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Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by variantboy, Apr 7, 2020.
Let's not forget the 'wild card'...age. Some pickups warm and mellow with age.
How do you suppose that would happen?
No idea. But I had it happen with my Epi Casino. Maybe poles losing a bit of magnetism over a few decades?
really? how so?
All of the materials involved are pretty stable over the passage of time. The inert plastics would surely decompose a lot faster than the metals.
Under rare circumstances, meaning this doesn't just typically happen with age, AlNiCo can lose charge, but IME I would not say a weak magnetic field sounds warm or mellow, I'd say they sound thinner and weaker, the exact same thing that happens when you lower the pickups away from the strings. If pickups with weak magnetic fields genuinely sounded good, manufacturers would love to cut some expense out of the production and use even smaller and weaker magnets, but in truth it's not a good sound.
Might be a fun conversation... for at least one of us
For the record, I am not trying to overcomplicate anything (It might seem that way because i am kinda ridiculously verbose. My apologies for that)
Rather - if the evil bean counters with which you are equating me are guilty of misleading people with useless information, I am actually attempting to request that modern day providers do exactly the opposite of that, by speaking in a useful set of standard measures rather than useless spec sest.. or worse - subjective adjectives.
So if im barking up the wrong tree... let me ask :
If you're suggesting that both of the following is true :
1) my request for these 5-8 spec values above the standard/historic 3 or 4 is "being a proponent of useless information"
- and -
2) you are suggesting that the standard/historic 3 or 4 specs are are "useless information"
well then.. by logic, i must ask - are you suggesting that knowing NONE of them is the better option?
or are you proposing that we exchange different ones with our pickup providers?
Is it that you're suggesting that providers need to have a phone conversation with every prospective buyer so that he/she can describe the target instrument (and effects, rig,etc?) to you and you can make your decisions on how to provide them with their desired tone?
I celebrate the idea of that of course.... but i have to ask... even in thatphone conversation.. how do you "relate" what they tell you to what they AND YOU have heard before?? When "Bob" says "bright" or "jangly"... is it the same is "Joe" saying "bright" or "Jangly" ?? Has bob or joe heard/played a 68 pink paisley? Heard/Played an actual 52 blackguard?? a mid 70s tele?
To me - the pickup maker understanding their point of reference without standard measures seems a more *complicated* task than acting without them. I'm sure it's ok for the novice buyer who really doesn't know any better - but do they make up a large or small portion of your business, I wonder. That seems a different topic.
If you're suggesting that the wood of the tele (ash, alder, etc), rosewood neck vs maple, pot resistance values, bridge saddle material, which amp and/or effects you're using, the venues you play in, etc etc.. are more of an effect to tone than pickups.. well - we'll just have to understand that we have significantly different experiences. Those things matter of course - but an experienced ear knows how they influence sound and can determine how they want to manipulate the source to optimize each of those external factors.
I've been putting aftermarket pickups in my teles for about 15 years or so..(and playing for about 35 years) and i have found that certain variations in certain specs do yield consistent variations in tone - irrespective of which instrument i put them in. Yes, the external factors matter - but they are difficult (...or shall i say 'complicated' to quantify, whereas pickup specs are not so much)
Again - i love to talk tone - and i've been tinkering with it for years - with the exception of constructing my own pickups. We might have to have that call.
In the meantime - i'd wonder if i could indulge your time to benefit the entire group and not just me - to list these "external variations" and a rough idea of how prominently you believe they each figure into the overall equation. I think it's useful .. and to more people than just me.
If that's not something you're willing to contribute.. well i guess i understand... it might make things too complicated. I'm kidding. I'm sure you don't have time to spend reading my long posts..and indulging my tedious nature. That would be totally understandable.
anyway - thanks for weighing in.
JM&J, plus oy vey. just call me, you have my number.
magnets can loose their "strength" via age (really long time spans in decades, perhaps) but are typically more affected by electric fields and other magnetic sources that want to lower their gauss rate. otherwise, if the pickup does work, that's about it.
Some ears do too.
