific style of pickup, they're the gold standard. There are many kinds of great and different mini humbuckers, but when it comes to 'tron style ones, playing stock Gretsch ones of whatever flavor vs a TV Jones makes it apparent why people are ok throwing $130 per pickup at them.

But nothing said here will trump marketing hoopla or the aforementioned corn pone opinions of whoever you're surrounded by.

I just reccomend trying something with any pickup you spend more than $100 on.
 

jimmywrangles

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Short answer yes, definitely worth it.(In my humble opinion).
I use Seymour Duncans whenever I can afford them, I have them on 3 guitars and they're all different types from P90's to Slash signature models and 59 classics and I plan on buying Pearly gates next for my Chibson gold top 59. (I can't afford a real one).
Good pickups can elevate an ordinary guitar into a keeper or turn a plank of wood into an axe of the Gods.
I have another Chibson which is a black 1960 LP that I stuck my Duncan Phat Cat P90's in and it went from being a guitar I regretted buying into my best guitar...easily my best guitar, the pickups are worth nearly twice what the guitar itself cost me and I play it every single day and have never regretted the price tag.
I can't afford a real Gibson or an American fender but I can afford good pickups that make my cheap and nasty guitars very playable.
 

bottlenecker

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What makes those pickups "better" than those in the mid-priced category that use the exact same materials??

I make very expensive things from often inexpensive materials for a living.
If you just want the materials, there are a lot cheaper ways to do that than buying guitar pickups. You can get magnets, wire, plastic, fiber, and screws very cheap.

I buy pickups for the sound, so the materials are irrelevant to me. I happily pay for the privilege of not having to learn any more about pickups than I absolutely have to to get the sound I want.

If you happen to like the same classic rock sounding pickups for the 95% of guitar players who refuse to turn tone knobs, you can probably buy $50 pickups all day and be as happy as possible. But for some of us, it's expensive to be a weirdo.
 

Dan German

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Weird. The posts I was going to quote were there then gone. Anyway, I agree with @Telenator about context. I’ve had pickups that sounded great when I was alone at home, but not so much in a louder situation. And vice versa. As for @brookdalebill ’s staple pickups, I have always preferred P90s in an LP, and could be convinced to throw huge wads of cash for staple-style pickups just for the look.

My input is not that relevant here, since I have never bought expensive pickups. I would if I could, but I’m perpetually short of cash. TV Jones would get my money if I had the chance, just based on reputation. I don’t think they’d make me sound better to others, but I would sound better to me. I love my Keystones, but that is partly because Bill Lawrence made them. Not that they don’t sound great to me. I love my Bootstraps for their sound, but also because they were made by someone I could personally contact with questions/concerns. Heck, one pair was made just for me based on my input/request. It’s the same as the way I feel about my Logan guitar. Is it intrinsically better than a Fender? Doesn’t matter, because it’s a good guitar and I spoke with the maker directly. That means a lot to me.
 

Geoff738

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I have a set of Ron Ellis pickups. I think they’re great, but I think I only paid $250 for the pair. Still a lot of money back in the day. Similarly the Fred Stuart’s which I may actually prefer.
Then there’s folks like Dave at Zhangbucker making great pickups for reasonable prices. Lots of great winders these days.

Cheers,
Geoff
 

bgmacaw

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I’m way over the whole “let’s buy a $300 guitar and spend $400 on parts” stage of my life.

I think that's a common mistake people make when they get "upgrade fever". While it happened before the internet, online discussions accelerated the process of people spending a lot on upgrades, many of them unnecessary. And, as some recent TDPRI posts indicate, it not only affects cheapskates but people who buy custom shop level guitars.

My own philosophy is to look for value, especially gear that's undervalued or underappreciated. People often almost give away great parts because of some perceived flaw or just fickleness. My problem is that I end up with a lot of parts I can't use right away but I might some day.
 

