Would you get More Clean Headroom With High Output Pickups, Low Output Pickups, or Does it Even Matter?

Poll: Which would have the best headroom?
Poll Options
View poll results: Which would have the best headroom?
Low Output Pickups/Volume Turned Down
8 57%
High Output Pickups/or With Boost
1 7%
Equal Headroom
5 36%
Voters: 14.
Page 1 of 2
#1
I'm just curious about this, since I'm going to be Claptonizing my Strat, and I want to know if I would get more (good), less (ride the volume knob more), or weather it won't affect it at all.
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#2
Headroom is more a function of your amp than your pickups, as I understand.
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#3
head room is way more about the amp. all the pickups can do is give a stronger signal (or weaker) to the front end of the amp. while this may have a slight effect on when breakup (ie distortion) occurs headroom is more about the volume an amp can produce before it starts to distort. this is whjy higher wattage usually translate into higher headroom. 
#5
Quote by monwobobbo
oh and by Claptonizing what exactly are you doing? 


Silent single coils (I'm using Zexcoils) and the Fender Active Mid Boost. Maybe later in the future a neck replacement, and definitely later Fender locking tuners.
Just a teenage girl who loves playing guitar way too much, if that's even possible.

I live for my girlfriend. <3
#6
Quote by gogiregion
Silent single coils (I'm using Zexcoils) and the Fender Active Mid Boost. Maybe later in the future a neck replacement, and definitely later Fender locking tuners.

ok that would be modern Clapton. just making sure. 
#7
Quote by monwobobbo
ok that would be modern Clapton. just making sure. 


Yeah, I'm one of those people that has a bit strange of tastes and prefers the tone of a Clapton Strat over a humbucker equipped guitar.
Just a teenage girl who loves playing guitar way too much, if that's even possible.

I live for my girlfriend. <3
#9
Quote by monwobobbo
gogiregion  others like it to not strange. 


The majority doesn't. There's other things I like that other don't though. I mean, I bought a Vox Night Train, because I think it sounds great when a ton of people out there hate it. Same with a Squier Vintage Modified Strat. I'm probably missing some things.

I'm fine with it being strange. If people don't buy it, then it makes my gear unique.
Just a teenage girl who loves playing guitar way too much, if that's even possible.

I live for my girlfriend. <3
#10
Low output pickups to make sure the input doesn't distort and then a big wattage amp to make sure the power section doesn't distort.
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#11
Quote by gogiregion
The majority doesn't. There's other things I like that other don't though. I mean, I bought a Vox Night Train, because I think it sounds great when a ton of people out there hate it. Same with a Squier Vintage Modified Strat. I'm probably missing some things.

I'm fine with it being strange. If people don't buy it, then it makes my gear unique.

choices are up to you doesn't matter what others say as long as it works for you. i play a BC Rich Eagle in place of a Les Paul as i just don't get along playing wise on a LP. works for me. if you look at the gear that say any of the people who responded to this post i'm sure you'll notice that for the most part its all different. some of us may have a common item or two but not the whole setup. all about what works for you. 
#12
Quote by AcousticMirror
Low output pickups to make sure the input doesn't distort and then a big wattage amp to make sure the power section doesn't distort.


That's what l thought. When I turned the volume pot down vs turning the gain knob down, I thought the volume pot won by a tiny bit.
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#13
Quote by AcousticMirror
Low output pickups to make sure the input doesn't distort and then a big wattage amp to make sure the power section doesn't distort.


yeah. while obviously the amp is going to affect it a lot, everything else being equal, you'll usually get more clean headroom with lower output pickups.
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#14
Quote by Dave_Mc
yeah. while obviously the amp is going to affect it a lot, everything else being equal, you'll usually get more clean headroom with lower output pickups.


I could do the thing where I use max volume and max gain (but on girth use 12:00, because even 12 can do thrash just fine, and I'm using a Strat with 70's style pickups), and use the volume knob to clean it up. It worked great with my Night Train when I cranked it. It gave me a nice slight break-up sound for solos and good cleans on lower pot values when on bright.
Just a teenage girl who loves playing guitar way too much, if that's even possible.

I live for my girlfriend. <3
#15
I think it kinda balances itself out really, with regard to pickup output/headroom.

I mean, higher output pickups have more potential to push the amp's circuitry into distortion more easily, but you'll most likely find that, in terms of physical volume output from the speaker (as opposed to where the volume/gain knobs are set), the threshold where distortion occurs is the same regardless of what pickups you're using. You'll just need less volume/gain dialed in to get to that same threshold, with higher output pickups.
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#16
^^ Yeah if you're willing to use your guitar's volume knob it becomes a lot less critical, as you can (more or less) get to the same place a bunch of different ways. That being said, it often sounds at least a bit different... high output pickups normally have a different tone from lower output pickups, plus turning down the guitar's volume also affects how the thing sounds as well.

