Pickup Height, such a mystery

xmd5a

Member
Messages
2,422
I still struggle because there is conflicting information about pickup height and resultant tone ectetera.
It's hard to describe because a) it changes more than one thing, and b) those changes are subtle. Note that this difference also applies to the difference between AlNiCo 2 and AlNiCo 5, a lot of what it said about AlNiCo 2 relates to pickups set lower, and vice versa. It's easy to say "brighter" or "darker", "harder" or "softer", but the change is makes is complex enough to defy simple description.

When there is increased magnetic pull, the strings vibrate more asymmetrically, because the string is being attracted by a magnet on one side, but not the other. The waveform actually becomes more asymmetrical also, so if your gain is asymmetrical, it even changes the "bloom" character, or how the clipping changes as the strings ring out.

The asymmetry tends to increase higher harmonics, as if the magnet were gently causing a pinch harmonic in the location of the pickup. Therefore, the effect of pickup height will also vary depending on the location of the pickup.

Lastly, if the pickup is closer to the strings, the output is increased and the amp is pushed a little harder.

You can raise or lower the pickup one side at a time, making it more bass heavy or treble heavy, so the above would end up applying to some of the strings more than others. It's especially tricky with a Strat and its staggered pole pieces.
 

jvin248

Member
Messages
5,527
.

Follow along with Joe and set your pickup tones right!
Your ears will tell you more than generic specs ... because pots, caps, and pickups all have at least a 10-20% factory tolerance range.
If your pickups have screw poles then use those too.
Sometimes just an 1/8th inch up/down can make all the difference in tone.


.
 

rockon1

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
13,101
EMGs and similar actives like to be cranked very close to the strings, but most passives should be a bit lower. I take pickup height very seriously as part of a guitar's overall setup.
Nice thing about EMG's is you dont have to worry about pull on the strings. They can be damn near touching the strings and not exert any pull on them.
 

xmd5a

Member
Messages
2,422
Nice thing about EMG's is you dont have to worry about pull on the strings. They can be damn near touching the strings and not exert any pull on them.
That's actually a myth. EMG's have two long ceramic magnets in two coils under the plastic cover. The have more pull than a typical PAF. It's just that neither a PAF nor an EMG has much string pull compared to Fender pickups. The vertically oriented AlNiCo pieces of Fender pickups are quite strong. EMGs in general are like regular guitar pickups, the difference owes to the pre-amp. If they sound good set close to the strings, I'd guess it relates to the lack of an audible resonance.

 

rockon1

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
13,101
That's actually a myth. EMG's have two long ceramic magnets in two coils under the plastic cover. The have more pull than a typical PAF. It's just that neither a PAF nor an EMG has much string pull compared to Fender pickups. The vertically oriented AlNiCo pieces of Fender pickups are quite strong. EMGs in general are like regular guitar pickups, the difference owes to the pre-amp. If they sound good set close to the strings, I'd guess it relates to the lack of an audible resonance.

Just checked them against against a few ceramic HB's. My 81/85 set definitely dont have the pull of my other passive humbuckers though they do have more pull than I remember- in that I stand corrected. I do like them closer than the passives though.
 

arpegadream

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
642
In College in some of my classes Gaussian profiles were a thing we measured and concerned ourselves with. I realize different pickups have different profiles and the field curve is different, I would imagine intercepting the top .7xx of that field is what one would want? That field would also vary interacting with the vibration of the string. If I could measure that field I could arrive at that position. I don't even remember how we measured fields in school, it is so long ago. I remember using Faraday Rotators to mess with polarity of light.
 
Messages
6,911
Certain pickups seem to be quite sensitive to very small adjustments. For some others it's really just a volume thing. Most fall somewhere in between.
IMO it's worth experimenting with every pickup you've got. The results can be surprising.
 

ripgtr

Member
Messages
9,242
Somewhere on Fender's site they have (or used to have) their recommended heights for various guitars. No idea about Gibson or the other big manufacturers.

