This is the second (and the final) installment of the Pickup FAQ
series (be sure you've read Pickup FAQ. Part 1
. Guitar Pickup Adjustments: How To Adjust Pickup Height And Adjust Pole Pieces On Your Guitar Pickups
. Why Should I Change/Not Change My Pickups?
. Pickup Reviews
. Credits And Thanks
7. Guitar Pickup Adjustments: How To Adjust Pickup Height and Adjust Pole Pieces on Your Guitar Pickups
Pickup Adjustments are usually a quick way to get a little or a lot more pickup tone out of your guitar. You're probably visiting this web page because your guitar tone is not hot enough or what is should be. Guitar Pickup Adjustments
are usually a quick way to get more tone or hotness out of your pickups. One word of caution is not to overdue the pickup adjustment. Sometimes if you over adjust pickup height or poles pieces this can affect the intonation and tonality of your guitar. Basically, you will know if you over adjust due to the sound of your guitar for the most part. You would hear an out of phase type sound. Always remember to unplug your guitar from your amplifier before making any adjustment to guitar electronics
Pickup Height Adjustment
There are basically two ways to adjust a guitar pickups tone or hotness. The first way to adjust the pickup is to either tighten or loosen the screws on either side of the pickup. Most people think these screws just hold the pickup in place, but they also adjust the height of the pickup. Sometimes these screws are located on the pickup cover. Now it depends on the pickup, but for the most part if you tighten the screws you'll lower the pickup and if you loosen the screws you'll raise the pickup. If you want more tone or a hotter sound raise the pickup closer to the strings. If you want less tone lower the pickup away from the guitar strings, pretty simple right? Make small adjustments and then plug in the guitar and check out the sound. You don't even have to take the strings off to do this adjustment. Just lower or raise the pickup with screws on either side of the pickup. Try to turn the screws with equal turns for each side of the pickup. Small adjustments can make a big difference. As we talked about earlier, do not over adjust because this will negatively affect the tone of your pickup.
Guitar Pickup Pole Pieces Adjustments
The second pickup adjustment is to raise or lower your pickup pole pieces on your guitar pickup itself. Let's say you've already raised your pickup height, but still want a little more tone. Try raising the pole pieces. Pole pieces are the 6 metal magnetic rods or pieces on a single coil pickup or 12 metal pole pieces on a humbucker. If you need more info on guitar terms please visit the guitar glossary link. Now, not all pickups are able to have there pole pieces adjusted. You will need to check your pickup to see if there small screws or hex adjustment pole pieces. If this is the case you can adjust the pole pieces on the pickup. You would either need a screwdriver or hex wrench to do the procedure.
To raise your pole pieces loosen the screw or hex adjustment in very small increments so that you can see the pieces rise a bit. Raising the pole pieces in not recommended for some pickups or guitars so check your guitar manual or check the pickup manufacturer Adjustable pole pieces are mostly on Humbucker Pickups. You don't see many adjustable pole pieces on single coil pickups. Some hotter Single Coil pickups you may see staggered pole pieces, or basically the pole pieces are raised to different heights from the factory. For Example, Fender Texas Special pickups have staggered pole pieces in the bridge position.
Adjusting Pole Pieces is a trial and error process so make a small adjustment while the guitar is unplugged, then plug in and try the guitar. You should notice a hotter tone the more you raise the pole pieces. Do Not raise the Pole Pieces to far as this will negatively affect tone or tonality of your guitar. If you do raise the pole pieces to far start tightening the screw or hex adjustment to lower the pieces.
You should notice a nice difference in tone after doing these pickup adjustments. Basically, adjust to how you feel you would want you pickup tone to be either hot, fat, thin, or whatever you like. The tips above should help anyone improve his or her guitar tone.
Note: taken from mediawebsource.com.
8. Why Should I Change/Not Change My Pickups?
This is a toughie, you are probably changing them to try to get yourself a better/new tone. Stop Right There Gomez!! You can get a better tone by doing little things to your guitar and other gear before you shell out ?40-?200 on a new pickup. Try these first if you are still not satisfied then get the new pickup. Another reason many people change them is because they cheap guitar eg Squier Strat and want to make it better this is a double edged sword because, the problem with this is that no matter what you do the Squier will never be made of good tone wood and therefore will always sound not quite as good as the pickups are capable of being. However if you still wish to do this remember that you can always take the pickups out and put them into another guitar at a later date EG Tex-Mex into a Squier and then a Fender.
