Pole piece height

76standard

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I am just putting this out for general consumption. I am sure there will be a variety of opinions on this topic. This may or may not be right for you.

I recently stumbled across an article about how to set pole piece height, that is primarily intended for humbucker pickups. After making the adjustment on my Les Paul Standard I could tell there was more balance in output, not so much with tone. The most obvious difference was the output between the plain (high E, B & G strings) and the wound string (D, A and low E strings).

The author of the article is associated with Haze Guitars in Australia. I was sceptical when I read his logic behind the pole piece height adjustments made for each individual string. The theory behind his pole piece adjustments is based on the idea that there is a difference in output between the wound and plain strings. He recommends lowering the high E, B and G strings. Meanwhile he recommends raising the D and A strings, while keeping the Low E string down near the top of the pickup cover or bobbin.

After making the recommended adjustments I fine tuned a couple of the pole pieces by ear to achieve a balanced output. Keep in mind I did this based on the neck pickup height at 3/32nds of an inch and the bridge pickup height set at 4/64ths of an inch. Those height measurements are manufacturer recommendations by Gibson. You may want to set different heights based on your personal preference and what you hear. All this said, here is the link to the tech article on Haze Guitars. Quest on clones.

 

Tony Done

Member
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5,680
Vintage stagger strat pickups were designed to be balanced with a wound 3rd string.

As a primarily-acoustic player, I'm sensitive to string-to-string balance, and if using a plain 3rd string I set them pretty much as shown in the header diagram. The main difference is that I use pickup tilt, rather than having the wound string poles overall higher. I prefer humbuckers with 12 screw poles to make this balancing act easier, and I also do it to plastic-bobbin, alnico slug single coils.

Here's an example, most obvious in the single coil:



The amount of adjustment need will vary between pickups and string types.

Here's another example, where I had to remove two of the P90 screw poles to get good balance, because the the steel pickup mounting screw was acting as another pole:



The strings would be EB Slinkies in both examples.
 

Rod

Tone is Paramount
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Great article! Many thanks.. gonna try this..makes a lot of sense.....
 

gunslinger

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Here's another tip: when the polepiece is closer to the pickup (low) you'll get more gain and less clarity. When the polepiece is farther from the pickup (high) you'll get more clarity and less gain. I adjust them by ear myself.
 

76standard

Member
Messages
25
Vintage stagger strat pickups were designed to be balanced with a wound 3rd string.

As a primarily-acoustic player, I'm sensitive to string-to-string balance, and if using a plain 3rd string I set them pretty much as shown in the header diagram. The main difference is that I use pickup tilt, rather than having the wound string poles overall higher. I prefer humbuckers with 12 screw poles to make this balancing act easier, and I also do it to plastic-bobbin, alnico slug single coils.

Here's an example, most obvious in the single coil:



The amount of adjustment need will vary between pickups and string types.

Here's another example, where I had to remove two of the P90 screw poles to get good balance, because the the steel pickup mounting screw was acting as another pole:



The strings would be EB Slinkies in both examples.
You’ve clearly had plenty of experience adjusting pole pieces on different guitars and pickups. Thanks for sharing.
 

76standard

Member
Messages
25
Great article! Many thanks.. gonna try this..makes a lot of sense.....
Your welcome. I’ve been playing for 50 plus years, most of that in various bands, and realize there is so much I still need to learn.
 

76standard

Member
Messages
25
Here's another tip: when the polepiece is closer to the pickup (low) you'll get more gain and less clarity. When the polepiece is farther from the pickup (high) you'll get more clarity and less gain. I adjust them by ear myself.
The human ear is often the best tool available. Good input. Thanks.
 

Brutus

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3,291
I have to say I’ve never noticed that kind of issue on any guitar I’ve ever owned. Maybe I should listen closer, and then again maybe not.
 

76standard

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25
I noticed with all of my humbucker equipped guitars that the three plain strings had an audible increase in volume. In the past I set the pole piece height to match the neck radius, and set neck pup height to 3/32” and the bridge pup to 4/64” and the output balance still over emphasized the plain strings. So, when I tried the pole piece adjustment recommended by Haze Guitars, that worked for me. As I originally stated, this might not be someone else preferred method. Thanks for your comments.
 

Lutty Lutty

Member
Messages
281
The theory behind his pole piece adjustments is based on the idea that there is a difference in output between the wound and plain strings.
Would just like to mention that this is not a theory but a provable fact ;-) It's been known by luthiers since the birth of electric guitars and explains both the original Fender staggers and the existence of adjustable pole pieces on many pickups.

Il like Gerry's approach (and the clarity of his explanations!) and it's very close to mine.

I just prefer to set pole pieces purely by ear and not worry at all about measurements.

Nevertheless, the resulting stagger I'll end up with, always has a family likeness with what is called a "modern stagger" on Strats pickups. Unless there is a wound G string and then it will more or less look like a vintage stagger.

A lot of my customers are not bothered by flat pole pieces or mismatched staggers... until they play a guitar with optimized pole pieces height. Then there is no going back, lol. ;-)
 
Last edited:

Gclef

Member
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2,251
Good thread!


A lot of my customers are not bothered by flat pole pieces or mismatched staggers... until they play a guitar with optimized pole pieces height. Then there is no going back, lol. ;-)
You are not kidding. Once I tuned my pole pieces and ears, I can't unhear it.
 

Tony Done

Member
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5,680
I have to say I’ve never noticed that kind of issue on any guitar I’ve ever owned. Maybe I should listen closer, and then again maybe not.

Do you use a fair amount of OD? I play almost clean, but the differences are a lot less obvious if you use any kind of OD, as this compresses the sound.
 

Brutus

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3,291
Do you use a fair amount of OD? I play almost clean, but the differences are a lot less obvious if you use any kind of OD, as this compresses the sound.
Yep. I do. Enough so I’m just shy of losing string definition. I’ll have to try it clean and hope I don’t get motivated.
 

Lutty Lutty

Member
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281
and hope I don’t get motivated.
If you have adjustable pole pieces, there's no reason to be afraid of noticing the mismatched sting-to-string volumes: it's quite easy to adjust them to your liking. It's no rocket science. :)

It's only with pickups with flat or vintage stagger, with non-adjustable pole pieces, that starting to notice the string-to-string volume issues can be more of a curse than a blessing. :-/
 

Lutty Lutty

Member
Messages
281
Morality as far as I'm concerned: never buy a pickup with fixed flat pole pieces, nor a pickup with "vintage staggered" pole pieces (unless you're going to play with a wound G exclusively).

For me, modern stagger or adjustable pole pieces only.
 




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