Humbucker education and frustration

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by Rufus, Jun 12, 2019.

  1. Rufus

    Rufus Tele-Afflicted

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    Background: I have never had a guitar with Humbuckers (unbelievable, I know!)...only Strats and Teles with single coils. As a Southpaw, I am used to having to source, assemble and paint my own guitars. I have enjoyed the process and done about 6 Strats and Teles over the years.

    Now I find myself finally jonesing for a different guitar with HB's for some variety. I have always liked the futuristic look of the Gibson Explorer and I have a lefty mahogany Explorer-type body and a bolt on Warmoth Explorer-type Gibson conversion 24-3/4" scale neck with angled headstock on order. (I like thick necks and tall, fat, SS frets.)

    I have been doing some research on which set of HB's to buy...and admit I'm kinda confused. I know much of it depends upon what type of music you play and what "sound" you're trying to achieve.
    I don't have a particular sound...I like most of the Les Paul sounds from the 60's and 70's...Clapton, Duane Allman, Mike Bloomfield, etc.

    I like to play Classic Rock and Blues, mostly. For amps, I have a late 50's Fender Tweed Champ, a '71 SF Super Reverb (overkill, I know, but its so much fun to play!) and a Boss Katana 100. A multitude of pedals available, mostly for overdrive/crunch.
    I'm not into heavy metal distortion.

    As an amateur player, I don't want to overthink this...I would expect that any established pickup maker that makes classic PAF-type stuff would probably get me what I need. I've looked at and listened to websites and Youtube videos of most of the major pickup makers. There are a plethora of choices...from Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, all the way to Wizz and Throbak! ($650 for two HB's!) They all seem to get great reviews. Its great to have so many choices, but also kinda confusing. Your choice of Alnico 2,4, or 5 magnets with varying resistance. (Often I don't hear THAT MUCH of a difference between pickups, mosty subtle to MY ears)

    I have been on a big Lynyrd Skynyrd kick lately, really enjoying the sounds of Gary Rossington's Les Paul and Allen Collins' Firebird and Explorer. I believe Rossington's Les Paul "Bernice" was supposed to be a '59 and Collins' Explorer would have been a "new" 1976 model.

    I guess I want something along those PAF lines?... able to achieve a relatively clean sound as well as get some crunch. (I know the amp and pedals used will also be a big factor in getting overdrive.)

    Another question...many of the pickups can be ordered with 4 wires, enabling split coil and in/out phase options, vice the traditional two lead pickup wiring. Is it worthwhile to go that route?

    I'm sure folks will have lots of recommendations...thanks in advance for educating a "newby" older guy.
     
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  2. uriah1

    uriah1 Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Can't go wrong with Classic 57s
    imho
     
  3. Obsessed

    Obsessed Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Humbuckers are a total adventure in themselves, so you should probably think of it in this fashion. Single coils are very easy to tame compared to HBs, so I would suggest starting out with low output Alnico IIs to ease your way into this next venture. Keep it simple and enjoy the trip.
     
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  4. chris m.

    chris m. Poster Extraordinaire

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    Go low to medium output , 4 wire. You might like Alnico 5 as it tends to sound clearer, less muddy.

    A medium output pickup will help your split or parallel sound not be too anemic.

    If you want high clarity you might consider Gretsch type humbuckers instead.

    Coming from single coil land requires a change in perception. If you’re comparing your hb sounds to single coil you will likely be disappointed. But if you adjust your mindset and listen to what they can do, you might like them. In particular, they sound full and warm when distorted, not nasal or shrill.
     
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  5. Steve 78

    Steve 78 Friend of Leo's

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    My favourite humbuckers are SD antiquities. They are bright and articulate but have a certain sparkle that is hard to pin down. Seth Lovers are also very good for being bright and clear. I think you can't go too wrong with PAF style. I play with a metal / modern rock tone and they work well.

    As for splitting, I've tried it with JB/jazz set which worked quite well, and with Seth Lovers which didn't (too much volume drop and when I used a boost pedal to match the volume, the tone didn't thrill me). I wouldn't bother personally but YMMV.
     
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  6. fenderchamp

    fenderchamp Tele-Afflicted

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  7. hemingway

    hemingway Poster Extraordinaire

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    I don't have any recommendations but I can remember being similarly flummoxed when I got my first HB guitars.

    You're right: buckers are not all created equal. I have tried some low output ones that didn't sound all that much different from single coils to my ears, and some big fat ones which it took a looong time to get used to.

    Somewhere in the middle is probably a good place to go.

    All I would say is that, for me, HBs really come into their own when I'm recording.

    Because they . . . sshhh . . . don't make any noise!!
     
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  8. modavis99

    modavis99 TDPRI Member

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    This is a rabbit hole. It’s like saying “I’ve never used any effects pedals, what should I buy?”

    Here is a way-too-simple way I think about it. PAFs have 4 buckets: dark vs bright and low vs high output.

    Dark vs bright IMO is related to magnet choice. I like Alnico 5 which are bright/clear. Alnico 2 seems darker/warmer to my ears. And ceramics have their own thing going on.

    Low output vs high is largely about windings. For PAFs, 7K is on the low end and 10K is on the high end (although I think a JB is 16K?). I like higher output pickups, they tend to emphasize mids and have softer high ends. The low output pickups tend to have more “sparkle” and work well for cleans and in 335s

    Pickups can also vary with respect to what frequencies get emphasized and how muddy the strings sound.