The main reason to change your pickups it to quite simply change the tone. For example you have a Strat and want a humbucker sound so you put in an SD hot/cool rails. But there are other things you can do like getting hand wound or scatter wound pups that sound better. The other main reason I find people changing pickups is to get closer to the tone of another player. An excellent example of this is that soon after Dimebag (rip) died many people were fitting Dimebuckers to get closer to his tone.
The best way to decide what you want from your guitar/pickups it to get your ass out there and play lots of different guitars decide what you want and then aim for that when buying a replacement pickup.
9. Pickup Reviews
Fender Lace Sensor Gold
I have the LC Gold in the middle position of my mahogany bodied, maple capped Warmoth. It is designed to be a noise cancelling pickup, meaning that it cancels the 60-cycle hum that you get from a standard single coil pickup. It seems to do a pretty good job - there is still some noise, but much less than you would expect from a single coil. It is a medium output pickup designed mostly for blues (Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy both use this model). It is a fairly dry sounding pickup, however, and would be excellent for country as well.
I find the cleans to be somewhat boring. Dry is defiantly the best word to describe them. They're not bad by any means, but they lack that fullness than you get with some pickups. Under light overdrive, this pickup sounds fantastic. It's nice and crunchy but really lets the notes sing. Under high gain, it tends to sound a little honky. It sounds great when used with an acoustic simulator. When combined with one coil from a neck humbucker, it gives you a very articulate sound - think "Sweet Home Alabama."
Although I have it in a mahogany bodied guitar, I suspect the LC Gold would sound a lot better in a Strat style guitar.
Suited for: Blues, country, and maybe jazz if used in the neck position
Fender Texas Specials
Used By: Many - Notably SRV signature Stratocaster.
Position: All 3 Strat positions.
Review On: Blade Strat (Alder body)
Tested On: Musician 210 Combo (1970's)
This pickup set actually overcame my doubts of bluestone.
I never considered using these pickups until a good friend of mine passed me his Blade Strat. Loaded with these baby's.
The initial tone of the bridge Position was somewhat 'hairy' yet still with that element of 'spice' that can make a valve amp start to break up nicely.
I have summarised the pickups here: (5 Way switch)
Position One: Hairy, Raunchy and Ballsy.
Position Two: Quaky especially with the treble rolled off.
Position Three: Balanced and Clean.
Position Four: perfect tone for blues. Sublime
Position Five: A bit overly bassy but would shine thru a Fender tube amp.
I no longer have doubts about these pickups. They aren't just for blues - They can hold jazz, punk, funk, pop, grunge and ska perfectly. They are a sublime single coil if ever there was some.
The neck unit reminded me somewhat of a P-90 style unit, which is a good thing in my opinion. They are slightly victim to 60-cycle hum. But as long as you don't play next to a computer monitor like I did, your fine.
If you are attempting to get an SRV tone these pickups are essential.
Suited for: Everything except metal.
Dimarzio Tone Zone
Used By: Paul Gilbert (probably more, but I can't think of any!)
Review On: Ibanez RG8570/8670 (mahogany body, flame maple cap)
Tested On: Mesa Boogie Stiletto Deuce
This pickup is fantastic! At the moment, it's my favourite bridge pickup (from the limited amount I've tried). It scores points in my book because it's high enough output to really push an amp into distortion, but at the same time not so high that it can only be used for metal. Also, it has a really good tone, and seems to do the impossible task of beefing up the distortion and the tone at the same time. A lot of high output pickups give the feeling that all they want is the gain on 11, even when you're playing clean. The tone zone isn't like this- it only reminds you that it loves gain when you're playing with gain. Cleans aren't fantastic, but are usable. The split sounds with single coils aren't fantastic either, but again are usable.
Suited For: Rock, Hard Rock, Metal, and Shred.
Verdict: Excellent if you want a high gain sound that also has tone, and you also play some not-so-heavy stuff from time to time too.
