New Pickups - Do they really make a big difference

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by Ken, May 26, 2008.

  1. Ken

    Ken Member

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    Does replacing pickups really make that big a difference in the tone?

    I just read on another forum that one guy replaced his stock pups in his PRS Custom 24 with a set of Suhr pups, and he said it sounds like a totally different guitar.
     
  2. OM Flyer

    OM Flyer Member

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    Depends on what you had and what you're putting in. A weak, thin, cheap pickup is going to be vastly different than a nice hand-wound Lollar or Fralin. From what I've heard, swapping one high-dollar pup with another is much more nuanced and subtle. But there are people who ostensibly can tell a vast difference between a JJ preamp tube and a Sovtek and between a Mogami cable and a Monster. I guess it all comes down to your ears. Personally, I find such distinctions to be a function of how much the person paid; if you drop $300 on a new set of pickups, I think you're far more likely to say you hear a huge difference in tone, whether you really do or not! :)

    That said, I recently played an LP with Suhrs and it sounded freakin' great. I didn't hear it with the stock pups, though.
     
  3. GovernorSilver

    GovernorSilver Member

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    What I plan to do is record a demo of my Parker Strat-style Nitefly with the stock PUs, then record a demo of the same chord progression and solos with the Nitefly after I change the PUs.

    I'm leaning towards Fender Fat 50s or Seymour Duncan Texas Hot Antiquities. The Parker is a naturally bright axe, so I've been looking for replacement PUs that compensate, instead of just accentuate the natural tone like the truer vintage style PUs that I would normally want.
     
  4. wildschwein

    wildschwein Member

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    Pups, like amp speakers, are a big part of your sound and are generally speaking easy to replace/upgrade. I've messed around with pups quite a bit and more often than not replacing stock items with good quality replacement items makes a big sonic difference. It will never change the way your guitar plays in an acoustic sense but what it picks up and transfers into an electrical signal will differ greatly between different pups. So, it can seem like the guitar sounds and feels different. I had this experience when I switched out some cheaper chrome covered humbuckers on a Flying V copy and dropped in some Wilkinson uncovered Zebra PAFs. Much richer harmonic content - more presence and sustain. Had a similar experience when I dropped a Ducan Invader into the bridge of another V that was equipped with very weak covered Humbuckers - my god what a change that was. Of course, all this is contingent on what you are replacing and what you are replacing it with.
     
  5. buddastrat

    buddastrat Member

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    OMflyer, Sometimes the hand wound Fralin is the thin, weak one since they're into vintage designs. A cheap pickup sometimes will sound much fuller, since they often wind them hotter. Look at the cheap MIM strat pickups with those ceramic mags. They have a big, full strat sound compared to most vintage styles, hand wound or not. Also some of the other cheap strat copies tend to have fuller sounding pickups.

    I never had a guitar magically transformed with a pickup swap. If I don't like it's natural tone, no pickup will make it sing. It could make it more useable in some cases, but it still is what it is. To me a pickup is very much a microphone just with certain frequencies emphasized. But if your guitar is not producing those frequencies it ain't gonna happen.

    For example, I had a thin, plinky sounding strat and even when I stuck a hot rails pickup in it, it sounded like a thin plinky strat with the mids and output turned way up. It still didn't have a nice full sound and you could still hear the sound of the strat coming through.
     
  6. OM Flyer

    OM Flyer Member

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    You may be right when talking about singlecoils, although the Fralin Tele set that I'm familiar with was anything but thin. In fact, Fralin allows the customer to specify the desired amount of overwinding or underwinding when ordering. But since the OP mentioned a PRS Custom 24, I guess I was thinking more of humbuckers.

    In any event, your point is well taken - expensive aftermarket pickups certainly do not always equal fuller tone. I just maintain that the most dramatic tone differences--whatever they may be-- occur between cheap stock pickups and more expensive handmade ones.
     
  7. Tri7/5

    Tri7/5 Supporting Member

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    In my experience, pup changes kind of work on the edge of your tone but not necessarily change the whole tone itself. Kind of the gray areas that may lend a little more of an ear to hear changes in. It may add a little more smoothness, brightness or the such. Again you have to be practical here we're not talking changing an EMG 81 for a vintage single.
     
  8. Polynitro

    Polynitro Member

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    Of course it can make a big difference. Now if you replace a pickup with another pickup that has the same specs it probably won't make a big difference. I think people these days are quick to dismiss any mods because the pendulum has swung too far in that direction and they're trying to swing it back (to what end I don't know).

    The best way to learn about pickups and their effect is to try different ones in the same guitar.
     
  9. Timmo

    Timmo Member

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    Sometimes, the change isn't nearly what you'd expect.
    I was surprised that changing pu's doesn't really dramatically change your guitar.
    Often times it's quite subtle and hardly worth the expense.
    Case in point.
    I changed out a MIJ Strat once with some fairly high end pu's and honestly, the change was so marginal that now, I think long and hard before doing so.
    I know many say the MIJ pu's are terrible but these weren't..........
     
  10. AaeCee

    AaeCee Member

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    But when you make a change where you really find a perfect match, new pickups can literally bring a mediocre guitar to life. Done it several times.
     
  11. GuitarsFromMars

    GuitarsFromMars Member

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    Talk to most of the people here,you will find,to an individual,those in the know,will choose custom built speakers and pickups to extend their tone and improve their capabilities.Skill has nothing to do with it.
     
  12. paintguy

    paintguy Long Hair Hippy Freak Silver Supporting Member

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    Pup changes can make a huge difference in my opinion. I'm strictly talking about my experiences and they have always been with humbuckers.

    Pup changes have made thin, brittle, bright guitars turn in to meaty, fat and warm guitars.

    I have also been able able to brighten very dark guitars etc...

    You have to know your guitar and do a lot of pup research, but I believe a so/so guitar becoming a great, loved guitar is only a pup change away.
     
  13. dkals

    dkals Member

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    I agree with buddastrat. I have an MIM strat and a highway 1. I thought it was just me being a novice on the guitar because I actually like the sound of the MIM pick ups over the Highway 1. The MIM's sound fuller and deeper. I will eventually just play with the height of the highway 1 pick ups to get a deeper sound.
     
  14. Tone_Terrific

    Tone_Terrific Member

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    There is nothing that you can do to change the voice of a guitar more than changing the pups.
     
  15. dotlikeimpact

    dotlikeimpact Supporting Member

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    As long as your changing something more than just the brand. If you've got fralin PAFs, Lollar or WCR PAFs will not sound dramatically different. It will be a noticeable change, but imho, not worth the $300 expense, and definitely negligible with a band. I've experienced this firsthand. Try different magnet types, different winds, even different types of pickups that fit in the same rout. That will make a more significant difference.
     
  16. Timmo

    Timmo Member

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    You beat me to it Larry ( How the heck are you anyway?).

    I hear a bigger difference in humbucker changes than single coil changes.
    I wonder if there is anything to that or just my experiences.
     
  17. Polynitro

    Polynitro Member

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    I wouldn't describe vintage pickups as thin or weak at all, and there's nothing new about winding pickups 'hot' fender has been doing that since 1950 (10K Broadcasters)
     
  18. bek

    bek Member

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    It really depends on what you're looking for, too. I have a super-cheapo Squier Strat Bullet hardtail that really surprised my guitar tech when I had him check it out for me. He thought it sounded really great for a real low-end instrument, but then I had put in a Deaf-Eddie Fat-O-Caster switch and converted it to a master-tone setup. Recently, though, I got a couple ultra-low wind pickups made by Pete Biltoft at VintageVibeGuitars. They're around 2.5 ohms, which is very low, and they sound so good I'm just about ready to sell my Telecaster and a couple of the humbucker guitars and use this as my main ax. They're huge and complex-sounding. I'll be the first to say I'm pretty old-school in my tastes, but these are AMAZING! I had Deaf-Eddie wire them up with a special 5-way for combos you can't usually get and tried them with a bridge humbucker. Bingo! Now I'm having Biltoft make me a humbucker to match the neck and middles, and think I may have found my real-deal guitar for my main "voice." Yeah, and putting a set of handwounds buckers in my Hamer (replacing the 59 and JB) made a real big difference, too. Always hated the JB; it's the hottest pickup I own and the flattest and least detailed and least harmonic and least interesting. Hot is not necessarily good.
     
  19. RvChevron

    RvChevron Member

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    Yes, if you switch from a Hyndai Pony to a Ferrari or Rolls Royce, the difference can be out of this world!!

    Even switching from a Ferrari to a Porsche can be a night and day difference. Not better or worse but different, very very differnet.
     
  20. dotlikeimpact

    dotlikeimpact Supporting Member

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    Ok, I'm gonna change my mind on this. I just replaced the pups in my G&L ASAT Classic from the stock to a pair of Bareknuckle Yardbird tele pickups. Oh. My. God. What a difference.
     

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