Why vintage pickups are generally (considered) better?

Stookie

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Maybe there is the same topic somewhere, but I couldn't find it.

In the old times pickups on Gibson or Fender factories were manufactured by cheap workers, who could go smoke outside in the middle of the winding process and those pickups were all over the place in terms of specs. Manufacturers chose components trying to make it as cheap as possible. And yet we hunt for those old pickups. Or there are companies like Throbak who sell their recreations of vintage pickups not for cheap at all.

So why then today only boutique winders can recreate those pickups like PAFs, P90s and others, when factories today have access to more consistent components like magnets, wire and all this stuff and also have quality control?

Probably I'm wrong, but this is the impression I have on this question.
 

Jazzandmore

Platinum Supporting Member
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10,781
Honestly I think a lot of what you see on here is a few very vocal folks that have very strong opinions. But it’s a tiny group compared to the total TGP membership. And a tiny number compared to the average player out there who seriously doesn’t even think about this stuff.
 

Relicula

Silver Supporting Member
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1,875
When it comes to old paf's

A consistent reproduction of an inconsistent product, everyone is correct.

Pickups in a guitar are like wearing a tie with a shirt, some go well, some dont.

Some pickups that I love in one guitar just dont match up with another.

Thinking that every boutique pickup will make every guitar sound like an old PAF is impossible, as the inconsistency of old PAF's is only part of the equation, that old guitar may have something to do with it.

Modern day pickups have become very good, Seymour Duncan Antiquities leading the way for me anyway, in consistency, performance, looks, and price.

Paying 4-700 dollars for any new pickup winder does not always translate into the tone your looking for.
 

bluesbreaker

Member
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109
Honestly I think a lot of what you see on here is a few very vocal folks that have very strong opinions. But it’s a tiny group compared to the total TGP membership. And a tiny number compared to the average player out there who seriously doesn’t even think about this stuff.
Maybe they have prodigious ears, Eric Johnson level.
As for me, I am happy with the pickups that are "in the ballpark".
 

Mtt02263

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
422
I think it comes from the fact that most older pickups were lower output and in a lot of cases were more harmonically interesting due to no potting, etc. In the 70's and 80's there was a ton of new overwound pickups meant to drive an amp real hard, but these are often darker, muddier, and harsher than something like a PAF. There's so many options now for amps, overdrives, attenuators, etc that you really don't need high output pickups anymore unless you like the tone specifically.
 

mjross

Silver Supporting Member
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2,507
I’ve purchased some pretty nice non vintage pickups lately that in my opinion it would be pretty difficult to sound much better, I like what I’m hearing, but what do I know. Keep in mind, I’m really beginning to believe that you get what you pay for. Good non vintage pickups are not cheap.

I‘m sure that specific vintage pickups are special and highly valued. However, how much better are they than let’s say ThroBak, etc. Especially due to the difference in cost.

Play what you like!
 

OM Flyer

Member
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5,881
People swear they can hear all kinds of stuff (and some probably can), but for most, it's all about the hunt for some vintage tone they imagine they hear in their head. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not how I'd choose to spend my time, effort, or money. What's comical to me is when people install these "grail" pickups and then run their guitar through a litany of effect pedals.
 
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Stookie

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But why does it cost so much to replicate those inconsistent vintage pickups?

To me it looks like Wilkinson of GFS products should be the closest to PAFs or P90s of yesteryears, but there is Throbak with magnets gaussed to vintage specs and whatnot...
Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing Throbak, I see a lot of happy users in the internet, so probably they know what they do. It's just the amount of resourses to get it done, that puzzles me.

I know that making something like original Fender WRHB is tough due to CuNiFe inaccessibility. There are probably some problems with recreating Tarbacks (I have two in a 70s SG by the way, and they are awesome, the bridge particularly). But talking about other pickups - it doesn't seem to be such a problem. But it is somehow.
 
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edwarddavis

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
7,255
Maybe there is the same topic somewhere, but I couldn't find it.

In the old times pickups on Gibson or Fender factories were manufactured by cheap workers, who could go smoke outside in the middle of the winding process and those pickups were all over the place in terms of specs. Manufacturers chose components trying to make it as cheap as possible. And yet we hunt for those old pickups. Or there are companies like Throbak who sell their recreations of vintage pickups not for cheap at all.

So why then today only boutique winders can recreate those pickups like PAFs, P90s and others, when factories today have access to more consistent components like magnets, wire and all this stuff and also have quality control?

Probably I'm wrong, but this is the impression I have on this question.
why are you singling out smokers , they could haven been drinking , or using the toilets
 

spi

Member
Messages
155
In the old times pickups on Gibson or Fender factories were manufactured by cheap workers, who could go smoke outside in the middle of the winding process and those pickups were all over the place in terms of specs.
This anecdotal story goes around quite bit. I don't think things were this chaotic. They may not have been as precise in turn counts, but most are within tolerance of specs.