Dimarzio Air Norton
Used By: Jeff Stinco of Simple Plan (but don't let that put you off!)
Review On: Ibanez RG8570/8670 (mahogany body, flame maple cap)
Tested On: Mesa Boogie Stiletto Deuce
This pickup is very good! It is a really nice classic-type toned pickup. Cleans are nice and very warm, as is overdrive. The split sounds with single coil are also really good. It's medium output, so it goes well with the tone zone if you want the tone zone to cover high gain stuff, while the neck covers more classic sounds. It's also got enough clarity for shred (not so much as a PAF pro, but pretty good) and has a nice warm lead sound too.
Suited For: Cleans, Blues, Classic Rock, Mellow lead sounds, shred.
Verdict: Excellent if you want a classic sounding neck pickup that can cover other tonal bases too.
Dimarzio PAF Pro
Used By: Steve Vai before he got Evos. Satch may have used them too, and probably some others I've forgotten about.
Position: Bridge and Neck
Review On: Ibanez RG3270 (mahogany body, flame maple cap)
Tested On: Mesa Boogie Stiletto Deuce
Bridge: To be honest, I didn't like the bridge version of this pickup, for what I wanted to play, anyway. It has really nice cleans, almost single coil-like, as this pickup has a lot of treble, and it mixes well with single coils in coil-split mode. It has a good tone too, and is great for shred, as it has great clarity, but it just doesn't sound good to me with distortion. No matter how much gain you use, it sounds a bit weedy and wussy. If you play more classic sounding stuff, I suppose it's good, or if you play shred, but I wouldn't recommend it for hard rock or metal.
Suited for: Cleans, Mellow lead sounds, shred.
Verdict: Great for shred, cleans and classic sounding stuff. Not great for hard rock or metal.
Neck: This was more like it! I loved this pickup in the neck position! It has great clarity, and is superb for sweep picking. It has a more modern tone than an air norton, but still sounds really nice clean as well. It is quite trebly too, so doesn't really sound all that much like a neck pickup to my ears, but that's not to say it's not good. It has a very distinctive tone that's hard to describe- passion and warfare by Steve Vai would be the best place to look to see what it sounds like (I think he still used PAF pros then). In my opinion, if you play shred a lot, get this neck pickup! I still haven't decided whether I prefer this or the Air Norton- they're good for different things. Perhaps not as versatile as an Air Norton, but it is better for all-out shred.
Suited For: Shred mainly, good for cleans and more laid back soloing too
Verdict: Great for shred, cleans and classic sounding stuff. Not great for hard rock or metal.
Dimarzio Super Distortion
I use the Super Distortion in the bridge position of my mahogany bodied, maple capped Warmoth. Dimarzio introduced this pickup in the 70's just as metal was taking off. It is designed to push an overdriven amp off the edge and into full blow distortion, and it does just that. It has enough power to give you good chunk regardless of the gain capabilities of the amp. It's fantastic for anything from 80's metal (Def Leppard) to mainstream metal (Metallica) to nu-metal (Chevelle). To my ears, it's great as an alternative to active EMG's, which are a hassle.
The Super Distortion is a ceramic magnet pickup and has a lot of bass - if you have a super thick-bodied guitar, this may make it muddy sounding. There are more than enough mids to cut through the mix for solos, and tapping really sounds great on it.
The downside is the lack of versatility. Clean sounds just that - clean. It's rather bland, and not good for anything but nu-metal type riffs (think Chevelle or Seether). It has way too much power to sound good with anything less than full-blown distortion. Coil split, it sounds thin and nasally but too powerful to sound anything like a single coil pickup.
Suited For: All types of metal
Dimarzio Fred And PAF Fred
Used By: Joe Satch (Signature Models)
Position: Bridge and Neck respectively.
Review On: An Ibanez JS with basswood body.
Tested On: Line 6 Spider 2, Peavey JSX and Ashdown Fallen Angel.
Anyone who has heard Mr. Joe Satriani in the past few years will of noticed his dramatic tone. This comes mostly in part of his signature model pickups. The Joe and Joe PAF.
The bridge version - The ordinary Joe (Sorry it had to be said...) - Has a very outspoken character.