^ Yeah. Again, much like above, though, it's rarely exactly the same, either. Lower output pickups with the gain turned up rarely sound the same as higher output pickups with the gain turned down, and that's assuming that the amp can get there with both sets of pickups- not always the case. A lower gain amp might need the higher output pickups to get enough gain, or a vintage-style amp with no master volume might not have enough clean headroom to stay clean with higher output pickups, for example.
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Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?
#17
Blompcube and Dave_Mc have it, essentially. The headroom is a property of the amp, or really of the various devices - pedals, amps, speakers - between the guitar and your ear, and your guitar will not have an effect on the overall level at which the signal begins to distort. However, the different properties of different pickups, and of different gain stages, will have an impact on what kind of sound you're actually getting once the signal is at such a level and may affect the perceived volume at which breakup occurs. As a rule, volume and gain knobs aren't just going to have a neutral "flat" impact only on volume, nor are lower-output pickups typically going to have the same EQ as higher-output ones, so a lower-output pickup boosted to the same level will generally not sound the same.

From an intuitive or "practical" point of view, I guess you could argue that lower-output pickups allow "more headroom", in that if you're not hitting the preamp with enough signal to cause distortion there, you can amplify the signal a lot more in terms of volume in the power amp without getting any distortion. The extent to which that's practical to manipulate, however, depends on the controls your amp has, and it's not like you can't just turn down the volume on the guitar when you're using a higher-output pickup.
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#18
Quote by Dave_Mc
^^ Yeah if you're willing to use your guitar's volume knob it becomes a lot less critical, as you can (more or less) get to the same place a bunch of different ways. That being said, it often sounds at least a bit different... high output pickups normally have a different tone from lower output pickups, plus turning down the guitar's volume also affects how the thing sounds as well.

^ Yeah. Again, much like above, though, it's rarely exactly the same, either. Lower output pickups with the gain turned up rarely sound the same as higher output pickups with the gain turned down, and that's assuming that the amp can get there with both sets of pickups- not always the case. A lower gain amp might need the higher output pickups to get enough gain, or a vintage-style amp with no master volume might not have enough clean headroom to stay clean with higher output pickups, for example.


well they don't most times because people don't actually set up their guitars properly to take advantage of high output pickups. You need a higher value volume pot to maintain the correct input impedance.
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#19
Yeah as said "headroom" is more about the amp however higher output pickups will start to break up sooner than vintage voiced.Hence why so many people who want a nice clean sound change those stock mim Strat pups asap.
#20
Quote by AcousticMirror
well they don't most times because people don't actually set up their guitars properly to take advantage of high output pickups. You need a higher value volume pot to maintain the correct input impedance.


yeah that may well be true. will that fix the darkness that hotter pickups tend to have or will it also affect the rest of the EQ? Hotter pickups often have a different EQ in addition to the darkness thing. (Genuine question, I honestly don't know )
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Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?
#21
Quote by Dave_Mc
yeah that may well be true. will that fix the darkness that hotter pickups tend to have or will it also affect the rest of the EQ? Hotter pickups often have a different EQ in addition to the darkness thing. (Genuine question, I honestly don't know )


Yes, Using a 1 meg pot will noticeably increase your high end.
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#22
oh yeah absolutely, i realise that, I mean the rest of the eq- hotter pickups are often a lot middier too, aren't they? or is that just a trick of the ear?
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Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?
#23
Quote by Dave_Mc
oh yeah absolutely, i realise that, I mean the rest of the eq- hotter pickups are often a lot middier too, aren't they? or is that just a trick of the ear?


It's not really going to effect the rest of the eq...but if a pickup is darker without effecting the midrange it's going to sound middier even if it's not really.
Jumping on dat gear sig train.
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#24
Quote by AcousticMirror
It's not really going to effect the rest of the eq...but if a pickup is darker without effecting the midrange it's going to sound middier even if it's not really.


Now I'm curious. What makes things like overwound single coils fatter? Is that just an illusion?

What about pickups like the hotrails that are pretty much just all mids? Is that all a lie?
Just a teenage girl who loves playing guitar way too much, if that's even possible.

I live for my girlfriend. <3
#25
Overwinding does more than just add output, it also lowers the resonant peak of the pickup. So generally, and all other things being equal, putting more windings on a pickup will make it fatter and hotter at the same time. It's not an illusion, and even if it were I don't see how that would change anything. 

