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What am I missing about bridge pickups?

MagusFaerox

Member
Messages
251
So....been wondering this for years, basically since I started playing.

I appear to hate bridge pickups. It happens on my guitars (G&L Legacy, SG, Les Paul) and the vast majority of demos and concert videos online with few exceptions. It's to the point that when I watch a gear demo and think "man, that sounds bad...are they trying specifically to not sell this product?!" it winds up that they're playing on the bridge and it sounds fine/good as soon as they switch away.

It's not as bad if I'm playing along with a thick mix (either playing with a recording or with other musicians), but it always feels like a compromise between "I need to be heard" and "I want to like my sound". It's totally different from a handful of players that I really like/respect that I know almost exclusively or at least extensively use bridge pickups (clapton, slash, bonamassa, basically all of punk, a lot of metal, etc.).

It's also not as bad when I try to cop something like woman tone or beano tone (so, tone control way down and volume almost all the way up into a hot/cranked amp)....but to me it pretty much always sounds worse than basically the same tone on the neck.

It's hard to describe what I'm hearing, but bridges always sound like a bad AM Radio or tiny/tinny bluetooth or phone speaker version of a good guitar tone...no body, no depth...more cut, but just missing everything special about how the guitar/amp sounds.

So...what am I missing?

What do you do to like your bridge sound?

Say you were running a Les Paul or Strat straight into something like a Plexi...how would you set it to make the bridge sound good either on it's own or in a mix?

Feel free to make fun of me...I don't really care.
 

om42

Wild Rose Country
Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
221
I was going to pst a similar thread at some point. The only bridge p/u I like is the P90 in my Collings 290. Even then, I am almost exclusively a neck p/u guy...
 

Guitar Dave T

Member
Messages
10,705
On a Les Paul, I raise the bridge pickup pretty close to the strings, then drop its pole pieces down to just below the top of the pickup body. Then I roll the volume control back just a crack.

Here's the result - Bridge pickup straight into a 50w plexi. Still not your cup of tea? No worries, it would suck if we all played the same:

 

MagusFaerox

Member
Messages
251
Maybe you just have sh1tty-sounding guitars, or you don't set your amp's controls properly?
Totally possible, though I only give you a C+ on creativity of the insult that I asked for.

I don't think they sound bad, but only the necks.

The thing that gets me is the vast majority of videos showing the same thing.

On a Les Paul, I raise the bridge pickup pretty close to the strings, then drop its pole pieces down to just below the top of the pickup body. Then I roll the volume control back just a crack.

Here's the result - Bridge pickup straight into a 50w plexi. Still not your cup of tea? No worries, it would suck if we all played the same:
Yeah...I like that. I'm going to have to try that with one of my pickups soon.

When you say "just below the top of the pickup body", do you mean below the cover or below the bobbin?

Do you happen to know if there's a way to go "too far" and damage the pickup, or will it stop you from over-tightening the screws (assuming you don't do something stupid like really crank it or use an impact driver)?
 

00JETT

Member
Messages
573
To me if they all sound that bad I'd be checking the amp is suitable. Do you play clean or dirty? Lots of different factors here. Many of us spend a lot of time turning adjustments on our guitars to get the neck and bridge pickups to balance nicely.
 

MagusFaerox

Member
Messages
251
It wasn't an insult.
Well, mine was a joke. So....no harm, no foul.

I'm sorry if the humor didn't come across.

In all honesty, how would you set the amp so that the bridges don't sound like AM radio without making the necks sound bad? I haven't figured out how to change the amp so that the bridge sounds "less bad" without the necks sound "much worse".
 

Guitarwiz007

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
2,023
Can't help you there. I could easily play everything I need on a single bridge pickup guitar but that wouldn't be any fun and I dig the 2 and 4 positions on an S style guitar. Playing just a neck pickup sounds like I threw a wet blanket over my speaker cab. Most of my guitars are HSS but the neck pickup is only used in position 4. I have a couple of Les Pauls but very very rarely use the neck pickup and when I do I usually switch out of it quickly. If I want or need that muffled tone, I will just roll back the tone knob.
 

dazco

Member
Messages
14,804
What you describe as worse i describe as different. The bridge on any of my guitars sounds way better then the neck *for certain things*. Some goes for the neck. You said it yourself, that for some things it works better. Apparently for some reason you don't feel the same as most players to the same degree as they do .You seem to like it only in a much smaller percentage of songs/situations. Maybe you use mostly clean tones or very close to clean much of the time? That would explain it more because for cleans the bridge is usually not my choice either. But the opposite is also true...for fair degrees of distortion on up to hi gain the neck is not my choice EVER except for high gain upper register single notes or double stops. Try playing rock rhythm with more then a edge of distortion with the neck. It's a muddy mess unless maybe you adjust your amp for that or only playing chords way up high. Theres another possible reason you don't like the bridge....since you don't like it, maybe you therefore set the amp to work best with the neck?

Anyways, both are capable of being the best sound for a given sound and degree of clean or OD. I could make a list of thousands of classic rock tunes that would have sounded like a unclear mudfest had the guitarist used the neck instead of the bridge.
 

Guitar Dave T

Member
Messages
10,705
Totally possible, though I only give you a C+ on creativity of the insult that I asked for.

I don't think they sound bad, but only the necks.

The thing that gets me is the vast majority of videos showing the same thing.



Yeah...I like that. I'm going to have to try that with one of my pickups soon.

When you say "just below the top of the pickup body", do you mean below the cover or below the bobbin?

Do you happen to know if there's a way to go "too far" and damage the pickup, or will it stop you from over-tightening the screws (assuming you don't do something stupid like really crank it or use an impact driver)?
I set them barely below the bobbin tops

I'm guessing you can over do it and cause damage if you continue torquing your screwdriver after the polepiece bottoms out, but I've never gotten close to that by droping them down so slightly.
 

bluegrif

Member
Messages
4,932
Well look at it this way, absolutely nothing wrong with preferring the sound of the neck pickup. There‘s plenty of room for all the sounds. Some players voice is almost entirely the bridge pickup, where others mostly stay on the neck. Hell, the vast majority of fine jazz archtops don’t even have a bridge pickup, whereas I can’t think of any of the great players associated with the Tele who don’t spend a lot, if not most of their time on the bridge. Get your sounds however you like. Why worry about what others do?
 

Shiny_Beast

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
10,493
so that the bridges don't sound like AM radio without making the necks sound bad?
You just answered your own OP. Either pickup can sound "bad" depending on how the amp is setup. You probably set all your amps up so you get the scratch with the neck that you would intrinsically get from the bridge.

I'm a bridge pickup guy, so from my perspective you're dialing in the amp top get bridge PU qualities from the neck PU. Great if that's what you like, but it's not the pickups, it's the way you favor the neck when you setup your amp.
 

Kristopher

Member
Messages
20
I am a Neck 99% guy as well. The bridge on my strat is a mini humbucker. The height is where it should be to my ears. I turn the tone down to 5 for a growl, at 10 it's too chirpy. I really only use it when I go out to a Jam, and don't have a pedal to stomp on for a lead. It has a higher impedance. Neck and middle are 7 or 8, and the Bridge is 12 ohms I think.
My p-90 SG's bridge pickup is blah. Every now and then I'll change the height, and the poles. But again, I rarely use it. Very thin sounding.
 




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