Are Modern Pickups Better Than Vintage?

DekeDog

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My first decent electric was a 1996 Gibson Les Paul Studio model I bought in 1996. It came with 490R and 498T pickups. I never bonded with that guitar, mainly for its pickups. I traded it for a 2007 AS Tele with stock pickups. I never really bonded with those pickups, so I installed Lindy Fralin Steel Pole 42s. Love 'em! Great mid-range punch and growl, but still have some of that that Tele twang.

My next guitar purchase was a 1999 AS Strat with stock pickups. Didn't bond with them, installed Dimarzio Area 58, 61, and 67 pickups. Hated them. Sold the guitar.

Bought a Gretsch 6120 Nashville with Filtertrons. Loved the pickups, wasn't crazy about the guitar. Bought a 2009 Carvin SH550 with stock S22 humbucking pickups. Love them, perhaps my favorites. They are high output pickups that are bright and articulate with really pretty sound and a nice strong mid-range. Now obsolete.

Bought a used Epiphone Dot and installed Fralin P-92s. Love 'em. Very similar to P-90s with no hum.

Bought a 2012 Gibson ES-335 with '57 Classic pickups. They're relatively low output, well rounded sound, but muddy unless properly dialed in. Don't like 'em. Bought a 2020 335 with calibrated T-types that are much more articulate and somewhat grittier. Bought a used 2008 Gibson LP Standard with Burstbucker Pros. I like 'em. More articulate and a little grittier than PAFs.

My point? Except for the Filtertrons in my Gretsch, all of my pickup preferences are for more modern versions developed in this century. It is also interesting that I prefer grittier single coils and articulate/cleaner humbuckers, all tending to stronger mids and cleaner, punchier lows. Would these be considered "modern" sounding pickups?
 

DekeDog

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I guess my point after that long winded OP is (hey, I'm bored), do you think modern pickups sound better than vintage? We talk about how conservative guitar players are with technology. Does that apply to pickups?
 

hopdybob

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netherlands
why do i like the L500 more than the L90 of Bill Lawrence
don't know but i do.
vintage problem is that they are made in times they were handwound and coil winds could be way of.
modern mass production will almost give you the exact pickup you now buy in a store.
but the oldys, you never know ;)
 

bgmacaw

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Near Athens GA USA
Vintage pickups have...

magic0.gif
 

PCollen

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Preference. There’s no best.
I'd think that the likelyhood of having a problem with
My first decent electric was a 1996 Gibson Les Paul Studio model I bought in 1996. It came with 490R and 498T pickups. I never bonded with that guitar, mainly for its pickups. I traded it for a 2007 AS Tele with stock pickups. I never really bonded with those pickups, so I installed Lindy Fralin Steel Pole 42s. Love 'em! Great mid-range punch and growl, but still have some of that that Tele twang.

My next guitar purchase was a 1999 AS Strat with stock pickups. Didn't bond with them, installed Dimarzio Area 58, 61, and 67 pickups. Hated them. Sold the guitar.

Bought a Gretsch 6120 Nashville with Filtertrons. Loved the pickups, wasn't crazy about the guitar. Bought a 2009 Carvin SH550 with stock S22 humbucking pickups. Love them, perhaps my favorites. They are high output pickups that are bright and articulate with really pretty sound and a nice strong mid-range. Now obsolete.

Bought a used Epiphone Dot and installed Fralin P-92s. Love 'em. Very similar to P-90s with no hum.

Bought a 2012 Gibson ES-335 with '57 Classic pickups. They're relatively low output, well rounded sound, but muddy unless properly dialed in. Don't like 'em. Bought a 2020 335 with calibrated T-types that are much more articulate and somewhat grittier. Bought a used 2008 Gibson LP Standard with Burstbucker Pros. I like 'em. More articulate and a little grittier than PAFs.

My point? Except for the Filtertrons in my Gretsch, all of my pickup preferences are for more modern versions developed in this century. It is also interesting that I prefer grittier single coils and articulate/cleaner humbuckers, all tending to stronger mids and cleaner, punchier lows. Would these be considered "modern" sounding pickups?
Taking each at their new, "fresh off the assembly line" state, I would say NO. But given the variety of modern pickups vs. original vintage, I'd say that it would be easy to find a modern set which a person might perceive as being better sounding.
 

kuch

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The "vintage" sound is a combination of all of the components from pickups to pots/wiring to cord to amp.

I think that with today's technology, the manufacturers can make pickups sound exactly how they want if they took the time in R/D.

The problem is that the finish product of "sound" is a personal preference. What they produce is someone's impression of what would appeal to the most people.
 

Happy Enchilada

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I think there's a good niche for both.
But at the same time, I prefer the consistency and robust-ness of the newer pickups.

There are documented historical cases of Fender and Gibson using whatever parts they could find.
Case in point, "vintage" PAFs - not all equipped with the same type of magnets or windings - even in 2 guitars with consecutive serial numbers that came off the line the same day assembled by the same person.
Same with Fender, so I've heard. They'd have a bin of pickups and they'd use 'em up and get another bucket full.
The folks building those guitars had no idea they'd become "iconic" to future generations.
They just wanted to finish their shift, collect their check, and go home.

