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#1
So, I was just casually looking into potential replacement pickups for my Les Pauls (although for now I think I will just stick with the stock Gibson ones), and it made me wonder how people decide which pickups to go with.

The Seymour Duncan site is very cool, giving you output, resistance, magnet type, and an EQ diagram. But really, how does it sound? I like the idea of Billy Gibbons' hot vintage sound, so I will look at the Pearly Gates bridge pickup, which seems to be a medium-ish output humbucker with pronounced treble.
"Imagine a P.A.F. with extra midrange sizzle that’s been dipped in Texas hot sauce. That’s the Pearly Gates."
I know what different people's versions of the P.A.F. humbucker sound like, but I don't think I know what an original one sounded like. I have no reference for the effects of any sauces on a pickup; I've heard of wax potting, but I'm not sure this is a viable alternative.

"The Alnico 2 bar magnet keeps the high end sounding airy but focused, and the midrange emphasis gives it a unique Texas sizzle."
What the hell does "airy but focused" mean?!? Like, compressed air? Who knows. "Midrange emphasis"? The little three-band EQ shows the mids to be lower than the bass or treble, so now I'm really confused.

Ok, so now we have sound clips, awesome. Except no, I have no idea what guitar, strings, pick, cables, pedals, amps are being used. Ooh, videos! I can see the guitar now! Maybe the amp and other parts of the signal chain if I'm lucky.


Ok, so I find a video of someone playing the pickupx I'm interested in, in a guitar at least somewhat similar to mine. With a bit of luck, it'll be a well-made video. So, now I need something to compare it to. So, a different pickup, played by a different guitarist, through an entirely different rig... Nope, not going to work.

So then I find this:



Ok, so it's not the style of music I was looking for, but at least it provides a good quality comparison. Except... it just sounds like I could get the same effect by changing the EQ on my amp, or via a pedal?

How do you guys pick? Unless there's a way I can try different pickups in my guitar, through my rig, before I buy, I don't think I will part with the cash.
#2
Ask on the forums?
Seriously, i had the same problem when i was buying pickups. First you kinda need an idea about what you actually want them to do, not just "i want good pickups". And then you look at hundreds of videos and reviews and then narrow it down to a few. Then you ask around, read everything you can about the ones you are interested in (yes, even read youtube comments), and it will kinda give you an idea of what to expect with the pickup you are buying. I managed to get a pretty solid idea of how mine will sound once i get them, and i was pretty much right. But if you really want to see how they are, you just have to bite the bullet and get them, because every rig will sound different.
Joža je kul. On ma sirove z dodatki pa hambije.
#3
Videos, testimonials, asking on forums. Occasionally getting to try them out in person before I buy.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!


alhaq369
It is very impotent to success a business.
#4
Blind faith?

I mean, it's pretty hard to find a very particular pickup in a guitar already, and honestly the differences are frequently too subtle to be able to tell the difference in videos.

I've been burned a couple times. The Dactivator was one. I thought it would get the sound I wanted but it was too... I don't know, too something. Another time I got a EMG Alexi Laiho sig pickup. Sounded gross.

These things happen though. I think it's why when a lot of guitar players found a set they like, they tend not to deviate much.
I'm just a kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer.
#5
Thing is, you don't.
No one knows what a pickup will sound like through your rig, with you playing. We can get close, and over time, you learn more what you like. But buy from a company or retailer with a generous return policy, and you will be able to narrow it down. Even for experts, trying a new pickup even with videos and descriptions, is a leap of faith until you actually install it.
Dave @ Seymour Duncan
#6
Asking someone in the company can also help clarify matters.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!


alhaq369
It is very impotent to success a business.
#7
There are three things you do NOT want to rely on for selecting pickups:

  • Marketing (including advertising, endorsements, rig rundowns, forum threads)
  • YouTube videos/SoundCloud files/recordings (particularly fully produced ones)
  • Cost (expensive pickups are not better than cheap ones)


Most people (something north of 95%) never change their pickups. An aftermarket pickup is not an upgrade (ever). It's a sidegrade. You're not adding to the capabilities of the guitar. You *may* change the way it sounds.

