Why vintage pickups are generally (considered) better?

Sky

Member
Messages
1
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.
My Observations: I have explored differences in my old pickups compared to new and my old amplifiers and my old synthesizers and have determined that they have different components--some no longer available--that contribute to a DIFFERENCE in sonic qualities (Not necessarily "Superior" which is subjective). One significant difference is in the WIRE. Pickups (and transformers) were wound with commercially available wire used for many applications far beyond pickups and transformers. This wire was coated with material that was changed ("improved" "cost-effective" "environmentally prohibited") by the wire manufacturer. I have noticed a significant difference in my vintage P90 pickups compared to modern. I have NOT noticed the same difference in a single pair of early '60's patent number pickups (which have the same wire as vintage PAF's) compared to boutique pickups. My vintage amplifiers sound very different from modern "reverse engineered" tweed/plexi/jmi versions, but that is also due to the fact that modern electronically "equivalent" components are simply not the same. Just because you cover an amplifier in tweed and use modern "equivalent" parts doesn't make it a vintage tweed amplifier. They simply aren't the same. One isn't necessarily "Better," but there is no question that THEY ARE DIFFERENT.
 

ROBIWAN

Member
Messages
47
I believe that lower output pickups sound clearer and have more dynamics and detail. Magnets in older pickups tend to weaken some over the years causing a lower output and rounder sound. As another poster already stated, with all of the gain, EQ and distortion etc available today you don't really need high output pickups unless muddy and squashed is the sound you are after. Edward Van Halen is a good example of someone who liked lower output pickups and he had a clear articulate sound. Try setting your amp for stun and turn down your guitar volume some and hear the effect.
 

jvin248

Member
Messages
5,526
.

After you get passed the 'investment story' of old pickups ...

The trick is hand scatter winding to reduce the amount internal capacitance of a pickup. All the rest of it is magician snake oil. You can adjust pickup height to compensate for magnet strength, even ceramic magnets. Scatter winding gives you clarity and note definition with its lower internal capacitance. A pickup with low capacitance, if 'too bright I want something warmer' you can use that tone knob on the guitar rolled back a little. But you can't get muddiness out of pickup with any of those knobs. .. However, a series cap on a muddy pickup can cut the effective capacitance and give you boutique/vintage pickup types of tones ... for a nickel.

You can see how they hand wound them back in the 50s. Abigail Ybarra is supposed to be one of the winders here just after she started, she trained Josephine before retiring, to continue making custom shop pickups.

.
 

John Quinn

Member
Messages
1,875
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.
That's the Ferret in the Rabbit hole isn't it. Very few people can define what the sound of a PAF is to begin with. What do they base it on? People cite Bloomfield, Kossoff or Clapton - but they can only cite a recording - which changes quite a bit about a guitar sound.

To the OP @Stookie it's not just boutique builders that can make a PAF like clone. Just stick to the basic parameters - pickups that hit about 7.5 ohms seem to be the sweet spot to my ears.
Sometimes those can be inexpensive Guitar Fetish and sometimes Seymour Duncan, Dimarzio
Lollers or Throwbacks. Don't worry about the builder - just consider the sound you like.
 

wraub

Member
Messages
94
My P Bass has a pickup "hand wound" in the 70s, by an aftermarket builder, and it's a low resistance gem imo.

Maybe older components have aged, maybe mojo is a thing, maybe I just got lucky.
 

AKBlues

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
11
I've been trying out pickups as hobby for more than 20 years. Have listened to literally hundreds of single coils and humbuckers. I have at least two dozen sets in the parts box waiting to take a spin. I love it when a friend or acquaintance with 40 years of playing experience picks up one of my guitars and says it's the nicest sounding guitar they have ever heard and I'm thinking . . . that's not even in my top 10. Just a couple comments . I had a Strat (S-model) custom built once upon a time and sent the builder a set of [Dave] Stephens Design Mojo pickups. After he was done building it he put it up against a bunch of old vintage guitars that he and friends owned and it smoked them all on tone. There's a reason Dave's PAF pickups fetch upwards of $3000 a set. However having experimented this . . . old (played) pickups do sound better than new ones. I have no idea why that is but you can typically save money and get better tone buying used if they are available.
 

sanhozay

klon free since 2009
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
11,710
it's much harder to use your ears when your eyes are overwhelmed with options, forum chatter and formats that constantly encourage and influence you. let alone the endless unfiltered noise from the peanut gallery and kangaroo court.

of course, it's important to often keep your mouth shut & your eyes and ears open and just listen, but to live your best life there are certain things you decide for yourself.

for myself, after plenty of rounds, I like lower output pickups that are generally made the old school way. I like the impossible - warm & bright, with big lows, clear highs, sweet mids with no harsh top end. and I like them all to balance & be incredible on their own, or in any combination together. yeah, that's all I want.
 
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Ron Kirn

Member
Messages
7,104
Any pickup installed into a guitar that's played well by a skilled guitarist will sound great... any great pickup installed into a guitar played by a hack will sound awful... and interestingly, replacing the pup being played by the amateur with any other pickup will not help in the least... go figure...


r
 

Sadlander

Member
Messages
2
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.
Two probable causes:

1) There's a guy who makes pickups, he tries to re-create old PAF's and he has spent many hours trying to find out why old PAF's sound so good. After trying several different combinations, he thinks that there are a couple of reasons. One of them is that they were wound by hand. When you're holding the wire and you go from one side to the other side (while the machine is spinning the pickup), it will never be as consistent or as "perfect" as if a machine does it and this "imperfection" is what gives these picups that special sound.

The other reason, as he mentioned in his answer, is that they're microphonic. These days, we (those who make pickups) try to make them as silent as possible, so they pot them but back then, they didn't do that and he believes that this is also an important aspect of the old PAF's.

2) This is valid for old pickups but also for everything so-called "vintage" (pickups, guitars, amps...). When we listen to recordings where this vintage stuff was used, it sounds so good and that's why we try to find or to re-create what they used back then. I've heard someone say something and I believe it's true:
"The reason why it sounds so good is because the people who used that stuff were very good! It's not the stuff they used, it's how they used it!"

What do you think?
 

Dasherf7

Member
Messages
219
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.
To me it all depends 6who you ask and what's trending (pop-yew-lerr)...
Makes me no diff...T-Top humbuckers were looked down on at their replacement for PAFs. How pop are they now? P90s weren't "that" much, either...
Love em all...
 
Messages
2,331
Any pickup installed into a guitar that's played well by a skilled guitarist will sound great... any great pickup installed into a guitar played by a hack will sound awful... and interestingly, replacing the pup being played by the amateur with any other pickup will not help in the least... go figure...
however, a skilled guitarist will be the one who is able to coax out the advantages that higher quality equipment bring to the table.
 

captdan61

Member
Messages
58
To keep the prices of “vintage” gear artificially inflated and protect their “investments”
I have heard it said that in every vintage there are good guitars and there are dogs. In the mid-70s doing the Norland mirrors with her horrible year is supposedly for Gibson I was in the store getting my very first Les Paul and I have them bring me all sorts of guitars and there were so many choices I didn't even want Reese Wade I just close my eyes and I just rubbed each guitar and one of them was significantly better sounding it sounded better acoustically and better electrically it felt better and it played better. I have had the opportunity to play two different 1957 Les Paul juniors one in the club in Phoenix where the woman had no idea what she had she thought it was from the 60s I know just enough to know that it was from the 50s and I told her that I'd love to all that but I couldn't possibly afford it she sold it for 5 grand the store she sold it to already have it sold for 6500 it was an eye-opening experience and it changed my opinion on Les Paul junior switch I've always thought were the ugliest guitar Gibson ever made but they weigh less than seven pounds or just about 7 lb and there is a reason Leslie West used when they sound like the second coming of Christ they are amazing credible resident beasts. I have a friend who built me a set of pickups for my Les Paul here in Phoenix and he has a Les Paul junior that he lets me play whatever I come and visit him and this is one of the best guitars I've ever played in my entire life I'm sure that there are dogs out there I've only played two vintage Gibson but both alarms that I have played or absolutely stellar and I would gladly on either of them and someday I hope to God I can afford one. I'd imagine the same is true for a lot of guitars I don't know I think the other custom makers nowadays that are making better guitars then Fender or Gibson I think that in general all guitars are better than they used to be they're using CNC machines and plek machine so there's all this that's be done by machines so I would imagine that on average the guitars for of a higher-quality that better tolerances but I would also say finish work probably isn't as good as he used to be used to have one Craftsman that's afternoon paid attention to one instrument at a time nowadays people don't have that kind of Pride and integrity and what they're doing or at least not most you need to find small makers that have a passion in the fire and old-fashioned Pride values in the products that you put out there. Just trying to make a paycheck talk to a 20 year old these days I don't give a s*** some of them might but you know they're just trying to make money or figure out a way to start a YouTube channel yes I'm getting old and grumpy
 

Sir Ricardo

Member
Messages
211
.....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......
2 answers.

1) some old pickups are good, some are not. All the variation means that you just don't know. The boutique makers try and find a good vintage pickup to emulate. They stay away from all the bad vintage pickups.

2) the MAIN reason is that the past is cherished. We LOVE those old guys! Clapton / Page / Hendrix / etc. The 60s and 50s guys. They played with instruments made in the 50s and 60s. Check out the concept of 'magical thinking.' Basically, 'if I get a guitar like my guitar hero, I will play / sound like my guitar hero.' Of course there is more than that going on here, but it is a BIG part of this chasing after vintage stuff. Plus, it's just fun to collect things.
 

TrueStory69

Member
Messages
26
I've got 2 guitars at the moment.

One, an Epiphone Les Paul Custom which is a mighty fine guitar. The other, a Fender MIM Muddy Waters Telecaster which has vintage-style Tele pickups--I believe a Vintage 57/62 set. They're definitely vintage Fender specs.

Switching from the LP to the Tele is like turning from 'H' all the way over to 'C' in the shower, if you know what I mean. The Tele just sounds so damn thin, even compared to your typical standard Tele of today. It needs to go into a gained up & loud amp to achieve a full spectrum rock'n'roll/country classic kind of Tele sound.

Do I think it sounds 'better'? I don't know. Different, sure. Distinctive, yes. I would say vintage style pickups sound more 'dynamic' to my ears. But 'dynamic' isn't always what you want when it comes to electric guitar, no?
 

Darkburst

Silver Supporting Member
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4,537
I don’t think vintage pickups were better necessarily. But they have some distinct tones that were used on tons of famous tracks.
 

Ron Kirn

Member
Messages
7,104
however, a skilled guitarist will be the one who is able to coax out the advantages that higher quality equipment bring to the table.

True, but the same guitarists will be able to sqeeze the last drop of sonic nectar from whatever he's playing...

it's not the pickups...
 

xmd5a

Member
Messages
2,422
I don’t think vintage pickups were better necessarily. But they have some distinct tones that were used on tons of famous tracks.
How do you know it was the pickups?

There's a more plausible explanation in general; the advent of master volumes, the replacement of power tube saturation with pre amp clipping.
 




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