opinions on ultrasonic pickups by bill lawrence ... still available?

naneek

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hi all, I wondered if anybody has any opinions on these pickups. is anybody still using these? they are described as having a completely flat frequency response which would certainly be unique in the world of guitar pickups.

do you think that would sound good?
or would it be a cold sterile sound that is versatile, but has to be shaped entirely by amp settings, eq and pedals?

I happened to see these for sale on a german music store website. they are really surprisingly cheap. could this really be genuine? the company went out of business quite some time ago.

edit- forgot to include the link:
 
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Ringo

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They would have to be new old stock. Many years ago I picked up a set and put them in my MIJ 60s RI Strat.
They were pretty hi fi sounding, so the flat frequency description seems accurate to me.
I didn't care for them so I put the stock alnico pickups back in pretty quickly and sold the Ultrasonic pickups.
I have tried more modern Bill Lawrence designed pickups and they sounded better IMO.
 

rigatele

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they are described as having a completely flat frequency response which would certainly be unique in the world of guitar pickups
Not literally. Most regular humbuckers have an almost flat response when loaded. The response of all pickups is flat within fractions of a dB, up to the loaded resonant frequency, at which humbuckers typically exceed the baseline by about 1.0dB. Other steel pole pickups like the P90 aren't very different than that.

Some steel pole pickups have extreme eddy current losses - this causes a "dip" just before the resonant peak, but really, the dB difference is also in the single dB's range, so is virtually inaudible.
 
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naneek

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Not literally. Most regular humbuckers have an almost flat response when loaded. The response of all pickups is flat within fractions of a dB, up to the loaded resonant frequency, at which humbuckers typically exceed the baseline by about 1.0dB. Other steel pole pickups like the P90 aren't very different than that.

Some steel pole pickups have extreme eddy current losses - this causes a "dip" just before the resonant peak, but really, the dB difference is also in the single dB's range, so is virtually inaudible.
that's interesting.

then why do different pickup designs, and even different sets of humbuckers type pickups, sound completely different? even on the same guitar?

if what you say is technically accurate, I'm trying to understand the logic of this.

people are constantly talking about the prominent mids of paf style humbuckers.

many companies sell pickups designed for different voicings, ie mid heavy, warm, bright, etc. and are able to achieve audible results.

the different models sound noticeably different, even though they are all constructed on the same basic humbucker or single coil design.

if all pickups had an essentially flat frequency response, wouldn't they all sound very similar?

Edit- if your saying the difference between pickups is negligible in measurement, does this have any relevance to musicians if we can clearly hear the differences despite how minimal they are?

the human nose can detect smells at concentrations as low as 1 part per billion which is a very low concentration. but if there is a rotten egg nearby, you will know about it regardless if the ppb can barely be measured.

it sounds like your saying there is minimal difference between a completely flat frequency response, and the response of most guitar pickups.

if we can hear differences between pickups anyway, presumably the slight difference between a design that produces a flat frequency response and "almost flat" frequency response of all other pickups would also be noticeable and have an effect on our sound?
 
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hopdybob

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call them: with no build in attitude.
so very tweakable with pedals amps settings etc.
very low stringpull.
designed for Samson if i remember them correctly.
had some, but my personal tast went more with the L280.
don't know for sure they had that soft attack like the L45 now.

but if you living in the US, buy real Bill&Becky
and my experience, old L90 / L500 sound the same as the new one and with the new one you have 5 wires so more options.
(l500 in parallel setting sounds great to, even in higher H versions)
 

rigatele

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all pickups had an essentially flat frequency response, wouldn't they all sound very similar?

I didn't say all pickups. I said humbuckers. Also I only focused on "flatness". Flatness is meaningful only up to the cutoff frequency, above which the response drops off at a uniform rate with increasing frequency. Really, I interjected in order to discourage the use of the "flatness" concept to characterize pickups because it's not really very descriptive. It's far more useful to talk about the amplitude of the resonant peak, because that is something that is qualitatively recognizable both in the measurements and in the sound. The resonant peak in the Strat and Tele pickups is what mainly differentiates the sound from the sound of a humbucker - in each class, there are variations but not so much as the difference between the two classes of pickup.

I can address the two other main points that you made, one of which is slightly controversial. You ask basically, "if the differences are not so great, why do people experience it and talk about it differently?". My (often unwelcome) answer, psychology. It's not that there are no differences. But, it's important to understand how powerfully our minds influence our perceptions. Actually, that is itself scientifically proven, not only that but a large part of the task of obtaining objective scientific facts, involves eliminating those strong mental biases and/or subtle influences that pervade our activities. Subjects of those biases always claim that they don't have them. In fact, there is no person who is easier to convince of that, than yourself. Add to that, the variability and multiplicity of factors that influence the sound, in addition to the base response, and you have a situation that is rife for self-deception and uncritical observation. Add to that, the monetary desires that drive marketing, which make it more profitable to tell people what they want to hear instead of what the engineers actually know and say, and you have a very unreliable body of theory floating around.