Ive had this guitar since new, purchased in 1974. So the pups are 46 years old. Then again, my ears are 46 years older as well, which might have something to do with it. They do sound different to me, though. In a good way.
@Antigua Tele, @Rob DiStefano and @variantboy (OP), I really enjoy these kind of threads, thank you.
I'm greatly enjoying rocking between considering myself to understand these things a bit better...and then again not.
Lets say I want something run-off-the-mill. Say a strat set selected based on a layman's set of criteria to possess Alnico V pole pieces, coils wound with42 AWG wire and a sufficient number of turns in the coil to reach ca. 6.5 ish kOhms.
These specs are offered by many. What distinguishes a "good" set of pickup from a "bad" one and how does it present itself to the layman?
btw, is anybody still offering a "matched set"?
You are getting to the question on my mind as well. If you gave a handful of winders the same materials (wire and magnets) with instructions to wind to a given output spec, what differences would be audible?
It depends on what aspects you're judging as good or bad. If the pickup is microphonic, that's generally bad. If it looks unusual, and not vintage correct, that might be bad. I like ToneRiders but they looks a little off. That concerns the quality of construction.
If you mean sounds good or bad, there's not really a such thing as good and bad when it comes to subjectivity. If you mean why do they sound different at all, one reason is that even though the DC resistance is the same, the inductance might be different. It's also very unlikely that they the pickups are all being set to the same height, because there is no little ruler on the sides of the pickups, they just end up at some random height that "looks right" or "sounds right". The psychology of it can't be overstated either, if you have cause to think two pickup sets should sound different, you can easily find reasons to think you're hearing something different.
the more I've experienced putting aftermarket pickups in the many many teles I've owned over the years (and I've done a *lot* of that) the more I'm thinking ... the differences would not be significant.
with just a simple caveat..
don mare once told me (and I loved how he put it).. "if there's no coil at the top and its all chuppy at the bottom the pickup will be quiet and lack tone". that sentence will stick with me forever for obvious reasons.
so with caveat added : barring someone assembling the thing with some reckless disregard for the integrity of the pickup - I just don't believe anyone's adding any special sauce. and in fact the spirit of my questions here (despite Rob thinking I've made things over complicated) is really:
"is it really that complicated? does anyone really do this so specially that there's some amazing trade secret any one maker possesses? or some mastery of understanding of the infinitude of permutations of each individual guitar and player's desired tone that makes one maker's execution so precious?"
really - that's not been my experience.
I have four telecasters right now.. a couple ash, 1 mahogany, 1 alder. 1 rosewood neck, 3 maples. 3 solidbodies and 1 thinline. (all S/S btw) I have experimented with different varieties of potentiometer values in ALL of them..different saddle material.. and of course, different pickups. (I kind of love tinkering).
I have installed lollar, fralin, duncan, oc duff, kinman, fender (many different), don mare, Klein, Kuwabara and a few others in these teles over the years - and really, the only time I notice a *difference that matters* is when the specs of the pickup are different. I believe I've determined what's common to the pickups I've liked over the years, and what's common to the ones I do not like.
I might have to have that call with Rob some day - but with every ounce of respect, I am somewhat skeptical that in that call I'm going to learn that there are some large set of "external" factors that is going to make one set of pickups sound vastly different in one tele than they do in another. (and btw - I have swapped pickups from one tele to the other so many times, it would make a player's head spin).
it's just not been my experience in any way.
i'm not saying i don't detect differences from guitar to guitar.. there are.. but if you have a tele bridge pickup that's way wound up - it's not going to start exhibiting "scooped/bright" qualities in one tele vs. the other (unless you use different saddles or a different bridge apparatus like a bigsby or something, or change the pots).
I will go on the record as stating that in my experience with pickup swapping.. when it comes to the TELECASTER specifically, the pickups and the pots are the things that affect the tone mostly. (this does not take into account drastic choices in construction like a 3lb pawolina vs. a 9 lb boat anchor body. this is a "general/on-average" statement)
there I said it. I hope that doesn't trigger a giant subthread here. (ducking)
**disclaimer** i, in no way consider my ears to be gospel... everyone's ears are different and of differing ability to discern things. i make no claim that i am hearing things exactly as they are in reality. That said - is anyone really? but i once again digress.
like others have said - it's not that complicated.
