Can Cold Temperatures Affect Pickup Tone?

ShortintheSleeve

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Last night we wound up unexpectedly having our would-be indoor gig moved to the venue's outdoor stage (long story). The temperature was around 50º with a steady breeze, making for less-than-ideal outdoor playing conditions. Besides losing feeling in my fingertips halfway through the set, my guitar (an AS Tele) was cold to the touch. I like to set my amp on edge-of-breakup for a "clean tone." The problem was "edge-of-breakup" sounded like I had a medium-gain OD on, the OD sounded like a distortion pedal, and the RAT sounded akin to "Hey Hey, My My" (Into the Black). I was able to alleviate the issue a bit by adjusting the amp settings and dialing back the guitar's volume knob, but even then the tone was harsher and grittier than usual.

Have any of you had a similar experience in cold temperatures? I assume part of the issue was the cold weather making the strings constrict and be tauter and stiffer (miraculously, tuning wasn't an issue). But can cold temps also affect pick ups?
 

Boreas

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Last night we wound up unexpectedly having our would-be indoor gig moved to the venue's outdoor stage (long story). The temperature was around 50º with a steady breeze, making for less-than-ideal outdoor playing conditions. Besides losing feeling in my fingertips halfway through the set, my guitar (an AS Tele) was cold to the touch. I like to set my amp on edge-of-breakup for a "clean tone." The problem was "edge-of-breakup" sounded like I had a medium-gain OD on, the OD sounded like a distortion pedal, and the RAT sounded akin to "Hey Hey, My My" (Into the Black). I was able to alleviate the issue a bit by adjusting the amp settings and dialing back the guitar's volume knob, but even then the tone was harsher and grittier than usual.

Have any of you had a similar experience in cold temperatures? I assume part of the issue was the cold weather making the strings constrict and be tauter and stiffer (miraculously, tuning wasn't an issue). But can cold temps also affect pick ups?
This is entirely speculation, but I would expect output to increase with colder temps due to less resistance within the coils and electronics of the guitar. Would it have a noticeable effect? Damned if I know. The amp and cable also would come into play as well.
 

Wallaby

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Perhaps slightly less midrange or a slightly brighter tone with lower temps?

Sorry, it's more of a question than an answer!
 

AJBaker

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I'm not sure quite how warm 50° in American units is, but I think it's still quite a few degrees above freezing, right? (which is about 30° American degrees?). At that temperature, I wouldn't expect anything too strange to happen with most electronics. I've had my gear at -15° (Celsius, I don't know what that is in American degrees), and everything worked fine, although the guitar was WAY out of tune.

I know that a pickup will have a very different resistance reading based on temperature, but that shouldn't affect the output (as we know, dcr isn't equals output).


I could imagine tubes 'maybe' acting up, or maybe certain transistors (germanium) being affected.
 

Old Verle Miller

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I love venue managers who think it's easy to change stuff at the last minute.

Magnetic fields get stronger as the material gets colder. Temperature affects what's called electron mobility and you have not only the magnets in the pickups but the magnets in the speakers. And as Wayne Alexander pointed out, the materials in speaker cones will behave differently.

Then there's the air density - not to get too scientific here but acoustic properties are sensitive to temperature. The colder the air the more dense it is and sound travels farther in cold air, but slightly slower.

It's just another one of those things you add to your list of weird stuff to deal with when performing live.
 

ShortintheSleeve

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I wonder about the power source more than the temperature. I've played many times at or near 50 degrees, and I haven't noticed what you describe, but I have noticed it when the power was suspect.

There are lots of folks here with far deeper understandings of these phenomena than I have, though.
That would be a consideration too. We've played the outdoor stage at the venue before, and I didn't have the issue then, but that was some time ago.
 

ShortintheSleeve

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Not sure about the pickups but temperature and humidity definitely affect speaker cones, and not in subtle ways.
That certainly may have contributed too. I was frustrated to not be able to fix the issue (granted, I may have been the only person who noticed or cared). I play a Vox AC15 through the normal channel with the channel volume around 12:30 and the tone cut around 2:00. Typically, with the master volume at 10:00 or louder, the amp opens up well, with some grit when I dig in but relatively clean otherwise. Last night, even with the master around 12:00, the sound was more akin to plugging into the top boost channel and running the channel volume around 2:00.
 

Si G X

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Considering everything else, I think the pickups seem almost the most unlikely. Also there's not much you can do about it unless you are going to put little warming blankets on them.

Even just playing outside can make stuff sound really different, especially if the monitors aren't the best. I've only done it once but everything sounded awful when I played on an outside stage.
 

guitar_paul1

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Here's TMI, as my wife always tells me:

@AJBaker - When out of the US I found an easy way to convert F to C without paper: (3 steps)

F - 32
Then add 10%
Then divide by 2

50 - 32 = 18
18 + 1.8 = 19.8 (call it 20 if you are doing in your head)

20 / 2 = 10° C (exact number would be 9.9 °C)

For some reason going from F to C is always harder for me.
C x 2
Subtract 10%
Add 32

That is a cold temperature to be playing! My arthritis would not be happy.

I think maybe speaker cones might be a candidate. I don't know how sensitive they are, but I've never heard of it happening.

I've found that moving outside makes me need to turn up quite a bit, so maybe that was it? But that goes against the settings you posted.

Transistors should have less gain when colder. Silicon has less change than germanium. Tubes are their own heaters.


For pickups, they say 0.393 percent per degree C so the resistance would decrease about 4 per cent under this temp change.
I don't think the voltage seen by the amp would change much, depending on the input impedance of the amp or the first pedal.

Sorry about all this blather, I just love this kind of exercise. I never thought about this before. Good question but I don't have a good answer. Thanks!

Maybe the outside stage voltage was lower. That might make the difference.
 
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AJBaker

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Here's TMI, as my wife always tells me:

@AJBaker - When out of the US I found an easy way to convert F to C without paper: (3 steps)

F - 32
Then add 10%
Then divide by 2

50 - 32 = 18
18 + 1.8 = 19.8 (call it 20 if you are doing in your head)

20 / 2 = 10° C (exact number would be 9.9 °C)

For some reason going from F to C is always harder for me.
C x 2
Subtract 10%
Add 32
Thanks :).

I knew that freezing was somewhere around 30, and that degrees in America are about half as big as Celsius, but I'll admit I was also a bit too lazy to look up the exact temperature...

I'll look up that system again for if I ever go on holiday to the US, but that can wait, provided I stick to the other 194 countries for now :).
 

Hobs

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I would suspect weak power more than temperature. The difference between room temperature and 50F is not enough to have any significant effect on pickup coils/magnets or modern electronics. Germanium based pedals would be audibly affected by that, though.
 




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