Secondly, comparisons of hearing to other senses in this context is not new. It's important to realize some categorical differences among the senses because they operate in completely different ways. Early in the 20th century, the roll out of telephones prompted a great deal of research about human hearing. The reason was actually for cost saving - because they anticipated building a huge network with millions of handsets. A lot of effort was expended to learn the limitations of human hearing - so that handsets for example, could be manufactured as cheaply as possible while performing adequately. Same thing for transmission networks (open wire at that time). Things like the Fletcher Munson curve are products of this research, but more importantly, research was done to determine with what precision the human ear could differentiate different tones and amplitude levels. From this, and from modern acoustic research that followed, it became very well accepted that the human ear can never discern fractional decibel differences under the vast majority of conditions. "tone" is based on varying amplitude with frequency, can't and doesn't deviate from this principle.

People with a strong technical background are accustomed to accepting such limitations as a given, and so lean towards psychological explanations of differences that can't be measured, or are so slight as to make a difference of perception due to them, unlikely.

The perceptions and assertions of people who claim to hear these major differences between only slightly different devices, are personally and individually valid, but have no basis in science because they generally can not be demonstrated in a properly conducted scientific experiment that is designed to absolutely rule out mental and emotional biases. Therefore, when they are shared, they become no more than a bare opinion. An opinion is fine, provided it is not presented as fact.

Such studies are difficult and expensive to perform, so they haven't been done. You will see many, many supposed experiments and demonstrations along those lines, but every one that I have ever seen, has violated so many experimental rules that it's not even funny.

So - just to demonstrate - yes your nose can detect a subtle difference like between say, onions and garlic. But could you reliably tell me the difference between two pieces of cinnamon toast - one with only 80% the cinnamon of the other? This is sort of what is going on with some pickup claims. Or in some cases, even closer like 95%.

Also, you shouldn't say, "you haven't proved that I can't tell the difference". The research has already been done, to show that to claim that you can, is an extraordinary claim. Not only do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, but the onus is on the party that is making it, to provide proof one way or the other.
 
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naneek

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I didn't say all pickups. I said humbuckers. Also I only focused on "flatness". Flatness is meaningful only up to the cutoff frequency, above which the response drops off at a uniform rate with increasing frequency. Really, I interjected in order to discourage the use of the "flatness" concept to characterize pickups because it's not really very descriptive. It's far more useful to talk about the amplitude of the resonant peak, because that is something that is qualitatively recognizable both in the measurements and in the sound. The resonant peak in the Strat and Tele pickups is what mainly differentiates the sound from the sound of a humbucker - in each class, there are variations but not so much as the difference between the two classes of pickup.
that makes sense that 'flatness' is not a useful measurement in the recognizable differences between pickups.

I would be curious to see if any pickup manufacturers provide technical data on the resonant peaks of their pickups, and how this information might be interpreted in the context of what we hear.

as to your other points, I'm inclined to agree on a technical level. however, this is a guitar forum and most of us are artists. science has never really been able to quantify artwork or beauty in any meaningful way.

so I would just say, interesting points on subjectivity and presuppositions. but I suspect more analytical methods have little bearing on the artwork we produce or how we interact with our instruments.

Also, you shouldn't say, "you haven't proved that I can't tell the difference".
It's a little odd that you talk about the fallacy of preconceptions and yet you seem to be anticipating my supposed response in an argument. As you have so accurately pointed out, biases are rarely correct.
 

naneek

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They would have to be new old stock. Many years ago I picked up a set and put them in my MIJ 60s RI Strat.
They were pretty hi fi sounding, so the flat frequency description seems accurate to me.
I didn't care for them so I put the stock alnico pickups back in pretty quickly and sold the Ultrasonic pickups.
I have tried more modern Bill Lawrence designed pickups and they sounded better IMO.
call them: with no build in attitude.
so very tweakable with pedals amps settings etc.
very low stringpull.
designed for Samson if i remember them correctly.
had some, but my personal tast went more with the L280.
don't know for sure they had that soft attack like the L45 now.

but if you living in the US, buy real Bill&Becky
and my experience, old L90 / L500 sound the same as the new one and with the new one you have 5 wires so more options.
(l500 in parallel setting sounds great to, even in higher H versions)
thanks ringo and hopdybob. that's very helpful input.

The ultrasonics caught my eye because $45 with shipping is a good deal for a "silent single coil" humbucker type pickup. might have been worth trying out if they were something special.

sounds like it will be worthwhile to look into the wilde pickups from Bill and Becky instead.
 

hopdybob

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there are some ultrasonic with another back, so no soldering points, just one cable.
i would prefer the soldering points.
the big + with the Bill & Becky Wilde pickups today is that you can call them and ask them what kind of pickup you would need to your flavor.
L200, L280, L45 that i have had are truly different voices and attack.
in my case the L280 stayed
the same for the L90 and L500. i prefer the L500 and even in parallel it has a nice voicing (to me that is)
i don't know were PNW is, but if calling them up is no big deal, why not?
 

hopdybob

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I didn't say all pickups. I said humbuckers. Also I only focused on "flatness". Flatness is meaningful only up to the cutoff frequency, above which the response drops off at a uniform rate with increasing frequency. Really, I interjected in order to discourage the use of the "flatness" concept to characterize pickups because it's not really very descriptive. It's far more useful to talk about the amplitude of the resonant peak, because that is something that is qualitatively recognizable both in the measurements and in the sound. The resonant peak in the Strat and Tele pickups is what mainly differentiates the sound from the sound of a humbucker - in each class, there are variations but not so much as the difference between the two classes of pickup.