Antigua... you just reminded me of another important factor:
this makes a different. When a pickup is a little microphonic.. it's not necessarily a terrible thing (in my opinion).. and if you're not playing super duper high gain overdriven.. it can be worth going easy on the potting. thanks for reminding me.
I've come to have a pretty through-and-through understanding of how pickups work. If there were any place you think the magic could be hiding, I can explain why it's not hiding there, whether it be in the "scatter winding" or the "aged AlNiCo magnets".
There is nothing to wax potting, you can't hear "slightly microphonic", it's all just people's overactive imaginations, and it always comes across to say this is "snake oil", but we're in a place and time when the snake oil is covering everything like wet at a water park, it's so abundant that it's hard to even see it for what it is. In addition to all the pickup voodoo, we have tonewood, tuning stability enhancers, tone brass, SRV's big hands, whether germanium diodes are better than op amps, and so on. It's trace amounts of facts in an ocean of imagination.
DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN AND CAN'T HEAR !!! I CAN HEAR A FLEA SNORING AT 500 PACES!!!
I do happen to think it makes a wee difference... but I will admit that I would not go to the mat with any claims that I could quantify the contribution in percentages, or that I could identify in a blind test. This may not be in the "must know" list.
with further thought though, if it makes no difference whether or not the pickup is microphonic, why do you think "if a pickup is microphonic, that's generally bad" ?? are you saying it has implications of imminent failure... or are you speaking sonically?
does it or does it not make a difference?
If it's microphonic it will feed back. Some pickup makers claim that their pickups are "lightly potted", paradoxically beneficially mirophonic, but not especially prone to feedback. You can't have it both ways. In order for that to work, some fraction of the windings would have to be vulnerable to changes in air pressure, but when you wax pot a pickup, that wax starts from the outside and works it's way into the coil. That means that even if you "lightly" wax pot a pickup, the outer most part of the coil is covered in wax, and the inner part of the coil is sealed off, and air tight, and therefore no longer reactive to changes in air pressure. The second the wax sinks into the coil, even a little bit, it changes from a microphonic pickup to a non-microphonic one.
Even when the pickup was completely unpotted though, it can't both be sensitive enough to act as a microphone with respect to the strings, and not feedback like crazy the moment a small amount of gain is added. Imagine what would happened when you were to add that typical guitar gain to a regular microphbone, the guitar would be rendered unusable.
Sincere question then :
if I engage a delay on a given guitar, mute the strings, and sing a note into the pickup, and can hear my voice echoing through the amp - is that evidence of the pickup being microphonic?
I know of a tele that I can do that with. It's an amazing sounding guitar - actually one of my favorites. I've been recording this guitar since 2002, as recently as months ago. It's always been this way as long as I've known the owner. When I dime it through a 28W tweed Vicky - it does not squeal or feedback.
Maybe I'm misunderstanding what 'microphonic' means?
And of course it's entirely possible, this property of the guitar/pickups has nothing at all to do with the sound of the guitar.
Yes, but your voice is a lot louder than the acoustic output of the strings, and the magnetic output of the strings is a lot louder than your voice, so even if the pickup is microphonic, there are two orders of magnitude of separation between acoustic and magnet output of the strings, so it would be like having one fader at 100% and the other at 1% and pretending the fader at 1 was making a significant contribution to the mix.
A cool experiment might be to put a pickup into a guitar that is microphonic, but has no magnets, or is 100% demagnetized, and see how much microphonic output you get, when there is no magnetic output. Or maybe get the pickups really close to some nylon guitar strings (the purely plastic, non wound strings) and see what the output it compared to the regular electric guitar strings. You know you can hear your voice well enough, how about strummed nylon strings?
really excellent post. i enjoy your reviews of pickups on the strat forum as well.