Choosing pickups for first electric guitar

chaosman12

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I have build thread going and I am coming up on starting the body. I want to get the pickups before doing any cutting and thought I'd make a separate thread to solicit ideas and opinion on pickups.

I've never owned an electric but have done a lot of reading and YouTubing and have a few parameters:

1. Three pickup strat like setup - single coil size.
2. I'm thinking about mounting them from the back (i.e no pick guard).
4. I like a variety of music types, and I'm not looking for a pickup suited for any particular style such as blues, surf, jazz, SRV etc.
3. No amp yet either. I just play around the house and sometimes with friends. Thinking about a very low wattage tube amp or maybe a modeling amp.

Here's some candidates.

StewMac Golden age $200 per set

Seymour Duncan "noiseless" $109 each

Fishman Fluence - $235 per set

Fender - $100 to $250 - several sets to choose from.

I realize there is no best answer, but any opinions, experiences, things to stay away from, or high level education are appreciated.

Based on just reading each company's marketing materials, the Fishman's standout from the others.

I'm also curious about some buzzwords such as "hot", "vintage" and "noiseless". Are these specialist terms? Would a non-musician like myself even notice the difference between a hot and a not-hot pickup. (talking guitar pickups BTW ;-)
 

guitarbuilder

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If it were me, I'd rout the body and get some cheap pickups to finish the guitar. Pickup prices are kind of crazy now. I'd look for some import humbuckers or single coils with alnico magnets. The components of a pickup are a bobbin, magnet wire, hookup wire, magnets, and a metal plate on the bottom in the case of tele pickups or double coil humbuckers. You can get them machine wound or hand wound. You won't hear a big difference if you don't have an amp or something to compare it to. :) You can always upgrade down the road. I was a pickup snob years ago. I put a Dimarzio Super Distortion in my Les Paul Custom and a Mitey Mite in the neck position. This was the 70's. I couldn't hear a difference. Same kind of thing when I put an aluminum manifold and headers on my '67 Charger 318. I couldn't feel any difference. Advertising and bragging rights make people spend money.

Consider that people threw away their Teisco guitars because the pickups sucked, and now they are collectable.....or at least people are paying bigger money for them. Same with Harmony pickups.
 
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GoldDeluxe5E3

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If you want a set of moderately priced single coils that sort of bridge between a single coil and humbucker sound, I'd suggest you look into G&L's MFD pickups. As a first-time electric owner, these give you a great sound along with a respected pedigree; they were designed by Leo Fender toward the end of his Davincian career. I put a set on my Telecaster, and they're just a little beefier and richer than standard Fender originals.







Buy them directly from G&L in California:

 

crazydave911

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In terms of three SC pickups I use the Strat railhumbucker set from GFS. Single coil sized humbuckers that have plenty of twang and very reasonably priced 😁
 

chaosman12

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ReverendRevolver

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Those look cheap enough.
Or stuff off ebay/reverb/guitarfetish.

In line with you original ideas, those are all overpriced for what they are. Before going high $$ boutique, look into Bootstrap pickups. They're good pickups I'd put against the boutique brands and Duncans, on anything they offer similar.
If you're wanting unique and noiseless, Lace Sensors are often overlooked, but have been doing a variety of low and no noise pickups that also offer sounds atypical of SSS configurations, and have been doing so for decades.
Used pickups are always an option too, some people buy hot pickups, or noiseless ones, or whatever style and realize they really needed something completely different, thus unloading the ones they bought while proclaiming "to the pickup cycle, Batman!" And around they go again.

You need an amp. An electric guitar is half the instrument. Buying a low watt tube amp that you like the flavor of is a good idea. Modelers or digital offerings in the sub $500 range don't sound as convincing as more advanced ones, so picking up a small monoprice tube amp will get you an exact sound more reliably than let's say a Mustang amp. And the speaker is to an amp what pickups are to a guitar, so there's a huge sound impacting element in each side of the whole.

Have fun.
 

gb Custom Shop

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Does this fit the bill for a cheap alnico single coil?

I've heard these pickups in person, and thought they were decent, especially considering the price. They have a distinct Strat sound to them.

If you think you may want to try something else down the road, then maybe go with something from fender or SD, because those typically have resale value
 

Freeman Keller

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I was in kind of the same situation a few years ago when I built my first electric guitar. I don't play electric, don't particularly like a lot of heavy electric music, didn't own an amp. I was building an electric guitar because I wanted to, I consider myself an acoustic guitarist.

