• New Sponsor: ShipNerd, Ship Your Gear with Us... for less! Click Here.

It's mostly in the pickups. Right?

patentcad

Member
Messages
9,417
So I've been buying/selling and playing these high end guitars since 1999 or so, and reading the forums (I started here back when it was the PRS Forum). And there are always these endless debates about guitar tone. So I get these two new guitars from Gibson, a chambered R0 and a solid body R9 (zebras, below). And after playing them for a couple of weeks, I'm amazed at the tone. Sounds like Duane Allman is in the room, except now he sucks on guitar : ). That's through my EL-84 Carvin vintage series amps. Best guitar tone I've ever heard. I'm convinced it's the Custom Bucker pickups that Gibson went to in 2013. The old Burst Bucker Historics didn't sound this good to me. I love both guitars, the chambered one is slightly less ballsy, but it has a woodsier tone that's really cool and also quite Allmans-like.

I've long been convinced that 90% of electric guitar tone is in the pickups. I guess if you combine great old pickups from the 50s with 50+ year old aged wood, that could be some secret tone sauce. The one real vintage guitar I owned (a '65 Strat) really left me flat, I greatly preferred my c. 2000 Custom Shop Strat to that guitar and I sold it after a couple of months. That Custom Shop Strat has single coils that say 'noiseless' and I love the quacky tone (maple neck).

This is the tone I've had in my head for 30+ years. I'm playing all the time now. I like it. It's spoiling me for the other guitars. Maybe I'll sell them all.

R9CR0%20Burst%20Closeup_zps1vt5nggz.jpg
 

Pietro

2-Voice Guitar Junkie and All-Around Awesome Guy
Messages
16,459
I've had the same pickup(s) in different guitars on a few occasions.

wood really matters.

I had a chance to play one of those awful 3-pickup "strat harness" SGs that were out a while back. simply awful. Not stratty at all, not SG-ish at all...

But when you're comparing similar guitars, that's another story.
 

Judas68fr

Member
Messages
1,306
Tone is not a 100% in the pick ups, but in my experience they are the most important factor. Then I would put nut/saddle material (almost as important as pick ups), and then wood/guitar construction.

That being said, I still believe the wood itself plays a significant part in the overall tone of the guitar (if I'd have to try to put numbers on that I would say about 25-30%). This easiest way to experiment it is to swap necks on a Fender guitar.
 

phel21

Member
Messages
399
Pickup-characeristics and pickup-position are the 2 dominating factors to guitar sound. If you OTOH look at details such as sustain it is the materials (wood and metal) and shape that determine the result.
 

Jim Soloway

Member
Messages
14,757
It depends on the player and the entire set up. Are you playing clean or distorted? Straight into an amp or through a bunch of pedals? Pick or fingers? Hitting hard or a light touch? Is the pickup close to the strings or further away? Is the amp high gain or clean? Is the cab open back or closed? Is the pickup low output or hot? Is the scale length long or short? etc. etc. Change any of these variables and the degree of the importance attributable to all of them changes.

As a finger style player who uses a blend of nail and flesh and plays entirely clean, I'm convinced that nothing changes my sound more dramatically than the length of the nail on my index finger. When it gets too long there's no longer any flesh hitting the strings and my sound immediately gets thin and brittle. Doesn't matter what else I'm using ... the guitar, the amp, the pickup, until I get out a nail file and buffer board it's still going to sound thin and brittle.
 

Ron Kirn

Vendor
Messages
7,925
Trying to identify which component is the most significant contributor to the voice of a guitar is a fool's errand.

Try playing one where the screws are all loose... can’t be done... so are the screws the most important factor?

Try playing one that has had the saddles removed... can't be done... so are the saddles the single biggest contributor??

That’s absurd, I know… but it makes the point.. a guitar is a composite of many things coming together to produce music.. and trying to quantify the contribution made by each component defies the sonic confluence that occurs when it all comes together.

It’s like asking which is the most vital organ, the Brain, or the Heart, ask a Democrat, it’s the heart, ask a Republican, it’s the brain.. ask a cannibal, it’s . . it’s… It’s, Yummm…

Wood? Well I’ve made guitars of very esoteric “tone” woods, that sounded amazing… I have also made guitars from lumber that was just a hair’s breath away from Termite rejection, that .. sounded amazing. I’d say wood CAN be a factor, not that it is ALWAYS a factor..