Jakedog

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I think that's a common mistake people make when they get "upgrade fever". While it happened before the internet, online discussions accelerated the process of people spending a lot on upgrades, many of them unnecessary. And, as some recent TDPRI posts indicate, it not only affects cheapskates but people who buy custom shop level guitars.

My own philosophy is to look for value, especially gear that's undervalued or underappreciated. People often almost give away great parts because of some perceived flaw or just fickleness. My problem is that I end up with a lot of parts I can't use right away but I might some day.
When I first started playing, “upgrades” never occurred to me. Parts only got changed on guitars amongst the players I knew if something broke.

You might need a new nut. You might need new saddles because the old ones were totally grooved out and breaking strings. Every once in a while a pickup, or, pot, or switch died and had to be replaced. That’s just how it was with working guys in the bars and dance halls. But I don’t recall one person ever back in those days buying a guitar and changing out the pickups.

When your guitar stopped tuning well and the tech said you needed new tuners, everyone just got another set of whatever was OEM. If it wasn’t available you got either Schallers or Grovers, depending on what the music store in that town was a dealer for.

We didn’t obsess over trem springs, and tone caps, and nitro or poly, or anything else. We just bought a guitar that we liked the feel and sound of and went to work. Nobody had dozens of guitars, or even a half dozen. Most of the working players I knew had a main and a backup. Most of them only owned one amp.

I was considered to have quite the gear collection as a teen because I filled a lot of different roles. I had two electric guitars, an acoustic, a bass, a bass amp, a guitar amp, a few pedals, and a small PA. Had I never left rural west Texas, and had there been no internet, I’d probably still be happily playing every piece of it.

We also didn’t have any idea we were supposed to bias our amps, or have them re-capped. Or match impedence with speaker cabs. We just got tubes and stuck em in there. If an amp really broke and wouldn’t work at all, or was blowing fuses like crazy, we took it to somebody who could fix amps. Usually it was the guy who ran the TV and VCR repair shop in town. We never asked what was done, we were just happy it worked again and paid the guy his $20-$30.

Sometimes I think that was a better way to do things.

Right now I have two main electric guitars, and two main basses. I have four working guitar amps and one bass amp. This is my main gigging stuff. Every piece of it is stock outside of some replaced tubes, and caps were done about eight or nine years ago in my 30 year old Marshall.

Stock pickups, stock hardware, stock speakers in my cabs and combos, stock everything. And you know what? I’m so much happier than I ever was when I was constantly screwing with everything in search of some kind of perfection that we all know doesn’t even exist.
 

NoTeleBob

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...

mostinterestingpickupswapping.jpg

Exactly. I know this is a Tele group... but from the Gibson side, for example, how many guys swap their HB's but have never once adjusted the pole pieces in their current pickups. Same for most of the other sound components you mention. Have they checked to see what a pot change on the volume pot might do? Etc.

Yeah, a Seymour Duncan Super Distortion is going to sound different than that stock Epi HB. There are different sounds you can buy. But a lot of it, beyond the specialty pickup, is just hype and "I spent a lot" confirmation bias.
 

NoTeleBob

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-snip

My understanding is that Ron, a materials expert, tests every single component that goes into every pickup. He has access to a high end materials lab, so it's not test equipment you can get from StewMac. Every magnet, the wire (which apparently changes diameter along the length of the spool), and the base plate. He rejects a lot of those "exact same materials". He also has studied the early pickups--you know, the ones we worship, to see what made them tick. He was involved in the writing of "The Blackguard Book".

What I take from this is that if you get a really good inexpensive pickup, it is luck. Ron Ellis is able to reproduce a really good pickup every time, and Ron winds every pickup himself. That is what you pay for.
-snip-

I have to chuckle a bit here... those early pickups that everyone worships were made up of whatever parts Leo could get at a cheap price. They were wound on far less than precise machines and the winding stopped when the operator thought it was time to stop. Variations were huge... and time has aged them - yet the sound they give is still worshipped, rightly or wrongly.