I'd say that vintage pickups are prized because they sound "right" based on what we expect a Strat or Les Paul to sound like, based on recordings and experience. There's no magic to them.
 
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dazco

Member
Messages
14,400
They allow the best dynamics and a more neutral EQ curve and are more open/airy sounding. The former being the most important thing IMO. Maybe not optimal if all you do is high gain solos, but for a versatile do it all sound they're they're bees knees.
 

Jayyj

Silver Supporting Member
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7,980
I think a lot of it is how our ears are tuned based on having heard those pickups used as benchmark for perfect guitar tone for so long that things which are different, even if objectively better, don't have the sound our ears are trained to be receptive to.

It's really interesting to dive into 19th Century violin making where there was a strong moment to continue to develop the violin beyond the Amati/Strad/Guarneri formula. Many makers (JG Stauffer and Francois Chanot being good examples) developed violins with designs that started from scratch and reportedly sounded exceptional, but most players wanted Strad patterns, and gradually the innovative stuff fell by the wayside.

But why does it cost so much to replicate those inconsistent vintage pickups?

To me it looks like Wilkinson of GFS products should be the closest to PAFs or P90s of yesteryears, but there is Throbak with magnets gaussed to vintage specs and whatnot...
Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing Throbak, I see a lot of happy users in the internet, so probably they know what they do. It's just the amount of resourses to get it done, that puzzles me.

I know that making something like original Fender WRHB is tough due to CuNiFe inaccessibility. There probably some problems with recreating Tarbacks (I have two in a 70s SG by the way, and they are awesome, the bridge particularly). But talking about other pickups - it doesn't seem to be such a problem. But it is somehow.
I guess you'd have to look at what ingredients go into the pickups and how much R&D goes into them. Gibson and Fender didn't use anything special in the day but what would have been widely available in the 50s isn't necessarily easy to source in the 21st century. It's quite easy to say, ok, we need alnico V magnets and a certain gauge wire, wrapped so many times and you have something akin to a Wilkinson or GFS PAF, but the boutique guys are going beyond that in looking for components that accurately replicate what was used at the time. They're also analysing the originals to see how idiosyncrasies of the way the originals were wound in that old school factory environment and might need to be incorporated to accurately replicate the sound and making multiple prototypes and testing out how they can tailor the sound to tweak and refine it, so there's a lot of labour going into them beyond what it takes to make them.

At the end of the day, as with many things, you're paying a lot more for something that goes a little further, so whether it's worth it to you is always a personal decision, but there's a lot to think about if you're going to get that last 10% out of the design.
 

sedawkgrep

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
2,139
They allow the best dynamics and a more neutral EQ curve and are more open/airy sounding. The former being the most important thing IMO. Maybe not optimal if all you do is high gain solos, but for a versatile do it all sound they're they're bees knees.
100% kool-aid drinking right here. There are offerings by every winder that have fantastic dynamics. And neutral EQ curve? Just by virtue of the fact that vintage pickups are all over the map makes this incorrect. Most PAFs - vintage or otherwise, are actually a little mid-scooped. Ultimately it's irrelevant simply because every winder claims to have had their hands on real 1950s-era pickups and created their faithful reproductions based on them. And those repros vary in every way except basically output. (Compared to the Super Distortion, et al.)
 

Jazzandmore

Platinum Supporting Member
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10,781
Maybe they have prodigious ears, Eric Johnson level.
As for me, I am happy with the pickups that are "in the ballpark".
I gotta say, I’m 100% not a “close/good enough” or “in the ballpark” guy.

I say that because starting from birth, there are many things we don’t get a choice about. And that goes on throughout life. But with gear, there are so many choices across all price ranges, I see no reason not to get the pickups that sound great to you. That doesn’t necessarily mean one wants the sound of a vintage pickup though. It just means that we can get pickups that are right on the nose for the sound we want, unless we are looking for some completely abnormal sound.
 
Messages
331
The main reason people who are interested in guitars believe vintage pickups are considered better is because they read that they are better on forums.

The main reason musicians consider them better is because they sound better.
- more microphonic due to looser winding
- lower inductance as magnets have become weak
- all the original recordings that are imprinted on peoples minds were made with these pickups so of course they sound better.

Unfortunately a lot were dunked in lacquer which in some way over time reacts with the insulation on the windings, and they all fail.
 
Messages
331
What people need to realize is that if pickups give you a value of lets say 50 in your overall sound ' makeup', great playing will give you a value of at least 500.
When a great player lets rip on any old shix box squier, no-one is thinking pickups, they're thinking ' I'd lift my chin up off the floor but I'm enjoying this too much, I'll lift it when he stops playing.
Too much emphasis on 'stuff', no emphasis on playing.
 




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