With its high mid range, for a bridge position pickup, and well defined bottom end it can sound just like vocals if you wish to screaming solos if it so takes you. It could be defined as 'spicy' were it edible.
The PAF Joe is the sugar to Joe's spice. It is silky smooth and sounds more like a vintage pickup compared to the relatively spacey Joe.
It has not as much bottom as you may expect from a neck position pickup which makes it perfect for cleanly strummed chords but it lacks some of the depth for those bluesy style licks and solos which knocks it down on versatility points.
Overall, this pickup set works wonders if your looking for a melodic, smooth yet still powerful tone. Yet there are no bluesy/punky/funky sounds to be found and just a subtle hint of warmth for jazz tones on the neck pickup. But otherwise the sound is 'glacier'
Suited For: Shred, Light Jazz, Some Metal.
Seymour Duncan JB
Used By: Seriously? Are you kidding? The list would be shorter if I told you who hadn't used one at one point or another!
Review On: Jackson Kelly KE-2 (alder body, flame maple cap)
Tested On: Mesa Boogie Stiletto Deuce
I'm going to get lynched here by the JB appreciation society (in other words, everyone who plays the electric guitar!) but I didn't really like this pickup. It's very "in your face" whereas I prefer a bit of subtlety. Granted, it's great if all you're using your bridge pickup for is high gain metal or rock, but I found it had a poor clean tone, and didn't mix well with the Jazz (that was also in this guitar) in the in-between setting (I liked the Jazz better, but someone else has already written a review-I still thought it was "in your face" though!). It was also too trebly for my liking-it didn't seem to add any tone to your playing, like the tone zone did. To be fair, this may have been due to the alder, not mahogany, body. It just felt like all the time it was chomping at the bit for more gain, and it sounded quite fizzy to my ears. However, most of the world likes it, so it must be good for something!
Suited For: Hard Rock and Metal (in my opinion!)
Verdict: Excellent if you play a lot of hard rock or metal, but it's not exactly subtle (or versatile), and it keeps reminding you that this is what it wants to play!
Just to reiterate, I don't own these pickups, I've just tried them, but I think I got a pretty good impression of them when I tried them.
Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro
The Alnico II Pro is a low output humbucker with an Alnico II magnet (hence the name). The most famous users of it are Slash and Santana. Unlike most A2 magnet pups, it has a scooped sound rather than the characteristic mid-hump. There are enough mids to keep it sweet sounding, but it isn't as warm as you might expect.
I use the A2P in the neck position of my mahogany bodied, maple capped Warmoth. I find the tone to be a little brighter than I like, but I attribute that to the guitar rather than the pickup. It defiantly is not a bright sounding pickup. Clean, it is very articulate and has a lot of depth. In the right situation, it's almost bell-like. Add a little gain and you're instantly transported into tonal bliss. Each note rings clear and true, but the slight mid scoop keeps things interesting.
If you're looking for a good blues-rock pup, this is it. It has just enough output to be full sounding, but not so much that it's overpowering. There's enough bass to satisfy just about any metal-head (assuming you have the right amp for it) but not so much that it sounds boomy. All in all, one of my favourite pickups.
Suited For: Blues, jazz, metal, classic rock, modern rock. Too wet for country and not thin enough for punk.
Seymour Duncan Jazz
The Jazz is Seymour's offer to those who want a punchy, clear, articulate pickup that stays super clear and never muddies up. Using an Alnico 5 bar magnet, the Jazz is wound to a medium output that gives it plenty of punch but keeps the tone perfectly clean. It's a very well balanced pickup with plenty of brightness. Whether you play jazz, blues, or metal, this pickup is a great choice.
I use mine in a thick basswood-bodied Schecter 006 Deluxe. I generally like a warm, dark clean tone, but I chose the jazz to balance out the super dark tone that the basswood body has. Boy was I right! The lows and mids from the wood combined with the top end sparkle give me the exact tone I was looking for. Smooth enough for blues, clear enough for jazz, and very punchy. Add a little distortion and it's great for metal too. I wired mine to a push-pull pot for coil split, and it sounds fantastic. I never thought a coil split humbucker could sound this good.