    Potted vs unpotted can matter too. Potted pickups are less prone to feedback. Some people like the feedback, I don’t.

    I’ve tried a lot of pickups. I still have yet to try Wizz, Throbak and a few others that get great reviews. My favorite pickups are WCR Godwoods. These are higher output PAFs that work with my style of playing. They should sound awesome in your explorer.

    I’ve never cared for stock Gibson pickups of any flavor. I also think Seymour Duncan pickups are OK but can be muddy.

    I’m sure many will disagree with what I’ve said.

    Good luck with your search.
     
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  9. Rufus

    Rufus Tele-Afflicted

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    Thanks!
    I started to watch that video, but can't take the inane, irrelevant banter of the two hosts. :eek: I like dry, folksy humor as much as the next guy, but these guys drone on and on about nothing for 10-15 minutes before they finally get around to talking about guitars and pickups. I use the fast forward button ALOT for their videos. I will try watching it again.
     
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  10. JL_LI

    JL_LI Friend of Leo's

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    I have two single coil guitars, a Telecaster and a Strat and two HB guitars, an SG and a Gretsch Anniversary. They're all different one from the other. I was never completely happy with my SG until I lowered the pickups as much as possible and raised the pole pieces until the bottom of the head of the pole piece was just visible above the cover. I then turned in individual pole pieces to balance loudness between strings. After that, I brought up the height of the bridge pickup to balance with the neck. That gave me HB tone with the clarity I sought. The Gretsch was another matter with the biggest challenge learning to master the mud switch, treble bleed master volume, and individual tone controls that rolled off treble faster than volume. You have single coil guitars. Is coil splitting important? If not, my experience is that the volume drop and excessive thinning of the tone makes it not worth splitting coils except with a PRS which has its own unique strategy for creating a single coil sound. I'd suggest avoiding high output HB's with their mud. Use pedals for that when you need it. IMO, the closer to PAF the better. If you don't want to use pedals, a medium output pickup set correctly may be the most versatile.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2019
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  11. Mincer

    Mincer Tele-Holic

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    Set your budget and don' go over it. With the kind of music you like, you have a lot of options. Those are squarely in the PAF/vintage output range. My choice on your description is the Saturday Night Specials, just because they seem to tick all of the boxes.
     
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  12. fenderchamp

    fenderchamp Tele-Afflicted

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    The link I sent you will get you to soundclips, no video, no talking. Just studio recordings of the same song, the same amp, mostly the same guitar, the same player, with different pickups.
     
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  13. WildcatTele

    WildcatTele Tele-Meister

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    Yup. For the music you're describing this takes the brainwork out of it. Use these as a baseline and dial everything else in with your rig.
     
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  14. Greg_L

    Greg_L Tele-Holic

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    Just get one of the Gibson "numbered" Burstbuckers. 1, 2, or 3. They're a good easy going balanced PAF-like pickup. I prefer the "3" myself, but all of them are good IMO.

    Most of everything you need has been covered. Alnico 2 or 5 magnets are good for darker vs brighter respectively. A milder DC resistance, somewhere around 8k should get you right in the ballpark of vintage output with a 2 or 5 magnet.

    Then throw your single coils away! :D
     
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  15. Chris4189

    Chris4189 TDPRI Member

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    Wizz premium clones are the closest thing you’ll find to original PAF’s. You and I play same kind of music and In your price range Gibson Classic 57’s, Sheptone tributes or Wolfetone Dr.Vintage will nail those tones all day long. Wolfetone Dr.V and Sheptone would be my choice over Gibson. OX4 low winds are really good as well and can be had for under $250 used. A key ingredient with PAF’s is using 500k pots and good caps. .15 and .22 are the norm and sound really good. Only need the standard 2 conductor push pull wire and 50’s wiring really helps as well.

    FYI- AC’s Explorer was a ‘58 and no I didn’t come from Clapton thats just an Internet BS rumor.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2019
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  16. Greg_L

    Greg_L Tele-Holic

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    Oh yeah, this is important. ^^^^

    500k is a good pot for humbuckers. And make sue it's an audio/log taper. If you choose the right pickup with a 500k audio pot you can go from full rage to a nice sparkly no-hum clean with just a little twist of the volume knob.
     
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  17. Jsil13

    Jsil13 Tele-Holic

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    In my Gibson Flying V I took out the ceramic Gibson pickups and put in SD JB and Jazz in it and it was an upgrade for me. Plus it allowed me to coil split them. In my newest build I went with a McNelly Cornucopia and it's really great. So great that I got another one for my next build.
     
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  18. Greg_L

    Greg_L Tele-Holic

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  19. drumtime

    drumtime Tele-Meister

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    Check out numerous posts by Antigua tele - he's done deep analysis of cheap vs expensive pickups. You can get very nice pickups for very cheap.
     
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  20. perttime

    perttime Tele-Afflicted

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    From reading the first post, I suspect a low output PAF-style humbucker should fit the bill. Alnico 5 if you want bright, Alnico 2 if you want smooth. Or a mix of those.

    I like the combination of humbucker bridge and single coil neck - so the possibility to split coils and/or wire the coils series and parallel would be a plus.

    Want to keep the process simple? Go to the Seymour Duncan site and pick a set of low output PAFs. Want more complicated? Find all the small companies that produce small batches of pickups.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2019
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