Which elements make a great guitar pickup?

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by Kmaz, Apr 22, 2016.

  1. Sweetfinger

    Sweetfinger Supporting Member

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    Magnet, magnet wire. The rest is the ear of the beholder and a little consideration for utility. Remember when players yanked the "weak" PAFs out of their vintage Gibsons and replaced them with all manner of Duncan, Dimarzio, Bill Lawrence, and Mighty Mite pickups?
    Remember a decade or two later when you were then paying a grand or two for PAFs but could still get the "crappy" T-Tops for 30 or 40 bucks out of the repair guy's junk box?
    Now T-Tops are several hundred dollars.
    Remember when Fenders with Wide Range humbuckers were considered dogs, because nobody liked the pickups? They weren't the single coils that you wanted, and they didn't sound like Gibson humbuckers.
    Remember when Dearmond "hershey bars" and Teisco goldfoils were cheap-o crap that only economic bottom feeders would ever use?
    Remember the 80s when you looked at the Bill Lawrence pickups in the case at the local music store or in the Stew Mac Catalog and imagined all the guitars you'd put them in and how great they would sound, but now they're "inferior crap"?
    Those pickups all sound the same as they ever did. The public perception of their worthiness has changed.
     
  2. candid_x

    candid_x Supporting Member

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    Show some respect for your elders, boy. Just kidding. But really, aside from the alnico comment, which I'm learning is not true in all cases, the rest was simply over my head. Oldtimers perhaps.
     
  3. candid_x

    candid_x Supporting Member

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    Being a 50 year Yijing buff, it's interesting to think of pickup characteristics according to such natural elements as these.The upper right being gua 47, a dried up lake, or water beneath the lake bed, a symbol of oppression, or in musical terms: compression or dry. Air or wind is penetration: some describe a pickup as being airy or penetrating. Water is danger, edgy, depth, abysmal, and learning/teaching; in musical terms: depth and fluidity. Missing elements are mountain and lake, which in musical terms could be interpreted as steadiness and joy or exchange - sitting well in the mix. Heaven and earth, like Yang and Yin, are fundamental opposite concepts, from which the rest are born.

    And now, back to our regularly scheduled program.
     
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  4. Chris Pile

    Chris Pile Member

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    Bill Lawrence pickups have never been, and are not now "inferior crap".
    Whoever says that out loud should have their skin flayed in public.
     
  5. EADGBE

    EADGBE Member

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    It all depends on what you want. Less powerful magnet(s) and less windings for clear and clean. More powerful magnet(s) and more windings for high output. Too many windings and the tone can be too dark. Not enough windings and the sound can be thin. We're lucky because we can choose from all kinds of pickups. This wasn't always the case.
     
  6. GCKelloch

    GCKelloch Member

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    The BL PUPs from Stew Mac are not made by the original designer.

    The core metal in conjunction with the coil dimension and wire gauge determine pickup qualities. The external component load further shapes the high end. I agree that matching pickups to the guitar can result in "earvanna" . Guitar hardware and component and/or string type/gauge changes makes just as much difference, but not much can be done with a neck that damps too much.

    Potting eliminates squealing. You never know what kind of resonances you'll get with loose coil wires, and the stage volume difference from slight resonance to squeeal isn't much. If you want controllable resonaces, there are some very good effects units for that
     
  7. Zexcoil

    Zexcoil Vendor

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    Insert "number of turns" in front of coil dimension, and you've got a definitive post there, and in that order.
     
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  8. Sweetfinger

    Sweetfinger Supporting Member

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    That would be Becky Lawrence.
     
  9. Tony Bones

    Tony Bones Member

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    So why is it that squealing wasn't a problem for all those greats from the 70's playing real PAFs? You know the ones with tone that everyone is constantly trying to copy. Supposedly the firebird pickup in Neil Young's LP is so microphonic you can talk into it like a microphone. Of course his signature sound includes massive feedback, but I've never heard any squealing in dozens of hours of live recordings.

    If you haven't guessed, I'm a big fan of unpotted pickups. If there's one element that separates great pickups from good ones, it's the lack of potting.
     
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  10. Ron Kirn

    Ron Kirn Gold Supporting Member

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    An often overlooked consideration...

    it really doesn't matter what the pickup is made of... you could quite literally take the magnets off the little toys that come in Cracker Jacks... poke 'em through cardboard bobbins, reclaim magnet wire from an old transformer from a '60's era Stereo Amp and make a pickup... many of the pickups in the much sought after Pawn Shop guitars of the 50's and 60's aren't any more sophisticated, yet still produce amazing sounds..

    Further, it doesn't matter if the magnets are cast from the finest grade Aluminum, Nickel and Cobalt, or made in the Xingia Provence by 9 year-olds... or if the copper is 105% pure oxygen free, and wound by Abigale herself.... If "YOU" don't like the sound, none of that excellence matters much does it?

