Are expensive pickups worth it?

Jakedog

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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!
Of course you do! If there’s one thing the internet has accomplished, it’s convinced millions of guitar players that no matter how good their stuff sounds, it could always sound better, and we should keep throwing money at non-existent problems until we reach tonal Nirvana.
 

Jakedog

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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.
Not trying to get in your business, we all have to drive our own road, but add up what you’ve spent on all the “cheap and nasty” guitars and Duncan pickups. When I finally did that I realized I definitely could have bought a pretty nice used MIA guitar. So that’s what I started doing.

Now I buy whatever I want (albeit a whole lot less often than I used to) cause I’m at a place in life where I can do it once a year or so. But doing the math years ago convinced me that I’d really rather have one or two really nice guitars than half a dozen “cheap and nasty” ones with nice pickups.
 

ReverendRevolver

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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.
Many 'tron sized minis I've seen offered by companies have demo clips that sound like paf humbuckers. I know that there's a market for that, and the general asthetic of filtertrons, but the TV Jones filter, Fidel, and BS trons I've heard all sounded different than regular humbuckers as a generalization. Fortunately, stock Gretsch minis also sound different (cut more. Even the 'hotter' varients) that typical humbuckers. Those go for like $40 I think. But I agree that there's hype in TV Jones outside of thier wheelhouse. I've never played thier tele pickups. Demo sounds never impressed me compared to anything else. Maybe that's why they're easier to find on the used market? Just a theory.
P90s are odd... if your TV Jones one sounds like a real sized one, that's awesome. P94s sound SUPER close. P100s deliberately sound not the same, but it's construction more than size. I don't think anyone hearing a recording would know a difference, it's only something I noticed playing guitars with them. Every one of them can sound p90 enough for me. I think I care more about guitar knob position = sound I think it should than who made my pickups. It's unfortunate, because it requires more work and talking to people than "I use Duncans" would. I'm mostly happy with my sounds though. Most of my pickup goals deal with stretching versatility out of single guitars without losing a core sound in the process.
 

ReverendRevolver

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Of course you do! If there’s one thing the internet has accomplished, it’s convinced millions of guitar players that no matter how good their stuff sounds, it could always sound better, and we should keep throwing money at non-existent problems until we reach tonal Nirvana.
If any would be tone chasers would pump the effort into thier playing and acclimating to thier guitar and amp setup they put into online research, who knows what could happen?

I'm going to go put shinier knobs on something for a brighter tone though, so it won't be me......

;)
 

Robert H.

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To the OP - The answers to your question say more about the individuals responding than about pickups. What are a person’s sound preferences, Hearing capabilities, wealth, experience with pickups, sarcastic tendencies, contrarian nature, tendency to follow, and more. In the end, we all listen for tones we want and decide what it will take to get there.
 

refin

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Like many here,I have had pickups all over the map as far as cost.With me it depends on what guitar they go in.I've had strat pups by one company that were 3 for $49,and they sounded exactly like Fender Texas Specials--really woke up the strat I put them in.On the other end,I've had custom winds that cost about $350 that didn't sound great in one guitar,but absolutely wonderful in another.Luck of the draw,I guess.
 

TN Tele

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Lollars, love the tele 52's, love the hb Royals. The are so consistant, always. They've even called on occasion to ask if everything got there ok, or to verify an order.
 

monkeybanana

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Of course you do! If there’s one thing the internet has accomplished, it’s convinced millions of guitar players that no matter how good their stuff sounds, it could always sound better, and we should keep throwing money at non-existent problems until we reach tonal Nirvana.
That’s absolutely true. But there is also curiosity and just wanting to know what makes things tick and wanting to know what something sounds like and seeing what’s under the hood. I make things because it’s affordable and fast and better than experimenting on something valuable. Some of the stuff I would like to buy is not even available and rare has hen tooth even if I run down the street naked waving all my money. A MKI Tone Bender for example (tangent). Or too expensive and valuable: old pickups. Here is something cool though Rob has analyzed many old Tele pickups. More than many of us will with the prices of these things now. And if you’re curious what one sounds like his prices are super reasonable. If you’re restoring or want ultra mojo (and bragging rights) that’s where the expensive comes in but it might all sound the same but different goal.
I love the players who rip on anything and don’t have a clue about parallel or series wiring. There’s room for all of us.
I’m no Jeff Beck but imma cork sniff til I die! I had too much coffee.
 

old wrench

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Thinking about some of the guitar players that gained fame back in the earlier days and are still with us today, like Beck, Page, Santana, Richards, etc., just to name a few.

The list could be enlarged by adding players that have recently passed - King, Berry, etc.

Guitar players who were there not only in the days before the after-market pickup craze, but who also continued to play after the craze took hold

The names I mentioned are from more or less one genre of music - I'm sure that everyone of us could add a few names to the list

Most of these players are associated with a certain type or brand-name of guitar - but as far as I know - their guitars usually had factory-stock pickups in them.

