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pickups; lets get specific... (help me understand the differences)

smitty.west

Senior Member
Messages
873
i've never really taken an active interest in understanding the differences between the various pickups out there. i'm now in the process of building a couple of partscasters and really want to have an in-depth knowledge of pickups before i decide on which ones to load the guitars with. beyond "single coils are brighter" and "humbuckers are warmer" i've-- as embarrassed as i am to admit it-- got virtually no knowledge of the distinguishing factors (beyond aesthetics). i'm very keen on learning all the electric guitar pickup types, from gold foils to charlie christians and everything in between. i know the names of a lot of 'em, but really need a written description of how they sound in order to really "get it". i'd really love a breakdown of winds/types within each family as well (i.e. low output, high output, 50's wind, 60's wind, etc.). i'm generally a single coil guy-- prefer a brighter, snappier sound--, but have played humbuckers that could, surprisingly, get within that realm and never understood how given that majority that i've played always sounded very dark relative to a single coil. video/audio would also be a bonus, preferably of the guitar alone. any help would be greatly appreciated!
 
Last edited:

aman74

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
8,962
Since you're looking for tone descriptions, which are always subjective and impossible to fully convey accurately, I'd suggest, listening to albums, playing different guitars, watching youtube clips, etc...

Pickups, as you noted, also vary so much within the same type that I don't see how someone can tell you this information if you aren't hearing the inherent differences from your own P.O.V. already? For example, single coils, beyond usually being brighter, have a more "open" tone...but that's in general of course as some buckers have it to. How can someone explain "open"...?
 

smitty.west

Senior Member
Messages
873
Since you're looking for tone descriptions, which are always subjective and impossible to fully convey accurately, I'd suggest, listening to albums, playing different guitars, watching youtube clips, etc...

Pickups, as you noted, also vary so much within the same type that I don't see how someone can tell you this information if you aren't hearing the inherent differences from your own P.O.V. already? For example, single coils, beyond usually being brighter, have a more "open" tone...but that's in general of course as some buckers have it to. How can someone explain "open"...?
I'm just looking to get a ballpark idea in layman terms, don't need a scientific breakdown. I'll settle for subjective descriptions and then just tally up the descriptions of each pickup; there'll no doubt be similarity. Also, for me, hearing them in a band context won't be of much help- I'd first need to hear them alone (as I mentioned in the OP).
 

teefus

Senior Member
Messages
8,945
for an in depth look check out dave hunter's pickup book. very informative and covers a lot of historical design details and modern pickups too.
 

wgs1230

Fully Intonatable
Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,143
To get started, some basics:
1. Magnet/slug types: the most common options are some variation on Alnico (for the alloy of aluminum, nickel and cobalt) which are graded by coercive force capability. The lower the grade number, the lower the magnetic pull; lower grades also translate to a "softer" sound when seated in the same coil. Alnicos are found in traditional Fender single coils and Gibson humbuckers.
Stainless steel magnets are found in most P-90 (aka soapbar or dog-ear) pickups. They impart a bright sound, but produce roughly half the magnetic coercion of alnico 2 at equivalent mass.
More modern pickups, especially higher-output humbuckers, feature ceramic magnets. Unlike alnico and steel, ceramic magnets are non-conductive, and have higher force capability.
Some modern Fender pickups use a rare-earth alloy like samarium cobalt, even more efficient at mass than alnico and commonly found in hum-canceling Strat pickups.
2. Wire gauge: the thickness of the enameled copper wire used to create the coil helps to determine overall output. 42 or 43 are the usual choices. Thicker wire with the same number of coil wraps produces more output.
3. Number of winds/coil thickness: a coil is typically formed by winding the wire a thousand times or more around a bobbin. In general, the more winds, the higher the output.
 

aman74

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
8,962
I'm just looking to get a ballpark idea in layman terms, don't need a scientific breakdown. I'll settle for subjective descriptions and then just tally up the descriptions of each pickup; there'll no doubt be similarity. Also, for me, hearing them in a band context won't be of much help- I'd first need to hear them alone (as I mentioned in the OP).
Youtube is great for this. Also your music collection should have some isolated parts or at least clear enough to discern. Maybe the members soundclips forum here as well?
 

OlAndrew

Member
Messages
2,345
DiMarzio has a site with the frequency response and output of each of their pickups graphed. It's not high-rez detail, but gives you an idea of what's happening.
 

derekd

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
43,694
Seymour Duncan used to talk about all their pups with sound profiles and have clips on their site, IIRC.

That would be a good place to start, imo.
 
Messages
639
Bare Knuckle Pickups site can give you an idea of specs and sound descriptions. They offer single coils, P90, and tons of humbuckers, 7, 8 string pickups
 

gulliver

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
10,719
It's like asking how to add spices to food when cooking ... really can't gain this info from one thread. I went through a year or two where I swapped out over 40 pickups among 4 guitars that included three strats of different weights. Quite a learning experience. My results ...

I no longer like distortion humbuckers, Suhr SSV hot PAF is my favorite bridge but still like Voodoo PAFs and have two installed. Just more feel on these.

I turned all my strats to HSS as I couldn't find a single coil bridge that beat my developed love for PAFs.

I like SRV type single coils the best ... have Fralin Blues Specials in my heaviest strat, Suhr V60 LPs in my medium weight strat and a Texas Special in the middle of my lightest strat. Mostly using the #4 position.

All this, and YYMV. No, your milage will vary.
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
33,491
for an in depth look check out dave hunter's pickup book. very informative and covers a lot of historical design details and modern pickups too.
but does not describe tech details of pup performance nor how to modify them for specific results.
The only builder that has ever been forthcoming about design details around here is the Zexcoil dude.
Check back into his posts.
 

Pedro58

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
5,944
OP-- your question/request is ridiculous. No one will take the time to post the information you're after. Learn it on your own like the rest of us. But there is some good advice given. Go to pickup makers websites and listen to clips.
 

straightblues

Member
Messages
9,576
I find the best way to approach pickups is to find examples of the sounds you want to achieve on records. Then post a thread stating that you want to get a guitar that sounds like this record. You will want to start with the right wood and components for the guitar. Then get pickups to finish it off. Listen to lots of sound samples from lots of different pickup winders and chose the one you like. It takes time to figure this stuff out. Then it is trial and error. Get a set of pickups and try them. Report back what you like and don't like. After doing it for awhile, you will get a very concrete idea of what you like and don't like.
 

teefus

Senior Member
Messages
8,945
but does not describe tech details of pup performance nor how to modify them for specific results.
The only builder that has ever been forthcoming about design details around here is the Zexcoil dude.
Check back into his posts.
but doesn't the book include a sample cd with mp3's tom?
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
33,491
but doesn't the book include a sample cd with mp3's tom?
There are samples and the overview is good but it doesn't provide info on things like inductance modification, magnet use, scatterwinding, altering freq response, compression and all the details that make pups sound different from one another by a little or a lot.
Worth a read, for sure.
 

onemoretime

Senior Member
Messages
2,862
Why don't you try reading the manufacturer's description? If it says Classic PAF tone and you don't know what that means, go listen to recordings of players who used PAF equipped guitars whose music is now considered Classic Rock. That isn't so hard is it? How you describe it doesn't matter unless you're writing a book or want to sound like an expert and impress your friends. Every PAF pickup of a similar output has a similar tone signature. In some the mids may be emphasized or scooped and some may emphasize the high or low strings but they all sound like PAF's
 




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