    There are those that rave about the bargain basement GFS pickups. . One very well known pickup manufacturer .. a Biggie, disassembled several and was amazed at the less than impressive revelations.. Yet they still sound great to many who use them...

    Further it doesn't matter if you choose an exotic modern design, replete with technological advances... all it can do is make electrons scoot up 'n down the wire.... that's what a pickup does... all it does. . . those electrons have no idea if the induced compulsion is generated by a 2 cent magnet, or a 50.00 one... or some skanky copper forged from used pennies or made from pure silver... if "you" don't like the sound, it doesn't mean much either way.

    Expensive cannot MAKE you like the tone, but it can create a state of Confirmation bias, where you enter the sampling believing the more expensive/exotic pickup HAS to sound better thus that's what ya hear... that has nothing to do with quality and every thing to do with promotion.

    Installing any of the new exotics can not guarantee superior tone, they can only guarantee a tone different than what you now have.. You have to LIKE the new sound for it to become an improvement... remember, CHANGE can go both ways,,,

    remember a pickup is just one little gizmo at one end of the signal.. there's a hellova lot of other stuff impacting the tone between it and the ear drum... and ALL impact the quality of the sound with a respectable input. and any one of those contributing factors can be negated by any other...it's ALL a study in compromises..

    Ron Kirn
     
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  11. songtalk

    songtalk Member

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    Bill Lawrence is the only pickup maker to have pushed passive single coil technology forward in the last 20 years.

    His eddy free designs with thinner wire properly potted and insulated and isolated from electronic interference, are alone in sound quality and clarity.

    They are the blank canvas of the single coil world. About as flat and clean as you can get.

    Ideal for a base tone, IMHO.

    They definitely don't do well with your typical amp and pedal settings. They are way too efficient.
     
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2016
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  12. songtalk

    songtalk Member

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    She's referring to Bill Lawrence USA which is crap and is not really Bill Lawrence.

    She would never trash talk her husband's work....she still makes his real, innovative designs via Wilde Pickups.

    What you are saying is misleading to say the least.
     
  13. Kmaz

    Kmaz Member

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    Yup, I figured that the other Bill Lawrence could be tied in. The confusion might be an ongoing issue.
     
  14. Sweetfinger

    Sweetfinger Supporting Member

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    No. You have made my point perfectly. BL USA makes the same pickup they've been making for over 30 years. They are the same ones Dimebag, Nuno, and every other player stuffed in their guitar for decades and they only turned into "crap" after Becky started her smear campaign. The pickups didn't change, the public's perception changed. As for not being "real" Bill Lawrence, Willy Stich is dead. Going forward, there are no new, innovative BL designs. Everyone is just working off a template. The Bill Lawrence USA pickups ARE her husband's work. They ARE part of his legacy and if not for the company staying in business, I think the 70s Lawrence pickups would simply be curios in the same way that Ultrasonic, Peavey Super Ferrites, or Mighty Mite Motherbuckers are.
     
  15. songtalk

    songtalk Member

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    Clearly you are not a fan of Bill Lawrence. Wilde pickups have patented innovative techniques that BL USA does not have access to at all and they were patented recently. Keystones and Microcoils are unique unto Wilde and are what I was referring to. BL USA was literally one guy trying to use Bill's name to sell pickups Bill was no longer making.

     
  16. Sweetfinger

    Sweetfinger Supporting Member

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    So? Leo Fender "improved" his designs at G & L but quite a few players prefer his old designs still being made by Fender. Both are part of Leo's legacy.
    It is not that difficult a concept to accept that Bill's new designs and the originals can co-exist. You want the original? buy it. You want an "improved" version or new design? Buy it. It isn't hard.
    You literally don't know what the word, "literally", means because I have literally talked to more than one guy at the company.
     
  17. Stratobuc

    Stratobuc Member

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    Ears.

    I leave it to the guys who know what they're doing - Duncan, Fralin, Lollar, etc.
     
  18. Balok

    Balok Member

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    Thank you Ron for a post that is an amazing breath of fresh air. Similar if not identical principals apply to guitars, amps and pedals. The main 'quality' criteria for me on any piece of gear are simply how robust it is and how it sounds. If it sounds good and lasts, it's good.
     
  19. Balok

    Balok Member

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    When I started working on pickups I was shocked at how simple they are. The main corner cutting I see from cheaper brands are less robust connection wire and using all slugs as opposed to screws for pole pieces. Some cheapies will just glue in the coils instead of using screws.
    But I had a cheapie from a squire strat that sounded just as good as any of my Gibsons, Dimarzios or Duncans.​
     
  20. songtalk

    songtalk Member

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    At least I'm not a disrespectful troll.

    I have yet to see any alleged coconspirators out themselves and defend Wajcman publicly.

    Bill Lawrence was the designer. You side with the business man who is not him and took his name in 1984 and continues to use it for his livelihood?

    I think the vast majority of people are intelligent enough to sympathize with the correct party.

    Sorry if you are not capable of rational thought. :)
     
    Rick51 likes this.

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