There are a lot of other factors that can change how the pickup sounds, and there are certainly bright and thin pickups with high output, but overwinding a single coil will change its voice beyond just more output. I'm not sure what the "lies" question about the hotrails means, the pickup either sounds a certain way or it doesn't. I don't know that there's any misleading going on. Certainly the hotrails is a very middy pickup. 
#26
Quote by Roc8995
Overwinding does more than just add output, it also lowers the resonant peak of the pickup. So generally, and all other things being equal, putting more windings on a pickup will make it fatter and hotter at the same time. It's not an illusion, and even if it were I don't see how that would change anything. 

There are a lot of other factors that can change how the pickup sounds, and there are certainly bright and thin pickups with high output, but overwinding a single coil will change its voice beyond just more output. I'm not sure what the "lies" question about the hotrails means, the pickup either sounds a certain way or it doesn't. I don't know that there's any misleading going on. Certainly the hotrails is a very middy pickup. 


The "lies" question was asking if it was actually true if it really was all mids.

I thought that the output increased mids, but AcousticMirror said something that I interpreted as it just being an illusion that mids are increased with output.
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#27
Output increases output. If you simultaneously lower the resonant peak or reduce treble, the result is more mids or comparatively more mids.

Whether there's actually more mids or just less of everything else is functionally similar. That was the point. There's no lie or illusion, it's just two roads to the same town.

There are differences but it doesn't make one middy real and one fake.
#28
AcousticMirror 

That was pretty much what I was thinking. Pedal steelers use fairly low output pickups and comparatively big amps to get clean headroom. Also, it my case, I would favour a low output pickup with a high resonance peak and high harmonic content, because I don't want a "middy" tone - a bigger amp, or better yet, PA reinforcement, is the way to go if I want loud and clean.
#29
Quote by Roc8995
Output increases output. If you simultaneously lower the resonant peak or reduce treble, the result is more mids or comparatively more mids.

Whether there's actually more mids or just less of everything else is functionally similar. That was the point. There's no lie or illusion, it's just two roads to the same town.

There are differences but it doesn't make one middy real and one fake.


If it jist lowered trebble, wouldn't it geta lot of bass? I guess maybe it's the compression? IDK.
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I live for my girlfriend. <3
#30
Quote by gogiregion
If it jist lowered trebble, wouldn't it geta lot of bass?
Well yeah, relatively speaking. More bass and mids as a proportion of the whole. In practice, though, a the relationship between a pickup and tone control (the tone control's capacitance and the pickup's inductance) gives you a pretty sharp roll-off at a given frequency, with a resonant peak immediately behind it. The specifics are a bit messy and I have only a shaky understanding of reactance - especially when both kinds are present so you have to pay attention to the imaginary numbers, which I don't understand at all - so I don't want to be the one to explain it, but the important part is that you're not dealing with a straight line, nor even a basic exponential curve, but generally a steep roll-off of frequencies after a given point. This is just ripped from a Gibson article making excuses for their expensive capacitors, but it's pretty much like this:

Turning down the tone knob or using a lower-resistance potentiometer will cut the frequencies above that resonant peak, but will also, as far as I'm aware, boost the frequencies at and around that peak, so even if you lose some of the upper mids with that treble, any mids below that peak will not be lost and any mids close to that peak will be boosted, compensating for it. The peak itself depends on the inductance of the pickup and the capacitance of the capacitor in the tone control, as does the roll-off after it, so equally you can have the peak way into the bass range or way into the treble range such that its effect happens in a totally different range and may give you a disproportionate amount of bass instead of more mids, or potentially cut upper treble frequencies in favour of lower ones, but typically of course the capacitor and pot values are chosen such that the tone control is usable (whether guitarists know it's there or not), and so that the sound with it on 10 is suitably bright. Hence the discussion of increasing the pot value to accommodate higher-output pickups. I think possibly that's to do with the inductance and/or DC resistance of the pickup but frankly at this point I think I've reached the very precipice of my understanding of this so I'd prefer to quit while I'm still just over 50% confident in what I'm saying.
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#31
Out of my fleet , my single coil guitars have much better clean head room than my humbucker guitars , the buckers get dirty much quicker than the single coils
#32
Quote by K33nbl4d3
Well yeah, relatively speaking. More bass and mids as a proportion of the whole. In practice, though, a the relationship between a pickup and tone control (the tone control's capacitance and the pickup's inductance) gives you a pretty sharp roll-off at a given frequency, with a resonant peak immediately behind it. The specifics are a bit messy and I have only a shaky understanding of reactance - especially when both kinds are present so you have to pay attention to the imaginary numbers, which I don't understand at all - so I don't want to be the one to explain it, but the important part is that you're not dealing with a straight line, nor even a basic exponential curve, but generally a steep roll-off of frequencies after a given point. This is just ripped from a Gibson article making excuses for their expensive capacitors, but it's pretty much like this:

