How much do pickups really matter?

Discussion in 'Effects, Pedals, Strings & Things' started by jw289, May 30, 2013.

  1. jw289

    jw289 Member

    Aug 2, 2011
    I'm looking to change the stock humbuckers in my epiphone les paul standard, but through research and the help of Seymour Duncan's Tone Wizard and DiMarzio's Pickup Finder, I have no idea what I want.

    So my personal question is: What do you guys think would be the best pups for a guy who plays worship, rock, and bluesy jazz?

    My open question is: How much do pickups really matter? How much do they open or limit tonal capability, and how different are they, really?

    I'd love for anyone to help my with my personal question, but I'd really just love to hear the discussion between players that have been through different pickups and have experience with their different sounds.

    P.S. I have a serious bias to humbuckers. Just sayin.
  2. clothwiring

    clothwiring Supporting Member

    Jan 26, 2006
    Central NY
    Depending on the pickup it's huge. You can really shape the tone based on pickups (not to mention the pots and caps). I have an Ibanez Ghostrider

    I don't know enough about Worship tones to know what you'd need from that perspective. As far as rock and bluesy jazz, you have a million options. I'm currently exploring SD offerings including the JB/59 setup. I have a Tele with a Antiquity Humbucker in the neck.

    I'd feel that you might want to try some guitars with a JB/59 setup to see how those pickups feel to you.
  3. crambone

    crambone Member

    Feb 22, 2012
    Lakeland, FL
    They matter. A lot.

    I have a PRS Santana SE (cheaper guitar) but swapped out the bridge pickup for a Dimarzio and it was amazing the difference it made. I have a Seymour JH-2 for the neck that I am waiting to get put in.
  4. Cgkindler

    Cgkindler Supporting Member

    Apr 17, 2013
    BACK to Heath, OH
    Well, I just ordered a set of CiMarzio Area 61 pickups for strat (single coils)

    All the YouTube vids (HD) give some very noticeable difference!!

    I'll try to do a comparo vid for ya to illustrate!!
  5. Preacherofrock

    Preacherofrock Silver Supporting Member

    Jun 13, 2011
    They do make a big difference and can really help with your clarity and your ability to be present in the mix (especially if your stock humbuckers are somewhat muddy). My question is what other instruments are in your mix when you are doing worship stuff, and what amp are you playing through? What sound are you going for. All of that matters.
  6. chervokas

    chervokas Member

    Feb 16, 2008
    The answer to this question is so personal -- what sounds good to you -- and so dependent on system match -- what guitar, what strings, what amp and gain settings, etc. -- that you really just need to familiarize yourself with the typical sounds associated with all sorts of guitars and all sorts of pickups and then going through a process of trial and error.

    They matter enormously -- they're the principal tone generating component of a solid body electric -- but the differences between two substantially similar pickups -- say two alnico II PAF style pickups, unpotted, wound to 7K ohm DCR and 3.75H inductance with #42 enamel wire, with the same covers -- will tend to be pretty subtle.
  7. OotMagroot

    OotMagroot Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2008
    For P&W, classic rock, or bluesy stuff, I would focus on getting a decent set of PAFs. But THEN you have to contend with all of the different types of magnets and whatnot (not to mention all of the different manufacturer's construction methods and claims that their PAFs sound the best or most authentic to something that was made in 1959).

    In my mind, it's hard to go wrong with a nice set of Duncan '59s or the Dimarzio 36th Anniversary PAFs (I have Dimarzio PAF Classics in my Les Paul which are supposedly similar to the 36th Annys).

    If you want something a little hotter I do tend to like the Duncan JB in the bridge position of mahogany guitars, so the previous post advising to try a JB/59 set might be a good idea. I had a JB/Jazz set in my Schecter C-1 Classic. It had a PRS-like 5-way switching scheme that produced lovely clean sounds as well as nice full-on humbucker tones.
  8. RyanM

    RyanM Member

    Jul 20, 2009
    Only for the player. No one else hears a difference, and if they did they wouldn't give a **** (same goes for every other aspect of gear). Chasing tone can be a fun hobby in it's own right, but don't let it get in the way of learning to play.
  9. JesterR

    JesterR Member

    May 31, 2012
    St. Petersburg, Russia
    They really matter. Especially, if you change stock pickups from budget guitar like epiphone or squier. I think, that any classic PAF-style humbacker would works.
  10. k tone

    k tone Member

    Aug 25, 2008
    Epi pickups are horrible. Put a Burstbucker 2 & 3 in there and you will see a vast improvement.
  11. sonofspy

