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How much of a guitar's dynamics come from the pickups?

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by nixpix, Sep 26, 2013.

  1. nixpix

    nixpix Tele-Meister

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    I must say that I LOVE the dynamics of Fender style guitars. In particular my Tele is very dynamic - more so than my P90 set neck guitar. On it the notes come out fast and clear, and varying my picking strength yields varying levels of volume and overdrive.

    So I'm wondering, if I were to change the pickups in my Tele, do I risk losing the response I've come to know and love? Or are these characteristics inherent to the unique hardware, bolt on neck, scale length, etc of this guitar irrespective of the pickups? By the same token, if I put a different set of P90's in my set neck guitar would I get a different dynamic response? If pickups do affect dynamics, how strong of an influence do you think they exert?
     
  2. tedro

    tedro Tele-Afflicted

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    i think they can exert a strong influence.

    sounds you got set on your tele that you really bonded with.
     
  3. waparker4

    waparker4 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Certain pickups (hot humbuckers, et al) have a reputation for sounding compressed. And then I have read that alnico ii is more sensitive to distance from the strings (idk).
     
  4. nixpix

    nixpix Tele-Meister

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    Yes, tedro, I think the LSL pickups are among the most dynamic pickups I've played. As waparker4 noted, some pickups have a compressed response to them. I can recall one single coil set in particular that I installed in my AVRI '62 tele that had what I could only describe as a lot of compression. I had to work to get notes to pop out after a certain threshold - they didn't give up much after a certain point. I didn't really like that quality in the end so I sold them. To their credit, that set cut through the mix nicely in live playing situations. I wonder if there's a correlation..?
     
  5. Teleterr

    Teleterr Friend of Leo's

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    P/ups can't make a bad guitar sound good, but they can make a good guitar sound bad.
     
  6. Gnobuddy

    Gnobuddy Friend of Leo's

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    That's a myth. It's not the pickups that are compressing the sound, it's the amp they're connected to.

    Pickups with higher output will drive the amp harder, and that makes most tube amps compress more. That's why humbuckers (which have higher output) and high-output single coil pickups are more likely to sound "compressed" than low-output single coils when plugged into a tube amp.

    Plug the same pickups into a solid-state amp with plenty of input and output headroom, though, and you won't hear any compression from any of them. It's basic physics - more string movement in front of the pickups always causes more voltage to come out of the pickups. No compression. But whether that increased voltage translates to more volume at the speaker or not depends on the amp - any amp with significant distortion (which includes all our beloved tube guitar amps, even the ones we call "clean" though they're actually not really clean) can compress.

    It's not the pickups that compress, it's the amp.

    -Gnobuddy
     
  7. teleforumnoob

    teleforumnoob Friend of Leo's

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    When I think of a pickup that responds very dynamically to pick attack, I always think P90.
    But my frame of reference is an old 51' Gibson ES 125 I owned w a dogear in the neck pos.
     
  8. waparker4

    waparker4 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I wonder if it is possible to chart x axis - energy in a vibrating string vs.
    y axis - voltage response of pickup.

    Would it look like this
    [​IMG]

    It sounds like you are saying it' s a linear relationship for all pickups
     
  9. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    Dynamics are about more than volume. You need to be able to hear nuance and expression that comes through different technique, and certainly some pickups do this better than others.
     
  10. Tele-phone man

    Tele-phone man Tele-Afflicted

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    There's an interesting article written by Craig Anderton in one of the recent issues of guitar player. He compared the dynamic response of different heights of the same pickups on a guitar using a scope. He found that pickups that are closer to the strings have wider dynamics (as well as overall more output, which you would expect) than when they are set a bit further from the strings. IOW, there's less difference between the peaks and the plateaus (sp?) when the pickups are down lower, and the overall level is lower, of course.

    Bottom line is that you can adjust your dynamic response by adjusting your pickup height. Closer to the strings, more dramatic the dynamics.
     
  11. Teleterr

    Teleterr Friend of Leo's

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    So that means p/ups themselves DO compress.Lace have an output = to an old school Strat , but they are very compressed sounding in comparison.
     
  12. fender4life

    fender4life Friend of Leo's

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    Thats what harmonic design says in thier instructions that come with thier pickups. Well, thier P90's at least, never had any of thier others so i dunno. They recommend a setting closer than i ever use and while it may give wider dynamics the tone sucks like that ! I lowered them and the dynamics didn't seem to much different but the tone sure did. Dynamics are very important to me, but what good is that when the tone suffers, and the tone was far better lowered.