But now, some pickup winder (not just this one, but all the boutique winders) are going to carefully choose components, testing them, making sure they meet standards of perfection. They're going to wind them on precise machines. And we're to expect they meet some standard of perfection that we just have to have... by parting with a large chunk of cash.

I don't doubt that these modern rendition pickups are very consistent in making whatever sound they make. I do doubt that any of this matters in producing the vintage holy grail sounds everyone searches for.
 

NoTeleBob

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Perhaps what was different about this particular Epi Jr was that it was part of a GC special run with a few differences from the regular ones. Its P90 is about 7.8k ohms while newer ones I've measured from more recent P90 equipped Epiphones were in the 14-15k range.

You may have a point about some stock pickups on some lower end guitars being feedback prone at higher volumes. I have noticed that there is a trend towards hotter pickups in lower end guitars. I guess that's an effort to make them sound better with inexpensive practice amps. It used to be that cheap guitar pickups were really weak, now the opposite is more likely.

While noting up front that I haven't tried the later issue Epi P90's, the ones you speak of are a well-kept secret of tone goodliness. I have a pair that are a decade or so old. They outplay Gibsons P90's. Cork sniffers will disagree, but they do the job and then some.
 

monkeybanana

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Winding your own really opens up your options. Or try a variety. Educate yourself. Do you like average wound pickups, overwound, underwound. Punchy magnets, lower output magnets? All these are audible and even if you are a mediocre player you will hear a difference. You don't need to be a crazy good player to appreciate something that sounds good. Half of playing music is sound, right?
Kick on a fuzz and play a pentatonic scale and you're in sonic bliss, no?
To me this makes me appreciate the nice pickups made by someone else even more. Consistency and quality of their wind and the rabbit hole of endless hours spent trying out different combinations. Then you have the historical accuracy aspect, if you are nut. You can get a lot of parts ready made these days but some winders have more specific needs and have to make or source their own stuff or cast their own magnets. Some age. It's an art! Choose utility or functional art
If Julian Lage played my pickups and I could only wind evenings and weekends I guess I would have to charge a lot!
 

thegaijin

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My answer is a yes, but only because I’ve tried many of them and the pickups I’ve settled on happen to be on the pricier side.

Whether this is because the materials and whatnot are better, or if its just because I want to believe they sound better cos I spent more money on them is something I will never know. And I’m fine with that.

One thing I’ve learned is that sound clips rarely help.

Blessed be the corksniffers, for we surely like to tinker.
 
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bgmacaw

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But I don’t recall one person ever back in those days buying a guitar and changing out the pickups.

I was surprised to find out that there were replacement, individual, pickups available at least as far back as the mid-to-late 1950's from musical instrument parts companies. These pickups were actually very pricey, typically $25 to $50, which would be roughly $250 to $450 today. I guess it's no wonder people didn't think about casually swapping them back then, leaving this kind of thing to crazy DIY-ers of the day.
 

Si G X

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It's interesting to me that TV Jones have been mentioned multiple times in this thread, a very cool company, that make a lot of very specific pickups that you can't find anywhere else.

That's the reason I paid for a TV Jones T90, because I wanted a P90 that fitted in my filtertron route. ... I couldn't find one anywhere else. I don't have any complaints about the sound of that pickup, but I don't think it sounds any 'better' than a Gibson P90 or even the Ibanez P90's in my chinese made talman (which sound surprisingly good)

After buying a dirt cheap Rosewell filtertron for another guitar that I absolutely love the sound of (it has a really cool clangy vintage sound) TV Jones are a company that fall into the 'not worth it' catagory for me.

So much of this is personal taste, if a TV classic is the sound you love and want, then of course they'll be worth every penny. If it's a sound you like but you also like the sound of a cheaper pickup then it might not be worth it.
 

Bob M

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All this is subjective. If you have a quality pick up then it’s up to the player. If it sounds good you don’t need to take it apart!
 




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