In the past decade and a half, I have made one guitar that just couldn’t be made to “sing”..that’s one out of thousands… and within that number, there are some made with “stuff” you would never associate with music… wood, and it’s contribution, are but minor ticks on the scale…

Pickups… same thing… some of the most remarkable sounding guitars made during the “startup” years 1930 - 1950 were quite literally wire wound around magnets in a most crude fashion. Really, were you to see ‘em, and the internal construction, you’d puke. Really, they were that bazar.

the sound of a pickup is a sonic Fashion statement… there is no “best” except as it pertains to your personal likes and dislikes. And changing the speaker in your amp has a far more noticeable effect on your sound than does replacing pickups… it’s easier too..

The overall confluence is much like a meal. Take Pizza… there must be a gazillion combinations… I don’t like Pineapple on mine, but there are those that love it.. which of us would be incorrect in saying the other’s choice stinks? Olives, Mushrooms, what kinda cheese.. it goes on and on.

the real acid test is this.. If YOU gave your sorry sounding gear to Clapton, and he lent you his, You would still sound like you, and he’d still be amazing.

In the 80’s there was an interview with Clapton, where he was playing a Squire… that was a marketing nightmare for Fender, because everyone saw that a bargain, entry level guitar could stun with it’s sound.

It is NOT the gear, it’s never gonna BE the gear… it is almost 100% YOU… I say almost because the number 2 factor, the amp, needs a little space… then everything else guys seem to wanna put so much importance in comprises that last fraction of a percentile.

It is NOT the gear, it’s never gonna be the gear…it’s you, your skill, your dedication…funny thing is, those that practice with the dedication of a religious fanatic, seem to find their “gear” problems fade into a gear curio, something to be tweaked, but certainly not something with which a complete “rig” can be condemned.

Some consider George Benson one of the Jazz greats… He practices about 6 hours a day… how ‘bout you?

Ron Kirn
 

beanoboy

Member
Messages
76
Pickups definitely make a difference. My '06 Les Paul Std. came stock with ( at the time) the highly reputable Burstbucker pups. I found them to be a little too "edgy". I swapped them with a WCR Crossroads set. Big difference. Instantly the 60s Brit Blues tones I love poured out of the guitar. The wood and nut definitely add to the "mojo" recipe but in this case the pickup swap was very satisfying.
 

Pietro

2-Voice Guitar Junkie and All-Around Awesome Guy
Messages
16,459
Pickups definitely make a difference. My '06 Les Paul Std. came stock with ( at the time) the highly reputable Burstbucker pups. I found them to be a little too "edgy". I swapped them with a WCR Crossroads set. Big difference. Instantly the 60s Brit Blues tones I love poured out of the guitar. The wood and nut definitely add to the "mojo" recipe but in this case the pickup swap was very satisfying.

I have no doubt of that.

Now...

Try replacing the pickups in your LP to make it sound more like a strat...

ain't gonna happen...

Ron Kirn nails it again.
 

clcwarlock

Member
Messages
328
Trying to identify which component is the most significant contributor to the voice of a guitar is a fool's errand.

Try playing one where the screws are all loose... can’t be done... so are the screws the most important factor?

Try playing one that has had the saddles removed... can't be done... so are the saddles the single biggest contributor??

That’s absurd, I know… but it makes the point.. a guitar is a composite of many things coming together to produce music.. and trying to quantify the contribution made by each component defies the sonic confluence that occurs when it all comes together.

It’s like asking which is the most vital organ, the Brain, or the Heart, ask a Democrat, it’s the heart, ask a Republican, it’s the brain.. ask a cannibal, it’s . . it’s… It’s, Yummm…

Wood? Well I’ve made guitars of very esoteric “tone” woods, that sounded amazing… I have also made guitars from lumber that was just a hair’s breath away from Termite rejection, that .. sounded amazing. I’d say wood CAN be a factor, not that it is ALWAYS a factor..

In the past decade and a half, I have made one guitar that just couldn’t be made to “sing”..that’s one out of thousands… and within that number, there are some made with “stuff” you would never associate with music… wood, and it’s contribution, are but minor ticks on the scale…

Pickups… same thing… some of the most remarkable sounding guitars made during the “startup” years 1930 - 1950 were quite literally wire wound around magnets in a most crude fashion. Really, were you to see ‘em, and the internal construction, you’d puke. Really, they were that bazar.

the sound of a pickup is a sonic Fashion statement… there is no “best” except as it pertains to your personal likes and dislikes. And changing the speaker in your amp has a far more noticeable effect on your sound than does replacing pickups… it’s easier too..

