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To upgrade ceramic or to not upgrade, that is the question....

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by FortyEight, Feb 25, 2021.

  1. FortyEight

    FortyEight Tele-Holic

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    Hey guys, I could use some direction and experience from you guys.

    I've got three cheaper guitars that I've been debating on upgrading pups in at least one of them or more than one. I'm sure some of you heard me say this but I have a 2010 Squier Bullet Strat Chinese, I have a Fender Starcaster (strat) made I think somewhere in the 2000's but I've not confirmed that yet, chinese made. And I have a 2014 Affinity Tele.

    I just pulled the Tele's bridge out last night to look at the pup and yeah, it's a ceramic pup too. Both of the strats are of course.

    Each one of these guitars has it's own thing going on but I do feel like the strats may struggle a bit with being icepicky ish. And maybe almost too much bass on the low end. Pretty much how ceramic pups are typically described. The tone knob is wired to the Fender Starcaster on the bridge and the Squiers isn't.

    I like playing all of these guitars, moreso the Strats. They all are serviceable and are staying in tune.

    The starcaster is my favorite one emotionally cuz my Mom gave it to me after she decided she didn't want to learn how to play any more. I think it actually looks nice and it's an interesting guitar. It has a fat neck, a flat neck that I'm getting used to, and a full sized body. It feels nice. I've done some work to the neck to make it way better. Rolled edges and got rid of real bat fret sprout. LOL.

    In a perfect world I'd like to get that guitar as my main guitar. I upgraded the tuners and it is staying in tune super well. I may need a new bridge or at least new saddles and I think I may possibly want to upgrade the pups in at least that one. Or the other ones too....

    But it's hard to know if I would be disappointed and just prefer the cheap ceramic ones or not. Part of me thinks I may not like better pups. I had an American Tele and I was not in love with how twangy it was. BUT, I didn't have it for a long time and not a good amp to play through and I sold it cuz I needed the money more than I needed it that year. I may have eventually liked it after having it for more than 6 months.

    So I'd like to hear from you guys that have upgraded, particularly strats, if you feel like it was a good thing or not.... I'm guessing most will say yes but who knows... maybe I'd be surprise. I like hearing about any guitar though, so it doesn't have to be just strats.

    My main purpose for this guitar is recording. So it may be that all the other factors in recording are more a factor than the pups. Or maybe not....

    Thanks for helping me on this journey guys.
     

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    Last edited: Feb 25, 2021
  2. fender4life

    fender4life Friend of Leo's

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    Uhhh....it's NOT a question ! A good set of USA fenders will improve the living %$#@ out of it. Of course, then again, for every kind of gear no matter how universally hated there are at least some people who sing the praises of it. Maybe u could be one, i dunno. But i never heard a ceramic fender type single coil that was worth any more trouble than the effort to throw it in the trash. If the guitar itself is worth the cost of a set i wouldn't hesitate for a second.
     
  3. Collin D Plonker

    Collin D Plonker Tele-Afflicted

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    So you like the warmth of ceramic but want a better build quality? Get some MIM pickups. They're cheap and plentiful on the used market because players changed them out a lot. They sound good, too. If you wire the bridge pup to the tone knob they're not too ice picky.
     
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  4. Mojohand40

    Mojohand40 Tele-Afflicted

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    Not all ceramic pups are bad. Some can be warm and sound good.
    I have some guitars I've never changed pups on, and some I've upgraded.
    The nocasters I put in my old MIM tele improved the sound (to my ears ) quite a but, but before the change, it really sounded pretty good anyway.
    I guess I'm saying, if you like the sound you got now dont bother, but, pickups are a really big factor in how a guitar can sound...probably the biggest.
    I can say I've never regretted upgrading pickups.
     
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  5. Jimclarke100

    Jimclarke100 Tele-Afflicted

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    I’d likely start by wiring the Strat bridge pickup into the tone control see if it helps. If that solves the icepick you’ve won if not there’s nothing lost and you can still change the pickup.
     
  6. StrangerNY

    StrangerNY Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    I have a Japanese Squier Strat from the mid-80s, and when I got it the first thing I had in mind to do to it was replace the ceramics.

    Then it arrived at my house and I plugged it in. To me, it sounded exactly as a Strat should sound, so I left them.

    - D
     
  7. dpang2836

    dpang2836 Tele-Meister

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    A Ceramic Pickup is Junk! They add that Bar Magnet Ceramic so they only have to wind Pickups about half, with Enamel wire around Poles. They actually play a little Hot. Get some nice Hand Wounds and enjoy the Tone!
     
  8. jvin248

    jvin248 Doctor of Teleocity

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    .