    My theory is this, and it would speak to anderton and HD's notion that closer =better dynamics. I think the reason for it is that the closer to the strings the higher the output. Therefore when you turn the volume knob there is a wider range of dirt to clean to be had. Thats what i like about fairly high output pickups.....they can clean up better than low output pickups in many cases because lower outputs tend to get weak and thin as soon as you start turning the knob because they don't have enough to push the input well to begin with let alone once you start turning them down. Don't get me wrong tho...i'm not saying this is ALWAYS true, it depends on the pickup and too hot and it never cleans up well. But something in between hot and vintage i feel works best for dynamics. Anderton and HD are likely speaking about vintage output pickups when they speak of getting better dynamics close to the string. My theory is to get a pickup with a bit more output than vintage so you can get the same degree of dynamics but further from the string so you can adjust pickup height for the best tone and still have good dynamics.

     
  13. Gnobuddy

    Gnobuddy Friend of Leo's

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    I'm sure the relationship between the change in magnetic flux and the voltage output from a pickup is extremely linear for all practical purposes. Yes, for all pickups.

    This is because the changes in flux from a vibrating string are extremely small, and all practical magnetic materials and wire are virtually perfectly linear under these conditions.

    The vibrating string itself is probably not quite that linear - if you pick hard enough you probably "creak" the string a hair on the nut and bridge, losing energy to them, meaning the increase in string vibration won't be as much as you'd expect from the pick force. It's conceivable to me that the string/guitar combination may have some slight non-linearities if you hit the strings hard enough.

    I suppose if you work out with 100-lb weights and fill up on PCP before playing guitar with a tack hammer for a guitar pick you might manage to move the strings so far from the pole-pieces that they enter a region of weaker magnetic flux, in which case you will get some "compression" from the pickup itself.

    But I'll bet that even that non-linearity is very slight compared to the one huge whopping non-linearity in the system: the tube guitar amp. That's where I think 99% of the compression is happening.

    -Gnobuddy
     
  14. waparker4

    waparker4 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Sounds boring.. :rolleyes: ;)
     
  15. telepath

    telepath Friend of Leo's

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    More dynamic if pickup set a little lower.
    More compressed if set closer to the strings.

    A Strat with almost decked pickups can be a thing of utter beauty for more thoughtful and delicate playing
    Maybe not such a great choice for the really rawky numbers, but would still get ya though.

    I dont seem to like Tele pickups set quite so low.
     
  16. musicalmartin

    musicalmartin Poster Extraordinaire

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    just play it and stop wanking about with mumbo jumbo ..........................:lol:
     
  17. telepath

    telepath Friend of Leo's

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    Now that is a sigfile :D
     
  18. Tele-phone man

    Tele-phone man Tele-Afflicted

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    Actually, Anderton came to the opposite conclusion from his tests. He found the response of the pickup more even when set further from the strings. When the pickups were close to the strings, the peaks were exaggerated with respect to the remainder of the note. Anderton was actually advocating putting the strings at a lower setting to even out the response, probably for the sake of recording, where you want the dynamics to stay within a certain range in order to maximize signal to noise ratio.

    Personally, I suggest that everyone experiment and put your pickups where they sound the best to you. I like them kind of close because I tend to have a light touch.
     
  19. bradpdx

    bradpdx Friend of Leo's

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    I don't think there is a mechanism by which actual "compression" occurs due to pickups. There are, however, vast differences in frequency response which can certainly cause certain parts of the spectrum to become more or less prevalent.

    The perfect example is the resonant peak typical of all passive magnetic pickups. When this peak occurs in a range a very high human ear sensitivity, we think it is louder; if the peak is moved significantly, we judge the sound as being quieter, even if measurements reveal the same magnitude.

    Fender pickups classically have a peak in a frequency range that really accentuates the "attack" on the string. When this peak is missing (as in, say EMG pickups) we think that the pickup is less dynamic. It isn't, it is our ears that are simply responding to an area of high sensitivity.
     
  20. Tele-phone man

    Tele-phone man Tele-Afflicted

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    I agree. However, I think what may be happening with pickups that are too close is an exaggeration of the string's initial vibration. The attack causes the largest string excursion (by far) of the note played. If the pickup is close to the string, that attack may cause the string to swing into a stronger portion of the pickup's magnetic field (the stregnth of which decreases with distance), causing a disproportionate increase in output voltage at that instant with respect to the string excursion throughout the duration of the remainder of the note. If this hypothesis is correct (and I'm only guessing here), what we actually have is an effect similar to an expander, which is the opposite of a compressor. The string's initial dynamics thus become exaggerated when the pickup is too close to the strings.

    I may be all wet here. Someone with more understanding set me straight, please.
     
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