#1
I recently got a multimeter and looked up how to measure my guitars' pickups for dc resistance or "hotness."

I found that an HSS that I've got has single coils at around 5.2 and the humbucker at about 8.5 in humbucker or 5.2 split. I've got another guitar with 2 splittable humbuckers, and both come in around 4.15 split and 8.22 in humbucker. I've got a third guitar with 2 splittable humbuckers that come in at about 4.24 split and 8.28 in humbucker.

These are all 1980s Japanese guitars. Well, armed with this new info, I have no ****ing clue what to do with it. I have been googling to try to find some in depth discussion of how these measurements relate to quality of pickups, whether these numbers are on the low side and I might do better upgrading to hotter pups, or what. Maybe even a place where different well-regarded pickups have been tested and there is discussion about the optimal resistance for capturing different tones, stuff like that. Is there such a resource, or is this just a "to each his own" situation?

Ken
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#2
They don't really translate into how good a pickup sounds, and just give an indication of how many winds are in the pickup. The inductance would give you a better idea of the output, but still tells you little about the tone. A boutique 13-15kOhm humbucker will often sound a lot better than a budget 22kOhm model. You also lose a lot of control and clarity when you go that hot, and sometimes it's better to crank your amp instead.
#3
^ yeah it doesn't really tell you anything. even the winds' resistance will be affected by the gauge of the wire.
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#4
Its a "To each his own" situation.

DC resistance doesn't relate to the quality of the pickup whatsoever.

All DC resistance tells you is the length of wire that's inside the bobbin, but even that depends on the gauge of wire inside the pickup itself. The thinner the wire, the more resistance. It is one variable that determines the output of a pickup and its voicing (generally the more DC resistance, the more output and the less treble), but it doesn't take into account factors such as the size, type and arrangement of magnet (or magnets) the pickup is using, how the wire is wound on the bobbin, along with a bunch of other less significant variables. How close the pickups are to the strings affects tone and output, and so does the pickup's location on the guitar and the size of the pickup itself.

To put it simply, measuring the DC resistance doesn't give you an accurate enough reading of the final tone and output of the pickup in the guitar to be all that useful.
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#5
in the end tone is so subjective you could love something and others hate it. Otherwise there would be only two or three kinds of pickups and only a small handful of bands / groups touring to get my point across. Pickups get wayyy too much accentuation in guitars but I'm still here to help.

but this is a really interesting subject. Multimeters are great for testing wiring if you've got issues with it, testing pots and a bunch of other things but characteristic of a pickup we can look at a bunch of things to determine "output"

so some aspects you can measure and companies go by
resistance
resonant peak (inductance and so forth)
EQ

toodeepblue brought up a lot of good points about resistance. It isn't end game to assume with pickups but it'll give you an ok idea. Two examples of super high resistance pickups are the YJM furies which are 20+ and the P-rail seymour duncans are 18k at full power for the bridge but both are not very heavy sounding pickups. Louder than normal pickups absolutely but they aren't as brutal or aggressive as say a Dimarzio X2N or Seymour Duncan Black winter.

finding the right pickup though EQ charts help, find what your guitars missing, know how to work with the guitar to find the right strings and pick material, what will work on some guitars won't on others. That and utilize everything you can like adjustable pole pieces and pickups height. So the best way is to try the pickup in your guitar and avoid youtube to see what you like. How different every guitar is youtube is pretty useless (as are the kids who waste bandwidth comparing two totally different guitars for "comparisons).

hope I could help
#6
Pickups definitely create an AC current, so the DC resistance (all resistances are DC, in fact, its called Impedance for AC) is not really going to tell you that much. If you measured the impedence, you would have a better idea of the output of the pickup, but impedence is affected by resitance, inductance, and capacitance, and its frequency dependent. Therefore to have any idea whats going on you really need to measure the resistance, the inductance, and the capacitance. (I don't think the pickup itself has any significant capacitance, but the rest of the guitar circuitry does.)

If you know all these things you can figure out the impedance as a function of frequency, which will tell you the frequency response of the pickup. I suspect it may be a bit more complicated though because you wouldn't really want a huge frequency spike in the middle anywhere. Maybe they build them to have the resonant frequency outside of the range they'd experience? Or the resistance is high enough to spread out the peak.

Anyway, if you want the forumla's for these things they're readily available on the internet, but I'm not sure you're going to bother, because even after you got a frequency response curve you wouldn't really know what you wanted it to look like to "sound good".
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#7
^ Actually the AC equivalent of resistance is reactance. Impedance is the *total* opposition to current flow in a circuit. When AC is involved, it is the sum of resistance and reactance.

Anyway, I've found that inductance can give a general idea of a pickup's overall timbre, with higher inductance corresponding to a darker sound.
#8
The DC resistance is a loose guide at best at to the output level of a pickup. I can wind you two pickups that physically look the same, use the same magnets and measure the same DC resistance. It would be easy to just assume they have the same output level and more or less sound similar.

But without pulling it apart and physically checking the wire windings you won't know if I used thinner wire and less windings on one than the other which has more windings with thicker wire.

Even though they measure the same resistance the one with the more windings will be hotter but darker than the thinner wire wound one which will have lesser output but brighter response. Both will have different resonant peaks.

So, don't make any decisions based on DC resistance. In the end all that matters is how they are constructed and how they sound to you.
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#9
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^ Actually the AC equivalent of resistance is reactance. Impedance is the *total* opposition to current flow in a circuit. When AC is involved, it is the sum of resistance and reactance.

Anyway, I've found that inductance can give a general idea of a pickup's overall timbre, with higher inductance corresponding to a darker sound.


Reactance is just the imaginary part of the impedance caused by the capacitance and inductance. I'm not sure why you think that makes it a better equivalent than the impedance. In a DC circuit the total opposition to current flow is the resistance, in an AC circuit the total opposition to current flow is the impedance.
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#10
Thanks for responses. It sounds like everyone's pretty much agreeing that there's no real conclusions to be drawn from DC resistance alone.

One last follow up, though, since this does seem to be at least a factor in pickup performance, then I'd imagine there may be known "ranges" for this particular variable outside of which it is known to be problematic.

To simplify, is there a resistance that is just TOO low (or too high) based on common experience to date? These questions all came about because I had been reading articles where people measured pickup resistance and it seemed like single coils were commonly in the 6-8 range (kiliohm or miliohm or whatever) and humbuckers were around 10-14 (and P90's maybe around 9). So when I happened to measure my pups and found the single coils at 4-5 and the humbuckers at about 8, it made me wonder if a figure THAT low might be an issue.

Since I don't have a guitar with higher resistance pups to compare first-hand the tonal qualities, it makes me wonder if my current guitars are missing some depth or warmth or whatever without me even knowing it.

Ken
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#11
4-5k and 8k for single coils and humbuckers respectively aren't that uncommon. They're just more on the vintage side in terms of resistance.

There's objectively no such thing as too high a resistance. Higher resistance can lead to a hotter and muddier pickup but if that's what you like, then by all means. There can be such a thing as being weak to the point of barely having any output whatsoever going into the amp though. Especially if the cable you're using is very long. But for a 5k single coil, I wouldn't worry about that very much. Remember that pickup output depends on many other factors outside of DC resistance.
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#12
I have nothing to add here. Just wanted to say that this is an excellent discussion that I hope a lot of guitar players read. Too many players confuse "hot" pickups with better or different tone. Nice answers.
#13
I did an experiment using Tesla's catalog of sound samples. I couldn't make out any sort of a pattern aside from 1 thing.
I usually liked pickups that had a resonant peak at about 6k. I disliked most of the pickups that didn't have a resonant peak at that frequency, aside from a few that had much much lower peaks.

I'm guessing that my preference is for a certain frequency range, and I wouldn't be surprised if the other "good" frequencies were octaves.