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> What Makes A Good Pickup?
Boson
post Mar 21 2010, 11:25 PM
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I'm curious.

I wonder if anyone has any information on the science behind what makes a good pickup.

I am a Physics teacher and so understand the principles behind how they work and in fact a pickup is very simple device, a coil of wire and some small magnets.

Zak has excellent knowledge of the market but what I want to know is the science behind why one pickup leads to a better sound than another. My guess is that it is down to output and impedance matching but if there is an accepted optimum then why dont all manufacturers meet it and produce optimum pickups? Having said that output is one thing but sound quality is another, why do some pickups ring clear while others sound muddy?

Lets keep it simple for now and consider only a single coil pickup, is there an optimum number of turns, guage of wire, resistance, flux density of magnet etc. Why should hand wound be considered any better than machine wound. Is it simply a matter of output voltage and so on.

Can anyone shed light on this for me?

This post has been edited by Boson: Mar 21 2010, 11:26 PM


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Mandos
post Mar 21 2010, 11:53 PM
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Great thread. I'm really curious about this as well. *sits back and waits for the knowledge to come flowing*

This post has been edited by Mandos: Mar 21 2010, 11:53 PM


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ZakkWylde
post Mar 22 2010, 12:31 AM
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I am no expert in the pickup winiding itself bur despite it being a simple thing with few mechanical parts the composure of the parts can change the outcome drasticly! I will write everything I think I know about the construction of a pickup, please correct me if I am wrong!

-Magnets
First of all there are several types of Magnets with diffrent tonalities. The most frequently used magnets are Alnico 5 and Ceramic magnets but there are also Alnico 2,4 and 8 used with pickups. Ceramic gives a lot of output, the tone is clearer and less dynamic and also less warm while Alnico 2 Magnets have a very good sonic spectrum but they have a very low output...
Also the size of the magnets differs from small ones to hugh blade-magnets that fill the entire coil!

-Potting
To keep the pickups from humming and creating feedback they need to be shielded with hot wax to keep them from making unwanted noise - too much or wrong potting will decrease the sound performance though! The choice of wax is important too!

-Winding
This determines how the pickup sounds! Less winds result in a more open sound and more dynamics but it will be less loud, a lot of winds gives the pickups more compression and more output.

-Material
The baseplate materia on which the pickup is wound also directly affects the tone in terms of brightness (mostly nickel, zinc and steel)... The covers on some pickups alter the tone too!

This post has been edited by ZakkWylde: Mar 22 2010, 12:32 AM


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sted
post Mar 22 2010, 02:21 PM
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What makes a good pickup? The answer is the rest of the guitar!

Pickups are very subjective, anyone who thinks that a decent set of pickups alone make for good tone are living in a dreamworld. Its the combination of the whole instrument that gives a good tone, everything from the resonance of the wood, the contact points of the strings, the materials used, the construction methods, all these come into play way before a pickup even gets to see any vibrations, then you've got internal wiring, cable quality and signal loss, set up preferences, then into the minefield that is your amplification device.
Ive heard very good stock chinese pickups that suit instruments really well, ive seen top of the range dimarzios put into high priced ESP guitars and compltely ruin them. I use EMG's for blues and everyone thinks im mad but they sound great in that guitar.

As ever its what sounds good to your ears, not what people are telling you what is good, just because it cost 300 quid doesnt mean it'll sound any good in any guitar, ignore the hype, trust your ears and you wont go far wrong.
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Marcus Siepen
post Mar 22 2010, 03:04 PM
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I keep such things very simple... a good pickup is the one that gives me my sound, in combination with my prefered amp and guitar wink.gif


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Adrian Figallo
post Mar 22 2010, 03:52 PM
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i don't really know, i used to have a strat made exactly from my white strat, same wood, electronics, pickups etc, and the thing sounded SOO different ohmy.gif, so i dont really know anymore.


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Boson
post Mar 22 2010, 06:08 PM
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I have thought about this a lot today and the more I think about it the more I am drawn to the conclusion that Sed is right.

For example thinking about the magnets. A magnetic field is a mgnetic field, it can vary in its shape and intensity but it does not matter what material produces it, it is still a magnetic field. So if there is a difference in sound produced by an alnico magnet and a ceramic magnet pickup it must be due to the field shape and flux density around the strings. But i still come back to the thought that these things will change the output level but not really the tone or quality.

However no matter how good the pickup if the string does not vibrate properly even the best pickups in the world will not produce a good sound.

So the guitar itself and its setup are much more important.


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Adrian Figallo
post Mar 22 2010, 06:17 PM
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could be, but sometimes -i don't know why- with a crappy guitar you can get some good sounds with the right pickups, guitars combination (pickups, strings, effects, amps, mics) are like a roulette for me, anything can happen.

(how to define good tone, steve vai or jack white? to me both are good)

This post has been edited by Adrian Figallo: Mar 22 2010, 06:17 PM


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ZakkWylde
post Mar 22 2010, 06:18 PM
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The best pickup in the world can't make a bad guitar sound good but the right pair of pickups can improve the tone of a guitar drastically!
I have tried a lot of pickups in diffrent guitars and they make a hughe diffrence in sound!!!

I tried a high output Alnico 5 pickup in an all mahagony Flying V once and it sounded terrible! The pickup wasn't able to cut through the massive wood and it resulted in a very dull and muddy tone with almost no top end, just like you would put you amp in another room and close the door - the same guitar with a high powered Ceramic Humbucker was like night and day: tight lows and singing lead sounds!

Said ceramic pickup was in a basswood Ibanez before and it was too bright with not enough bass to get a good chugging sound from the guitar. The stock Ibanez pickups before that were pretty bad: muddy bass, no articulation and not much sustain...


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jstcrsn
post Mar 22 2010, 06:56 PM
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QUOTE (Boson @ Mar 22 2010, 06:08 PM) *
I have thought about this a lot today and the more I think about it the more I am drawn to the conclusion that Sed is right.

For example thinking about the magnets. A magnetic field is a mgnetic field, it can vary in its shape and intensity but it does not matter what material produces it, it is still a magnetic field. So if there is a difference in sound produced by an alnico magnet and a ceramic magnet pickup it must be due to the field shape and flux density around the strings. But i still come back to the thought that these things will change the output level but not really the tone or quality.

However no matter how good the pickup if the string does not vibrate properly even the best pickups in the world will not produce a good sound.

So the guitar itself and its setup are much more important.

i suggest you go to seymor duncan website and look at the stats
from there info, some produce different tones , in different ranges
i'm not sure why , but you might be able to track down why?-there
for any one else you might be able to find a pick-up that will bring in tones, or get rid of tones in your sound that you need --of course you would have to be using seymor pick-ups to compare them
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Sensible Jones
post Mar 24 2010, 06:18 PM
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QUOTE (Boson @ Mar 22 2010, 05:08 PM) *
I have thought about this a lot today and the more I think about it the more I am drawn to the conclusion that Sed is right.

For example thinking about the magnets. A magnetic field is a mgnetic field, it can vary in its shape and intensity but it does not matter what material produces it, it is still a magnetic field. So if there is a difference in sound produced by an alnico magnet and a ceramic magnet pickup it must be due to the field shape and flux density around the strings. But i still come back to the thought that these things will change the output level but not really the tone or quality.

However no matter how good the pickup if the string does not vibrate properly even the best pickups in the world will not produce a good sound.

So the guitar itself and its setup are much more important.

I think the way/speed at which the Magnetic field reacts to the Strings impulse plays a large part in the responsiveness of the pickup.
'Scatter wound' pickups tend to have an all round smoother response due to the non-uniformity of the winding. (Not 100% sure why, but it does!!)
Pole Piece material could also affect the sound. (Again, due to responsiveness of the Mag Field)

I think all other variables have been addressed and as ever good P/Ups will not make a bad piece of wood sound great!!
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Marcus Siepen
post Mar 25 2010, 07:44 PM
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Pickups can for sure be a tricky thing, it really depends on the guitar that you want to put them in, and the amp too of course. I once put a Jeff Beck in one of my Les Pauls, a friend of mine had it in a strat type guitar and I liked the tone, but with my Les Paul it sounded horrible, it lasted only a couple of days, until the replacement for it was shipped to be precise wink.gif


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Mar 25 2010, 10:26 PM
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QUOTE (Boson @ Mar 21 2010, 11:25 PM) *
Lets keep it simple for now and consider only a single coil pickup, is there an optimum number of turns, guage of wire, resistance, flux density of magnet etc. Why should hand wound be considered any better than machine wound. Is it simply a matter of output voltage and so on.

Can anyone shed light on this for me?



My opinion on the pickups is that they catch string vibrations in a very low-level way, it's a very "rusty" technology wink.gif The raw sound that comes out of a pickup is yet to be shaped via amp and speakers, so bare that in mind as well. Sure, changing the pickup can produce some drastic effects, but these effects have their limits. In parallel to pickups, sound is being shaped by type of wood, type of playing, position of the pickup, electronics, strings, amp, speaker.. Alterations within a pickup are more less determined by the material used for magnets and number of windings. The more of windings, louder the signal. Randomly (hand wound) scattered winds produce different sound from machine (uniform) ones. Different magnet materials will produce different magnetic field, thus "catching" the string vibration in a different manner.







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Daniel Realpe
post Mar 27 2010, 03:27 PM
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I guess it must have to do with picking up as much from the actual vibration and as loyal as possible,

I wonder if there other methods besides pick ups of doind this


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