One of the other forums recently compared a set of $25 (the pair!) Chinese pickups to a pair of very popular $150-200 pickups. They did evaluative listening tests, then took the things apart. The short of it is, the Chinese did a spot-on duplication of the $150-200 pickups in every particular, right down to magnet type and strength. Bear in mind that this $25 pair of pickups was being sold for $25 at a profit. The expensive spread famously claims to make all of their pickups in the USA.

I've changed pickups on just a couple of my guitars, and what I selected to replace them were generally not from highly advertised aftermarket sources.
#8
It really is extremely difficult. The descriptions written for each SD pup for instance are written very well to sell the product. The problem is, they're written so well (in a sales sense) that they make a majority of them sound like its exactly what you're looking for.

I have been searching for my "perfect" tone for 20 years and every time I think I have it, I try something that makes that blow up in my face. There are too many factors with tone. Just a few off the top of my head:

Pup resistance
Pup magnet
Pup windings
Pup waxed or not
Guitar wood
Guitar neck (bolt/set/thru)
Guitar fretboard material
Guitar neck length
Pots in the guitar
Guitar overall build quality
Amp in general
Amp tubes
Amp volume
Cabinet size
Cab speaker(s)
Cab wood material
Cab overall build (quality and interior/exterior structure)
Strings
Cords
Pedals / effects

All these effect tone. Some a lot, some minimally. Unfortunately you really gotta first figure out what tone it is you're after, narrow down to a set number of pups made for that tone and try them. Tone chasing is very expensive .... Believe me
#9
Honestly, I mostly base mine on either word of mouth or sometimes if the pickup is in a similar guitar to mine and I have heard/prefer that sound.


Like in my LPs, most of the pickups I use in them have been pickups people have already tried out in LPs and were happy with. Things like Dimarzio PAF pros, or the 36th Anniversary or just lower output, alnico loaded humbucker pickups in general tend to work for the sounds I want out of that particular guitar. The only thing I took a chance on was a Stew Mac Parsons St. HB but even those were intended to sound similar to a PAF type pickup so I wasn't going in completely clueless.
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Quote by JustRooster
I incurred the wrath of the Association of White Knights. Specifically the Parent's Basement branch of service.
#10
I think it would be cool to put pickups in my Les Pauls to make them sound better, but I have no faith that spending £200+ (per guitar) and doing some soldering is going to make more of an improvement than (for example) a single boost pedal for all of my guitars.
#11
There's a good chance it won't It's hard to say what is going to make the difference for each person. Personally, I tend to replace pickups in a lot of my guitars, but then again I honestly enjoy experimenting with different sounds.
I'm just a kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer.
#12
dementiacaptain How do you pick the ones you put in? How much difference do you find they make?

dspellman The only pickups I've bought separately were a humbucker and a humbucker-sized P90 to replace the singlecoils in my Squier Strat, so I can't compare them to the original pickups, and I can't compare Strat tones to LP tones.

To be honest, I think it's just GAS making me look at them, and I'm sure my 490s will be fine. For the price of two pairs of SDs, I could probably buy a decent guitar or amp second-hand.
#13
Quote by luke.g.henderso
dementiacaptain How do you pick the ones you put in? How much difference do you find they make?



As I mentioned earlier, kind of blind faith. I read up, talk to folks, sometimes I'll talk to a manufacturer, but honestly it isn't something that you can usually get an objective idea about.

As far as how much difference, again, it's hard to say. If it takes my tone from "just not quite there" to perfect, then I'd say that's a big difference, but in reality I may be the only one (even among my guitar playing friends!) who notices.

Pickups to me are one of those response things more than general sound. When I hit the strings, do I want a big powerful "WHOOMPH" or am I looking for something more sharp, precise like a fine-edged blade? Do I want to be able to sink my teeth into my licks, or do I want them to be more brittle?