The last time I brought a Fender (Strat) in for a setup the tech said he adjusted my pickups based on the Fender specs (that was when I learned the info was on their site) and it made a noticeable difference. The guitar sounded fine before but afterward it sounded even better.
I adjusted my strats pickups by ear, decades ago. I got a caliper a couple years ago and measured, and it was almost exactly the Fender spec for vintage style pickups. Which is pretty close. I don't like them low, they just sound weak to me too low. Humbuckers, I am not a humbucker guy by nature, but got a nice h535. I found with those I liked the pickup a lot lower than I imagined I would.
 

musicman1

Member
Messages
4,053
Nice thing about EMG's is you dont have to worry about pull on the strings. They can be damn near touching the strings and not exert any pull on them.
true but they can really be dialed in better by lowering their height and tweaking them out. Ive found also that since they use bar magnets you dont have to worry about balancing them higher for the treble strings and further away from the wound strings. They can be set pretty level across the strings but by varying their height you can get them balanced with each other. Improves twang and quack too
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
33,075
and it was almost exactly the Fender spec for vintage style pickups. Which is pretty close.
Fender spec seems to be a good compromise offering max output, bolder tone, and freedom from excessive mag pull.
Adjust to your pleasure but if you can beat it, it is probably only due to personal taste, or your rig's characteristics.
 
Messages
4,107
This really is it. Use your ears and take your time. It helps if you keep settings on your amp unchanged.
Second...A little professional help might be good too. I have a "luthier to the stars" guy that I use (who does both repairs and building). I've taken more than one guitar to him asking for a pickup change where he's said "let me try to dial in what you already have in there" and nailed it. He knows what to listen for...I watch and try to learn all I can.
 
Messages
9,000
Second...A little professional help might be good too. I have a "luthier to the stars" guy that I use (who does both repairs and building). I've taken more than one guitar to him asking for a pickup change where he's said "let me try to dial in what you already have in there" and nailed it. He knows what to listen for...I watch and try to learn all I can.
I've never had the money for a supastar luthier, but I sure agree with a screwdriver-first approach.
 

theruley

Member
Messages
2,172
There is no exact science to it. Plug into a clean amp, take a screwdriver, and start messing around until you find a spot that sounds good.

one thing I will do is take the pickup to both ends of the extreme...bring it right close to the strings, then sink it way way down and see what the difference is, then try and find the happy medium.

Once both pickups are sounding good, then I will do some fine-tuning to get the volume even between each pickup. I personally like the neck pickup to be a touch quieter than the bridge pickup, but some people like it the other way around.
 

amstrtatnut

Member
Messages
12,532
I usually set mine relatively low. Bass side lower. It reduces woofy bass and rounds the highs just a bit.

One thing to keep in mind. Play the guitar the next day with lower pups. If you a/b them higher vs lower, the relative volume of higher pickups fools me into thinking its better. If I wait a day it kind of evens out.
 
Messages
4,107
I've never had the money for a supastar luthier, but I sure agree with a screwdriver-first approach.
Actually, Luthier to the Stars guy charges *less* than no name guy at local mom and pop shop as he's not trying to generate cash from repairs to make up for the new guitar sales he loses to the internet. The last time I asked about a (pair) pickup swap from my M&P store I was quoted $150. Nah-nay-no.
 
Last edited:

Wag

Member
Messages
458
Here's what Bill Lawrence had to say on the subject:

"The distance between pickup and string is a very important factor for output and sound.

As a general rule for the bridge pickup - put a nickel on top of the pickup under the high E string and play the highest note on that string. Adjust the height on that side of the pickup till the string touches the nickel. Repeat the same with the low E string, but use two nickels on top of each other. If this gives you too much output, you can reduce the height slightly. Don't forget that twice the distance will reduce the output by about 60%, and the sound will lose some lows. NOW, you can adjust the neck pickup to match the output of the bridge pickup. For the sound test, use stage volume."


Kinda eliminates the mystery, huh? :)
 




Trending Topics

Top