Guitar and pickups form an inextricable pair, working in unison to produce that distinct sound we all adore. Pickups consist of magnets and coils of wire arranged around them; their designs and setup can add different qualities that impact its performance and tone.
The type of magnetic material (alnico, ceramic or neodymium) utilized in magnets also plays an integral part in their sound production; alnico 5 being most favored among high gain guitars.
The coil is the cornerstone of any pickup’s sound. Composed of fine copper wire wrapped thousands of times around a bobbin, it defines how a pickup sounds by its number of turns, tightness or looseness and method of winding; for example, some enthusiasts of vintage-style pickups claim part of their sound is due to randomness in how its coil was wound – not possible with modern production pickups, as their wire is generally guided onto their bobbin by automated processes.
Another critical element in coil winding is the amount of wire used. More wire means more power and louder output from your pickup; therefore single-coil pickups tend to require fewer turns than their humbucker counterparts which typically use twice as much wire.
Note also that a pickup’s coil may be “potted”, or covered in melted wax, to reduce vibrations in its coil windings and microphonic feedback (buzzing sounds created when playing high-gain amp settings). An un-potted coil offers more dynamic range and tonal variation – ideal for playing styles requiring clarity or bite in their tones.
Other elements that influence a pickup’s coil include its physical shape and how the magnet interacts with it, the height and relationship of pole pieces to the coil, as well as their height relative to it – these will all play a part in its resonant peak, one measure of tone that may help determine its brightness or lack thereof; higher values could signal brighter pickups (with some exceptions).
Coil shapes also play an integral part in shaping tone, which explains why different models of pickups use various shapes. For instance, tall, narrow ovals found on Strat pickups tend to sound brighter than wider ovals found on Gibson P-90 pickups due to how well their interactions with magnets affect how their resonant peak rises and falls as string vibration occurs.
Magnets are an integral component of any guitar pickup as they create the magnetic field which pulls on the strings and affects their loudness. Gauss strength measures how strongly this field pulls and thus determines how loud your guitar will sound.
The choice of magnet is also an integral factor. Different magnets offer differing strengths that can have an effect on tone; alnico magnets are commonly found in Gibson humbucker pickups for their warm vintage sound while alnico V magnets produce more aggressive tones suitable for playing heavier music styles.
Ceramic and neodymium magnets are other strong magnet options; the latter being slightly stronger than alnico but not as strong as samarium cobalt magnets. Guitar parts zone pickups featuring these neodymium magnets offer higher output with brighter, cutting tones.
While magnet size and type have a great deal of influence over a guitar pickup’s tone, other factors also have an effect. One is how tightly its coil of wire around its magnet is wound; overwound or underwound coils may result in muffled tones while those machine wound can result in lesser quality output. The coil can either be machine or hand wound with hand winding being typically preferred.
Hand-wound pickups are created by skilled artisans using copper wire wrapped around magnets. This method is considered an art form that can significantly increase quality; with hand-wound models typically having thousands of winds while machine-wound varieties require just hundreds.
One final consideration when purchasing a guitar pickup is its magnet stagger. Closer together magnets create more intense magnetic pull on strings, leading to vibration at different rates that alter how a tone is created by the pickup; too far apart and string vibrations may never convert into electrical signals at all.
Wires used to wind a pickup’s coil can have an enormous impact on its tone in subtle yet substantial ways. Gauge, thickness, purity and insulation all play key roles in how a pickup sounds; Seymour Duncan employs multiple wire types when winding its different models of guitar pickups – from dark chocolate-hued plain enamel insulation wires to bright gold formar insulation for maximum impact on tone.
Resistance to DC current can also have a major influence on a pickup’s sound. When its resistance increases, high frequencies become less responsive and become muffled compared to lower resistance pickups which have more “high end” notes that respond more readily.
Resistance is often the first spec listed when browsing product pages or catalogs for guitar pickups, and can provide an initial indication as to whether or not a pickup will work with your amp. But resistance alone doesn’t define tone: its resonant peak (the point at which its amplitude increases when frequency decreases) should also be taken into account when considering tone.
Rewiring your guitar’s humbuckers to alter their resonant peak can be a complex and risky endeavor; therefore, professional guitar technicians should be given this task. One popular and versatile modification known as Jimmy Page wiring turns two humbuckers into 21 switchable pickups that can be controlled individually for volume and tone controls – an especially effective mod for Les Paul guitars, although applicable to any pair with volume/tone controls.
Design of a guitar pickup can have an immense effect on its tone. There are various designs to choose from, each offering different benefits – some may work best with certain genres while others can be more versatile – which is why it is crucial that you select one according to your individual requirements.
Guitar pickups are an integral component of an acoustic guitar. They allow the natural sound of your strings to come through, and can have an enormous effect on its sound overall. Selecting the ideal pickup can be tricky though; with so many factors to take into account it’s easy to become overwhelmed!
However, there are ways you can make the process simpler. Begin by researching all of the types of pickups available so that you can decide which will best complement your acoustic guitar.
Single-coil pickups are an excellent choice for acoustic guitars. Available in several sizes and adjustable to your personal tastes, these pickups provide ample tone customization possibilities. Dual-coil pickups may also be more suitable for rock music; their more powerful and rich tones may produce the sound you’re after.
An increasingly popular option is a soundhole pickup, providing users with an affordable option for adding electric sound to their acoustic guitar without making permanent modifications to it. Although these pickups do offer lifelike tone reproduction, they should still be considered one option among many.
Transducer pickups, which offer more advanced technology than soundhole pickups, function more like microphones to produce lifelike tones while being less susceptible to feedback than piezo pickups.
DiMarzio is a company known for producing quality guitar pickups that have long been utilized by well-known musicians. Their lineup features signature models designed specifically to meet different genres of music such as metal and blues; some popular examples are Tone Zone and Air Norton models.