There are some exceptions of course, but stock pickups have been pretty much the rule for most of those folks

I think we can agree that most of these players could be using any pickups they liked - but you don't hear about them talking about how much better their "brand X" pickups are than the stock ones, or how much they help to attain tonal bliss and make them sound like rock-stars ;)

I do understand that is a little more to it when you consider stuff like endorsements - but . . .



Doesn't that make you wonder, at least a little bit, about just how effective boutique pickups really are?

.
 

cyclopean

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I've been happy with all the Seymore Duncan pups I've had installed. The Quarter Pounder in my Esquire is good but not much different than the original one I replaced. Looking back, I wouldn't have changed it at least for a while.

Whatever they are, play 'em Loud and Proud!
What was in there to start with? The qp is pretty specific sounding.
 

cyclopean

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Thinking about some of the guitar players that gained fame back in the earlier days and are still with us today, like Beck, Page, Santana, Richards, etc., just to name a few.

The list could be enlarged by adding players that have recently passed - King, Berry, etc.

Guitar players who were there not only in the days before the after-market pickup craze, but who also continued to play after the craze took hold

The names I mentioned are from more or less one genre of music - I'm sure that everyone of us could add a few names to the list

Most of these players are associated with a certain type or brand-name of guitar - but as far as I know - their guitars usually had factory-stock pickups in them.

There are some exceptions of course, but stock pickups have been pretty much the rule for most of those folks

I think we can agree that most of these players could be using any pickups they liked - but you don't hear about them talking about how much better their "brand X" pickups are than the stock ones, or how much they help to attain tonal bliss and make them sound like rock-stars ;)

I do understand that is a little more to it when you consider stuff like endorsements - but . . .



Doesn't that make you wonder, at least a little bit, about just how effective boutique pickups really are?

.
Yeah, but if you look at music made just a little bit later, certain aftermarket mods get pretty common and are a big part of how certain artists sound. Like you want early Metallica, go put an invader in that guitar.
 

Audiowonderland

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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??
Scarcity, cache and mystique tend to be price drivers. What they actually sound like matters little. It what people think they sound like and the buzz they get talking about having them that drives it
 

aging_rocker

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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.
I got all nostalgic reading that post, @Jakedog. That's exactly how we rolled back in the day too. You bought something you liked, and played it. If it broke, you fixed it (or someone else did - I wasn't going to even attempt to put the headstock back on my SG myself :cool: )

The neck P-90 that lives in my current guitar cost me around NZ$20 delivered from China, and it's one of the best I've ever heard - the bridge pickup (they came as a pair) is nowhere near as good, but hey, it gives me something to fiddle about with.
 

Happy Enchilada

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I have SD Hot Tele set in my MIM Tele and they sound great. Can do anything I need, from country to blues to rock (and probably metal if I cared). I have Bootstraps in my partscaster (Pretzel bridge, hot P90 neck) and it sounds equally amazing.

SD set cost me $150 - Bootstraps cost me $60. And they let me mix 'n match, which SD doesn't.

For my $$$ if I was to build or upgrade another Tele (or anything for that matter) I'd check Bootstrap first.

Linda Lou sez "Hi!"
1653255630749.jpeg
 

Happy Enchilada

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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"
I gotta get me a set of them ENCs for my CS Strat!
 

Bruxist

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Yeah, but if you look at music made just a little bit later, certain aftermarket mods get pretty common and are a big part of how certain artists sound. Like you want early Metallica, go put an invader in that guitar.

Yeah and it seems like those early replacements were more about higher output than actual tone changes.

(not that output does not affect tone, of course)
 

jdl57

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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.
Apparently my sarcasm didn't come through clearly enough. I have never played or even heard a '50s Telecaster. They could sound like crap or heaven, I don't know. They probably all sound different. I do know that by the time the Esquire/Broadcaster was introduced, Leo Fender had at least five years designing, making, and selling pickups. Back then, that was a lot. He drew out the design, chose the parts, and his semi-skilled labor put them together, the beauty if his design. Keep in mind though, that the Telecaster was an expensive guitar, about $2,000 in today's money. The parts couldn't have been that cheap.

If I were to spec out a custom Fender build, it would be the 2020 Broadcaster reissue. That's why I bought one, my first Tele. The whole guitar was supposedly an exact copy of an original Broadcaster, including the pickups. You can't buy those pickups without the guitar. I like the sound of those pickups as long as I don't compare them to my Ellis pickups. My standard rig is the guitar into a Surfy Bear spring reverb into a 1949 Fender Princeton tweed amp. I don't gig. I typically play clean. I have tried to describe to myself the difference between the two guitars, it comes to this; when I strum a chord on the Fender, I get a chord. When I strum a chord on my partscaster, I get six individual strings forming a chord. That detail translates into everything I play. I understand that most people won't care, I happen to like it very much. The Ron Ellis pickups I bought are a combination of '50s and '60s tones, I was not trying to reproduce a vintage sound with this guitar.

If you care, you can read the story of my partscaster here:
 




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