Modern pickups can also be a crapshoot, especially with less expensive imports.
In this case, the manufacturer needs to hit a certain price point, and putting pickups in that are cheap and mass-produced is a good way to achieve that goal.
I'm a fan of these affordable import guitars as a modding platform, and the first things I do is test-drive the pickups. They usually dissapoint. Not to mention the substandard pots, switches, jack, tuners ...
But as long as the frets are finished well and the wood parts fit together great, I'm money ahead to do all that.
And I end up with a guitar that costs a third or less compared to the F or G model.
Plus I KNOW the work is done right and I KNOW the pickups will deliver.

In addition to this being a "golden age of cheap guitars," where there are SO many good deals out there, it is also the "golden age of handmade small-batch pickups."
Outfits like Bootstrap in Ohio and Porter here in Boise and others are building pickups that are often BETTER than the prized and pricey "vintage" ones.
And in the case of Bootstrap ... well, you can get a Telecaster set in your choice of several flavors or mix 'n match.
They are picky about the magnets and wire they use - much moreso than the guys who built the "vintage" ones were back in the day when nobody knew any better. They'll even do custom winds.
And a set of Bootstraps for your favorite Tele will only set you back about $50 at present.
$60 for a pair of P90s. And who doesn't LOVE a good hot P90???
That compares well with say Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio, who build great pickups, but their market position is established, so they can command much higher prices.

End of day? You can have your dusty rusty vintage pickups. They may be "cool," but I prefer gear I can depend on.
Besides, as a wise member of this forum has stated upon multiple occasions, "Tone is in your booger hooks." 😉
 

kennl

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Feb 6, 2007
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Moon Township, PA
the most impressive pickup I have ever heard was the rhythm pickup on my 1957 Duo Sonic
Maybe it was the vintage mojo of that pickup
or the particular AlNiCo alloy available in the military surplus market then
perhaps it was the location and tilt of the pickup on that guitar on the scale length
or the Allen Bradley pots I installed in the instrument
of course it might have been that the pickup was slightly microphonic, not sterile - not squealy - just right
come to think of it, I mostly played that through my 1954 Les Paul amp
might have been those 6V6's
or the AlNiCo Jensen
 

ChicknPickn

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Ole Virginny
I think there's a good niche for both.
But at the same time, I prefer the consistency and robust-ness of the newer pickups.

There are documented historical cases of Fender and Gibson using whatever parts they could find.
Case in point, "vintage" PAFs - not all equipped with the same type of magnets or windings - even in 2 guitars with consecutive serial numbers that came off the line the same day assembled by the same person.
Same with Fender, so I've heard. They'd have a bin of pickups and they'd use 'em up and get another bucket full.
The folks building those guitars had no idea they'd become "iconic" to future generations.
They just wanted to finish their shift, collect their check, and go home.

Modern pickups can also be a crapshoot, especially with less expensive imports.
In this case, the manufacturer needs to hit a certain price point, and putting pickups in that are cheap and mass-produced is a good way to achieve that goal.
I'm a fan of these affordable import guitars as a modding platform, and the first things I do is test-drive the pickups. They usually dissapoint. Not to mention the substandard pots, switches, jack, tuners ...
But as long as the frets are finished well and the wood parts fit together great, I'm money ahead to do all that.
And I end up with a guitar that costs a third or less compared to the F or G model.
Plus I KNOW the work is done right and I KNOW the pickups will deliver.

In addition to this being a "golden age of cheap guitars," where there are SO many good deals out there, it is also the "golden age of handmade small-batch pickups."
Outfits like Bootstrap in Ohio and Porter here in Boise and others are building pickups that are often BETTER than the prized and pricey "vintage" ones.
And in the case of Bootstrap ... well, you can get a Telecaster set in your choice of several flavors or mix 'n match.
They are picky about the magnets and wire they use - much moreso than the guys who built the "vintage" ones were back in the day when nobody knew any better. They'll even do custom winds.
And a set of Bootstraps for your favorite Tele will only set you back about $50 at present.
$60 for a pair of P90s. And who doesn't LOVE a good hot P90???
That compares well with say Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio, who build great pickups, but their market position is established, so they can command much higher prices.

End of day? You can have your dusty rusty vintage pickups. They may be "cool," but I prefer gear I can depend on.
Besides, as a wise member of this forum has stated upon multiple occasions, "Tone is in your booger hooks." 😉
Here speaks a man of courage and good character. :)
 

beyer160

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Old pickups have mojo, plain and simple.

In the '50s, mojo was everywhere. You didn't have to look for it, everything just had it. Mojo was so common that people used to throw it on sidewalks in the winter time so people didn't slip and fall. Fender and Gibson had huge vats of mojo that they applied liberally to every component of their instruments.

All good things come to an end, though. Rock & Roll used mojo at a furious rate, and by the early '70s the domestic mojo supply was depleted and US was dependent on foreign-produced mojo. The Mojo Embargo of the '70s hit hard, and by the '80s very little mojo was being used in manufacturing anymore. You can still find modern instruments that contain trace amounts of mojo, but nothing like the old ones had. Some modern boutique manufacturers have obtained small quantities of mojo to use in their work, but large-scale manufacturing using mojo is no longer possible.

I hope this clears it up for everyone.
 
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