    Pots 'n Caps. Measure and replace to push the tone around. This way you are spending $10 instead of $100 to fix your tone problems. A single pot can vary by 20% max/min range and still be 'in spec' while pushing your tone even when 'dimed'.

    Lower the ceramic pickups to weaken them up like Alnico. Be aggressive in lowering them, neck and middle pickup covers flush with the pickguard, bridge pickup only high enough for the volume to balance when switching between neck and bridge. An 1/8th of an inch can change the tone a lot. Try it over a couple of days to avoid ear fatigue. Make it louder with the amp volume knob not trying to raise your pickups.
    Too many players use Fender 'factory specs' (that were designed around weaker alnico) to set pickup heights rather than their ears and then claim ceramic pickups sound bad ..

    Many of the 'cheap import ceramic pickups' actually have capacitance measurements closer to hand-wound boutique brands than most of the aftermarket 'Upgrade!' pickup brands tossed around in forum threads. Pickup internal capacitance controls from note clarity and articulation to dark, smooth, or muddy. You can turn the tone pot down to fix 'ice pick' but you can't turn a tone knob up enough to fix 'muddy'.

    Take a look at how Hendrix set up his vintage alnico pickups. Do what he did (only keep your ceramic pickups lower).



    Use your guitar knobs



    And get any cheap fuzz pedal to get classic strat cleans



    If you think Leo Fender may have known a thing or two about making guitar pickups, his last designs, the G&L MFD pickups, were made with stronger ceramic magnets and lower coil windings to get more and better signals with less noise.

    .
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2021
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  9. Collin D Plonker

    Collin D Plonker Tele-Afflicted

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    There's nothing wrong with ceramic pickups. They aren't junk. They sound different, and to some players, better. And they're not all made with a big bar magnet. MIMs use two magnets bookending steel poles.

    I chose my first strat, an MIM, because I preferred the sound over Alnicos. I was used to playing a Gibson ceramic pickup, which did not suck either.

    This set sold for $20.

    yjly2sj4lrbx1cf4ydxu.jpg
     
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  10. nickmsmith

    nickmsmith Tele-Meister

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    I'll recommend Guitar Madness pickups from ebay.. they are very good pickups for the money.

    Ceramics are not always bad, just like alnicos are not always good. In fact, most people can't tell ceramic v alnico from sound alone, and that's what truly matters. Tone pots, caps, pickup height all can make a bigger difference in sound than magnet type. Not to mention the amp settings, which make a drastic difference.

    I have an MIM Strat with ceramics that I don't intend to change. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    100% honest: The obsession with alnico vs ceramic is largely because they used alnico originally in early Strats. There are different factors in what makes a pickup sound the way it does.. magnet type is one of the many factors.

    There are some very expensive ceramic magnet pickups out there, mostly humbucker.

    If you youtube any A-B video of ceramic Vs. Alnico, you'll see how little difference there actually is.


    In the world of Fender fans.. what was done originally is usually regarded as "better." Even if the evidence doesn't necessarily support that.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2021
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  11. Boreas

    Boreas Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    I would follow @jvin248 advice. Nothing wrong with ceramic pups - unless you simply do not like the sound. But I usually look at pickup height FIRST, then look at my pots and caps. You can really change the sound of a guitar by adjusting heights and/or changing pots. Even pots of the "same" value can vary a lot in specifications - like 20%! I get rid of the "dreaded" ice-pick by using my tone knob(s).

    Although no one is going to diss you for switching pups, the tone you are chasing may be already installed! Make sure you dislike them before going down the pickup rabbit hole...
     
  12. zippofan

    zippofan Tele-Afflicted

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    I bought a cheap Kramer Strat back in the early 90s (from Music Yo! if you remember that Gibson experiment) for like $69 bucks. It played well enough, but I always thought the pickups were lacking. Years later when I retired from gigging on drums and picked the guitar back up, I thought they sounded harsh, albeit my only amp was a Zippo branded Peavey Backstage that I got more for the grill cloth logo than anything else. My son started picking it up and I told him he could have it if he played it, I got a Squier CV 69 Tele for myself :)

    On a whim, I got a set of the GFS Brighton Rock pickups, which I figured would at least make the guitar look cooler, and installed them for him, did a full setup, and floated the bridge as I had it decked. Big difference, nice clear quack in the 2 and 4, and it just sounded richer for the lack of a better word. When I bought him a little Bugera V5 tube amp it sounded even better. Same with the MIM Strat I bought a year later. The ceramics just didn't sound good to me, and I eventually replaced them with a set of Rose Robustas, great pickups for me, now it sounds like a prototypical Strat.
    Just my experiences as I know people like ceramic pickups, I just like the Alnico pickups better.
     
