Are Modern Pickups Better Than Vintage?

old wrench

Friend of Leo's
Feb 2, 2017
corner of walk and don't walk
If you take a particular design of a pickup from the 1950's or 1960's and wind a new one today that replicates the same magnet type, gauge and type of wire, and the number of turns - the new one and the old one are going to sound very similar

I wouldn't say that modern pickups are better than vintage - and I also wouldn't say that vintage pickups are better than modern pickups

But - there has been a clear modern trend towards winding "hotter" pickups

It sounds like your personal tonal preference may be weighted towards the more modern winds - the "hotter" pickups, with their more pronounced mid-range and grittier sound

So - it's not really a question of "better" or "worse" - it's just "different" :)

I think the music we listened to and liked as we were growing up has a lot to do with our "liking" of certain types of pickups and their characteristic tones - that's something I've become convinced of, but I guess it doesn't take a genius to figure that one out ;)


Happy Enchilada

Friend of Leo's
Mar 25, 2021
God's Country
Mojo - like Tone - occurs in your fingers (or "booger hooks").
Tone also resides in your strap and the corroding 9Volt inside your OD box.

Mojo, OTOH, lurks in your clothing, your vehicle, and your hairstyle:

Here are examples of places you will NOT find Mojo:
Shelves at Wal-Mart where the cargo shorts are stacked
Racks of Crocs (next to the ankle sox)
Hangers with cheap Hawaiian shirts that look great until you wash 'em
Stacks of sporty little hats (at TJ Maxx)
In the "personal care" aisle next to the "Just for Men" hair and beard dye

Mojo is never found in or near any of the following vehicles:
VW Jettas
Pontiac Aztecs
AMC Matadors (perhaps the ugliest American car)
Audis (any and all)
Datsun B210s
Rav 4s
Geos (all models)
Chevy Luminas and Corsicas (now mostly extinct)
Renault "Le Car"s
Fiat sedans
Mercedes crossovers
BMW station wagons
Porsche SUVs
Volvos (any and all)
Electric bicycles and scooters
Honda Ridgelines (i.e., "Minivan El Caminos")

This has been a Public Service Announcement paid for by TDPRI Johnny.


Feb 20, 2020
looking at the list of guitars you play, I do not see one vintage guitar in the lot, best visit say norms rare guitars, take your best sounding guitar and compare it with some good vintage examples for reference , pre cbs, or an old burst.
you have played nothing but new stuff from looking at what you wrote,
Against fine vintage examples, even nice cs guitars get humbled.
it’s probably much more than just pickups however.

how many prime vintage example have you compared your very best against ? To draw this conclusion?

something to consider.


Nov 28, 2019
New England
Sometimes the truth is not very striking or even useful:

1) All pickups are different, no matter what your little multimeter may tell you.
2) Age has little to do with it, except maybe the age of the listener.
3) Opinions vary widely and wildly as to what "better" means in this context. Some people even like EMG's, as wayward as that might seem. They are particularly popular among deaf musicians.
4) Pickups sound different depending on what guitar they're in.
5) Some people play flatwounds. No way will they (well, we) like the same pickups as roundwounders (also we). Jazzmaster pickups, for example, sound wretched with roundwounds, a solid notch or two above acceptable with flatwounds.
6) I find that it will sometimes take a long time before I really know whether I like a pickup or not.
7) Some (individual) pickups are just magical, for reasons beyond the ken of factmongering empiricists. The cheap ceramic P90 in my Epiphone LP Jr, for example, is just such a pickup.
8) Instead of spending $200 on a pickup, spend $40 on a set of Thomastick-Infields.

james rock

TDPRI Member
Dec 2, 2005
Usually when people are talking modern vs vintage they are talking 80s (emgs, super distortion jb etc) vs 50s/60s not actually modern pickups. I think we are in a golden era of gear. Modern pick-ups have the advantages of 50 years, you can get a vintage like wind with a bit more punch and clarity and more importantly consistency. The choice is no longer super overwind ceramic vs paf. Also pickups are developed for specific uses now. The 90s had some vintage style pickups that I think were kind of meh and cheap pickups were awful (especially single coils), I personally like mid gain pickups with alnico 5s (like the sd custom 5) a bit punchier than a paf but not super compressed. I kind of disagree that the trend is hotter pick-ups if anything more guitars come stock with vintage like winds. 25 years agoish lots of Gibson's had 500ts, now they mostly have slightly hot paf winds same with Prs. Even the prog metal guys are going mid high winds not 21k ceramic rail monstrosities and active pickups are less popular than ever.