If you're considering the Jazz as a replacement pickup for a guitar, keep in mind that it does tend to be bright. If you want to play blues, it wouldn't be a good idea to put this in an alder bodied guitar. If you've got something thick like a Les Paul, this is a great match for just about any style.
Suited For: Jazz, blues, punk, metal, and country...
Seymour Duncan Custom
The Custom is a ceramic magnet pickup that was designed to sound like a "PAF on steroids." It has that grind that the original 50's Les Paul humbuckers were known for, but more power to provide more thump. It's great if you want to give a Les Paul a little extra kick, or if you want to round out the tone of something thin like an Ibanez RG. If you like mids, the Custom is for you. It's warm and smooth with just enough lows and highs to keep things interesting. It's great for a variety of styles but best suited for strait up rock.
I use the Custom in the bridge position of my thick basswood bodied Schecter 006 Deluxe. I have the covered version, and combined with the basswood, it gives me a very warm, smooth sound. In a mahogany bodied guitar it would probably sound a little more raw. It's actually fairly mellow when played clean, but things really get rocking when you turn up the gain. Sounds great for anything from Velvet Revolver to AC/DC. I have mine wired to a potentiometer that lets me gradually shut off one of the coils, providing me with an endless combination of sounds. Overall, this is a fantastic pickup.
Suited For: Any kind of rock
Seymour Duncan Invader
Used By: Tom Delonge, Synester Gates, Zacky Vengence.
Review On: PRS style mahogany guitar.
Tested On: Mesa Dual Rec, Fender Super Reverb.
First off - This pickup looks powerful. Its pole pieces are oversized to the point that they nearly touch each other and it has huge magnets underneath. This makes it heavier in the hand than most pickups.
I decided to test its clean capabilities on the cleanest amp I could find - A Fender Super Reverb. Its clean tone is not quite as bad as most people said and would suit wiry funk tones but strumming is out of the question. It will break-up the speaker on your amp, which is usually only desired on Valve amps - but sounds harsh thru a solid-state rig.
I was itching to put this baby under some serious gain so I went straight to the dual rectifier and pushed it into a fuzzed up, sloppy, disappointing distortion. Then I realised I still had it set on clean.
How I was shocked when I turned onto full distortion! It can growl like a junkyard dog or scream like some kind of cat being stepped on. It has excellent dynamics and responds well to picking hand strength.
It falls apart under vintage distortion as it seems to be itching for more gain. The same applies to blues and jazz tones. But if punk or metal is your kettle of fish - get this pickup!
Suited For: Punk, Metal, Funk.
Swineshead Runaway And Warthog Humbuckers
Used By: They're a new company, there are no famous users as of yet.
Positions: 3 Way toggle, neck and bridge
Review On: Epiphone Les Paul Custom - Mahogany/Alder
Tested On: Marshall MG30DFX (sorry, getting a valve amp soon)
There's always an air of suspicion when a new pickup company comes to town, and Swineshead were no different. Entering the custom guitar pickup business for the first time, Jon Bell - Manager of Swineshead, and main employee - hand winds all his own pickups, and bases the models are based on his love of players like Satriani, Slash, and many others in this area.
The range began with 4 humbucker models, Condor, Runaway, Warthog and Xbucker, all in order of output, from low to high. I chose the middle two in the range, as this best suited my uses, in rock, blues and jazz.
The runaway is in the neck position, and provides me with excellent jazzy clean tones, excellent for chord work, while overdriven, it holds a great bluesy soloing sound. I generally use the rhythm pickup more, and I had this in mind while choosing the second pickup. In the bridge is the Warthog. This gives brilliant heavy rock sounds, and it happily takes the gain turned up. Superb for riffing, and great for rock solos, when I do get round to using this, I love every moment. However, my one problem with this is its hard, flat sounding clean tone, which I rarely (if ever) use.
Neck: Jazzy cleans, especially with full volume through a loud clean channel, tone all up, smooth bluesy driven tones, my all purpose soloing sound.
Bridge: Rock, rock and more rock. Not great for a lot else, nothing special clean though.
Neck/Bridge: A decent clean sound, basic rock sound, but I rarely use this, I find that it doesn't blend all that well together. Having said that, I never find a use for it. Just generally balanced.