  13. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity

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    Ceramics have a touch of warmth and grit. I have used them before but in the end dont prefer them at all in Strats or Tele types. Inexpensive normal pickups are superior. But man, this is the the last 5% of your tone... still, for a cheap guitar it's a better investment than tuners, bridge or a nut probably.
     
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  14. bendercaster

    bendercaster Tele-Afflicted

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    If you don't like the pickups, sure, get new ones. But in terms of tone, there is nothing wrong with ceramic pickups. My first electric, a Strat shaped Peavey Predator, had great sounding ceramic pickups--over the years the magnets have fallen off, and they don't always fit in other guitars because of the extra depth created by the ceramic bar magnet, but I briefly had one of them in the neck position of my telecaster and until it fell apart again, it sounded great.
     
  15. Electric Warrior

    Electric Warrior Tele-Holic Ad Free Member

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    You can follow all of the suggestions here on tweaking and be in good shape. You can always put things back the way they were.

    If you want to swap pickups, go for it. People are always flipping them. Look for used, get an idea of fair market value of the set you're interested in, and scoop up a set when you see a good deal. If you don't get on with them, you can sell them for the price you paid. If you play it right, you never lose money on the deal...or it's like renting them for $5-10.

    If you suspect you'll later sell the guitar, keep your stock stuff so that you can reinstall before you sell. You are unlikely to find a buyer who will value your "upgrades."
     
  16. mexicanyella

    mexicanyella Friend of Leo's

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    I’d fully explore pickup height, including side-to-side tilt, adjustments before swapping pickups, unless pickup shopping and swapping is part of the fun for you anyway.

    Pickup shopping and swapping is not part of my jim-jam (no judgement there, just by way of explaining my approach) and I was pleasantly surprised how much I was able to improve my own one-humbucker Squier Bullet Strat by lowering the pickup, and having it lower in the treble side than the bass side.

    The guitar was a bright (some might say ice-picky) and zingy thing as I got it; great for high-gain shreddy tone but kind of thin and harsh for cleans.

    To a large degree, the pickup lowering and slight tilting de-emphasized the bite and gently enhanced the lows and low mids. It’s still bright and super-present, but way more balanced to my ear.

    String gauge selection took me the rest of the way. A change from whatever .010s were on it to a set of D’Addario .011s with a slightly heavier unwound G and a slightly lighter A were exactly what it needed for what I do.

    More boring than swapping in a new pickup, but cheaper and easier and still satisfying in the long run.

    (Sometimes I still consider pickup swaps for it, but never to the point of buying, because I always end up thinking “It does exactly what I want as it is now.”)
     
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  17. mexicanyella

    mexicanyella Friend of Leo's

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    Also, a friend of mine is on this kick of ordering Chinese LP knockoffs online and customizing them. He has a local shop do the work. On his last one the shop guy recommended some inexpensive set of pickups, saying something like, “Now, these are ceramic, no tone to speak of...just right for you.”

    That got a few laughs when he told us about it at band practice later. (The pickups ended up sounding great to me).
     
  18. Controller

    Controller Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    Decide with your ears. There are a lot of great sounding pickups for little $$. But they need to sound great to you. I tend to like ceramic pickups. They are a bit edgy and i set them lower.
     
  19. chris m.

    chris m. Poster Extraordinaire

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    Joe Barden pickups sound great and they use ceramic magnets. It's more about the overall design as well as the overall wiring scheme-- pots, pickup height, etc., than the magnets per se. On Strats another advantage of ceramic bar magnets with metal pole pieces is less string pull than you get with traditional magnetic pole pieces.

    If you like playing hard rock and distorted tones the typical cheap Fender ceramics tend to work really well for that. You lose a bit of "chime" and clarity when going for super glassy, clean tones, though. One of the best sounding Strats I ever owned (for blues-rock tones) was a cheap MIJ Wayne's World Squier that came with stock ceramics. I actually messed up its tone when I switched out for more classic alnicos.

    I believe that one of the reasons Fender specs ceramic pickups in many Squiers is that the majority of buyers are younger guys that want to play heavy metal and hard rock, and that the stock pickups actually work really well for that. It's not only about cost savings.

    I agree with other posters that suggest first trying various adjustments such as wiring the bridge pickup to the tone knob and lowering pickup heights. If you are really missing glassy clean tones another option might be to change out just the neck pickup for an alnico one, or maybe neck and middle, but keep the bridge pickup as stock ceramic if you want to use it for distorted crunch and lead tones.
     
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  20. Billy3

    Billy3 Tele-Meister

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    I bought some gm pups for my squire affinity Tele. Alnico 2s. They are good for the money. They are a huge upgrade for the stock ones.
     
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