Since I was building a les paul style guitar I knew I wanted humbuckers and went with the StewMac golden era ones. I have been very very happy with those, put them in several other people's guitars, they are simply good generic PAF style pickups.

I built several tele style guitars for others, put the SM in a couple of them, a variety of other pups in others. I like the StewMac ones enough that I put them in my personal tele clone when I built it.

I've worked on a couple of strats but don't own or play or want a three pickup guitar. I find that most of the time I'm playing on the neck or neck and bridge blended, I almost never play the bridge on any of my electric guitars. Once again, I don't care for that sound, and while I have experiment with a few effect pedals I don't feel the need for them either. I did start out with a vintage tube amp which died, I currently am playing thru a tube amp that I assembled from a kit.

I mount my pickups from the front but using rings instead of a pick guard, I use beautiful wood for my guitars and want to show it off. With two pickups I like switching that will blend them, I've done both 2V2T and single VT controls, both work fine.

I will give you one more thought. My latest tele style guitar got two P90 style pups (StewMac again). I have been quite impressed with them as "do anything" pickups - they seem to handle the bluesy jazzy stuff that I like to play. They don't have the tele twang, but then neither do I. You could get that by putting a P90 in the neck and a single coil in the bridge. Just another thought

IMG_6924.JPG
 

chaosman12

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Thanks for the education, got me re-thinking some stuff. Up to now, the build has been sort of a woodworking project. Discussing the sound has got me psyched to get this thing done so I can make some music (noise?).

@freeman I never thought about the pickup rings, but they look great and convinced me to go the front load route. Simplifies the construction too. The only thing that gives me pause is the (bridge) pickup ring might look funny because its angled.

Maybe have a humbucker at the bridge? Or maybe get some rings that don't contrast with the wood. (Danish oil on ash).

You all also saved me some cash with some common sense about high end pickups for - especially for a first timer. I guess I shouldn't have believed the Fender ad that claimed I could capture the sound of Clapton ;-)

I'm sure I'll be back for amp advice...
 

ahiddentableau

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I would strongly consider getting something other than a classic strat style bridge pickup. They are an acquired taste. For neck and middle the classic strat pickup is great and most everybody likes them. However, the classic bridge pickup is bright and thin. They can sound great in certain circumstances but it's not so accessable. The fishman set you linked to seems to have a hotter bridge so that might address this. But the HSS setup is more versatile. There are quite a few humbuckers made for a single coil size slot if your guitar isn't routed for a humbucker.
 

Freeman Keller

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@freeman I never thought about the pickup rings, but they look great and convinced me to go the front load route. Simplifies the construction too. The only thing that gives me pause is the (bridge) pickup ring might look funny because its angled.
You didn't say what kind of guitar you were building but three pickups implies a strat or super strat. If thats what you want I won't be much help. Most pickups can be mounted with rings, some can be screwed to the wood at the back of the cavity (thats how I did the P90's). Rings can be plastic, metal or wood and can be used to accent the rest of the guitar - I almost always use wood rings that match the other trim woods on the guitar. I just don't like the idea of screwing them to a big sheet of plastic that hides the wood.

The bridge pickup in a tele is angled to make the treble even brighter, part of the twang. P90's and humbuckers are almost never angled. Commercial tele bridge take care of mounting and angling the bridge pup for you, but of course there are other ways.

I've installed some boutique high end pickups for others, I don't hear it but thy might. Pickups are relatively easy to change so starting with something generic might make sense. I'll just say again that I am very pleased with the StewMac ones, but I am far from being a pickup expert.

Amps are a whole 'nother can of worms......
 

jvin248

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+1 start with inexpensive pickups.

Get Strat neck and Strat middle pickups but get a Tele bridge pickup.
Use a 5-way switch but swap the bridge and middle pickup hot wires at the switch. This gives you a Tele 3-way plus 2 middle pickup options. The Tele neck+bridge tone is popular and giving up a Strat Quack tone is worth it for many.

The other option, get the standard Strat set of pickups except wire it with the Armstrong Blender mod (second tone pot blends between SSS and HSH). That way you have all the classic Strat tones plus you can cover all the Les Paul humbucker tones. This is the mod I use all the time.





And then for the Amp ... just get an inexpensive solid state amp that plays clean at the loudness you want and get your tone from pedals. Tube amps are expensive, fragile, heavy, and not as durable as solid state amps. Check out some old Peavy Bandits still running out in the wild.



 

Dismalhead

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I've got a set of Golden Age humbuckers (Alnico V) in a guitar and I have been completely blown away by how good they are. Guessing the single coils are just as good.

Other than that, in my three Strats I have Vintage Noiseless, Tex Mex, and Texas Specials. I like all three. Noiseless are sparkly, delicate, and clear, Texas Specials are rowdy and make me feel like Hendrix. The Tex Mex are somewhere in the middle of the two and are a really great set for pretty cheap if you're wanting to save money.
 

hopdybob

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don't know how many friends you have that play to.
but it would be a good starting point to try several guitars and the sounds you get from them and you like ore not.

why?

you will discover that your playing is a big part of the sound, the way you attack the string, with your fingers, plectrum and what type.
you can't get rid of you, but you can color you and your sound.

a example, i am all Bill Lawrence pickups fan, but that is not where i want to point you to ;-)

the L45 single coil noiseless blade pickups is very articulate but to me, has a soft attack.
the L280 is a single coil noiseless with polepieces witch some call hifi also very dynamic, and its my favorite.
the L200, also a single coil noiseles is more traditional strat sounding and i don't connect with that soundl.

what i want to say is that trying out different guitars with different pickups will give you a idea of what your playing will match with your hardware.

we all can give you advise and mine would be: ask bootstrap, ore @Rob DiStefano from Cavalier pickups could because they sure can translate what you want in a pick and give you bang for the buck.

but the translation starts with your preferences.
happy hunting ;-)
 

Bob J

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If you’ve never owned an electric, you’re way over-thinking it.

I hadn’t owned one either before my first kit build, and even the cheap pickups that came with it were fine to learn on. Start with something that is economical and easy to get, and experiment with your setup, and control adjustments to see how the sounds can be manipulated, then think about changing the pickups if you can’t find tones you like.

So much of the tone comes from the amp and effects, pickups are just part of the equation.
 

Moldy Oldy

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If you’ve never owned an electric, you’re way over-thinking it.

I hadn’t owned one either before my first kit build, and even the cheap pickups that came with it were fine to learn on. Start with something that is economical and easy to get, and experiment with your setup, and control adjustments to see how the sounds can be manipulated, then think about changing the pickups if you can’t find tones you like.

So much of the tone comes from the amp and effects, pickups are just part of the equation.

+1

Also, your taste/preferences will change over time as you begin to develop your own style. You’ll have a much better idea about what you want after you’ve been playing it for a year.
 

Medeltids

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I have build thread going and I am coming up on starting the body. I want to get the pickups before doing any cutting and thought I'd make a separate thread to solicit ideas and opinion on pickups.

I've never owned an electric but have done a lot of reading and YouTubing and have a few parameters:

1. Three pickup strat like setup - single coil size.
2. I'm thinking about mounting them from the back (i.e no pick guard).
4. I like a variety of music types, and I'm not looking for a pickup suited for any particular style such as blues, surf, jazz, SRV etc.
3. No amp yet either. I just play around the house and sometimes with friends. Thinking about a very low wattage tube amp or maybe a modeling amp.

Here's some candidates.

StewMac Golden age $200 per set

Seymour Duncan "noiseless" $109 each

Fishman Fluence - $235 per set

Fender - $100 to $250 - several sets to choose from.

I realize there is no best answer, but any opinions, experiences, things to stay away from, or high level education are appreciated.

Based on just reading each company's marketing materials, the Fishman's standout from the others.

I'm also curious about some buzzwords such as "hot", "vintage" and "noiseless". Are these specialist terms? Would a non-musician like myself even notice the difference between a hot and a not-hot pickup. (talking guitar pickups BTW ;-)
Take a look at Bootstrap


Or Wilde (Bill Lawrence) pickups...I really like the Keystone tele set:



Bonus...made in USA. Keep your money at home.
 

MickM

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So many other factors involved, like an amp etc. How about you decide on a player who's sound/music you really like and get a set of pickups designed to achieve the sound from that guy's main guitar. This will by no means limit you to that sound only but should give you a solid foundation on which to build.
 

Bob J

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Take a look at Bootstrap


Or Wilde (Bill Lawrence) pickups...I really like the Keystone tele set:



Bonus...made in USA. Keep your money at home.
+1 on Bootstrap. I haven’t used their strat pickups, but have Palo Duros on one tele, Pretzels on another, P90s on a third, a P90 neck and Palo Duro bridge on a 4th, and will be putting a Pretzel bridge pickup in the esquire I’m building now.

They all sound great, seem well made and very reasonably priced. There can be a little wait though…
 

chaosman12

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Bootstrap has an option of staggered pole pieces. With a 12” radius fretboard, I presume I want the non staggered (flat) pole pieces?
 




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