    sonofspy Member

    Sep 13, 2007
    [FONT=&quot]Electric Guitar Wood Myth Busted?[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]After two months of testing, a La Trobe University researcher finds that electric guitar sound is unaffected by the body of the instrument. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Matthew Angove, a La Trobe University Bachelor of Science honours student, conducted the research by trying out electrics of various shapes and builds. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Being in the field of musical acoustics, Matthew found it unsatisfactory that very little research is done in the field of electric guitar. Compared to classical guitar musicians who tend to tinker with their instruments, it seems that most of the electric guitar research is done by manufacturers. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Guitarists are familiar with the various tonewoods and shapes that are used on electric guitars. Manufacturers and guitar players suggest that using a particular shape, or a specific wood material - be it alder, poplar, ash, basswood etc - will produce significant and specific tone variations. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Matthew was quoted saying: "I’m a player myself and I grew up believing the hype around different sounds and tones that can be created by using different woods such as mahogany or maple. I’m now testing that assumption."[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]According to Matthew, the idea behind the research is that the "common" knowledge being spread by companies that market guitars go against the physics of how the electric guitar works. He wanted to find out why manufacturers and sellers are charging more for guitars made of "rare" woods. He wants to determine if material used and body shape affects the electric guitar's amplified tone and he wants to find out why and how it affects it.[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]The test was straightforward, Angove placed identical strings and pickups in guitars of varying shapes and sizes and he then compared the resulting audio signals. A local music shop called J's Music City lent him several guitars and a number of pickups. He recorded every note individually on each guitar with the pickups carefully placed in exactly the same spot with the same distance beneath the strings. Matthew then listened to the recordings and looked at the harmonic content of each note, comparing each guitar shape and material against each other. [/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Quoting Mr. Angove's verdict: "I've only been looking at the results for two weeks and it really looks like all of them are pretty much identical. I was surprised at just how identical they were because the guitars were very different in shape. As I was listening to them, I showed other guitar players and they were surprised as well, they were convinced they all came from the same guitar … I'm beginning to think we should be making guitars out of something more rigid than wood, such as [/FONT][FONT=&quot]carbon fibre[/FONT][FONT=&quot]."[/FONT][FONT=&quot][/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]This research validates the opinion that the string setup, pickup type and pickup placement is what causes the various tonal differences that we hear between electric guitar models and brands. This reminds me of a video by Scott Grove that claims the same thing: the pickups, string vibrations and your guitar's bridge and saddles are the parts that really matter.[/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]Check out Scott Grove's video: "Does Wood Type, Finish, Mass Matter On Electric Guitar", [/FONT][FONT=&quot]right here[/FONT][FONT=&quot][​IMG][/FONT]
    [FONT=&quot]The research is still not complete, but the data, according to Mr. Angove, is pointing to the idea that there is simply no significant difference. The research is expected to be completed by the end of the year, and more data will be available by then.[/FONT]
  12. 10strings

    10strings Supporting Member

    Dec 19, 2009
    Maybe like 80%
  13. Humcycle

    Humcycle Member

    Jan 27, 2013
    I used to ignore all discussion about replacement pickups. I thought my Ordinary Person Ears can't tell a difference anyway. Then that before-and-after double blind thread appeared and now I'm all riddled with anxiety.
  14. Heady Jam Fan

    Heady Jam Fan Member

    Nov 30, 2010
    There are some really cheap pickups out there and a good set (ie, Seymour Duncan) will be a noticeable improvement. However, going from SD PAF's (59's) as well as Schaller Golden 50's PAFs (which 59's are a clone of) to Lollar Imperials, I thought the difference was more consistency rather than tone.

    The neck and bridge pickups were more balanced on the Lollars so flipping between them sounded and felt more natural and my gear responded more naturally - ie, there was a tonal change, but not so much change in volume.

    Also, I found the coil-tap setting on the Lollars, similar to neck vs bridge, to be more consistent from the humbucking setting. There was a change in volume as well as tone, but it felt more natural.

    In the end, the Lollar felt more natural and consistent - I was better able to predict the sound change in the (many) various settings on my guitar. Even going from one extreme to the other (neck bucker to bridge single), while I sometimes felt surprised (and my rig sometimes reacted 'surprised') when I did that with cheaper pups. I'm not sure that was a huge tonal difference - certainly not a sound quality difference for 2x the price, but IMO consistency of tone is ever more important. I thought it was worth it.
  15. AParrotLooksAt4O

    AParrotLooksAt4O Member

    Nov 3, 2010

    So why then would an SG sound so different than a Les Paul if they essentially have the same electronics/hardware? I'm doubting the scale of the instruments is the only factor making them sound different. I know the tone/wood argument is cloudy, but SD Antiquities DO NOT sound the same in an Ash Strat as they do in a Maple capped Mahogany Les Paul.

  16. Matt Ivaliotes

    Matt Ivaliotes Supporting Member

    Mar 21, 2010
    Chicago, Illinois
    You can have a guitar gear hobby, you can play guitar, you can do both, or you can do neither. But they're not the same thing. So yeah, be judicious in deciding how much of your energy you're going to put into the gear.
  17. semi-hollowbody

    semi-hollowbody Member

    Sep 18, 2007
    Metro Detroit Burbs, MI
    my epiphone les paul std and G400 had horrible stock pups (these are 2004-2006) they are better now, but the swapping the stock pups made a HUGE HUGE difference

    I put seymour duncan SH-4 JB for the bridge and SH-2n jazz neck in my les paul...g400 got the pearly gates in the bridge and the sh-2n jazz for the neck

    Ive a/b'd them with stock gibson counterparts and for what I DO AND PLAY, they held their own...pickups imo are the best upgrade you can do in an already playable guitar...huge difference
  18. JonnyQ

    JonnyQ Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2012
    Los Angeles

    Not to dismiss the whole two weeks of research by an honor student at a university that I've never heard of, but years of playing and listening to guitars of many different shapes, sizes and body/neck/fingerboard woods tells me this student has more research to do.

    As far pickups, the are easily the most significant change one to make to his guitar to affect tone. I'd guy with the vintage PAF styles many here have mentioned. Good luck.
  19. zztomato

    zztomato Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2008
    Harper-town, Canada
    They may however look identical if you just looked at it on a frequency spectrum analyser.
  20. slap_back05

    slap_back05 Supporting Member

    May 4, 2013
    Southern Illinois
    Pups are important, and Epi humbuckers tend to be on the muddy side of things. Try a set of Gibson '57 Classics, or some Porter Anthem PAF's. I put Gibsons in my Epi Gold top; night and day difference. Had some Porters in another Epi LP I had at one point, sounded pretty dang good too.

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