The overall confluence is much like a meal. Take Pizza… there must be a gazillion combinations… I don’t like Pineapple on mine, but there are those that love it.. which of us would be incorrect in saying the other’s choice stinks? Olives, Mushrooms, what kinda cheese.. it goes on and on.

the real acid test is this.. If YOU gave your sorry sounding gear to Clapton, and he lent you his, You would still sound like you, and he’d still be amazing.

In the 80’s there was an interview with Clapton, where he was playing a Squire… that was a marketing nightmare for Fender, because everyone saw that a bargain, entry level guitar could stun with it’s sound.

It is NOT the gear, it’s never gonna BE the gear… it is almost 100% YOU… I say almost because the number 2 factor, the amp, needs a little space… then everything else guys seem to wanna put so much importance in comprises that last fraction of a percentile.

It is NOT the gear, it’s never gonna be the gear…it’s you, your skill, your dedication…funny thing is, those that practice with the dedication of a religious fanatic, seem to find their “gear” problems fade into a gear curio, something to be tweaked, but certainly not something with which a complete “rig” can be condemned.

Some consider George Benson one of the Jazz greats… He practices about 6 hours a day… how ‘bout you?

Ron Kirn

Great post Ron, I always enjoy these.
 

rummy

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
8,570
Mostly, yes.
Besides, you can't swap wood, scale length, or other materials.
 
M

Member 37136

Wood, pickups, strings, and construction all play a role in "tone." I've never understood why it's important to determine what percentage each variable provides, yet this seems to be a matter of unending interest on guitar forums.
:confused:
 

bdm

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,698
Wood and pickups seems to be the biggest factors in my explorations. I've played tons of guitars and there are some that just have their own "personality". You can try to compliment or supplement that personality with different pickups and pots but the wood really is the "soul" of the tone. It's just stronger in some guitars.
 

Trebor Renkluaf

I was hit by a parked car, what's your excuse?
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
14,427
That pickups only pickup what the wood produces. I say the wood is more important than the pickups. That said, some funky sounding wood can produce a unique and useable tone - think Danelectro.
 

cardinal

Member
Messages
5,554
Everything contributes, but pickups are a big part that can easily be changed. Much harder to change the wood.

I have one guitar that makes pickups sound better than my other guitars. I don't know why. The same pickup seems to have more output and "beef" but with better dynamics in that guitar than when installed in any other. Doesn't make much sense to me, but it's what I hear. I drove myself crazy flipping guitars to get another one like that one but pretty much have given up at this point.
 

russintexas

Member
Messages
683
As I see it:

Your amp has a bigger impact than your pickups.

Your pickups have a bigger impact than the wood.

The wood has a bigger impact than the bridge material.
 

TK LP

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
541
I believe it is the sum of the parts, but the impact that pickups/electronics has can be profound.
 

dazco

Member
Messages
15,692
No. Put a HB in a strat and compare to a LP. IMO 95% is the wood and design. It's not even a question. Pickups are nothing more than a EQ and output level to amplify or tweak an already existing voice that the wood and design dictate. Rod stewart straight to the board with a sm58 is still going to sound like Rod with a different mic, a EQ, effects, etc etc. Wood matters a a lot as does guitar design. A lousy sounding guitar will sound lousy with any pu on the planet, while a killer guitar will sound killer with any pickup, barring one thats a horribly bad match for the guitar.
 

caspa

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
841
I would say yes. BUT a big part of it is scale length and pickup placement.

If you put a PAF into a alder tele/strat with a 24.75 neck, I think you'd get extremely close to an LP type tone.

I think wood quality and type is very important in feel only, and not so much in sound. It makes sense that the electric components of an electric guitar are the main sound, but companies/small builders would seriously struggle to sell higher end instruments without arguing that this certain cut of mahogany and period correct bridge tailpiece account for a 5K+ price increase over a similar model.

As far as the whole signal chain goes, I believe speaker changes have the biggest effect of all.
 




Trending Topics

Top Bottom