Pickups can be THE thing that takes your tone where you want to go, but they can also be insignificant to your sound.
I'm just a kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer.
#14
I was thinking about getting something a little bit hotter, with a little more crisp crunch. But I can probably get that by boosting the signal into my amp wih pedals?
#15
Think of a pickup like a speaker in a way. The sounds going into the speakers are produced by the amp and that is mostly responsible for the tone you hear. That being said, each guitar speaker colors your tone in different ways so your amp plugged into a V30 cabinet might not sound quite the same as it running into a G12 cab. Some of those differences are more subtle, but once you start getting to the point where you feel "well my tone is 99 percent of the way there but something is missing" or "I really like the sound of my bridge pickup but my neck pickup is too dark and I want a sound that cuts through more without affecting the bridge sound I like" or "I need something hotter and I'm already goosing the front of my amp with a ton of gain and I don't want all the extra hiss and noise that goes with it" then changing pickups makes a lot more sense.


It's not a big change in tone (which is why I tend to recommend people to fix up their amps first if they want drastic changes) but it's something to look at when you're looking at fine-tuning your overall tone. So yeah, I get what you're saying but IMO pickups do make a difference. Even if it's slight.
Quote by Axelfox
my mom and i went to a furry con and on the second day she said she didn't come and pay money to go see dumb shit.


Quote by JustRooster
I incurred the wrath of the Association of White Knights. Specifically the Parent's Basement branch of service.
#16
Quote by luke.g.henderso
I think it would be cool to put pickups in my Les Pauls to make them sound better, but I have no faith that spending £200+ (per guitar) and doing some soldering is going to make more of an improvement than (for example) a single boost pedal for all of my guitars.

Like dementiacaptain said, it might not.

OTOH, the time & money I did invest in pickups has been well spent, IMHO.

The one thing. WOULDN'T do if contemplating a pickup swap is aiming for a middle ground. Don't spend money on a pickup considered to be only marginally better that what you're replacing. Odds are good you won't detect any improvement at all.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!


alhaq369
It is very impotent to success a business.
#17
Quote by luke.g.henderso
I was thinking about getting something a little bit hotter, with a little more crisp crunch. But I can probably get that by boosting the signal into my amp wih pedals?


If you aren't already running a Tubescreamer-like boost into the front of your amp, then I would think that this would yield the most obvious results, but it is a question of degrees. Sometimes a pickup is just the right amount of extra juice, sometimes that subtle EQ change is just what you need. If you want a guaranteed change, I'd go boost.
I'm just a kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer.
#18
Quote by dspellman
There are three things you do NOT want to rely on for selecting pickups:

  • Marketing (including advertising, endorsements, rig rundowns, forum threads)
  • YouTube videos/SoundCloud files/recordings (particularly fully produced ones)
  • Cost (expensive pickups are not better than cheap ones)


Most people (something north of 95%) never change their pickups. An aftermarket pickup is not an upgrade (ever). It's a sidegrade. You're not adding to the capabilities of the guitar. You *may* change the way it sounds.

One of the other forums recently compared a set of $25 (the pair!) Chinese pickups to a pair of very popular $150-200 pickups. They did evaluative listening tests, then took the things apart. The short of it is, the Chinese did a spot-on duplication of the $150-200 pickups in every particular, right down to magnet type and strength. Bear in mind that this $25 pair of pickups was being sold for $25 at a profit. The expensive spread famously claims to make all of their pickups in the USA.

I've changed pickups on just a couple of my guitars, and what I selected to replace them were generally not from highly advertised aftermarket sources.
I'd have to strongly disagree with this. I have three guitars which were practically unplayable with the stock pups. My Squier had Duncan Designed P90's which I replaced with Rio Grande, An LTD which I swapped out the stock pups with Railhammer Billy Corgins and a Schecter that I swapped out the pups for Vintage Vibe HB sized P90's. All three of those guitars I now take onto stage. No way I'd have done that with the stock pups. Sometimes a pup swap is a major upgrade. It all depends on your starting point.
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
#19
If only the companies had some kind of test-drive system, where you could put down a deposit and have the use of pickups for a set amount of time, then return them. You might have to be on a waiting list until the pickups you wanted to try were free, and the test-drive sets would probably have to be retired and replaced every so often, but more people might try them out.
#20
The most impressive pups that I own are the Vintage Vibe ones. Email Peter and tell him what you are looking for. I am sure that he will deliver what you need.
info@vintagevibeguitars.com
Gilchrist custom
Yamaha SBG500
Telecasters
Randall RM100 & RM20
Marshall JTM45 clone
Marshall JCM900 4102 (modded)
Marshall 18W clone
Fender 5F1 Champ clone
Atomic Amplifire
Marshall 1960A
Boss GT-100


Cathbard Amplification
My band
Last edited by Cathbard at Oct 21, 2016,
#21
Quote by luke.g.henderso
If only the companies had some kind of test-drive system, where you could put down a deposit and have the use of pickups for a set amount of time, then return them. You might have to be on a waiting list until the pickups you wanted to try were free, and the test-drive sets would probably have to be retired and replaced every so often, but more people might try them out.


dimarzio has a one swap policy. if you get them and don't like them within so many days you can send them back and you get a pair of your choosing.

i must say i haven't done it before.

as far as what to go with, educate yourself best you can and take a shot.
WTLT 2014 GG&A

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alright "king of the guitar forum"


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nope i am "GOD of the guitar forum" i think that fits me better.


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youre just being a jerk man.


***"What Trashed Hoards"*** (updated 2016-11-27)
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#22
We decide by flipping a whole hell of a lot of coins.

Seriously; as others have said, you can't just try out replacement pickups because there are so many of them. Plus, they have to be wired into a guitar in order to try them out, and even then, they give you an idea of how they will sound. The only way to discover how they sound in your guitar is to buy them, wire them in, and play. This is simply not feasible unless you have a carload of cash and a lot of spare time on your hands.

Most people ask about them on forums like this one, and they pay attention to "who plays what" segments of interviews with musicians. That's about your best bet. You can narrow down the list by deciding first what you don't want in a pickup, and then discount all pickups of that type from you search. But in the end, it really is a crap shoot.
"Drinking is a skill and should be recognized as such!"

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#23
i also recommending giving the pickup company a call or shoot them an email. i have done that a few times and feel like i was well guided by dimarzio and seymour duncan.
WTLT 2014 GG&A

Quote by andersondb7
alright "king of the guitar forum"


Quote by trashedlostfdup
nope i am "GOD of the guitar forum" i think that fits me better.


Quote by andersondb7
youre just being a jerk man.


***"What Trashed Hoards"*** (updated 2016-11-27)
Resentments and Rambling from a Guitar Junkie
---> http://trashedengineering.blogspot.com/
#24
one other thing is that don't focus too much on output. too much isn't always a good thing. a good balance is more important.

take the X2N for example. i bought it when i was 14 because it was the highest output pickup i could find. i hated the fucking thing. it went through three or four guitars before i got rid of it. having said that, the X2N is an extreme. i find medium to medium high work best for me.
WTLT 2014 GG&A

Quote by andersondb7
alright "king of the guitar forum"


Quote by trashedlostfdup
nope i am "GOD of the guitar forum" i think that fits me better.


Quote by andersondb7
youre just being a jerk man.


***"What Trashed Hoards"*** (updated 2016-11-27)
Resentments and Rambling from a Guitar Junkie
---> http://trashedengineering.blogspot.com/
#25
Quote by trashedlostfdup
dimarzio has a one swap policy. if you get them and don't like them within so many days you can send them back and you get a pair of your choosing.


Really? That's awesome.

Quote by FatalGear41
We decide by flipping a whole hell of a lot of coins.

But in the end, it really is a crap shoot.


Thanks. I think that, ultimately, the difference in tone won't justify the expense and effort, for me personally.
#26
http://www.dimarzio.com/faq#55/70/7594

Exchange policy, SD I think also has one.

I've gone to Guitar Center and told the sales guy I'm experimenting, he was happy to oblige. One guitar was the 3rd pickup that was the charm.
#27
I took the blind faith approach (and recommendation) and got a hold of MJS Custom Pickups. The guy there (Smitty) spent like 45 minutes with me on the phone to understand the sound I was looking for before making recommendations. They're the best pickups I've ever owned. I highly recommend. Prices are very reasonable for custom pickups (remember, the prices on the site are in Canadian dollars).
#29
Quote by luke.g.henderso
Unfortunately, the exchange policy is US-only (I'm in the UK).


bummer. i tried.
WTLT 2014 GG&A

Quote by andersondb7
alright "king of the guitar forum"


Quote by trashedlostfdup
nope i am "GOD of the guitar forum" i think that fits me better.


Quote by andersondb7
youre just being a jerk man.


***"What Trashed Hoards"*** (updated 2016-11-27)
Resentments and Rambling from a Guitar Junkie
---> http://trashedengineering.blogspot.com/
#31
luke.g.henderso

You have to see if your local retailer has one, then. Many authorized SD dealers outside the US do.
Dave @ Seymour Duncan
#32
luke.g.henderso, try one of the local makers. I've got pickups from both Bareknuckle and The Creamery, and both sets are killer.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!


alhaq369
It is very impotent to success a business.
#33
I've had a look at Bareknuckle, Tonerider, and Wilkinson from UK companies. The BKP Nailbomb sounds promising, but a bridge pickup costs about as much as a Custom/ '59 set would be (which is what I looked at as a possible pairing). Toneriders look interesting, and cheap, but I wonder if they'd be an improvement over 490s. The JHS site doesn't give me enough info to go on. The Creamery ones look very interesting though.
#34
An aftermarket pickup is not an upgrade (ever). It's a sidegrade.


This is true only insofar as the used market is concerned.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!


alhaq369
It is very impotent to success a business.
#35
luke.g.henderso

I just swapped some stock Wilkinsons for some Bareknuckles in a Fret-King Esprit 3. I liked the Wilkinsons, but they didn't quite stand up to similar pickups in some of my other guitars. I made the swap not knowing the price differential, which I later learned was quite large. BKPs cost several times more.

Yet not knowing the relative prices, the quality difference was night & day. They may be better than the non-Wilkinson pickups that inspired me to make the swap in the first place.

The Wilkinsons would be an excellent choice for someone combatting sub-par pups, but the BKPs are in a whole other category.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!


alhaq369
It is very impotent to success a business.
#36
I think if I had cheap pickups in my Les Pauls, I would jump in, but 490s should be pretty decent, right? The only thing I'd want is maybe a little bit more punch early in the signal chain, but I could maybe get that with a boost pedal/ Tubescreamer (I have a TS5 I picked up cheap, but I was impressed with the TS Mini in a few shootout videos).
#37
They're probably all right, all things considered, but here I have to admit my personal prejudice in this area. If I'm looking for new pickups, I'm NOT looking at big companies known more for making guitars. I'll look at pickup making specialists. Or at small companies that do both (like Suhr).

I just get the feeling- possibly dead wrong- that I can get better pickups $ for $ from the specialist builders.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!


alhaq369
It is very impotent to success a business.
#38
Quote by dannyalcatraz
I just get the feeling- possibly dead wrong- that I can get better pickups $ for $ from the specialist builders.


I'm certain that is true, and if I was getting a guitar built from the ground up, I'd go with pickups from a specialist. But as I've already paid for the Gibsons, I'd be paying twice.

Toneriders seem to be kind of a British counterpart to GFS/ Dragonfire, designed in the West and built in China; does anyone know how they hold up?
#39
490s are definitely decent. Some have their gripes with them, I never had a problem beyond personal preference with them. Given what you've said here, I'm thinking you'd be better suited with a boost.
I'm just a kickin' and a gougin' in the mud and the blood and the beer.
#40
I always make it a point of trying various guitars every chance I get and that at times gives me access to a variety of pickups as well. it is always a crap shoot as you never know how a pickup will sound in your guitar. I do like educated guesses though. vids etc can give you an idea of what they "could" sound like but as mentioned it's through the guitar used and the rig played on so who knows if it will sound the same for you.
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