Overall: 4/5 (because of the bridge cleans, otherwise its great.
With a bridge DC resistance of 10.7k and 19.0K for the neck with a powerful ceramic magnet, this pickup is made to be played loud, There is no doubt about that. The immense output of this powerful pickup will be loved by many metal players who want the classic metal tone built to rock through a heavily distorted amp. This pickup is similar in sound to Gibson's superb 500T Ceramic bridge model without the price tag. However, having backed off treble frequencies, a high bass and powerful midrange, leaves this pickup with dark and heavy cleans. The Xbucker is however made for the shredders and it performs brilliantly.
The exotic range of colours and wood bobbins combined with an attractive price make this pickup one of a kind. At ?38, which is about $67 or 56 euros, this pickup is one of the cheapest available but is still as high quality as any other 'more commercial pickup'.
Bridge: Metal!!! sucky cleans!! Made for high distortion.
Versatility: 3/5 (because cleans suck otherwise its great)
Ibanez V8/S1/V7 (Humbucker/Single Coil/Humbucker)
Used By: Not many - they're stock pickups on mid-range Ibanez RGs
Position: V8 (bridge humbucker (alnico))/S1(middle single coil (alnico V))/V7 (neck humbucker (ceramic))
Review On: Ibanez MIJ RG 470 (basswood body)
Tested On: Marshall AVT100 (sorry, I should be getting an Engl or something soon!)
These pickups come stock on mid-range Ibanez RG's - they come on the 470 and 500 series (now on the 1550, since they changed the model numbers), but I think they were more prevalent on older Ibanez models.
I'm now considering upgrading to Swinesheads, but these pickups have served me well, at least until I tried Dimarzios and Seymour Duncan's recently. Anyway, on with the review.
I have summarised the pickups here (5 Way switch):
Position One: Bridge humbucker: This is quite aggressive, even if it is alnico (Ibanez don't say if it's alnico V or II). It's got a reasonably good overdriven sound, for classic rock or heavier, but really isn't much use for anything softer. I never use this position for cleans.
Postion Two: 1 coil from bridge + middle single: This position is good for clean and blues. It gets a quite good fender-y tone out of it, but of course is not as good as the real thing. All the single coil settings get a little noisy if too much gain is added.
Postion Three: Middle Single: Nice single coil sound, if a little trebly. I don't use this position much- I prefer the "in-between" single coil tones.
Position Four: 1 coil from neck + middle single: Much like position 2, but warmer. Perhaps better suited for clean, and slightly less strident and more laid-back blues.
Position Five: Neck humbucker: This gets a very warm, jazzy clean tone. It also gets a warm, slash-type soloing sound, although can get a bit muddy at higher overdrive levels. Can also be used for blues.
Of course, I don't see anyone switching their pickups for these, this review is just to let you know what these stock pickups are like, in case you decide to buy an Ibanez with them in it.
In a nutshell, these aren't great stock pickups, but they aren't terrible either. They won't hold your playing back, but they won't really do it many favours either. They're good enough to keep if you can't afford to upgrade just at the moment, but once you hear a real pickup (eg Dimarzio etc.), you'll basically want to upgrade.
Bridge (V8): Classic Rock, Hard Rock, Metal, Shred.
Middle (S1): Clean, Blues, Classic Rock (not too heavy)
Neck (V7): Clean, Jazz, Blues, laid-back Soloing
Verdict: Not bad for stock pickups.
10. Credits And Thanks
A huge thanks to all those who submitted reviews or gave me web site addresses.
The reviewers were:
mnbaseball91: Dimarzio Super Distortion, Fender Lace Sensor Gold, Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro (neck), Seymour Duncan Jazz (neck), Seymour Duncan Custom (bridge)
Pedricko: Dimarzio Fred and PAF Fred, Seymour Duncan Invader, Fender Texas Specials
cc2003btw: Swineshead Runaway and Warthog Humbuckers
Dave_Mc: Ibanez V8/S1/V7 (Humbucker/single coil/Humbucker)
~Hypermonkey~: Swineshead X-Bucker
People who submitted sites were: