Why vintage pickups are generally (considered) better?

xmd5a

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2,422
About the claim that old pickups were good because they were microphonic. They could just add a microphone to pickups if they wanted. Why don't they?

About the claim that they sounded better because they were hand wound, the revered PAF has ALWAYS been machine wound. And no, the way the wire is laid onto the coil doesn't affect how the pickup sounds. We're talking about magnetic fields moving current through a wire, not fancy spices cultivated by monks.

All these explanations are "backsplanations", I like to call them. You start with your belief first, and then you back-fill the missing science with a bunch of mumbo jumbo. A charitable person would say it's just an innocent consequence of human psychology. A less charitable person would say that vintage peddlers are grifting guitarists deliberately.
 
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xmd5a

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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.
Things are different, but often times differences doesn't matter. A common phrase "everything makes a difference". No, not everything makes a difference. Some things are below the threshold of perceptibility.

You're talking about the insulation on the magnet wire. The only difference that makes 1) the thickness, 2) the dielectric constant. The difference this would impact is the capacitance. I can tell you right now that there variance in capacitance has no potential to represent any meaningful difference between modern and vintage pickups.
 

xmd5a

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2,422
The trick is hand scatter winding to reduce the amount internal capacitance of a pickup. All the rest of it is magician snake oil.
No, this is snake oil also. The winding will affect the capacitance by maybe 50 picofarads. A guitar cable alone will add around 500 or more picofarads. If what you're describing was important, then vintage and/or scatterwinding differences that are claimed to exist would be lost or gained whenever you switched one guitar cable for another. Wireless units, which have very low capacitance, would be a panacea for any pickup. But that's not reality as we have come to know it.

But it's worse than that, pickups are resonant circuits, as such, the capacitance is meaningless without factoring in the inductance. If you wanted low capacitance, but couldn't get it for some reason, you could as easily reduce the inductance. There's nothing special about it at all.
 

jimmyc

Gold Supporting Member
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57
In general - they are not. A very few were great. Most were just so-so. Don't buy into the myth. New PUPs from lots of winders are more consistent, have nailed the tones of the past (if that's what you're really after) and are totally repeatable.

Obsess less - play more!
 

Tech21

Member
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229
Did anyone ever stop to think that over the passage of time that this could have happened : -
All the crap sounding original ones and probably some good sounding ones too, were chucked in the bin and replaced with aftermarket alternatives from the mid 70's onward, like Larry DiMarzio's Super Distortion and various Duncan pickups, thus leaving only the better sounding ones around today?
 

xmd5a

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2,422
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.
The pickup maker set out to create a magic pickup. And he succeeds, it is because the pickup is actually special? No, it's because he wanted a magic pickup, and all it really takes for that dream to come true is sheer will power. If he wants it to be magic, then it is magic. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sound is in the ear of the pickup maker. His confidence in his own creation is spirited enough to convince others, and a business is born.
 
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XweAponX

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42
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.
I bought a 1994 flying V “1966 re-issue“ back in 2003. I wasn’t even playing live at the time, I was doing a lot of home recording and this was the exact sound that I wanted. I never ever replace stock pick ups especially in Gibsons. In cheap guitars? Yes, you can improve their sound and you can experiment without devaluing the guitar. But any guitar that I have had especially Gibsons or classic fenders, I would never touch.

In 2005 I played at a crummy dive bar called chasers (it is now called the Sodaa Barr And no longer a dive), and I was putting my brand new flying V into its case after the first live show I had played with it. And my old bass player who had played one song with us, well he left his boot print across the neck pick up, broke the pick up plate and I had to Jerry rig it, but it seems he haD destroyed the neck pick up too. that didn’t bother me too much but I didn’t have the money to get it repaired. Then in early 2017, my guitar got knocked over when somebody pushed the amp that it was laying against, it fell right on the neck and destroyed one of the tuning keys. I was able to put the tuning key back together and then play our set, but then when I brought the guitar in to get the tuning keys replaced, they informed me that the neck was also cracked. so it was at this time that I decided to finally replace the neck pick up and get my pick up plate/pick guard replaced. The shop that I went to had to contact Gibson for the proper template for cutting the plastic for the plate. But when they handed me my guitar after “fixing” everything, all of the work was great except that they had stuck the Seymour Duncan and I wanted them to put in the neck position into the bridge position and they put my Gibson bridge pick up into the neck position. But they did not tell me that they had broken my bridge pick up. When I got at home I discovered that somehow, they caused an open circuit between the two coils, so it was not phased properly and it has lost its completely unique sound. Needless to say I will never bring my guitars to that place ever again, so I brought my flying V to Moze Guitars.

it took me a year, I wasn’t too concerned about the neck pick up and I found a neck pick up that was about 10 years old and it was perfect. But the trouble was with my bridge pick up, I ended up on eBay searching through hundreds of entries, finally I found a pick up that came from a 1988 Les Paul and he only wanted 95 for it. I have seen other pick ups from that era for 150 or more. and I really didn’t want to go beyond the age of my actual guitar. I did not see a lot of sense in getting a pick up from the 60s I wanted a pick up from the era that the guitar was made because I wanted the tone to be the same. So after I got my bridge and neck pick ups put in properly I was amazed, the sound wasn’t just the same as it was when I first bought the instrument, warm and colorful, it was BETTER. I could have purchased brand new pick ups but that’s not what I wanted, I wanted pick ups that were made close to 1994. The bridge pick up was from 2004, and that really wasn’t that much of a difference, but the 1998 bridge pick up really made the difference. And you can find all kinds of pick ups that are at least 20 years old for reasonable prices on eBay. If you find the right guy he can actually help you locate any pick up that you want there are lots of guys on eBay that that’s all they do they sell vintage pick ups.
 
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xmd5a

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2,422
Did anyone ever stop to think that over the passage of time that this could have happened : -
All the crap sounding original ones and probably some good sounding ones too, were chucked in the bin and replaced with aftermarket alternatives from the mid 70's onward, like Larry DiMarzio's Super Distortion and various Duncan pickups, thus leaving only the better sounding ones around today?
No, because that would have to assume that most vintage guitars have aftermarkets pickups, and if this were the case, any vintage guitar dealer could attest to that. It's generally known that only a small number of guitarists ever bother to swap pickups out, and that's evidenced by, for example, used listings on Reverb.

A similar claims is that entire guitars were chucked, hence all vintage guitars are the cream of the crop. That's harder to disprove, except to say that, if true, it means that the fact of the guitar being vintage is not what makes it great, it's just a nice guitar, not unlike a modern nice guitar.

But to be honest, when I browse the local vintage guitar shop, I'm taken aback by how junky they are. They were made by hand, they often have a "shop class" look about them. The passage of decades has messed up their crude lacquer finishes, and has warped the once straight lumber. And of course, the hardware has a patina that only a guitarist could ever appreciate. I don't just think the vintage myth is overrated, I think it's a full blown hysteria that has no connection with reality.

I think the big problem with the guitar world, and the wine world, is that the ceiling is lower than we would like. You can buy the best wine or the best guitar for rather little money. The fact that you can't spend $10k and get $10k in value is a problem for people with money burning a hole in their pocket. Some turn to the Fender Custom Shop to fill the need, others turn to the vintage market to fill the need.
 
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dazco

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With all due respect, the only electric guitar pickup with a remotely flat EQ is a piezo (because its resonant peak is above the relevant frequency band of the instrument). Indeed, the difference between a typical Fender single coil and a typical humbucker is the location of the resonant peak - that's what gives the pickup the bulk of its character. If you want to get rid of the resonant peak and hear a flat frequency response from those pickups, try using 25k pots. The resonant peak all but disappears.

This goes for guitar amps and microphones as well, which of course is why they sound different from one another in a way that high-fidelity audio amplifiers don't.
I'll say it again, i just hope i don't have to keep saying it to every reply....i never suggested a pickup with a flat EQ. I said a more natural EQ curve meaning a pickup thats not highly colored like a lot of hot pickups with mild to wild mid humps. I would think the word "curve" would have eliminated any thoughts that i was suggesting a completely flat EQ. I don't get why people keep equating a more natural EQ curve with a totally flat one. Is there even any pickups like that ! Not that i've ever heard. Anyways, rather then keep repeating this i will just refer others with like replies to this post #.
 

Darkburst

Silver Supporting Member
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4,537
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.
The pickups were part of that classic rock sound. But obviously not the entirety.
 
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If you throw a magic set of pickups out of a 1963 fender guitar into a guitar you simply pull off the racks without playing, it won't sound like that magic 63 guitar.
The reasons for this are simple, yet unbelievable to people who don't want to believe it.
The people who believe it do so instantly, they can hear the phenomenon as easily as you read these words.
A few years ago, actual vintage pickups were something...today?
naaa...fender themselves will sell you pickups that are more than good enough, you have to do the rest and find the guitar to put them in.
 

ChrisB

Member
Messages
622
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
This is basically it - the rest is snake oil
 

ErichA

Member
Messages
344
I like my 490s series pups in my ‘97 LP. I’m not piecing together a ‘59 replica.
For those who are piecing together a ‘59 LP replica, or some other period specific guitar, sure, go ahead! Get as close as you can.
A ‘59 ‘burst costs as much as a house because some nutty businessman wants to lock dozens of them away in a vault, or whatever. They’re instruments, they’re meant to be played, or they don’t serve a real purpose.
So, since none of us can afford these nice old instruments, why not piece something together, provided it’s what you’re focused on?
If you can, and you want to, why not?
It’s not what I’m doing. But I’m mildly interested in seeing how it goes for those committed to that kind of pursuit.

And I think those billionaires holding a bunch of vintage guitars as ‘investment’ when they haven’t a clue about music is just plain idiotic. But then, just because they’re rich doesn’t actually equate to them being smart. Just my 2¢.

Cheers!
 

mjross

Silver Supporting Member
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2,694
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...
If you could only buy fingers, and of course talent is right there to.

I will never forget this! When I was a kid (million years ago) this kid showed up at a jam held by at that time the “best” in regard to bands and guitar players in town with a Silvertone amp and heaven knows what for a guitar. I think he told us his mother bought it at Woolworths or Kress or something like that. Most everybody chuckled and though what the hell does he think he’s doing. Blew EVERYBODYS **** away! Had sounds coming from that combo that still haunts me to this day. NEVER discount fingers and pure talent. That combination is hard to beat. KEEP ON ROCKIN!
 

IanRubbish

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
589
As long as the pickups are made well, it doesn't matter when they were made. I just got a telecaster pickup from the Planet Tone guy, 60 bucks I think I paid, and it's smokin. Not just good for a cheap pickup, it's just a good pickup. Now I have a Gibson with 2 planet tone 57's, and a telecaster with a Planet Tone hot 55 bridge, and I paid 180 for all (3). That's almost as much as (1) of those high end brands, and when you are talking PAF types, there's not much difference there between em. And I'm not talking out of not being able to afford them, so I call them not worth it, I actually have Bare Knuckles sitting in a box, and Planet Tones in the guitar. Good pickups are good pickups regardless of who made them when.
 

silhouette666

Member
Messages
47
Just come to this thread and quickly read through the pages. What I get is a lot of hard and fast opinions that dynamite will not shift. Not that there is anything wrong with that. However, I do believe that there are certain pickups that have have a sound that is instantly involving. The problem with music is that there are many different way guitars are used. For instance Thrash Metal may not be the best genre to evaluate a PAF humbucker. Likewise a Dimarzio Super Distortion might not please a country picker.

The interesting thing about some of those early PAFs and some of the makers trying to emulate them is asymmetric winding. Nowadays most coils are wound on a machine and each coil gets the same number of winds. Now this is fine as the hum is absolutely cancelled. However with asymmetry they have a different response regarding hum cancelling. This means that whilst in full hum cancelling mode there is a little loss of top end frequencies, the more the asymmetry the more top end is given back. Some of these old Gibson PAFs have a much brighter sound than contemporary Gibson pickups. This is also true of pickup maker who use this whilst creating their pickups.

My experience is that there is a much brighter sound with more presence. they also respond to the volume and tone control with a larger range of useable adjustment and clarity in the sound especially the neck pickup.
 

Ron Kirn

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Messages
7,105
As long as the pickups are made well, it doesn't matter when they were made.


Well . . . it's not uncommon for a really fine guitarist to show up with some no name mystery guitar and need work... Guys, some of those things look like absolute 8th grade wood shop projects.... and some of the pickups are pretty much literally just whatever wire that could be found, wound around magnets stuck through holes in cardboard...

But, when they play those relics... good god.. I wanna sound like that....

r
 

mjross

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,694
Well . . . it's not uncommon for a really fine guitarist to show up with some no name mystery guitar and need work... Guys, some of those things look like absolute 8th grade wood shop projects.... and some of the pickups are pretty much literally just whatever wire that could be found, wound around magnets stuck through holes in cardboard...

But, when they play those relics... good god.. I wanna sound like that....

r
Mark Farner, I rest my case!
 
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