Turning down the tone knob or using a lower-resistance potentiometer will cut the frequencies above that resonant peak, but will also, as far as I'm aware, boost the frequencies at and around that peak, so even if you lose some of the upper mids with that treble, any mids below that peak will not be lost and any mids close to that peak will be boosted, compensating for it. The peak itself depends on the inductance of the pickup and the capacitance of the capacitor in the tone control, as does the roll-off after it, so equally you can have the peak way into the bass range or way into the treble range such that its effect happens in a totally different range and may give you a disproportionate amount of bass instead of more mids, or potentially cut upper treble frequencies in favour of lower ones, but typically of course the capacitor and pot values are chosen such that the tone control is usable (whether guitarists know it's there or not), and so that the sound with it on 10 is suitably bright. Hence the discussion of increasing the pot value to accommodate higher-output pickups. I think possibly that's to do with the inductance and/or DC resistance of the pickup but frankly at this point I think I've reached the very precipice of my understanding of this so I'd prefer to quit while I'm still just over 50% confident in what I'm saying.


I forgot about the boost at the resonant peak. That makes complete sense now! Thank you!

BTW, that wasn't sarcasm, I legitimately understand electrical engineering pretty well. I've studied it in my free time, and my cousin is an EE major, and has tought me a lot of the stuff that he learned in class, because he knows that I'll understand it, even when it involves Diff Eq, because I'm a strange teenager with no life.

And the imaginary numbers actually make it much simpler, but if I'm thinking of the right thing, it's irrelevant to this specific discussion and has to do with phase changes which are a part of impedance (which is where the Diff Eq comes in and imaginary numbers allow you to use just basic algebra and trigonometry instead of complex Diff Eq that requires a computer).
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#33
Quote by Fumble fingers
Out of my fleet , my single coil guitars have much better clean head room than my humbucker guitars , the buckers get dirty much quicker than the single coils

Yes, I'm surprised so many people are saying there's no difference in headroom. One of the primary purposes of high output pickups is to drive the preamp into distortion. 

If we're just talking about vintage output single coils, with one 5% overwound, probably not much difference in headroom. But if, as in the poll, we're talking about seriously high output humbuckers or a boost, I think it should be pretty obvious that those are going to lower headroom because that is precisely what they are designed to do. Whether or not the lowered headroom means anything depends a lot on the amp and setup (it's usually easy enough to prevent preamp distortion), but I am really shocked at how many people think these devices that are made specifically to lower headroom are not going to do that. 

I suspect that a lot of those people maybe mean that it doesn't matter much, which I'd agree with, but I think it's incorrect to say that there's no headroom difference. The question might be a bit misguided, since it's easy to compensate for the lower headroom, but it still deserves an accurate explanation. 
#35
gogiregion
Sure, I went into that bit because I vaguely remembered you saying something about an interest in physics.

Roc8995
I think possibly we're using the same language for different things here? I think of headroom (perhaps wrongly?) as a property describing the level at which a given gain stage will distort. Higher-output pickups and boosts do not, as far as I know, affect that, but do, of course, give you a signal closer to that volume. As I said in my first post in this thread, if you don't hit breakup level in the preamp (or an earlier gain stage) you can amplify it substantially more in the power amp without distortion.

Is it possible that we're understanding the same term differently (and I fully accept that my understanding could simply be wrong) here or am I still off the mark?
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Last edited by K33nbl4d3 at Jul 5, 2017,
#36
^ Yeah I understood what you meant, anyway. I'd assume colin did too and was talking about other people in the thread. it definitely is slightly perplexing that it took AcousticMirror* to right the ship, as it were.

(*Just to clarify what I mean, he definitely knows his stuff but he usually posts jokier posts. Er... a bit like me. )

Quote by AcousticMirror
It's not really going to effect the rest of the eq...but if a pickup is darker without effecting the midrange it's going to sound middier even if it's not really.


yeah that's sort of what I was getting at with the "trick of the ear" thing I posted.

So "maybe" is the answer, then?

Quote by Roc8995
Yes, I'm surprised so many people are saying there's no difference in headroom. One of the primary purposes of high output pickups is to drive the preamp into distortion.

If we're just talking about vintage output single coils, with one 5% overwound, probably not much difference in headroom. But if, as in the poll, we're talking about seriously high output humbuckers or a boost, I think it should be pretty obvious that those are going to lower headroom because that is precisely what they are designed to do. Whether or not the lowered headroom means anything depends a lot on the amp and setup (it's usually easy enough to prevent preamp distortion), but I am really shocked at how many people think these devices that are made specifically to lower headroom are not going to do that.