I can address the two other main points that you made, one of which is slightly controversial. You ask basically, "if the differences are not so great, why do people experience it and talk about it differently?". My (often unwelcome) answer, psychology. It's not that there are no differences. But, it's important to understand how powerfully our minds influence our perceptions. Actually, that is itself scientifically proven, not only that but a large part of the task of obtaining objective scientific facts, involves eliminating those strong mental biases and/or subtle influences that pervade our activities. Subjects of those biases always claim that they don't have them. In fact, there is no person who is easier to convince of that, than yourself. Add to that, the variability and multiplicity of factors that influence the sound, in addition to the base response, and you have a situation that is rife for self-deception and uncritical observation. Add to that, the monetary desires that drive marketing, which make it more profitable to tell people what they want to hear instead of what the engineers actually know and say, and you have a very unreliable body of theory floating around.

Secondly, comparisons of hearing to other senses in this context is not new. It's important to realize some categorical differences among the senses because they operate in completely different ways. Early in the 20th century, the roll out of telephones prompted a great deal of research about human hearing. The reason was actually for cost saving - because they anticipated building a huge network with millions of handsets. A lot of effort was expended to learn the limitations of human hearing - so that handsets for example, could be manufactured as cheaply as possible while performing adequately. Same thing for transmission networks (open wire at that time). Things like the Fletcher Munson curve are products of this research, but more importantly, research was done to determine with what precision the human ear could differentiate different tones and amplitude levels. From this, and from modern acoustic research that followed, it became very well accepted that the human ear can never discern fractional decibel differences under the vast majority of conditions. "tone" is based on varying amplitude with frequency, can't and doesn't deviate from this principle.

People with a strong technical background are accustomed to accepting such limitations as a given, and so lean towards psychological explanations of differences that can't be measured, or are so slight as to make a difference of perception due to them, unlikely.

The perceptions and assertions of people who claim to hear these major differences between only slightly different devices, are personally and individually valid, but have no basis in science because they generally can not be demonstrated in a properly conducted scientific experiment that is designed to absolutely rule out mental and emotional biases. Therefore, when they are shared, they become no more than a bare opinion. An opinion is fine, provided it is not presented as fact.

Such studies are difficult and expensive to perform, so they haven't been done. You will see many, many supposed experiments and demonstrations along those lines, but every one that I have ever seen, has violated so many experimental rules that it's not even funny.

So - just to demonstrate - yes your nose can detect a subtle difference like between say, onions and garlic. But could you reliably tell me the difference between two pieces of cinnamon toast - one with only 80% the cinnamon of the other? This is sort of what is going on with some pickup claims. Or in some cases, even closer like 95%.

Also, you shouldn't say, "you haven't proved that I can't tell the difference". The research has already been done, to show that to claim that you can, is an extraordinary claim. Not only do extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, but the onus is on the party that is making it, to provide proof one way or the other.
if the difference is so little why experience it?
hearing is affected by:
you hear better after a good sleep, than coming back from work having had loud noise in you work environment.
your ears can be tired.
then there is hearing loss.
i once had a tele set where i thought the bridge pup was defective because it has less output than the neckpup.
did a hearing check, and i lost some freq in the high region.
so if we 2 hear the same set , our perception can be very different ;-)
 

Ringo

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My thought is that Bill Lawrence seemed to be constantly tweeking and improving his pickups to the very end, the newer designed noiseless BL pickups should sound better than the Ultrasonics, which have to be what, a 30 years old or so design?
 

rigatele

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It's a little odd that you talk about the fallacy of preconceptions and yet you seem to be anticipating my supposed response in an argument. As you have so accurately pointed out, biases are rarely correct.
Sorry, I didn't mean yourself in particular, I meant to say, "one shouldn't say", not "you shouldn't say" but that kind of language is becoming awkward to use in the modern vernacular. It's not a preconception, but an account of many responses that I've read.

Also, I am an artist, I am a player, and I agree that the technical knowledge is of extremely limited use in those areas. It's because of claims that are themselves essentially technical in nature, rather than artistic, that I have anything at all to dispute.
 

rigatele

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If you want flat, extended high frequency response, it's not very hard to achieve. You just get yourself a fairly low wind magnetic pole pickup and load it with a lower than normal pot value. The catch is, the output will be weaker than most people are happy with. You can turn up the amp and not lose the sound though, if it's solid state.

For an extreme example, check out Les Paul's "low impedance" pickups.
 




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