I suspect that a lot of those people maybe mean that it doesn't matter much, which I'd agree with, but I think it's incorrect to say that there's no headroom difference. The question might be a bit misguided, since it's easy to compensate for the lower headroom, but it still deserves an accurate explanation.


Yeah I was a bit bewildered by it as well. If I plug a single coil guitar (especially one with vintage output) into any of my amps at the same settings as my higher output pickup guitars, the difference is pretty stark. I wouldn't even say it's a small difference. Yes, you can compensate, at least to a certain extent- but as I said above, that compensation is dependent on the rest of your gear having enough range in their controls to allow for that level of compensation. For example, if you have a 6505 then you may well still be able to get a brutal tone with a vintage-spec strat. If you have a JCM800 or similar and can get a brootal tone with your EMG-loaded superstrat, it's not guaranteed that you'll be able to get there with that vintage spec strat.

I put it down to internet forum not seeing the forest for the trees syndrome. we can talk all day about all these minuscule things which might or might not affect things, but if you haven't grasped the point of different pickup outputs...
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Quote by K33nbl4d3
I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

Quote by K33nbl4d3
Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

Quote by T00DEEPBLUE
Et tu, br00tz?
Last edited by Dave_Mc at Jul 5, 2017,
#37
Yes, I think defined simply headroom is "how quickly distortion happens" at least in this case where it's assumed that the amps are identical.

A hotter signal to the preamp will almost invariably cause it to overdrive sooner which to me is a reduction in headroom. I guess you could argue that it's simply "earlier distortion" and not alteration of headroom because the amp itself isn't changing its ability to take a hotter signal, but as a whole system (can't play an amp without a guitar) I'd say that's synonymous with lower headroom.
#38
I dunno. My understanding is headroom is a function of the amp. Specifically how much volume it can produce before distorting the clean signal. While hotter pickups change the equation a bit it's note a huge factor.
#39
Dave_Mc

you think it's easy being a committed professional troll. well it's not.

what colin said made me realize that we're thinking about this all wrong though.

really have to separate between input headroom and power amp headroom.

In terms of the power amp...if you have a non-master volume amp...although this might not actually matter...

the pickups have no effect on headroom at all. The amp is going to break up at the exact same volume regardless because the amp always needs exactly the same amount of voltage before the power tubes overdrive.

Now you might think you have more headroom with lower output pickups because you can turn the volume knob up higher before distortion happens. The pi needs to amplify more signal to reach the threshold. The voltage requirement can't change.

So clearly if you think yo have more headroom just because you can turn your volume higher you are an idiot. also i'm an idiot because i didn't think it through clearly the first time.

In terms of the pre-amp if you take the guitars volume out of the equation then lower output pickups will give you more perceived headroom because they cannot cause the input stage to distort without a boost. But the same logic applies because the distortion threshold for the next stage cannot be altered. You can turn the knob more but the stage will always distort when it hits the input voltage threshold.

so actually it doesn't really matter.
Jumping on dat gear sig train.
PRS Hollowbody II / BKP Warpigs
Strandberg OS6T / BKP Aftermath
Strandberg OS7 / Lace Poopsticks
Skervesen Raptor 7FF / BKP Warpigs
Skervesen Raptor 6 NTB / BKP Juggernauts
Hapas Sludge 7 FF / Hapas Leviathan
Anderson Baritom / Motorcity Nuke BKP Sinner Anderson H2+
Warmoth Baritone / BKP Piledriver
Ibanez Rg2120x / BKP Nailbomb

Blackstar ID:Core Beam
Last edited by AcousticMirror at Jul 5, 2017,
#40
Quote by Roc8995
Yes, I think defined simply headroom is "how quickly distortion happens" at least in this case where it's assumed that the amps are identical.

A hotter signal to the preamp will almost invariably cause it to overdrive sooner which to me is a reduction in headroom. I guess you could argue that it's simply "earlier distortion" and not alteration of headroom because the amp itself isn't changing its ability to take a hotter signal, but as a whole system (can't play an amp without a guitar) I'd say that's synonymous with lower headroom.
Quote by monwobobbo
I dunno. My understanding is headroom is a function of the amp. Specifically how much volume it can produce before distorting the clean signal. While hotter pickups change the equation a bit it's note a huge factor.
Yeah, I understand the term as the latter of these definitions, so presumably that's where much of the apparent differing opinion in this thread arises.
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I'm a moron tho apparently and everyone should listen to you oh wise pretentious one
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