Help me understanding pickups

Discussion in 'Pickups, Electronics & General Tech' started by Lindmann, Nov 30, 2017.

  1. Lindmann

    Lindmann SS.org Rectangular

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    Hi fellers

    I haven't been much of an pickup-geek in the past as I was happy with what was in my guitars already.
    But lately I've been reading a little on the web about all the different pickups out there.
    And I came across some phrases that I repeatedly read but didn't quite understand in that context.

    So basically pickups are wire and magets.
    There are differences in matierials, winding count and winding methods.
    Which makes me think that these differences would result in different frequency responses and output levels.
    But there is so much more that it is beeing discussed about like
    • Pickup A compresses more than Pickup B
      How can wound wire compress the signal in its dynamic range? I'm not talking about EMGs here as they feature an amplifier which clips the signal to a small account.
      My assumption would be that a higer-output pickup would make the amp distort more which results in a higher compression which is then mistaken for "the pickup compressing more".
      But one could easily compensate this by rolling back the amp-gain.
    • Pickup A has more attack / bass response / tightness than Pickup B
      How can wound wire be more or less responsive? I would think every magnetic field is equally quick and so is the electrical signal.
      My assumption would be that different frequency responses are mistaken for quick or a slow signal. For example a woofy dull signal might seem slow as the bass is so overbearing. Or a pickup with little bass might sound tight as there is no bass that muddies up the signal

    • Pickup A is more reactive to guitar-pot setting than Pickup B
      Again...how can a pickup deliver a signal, that is more pot-dependent that the signal from another pickup
    • Pickup A has more string differentiation than Pickup B
      As far as I know, the wire is wound across the entire width of the strings. How can the wire create more string differentiation there.
    • Pickup A has more clarity / growl / bite / balls / than Pickup B
      This one clearly refers to a different frequency response, right? If not....how?

    • Pickup A is more sterile than Pickup B
      I understand that a weaker magnetic field like EMGs have or higher/lower output levels could make a difference in how much noise / interferences it might pick up. But is that, what is meant here?
      Or does this again refer to a specific character of frequency responst like:
      "lots of high mids + little bass = sterile?"

    • Pickup A is is more wood-dependent than Pickup B
      I came across this phase often when it comes to EMG pickups. But I don't get it. How would that be possible?
    I know these points might sound a little offensive and skeptical but I do not intent to piss someone off and I don't want to discredit discusstions about pickups. I just want to understand the meaning behind all these phrases.
    Please don't hang me as a heretic / wannabe-myth buster.

    PS: it is obvious that pickup A is waaay better than pickup B ;-)
     
  2. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire 8 string hoarder

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    wire gauge, types of magnets used, thickness of magnet, screw vs slugs vs hex screws vs bolts, how the wire is wrapped around the bobbin, how tight the wiring is to the bobbin. All of those things influence the sound to an extent.
    Higher gauge wiring has higher resistance and allows more of the low end to shine through afaik. The more you wind the wire around the bobbin and depending on the shape (some bobbins are asymmetrical like Elysian's) then the more it attenuates the high end and increases the DCR (generally speaking). From my experience the biggest factor is the magnets.
    I had a black winter neck that I absolutely hated as an ceramic/alnico v (I don't remember which one it was) and then I switched it to an alnico II and really like it now. It really smoothed out the high end and made it a lot more tolerable in my guitar. I did the same thing with the bridge pup taking it from ceramic to alnico 8 and it cleaned it up a little bit more/took out some of the high end. I also put a ceramic magnet into a pegasus and it made it a lot more aggressive feeling with a bit more output (the thickness of the magnet also plays a role in output). Screws/slugs/etc are generally a more subtle change to the sound.
     
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  3. Lindmann

    Lindmann SS.org Rectangular

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    Yeah....that's the part that I do understand.
    I understand that all these factors make a difference and influence the sound (= fequency resoponse).
    I didn't want to state that there ain't any differences.
    But what about all the other stuff I mentioned?
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2017
  4. Beheroth

    Beheroth SS.org Regular

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    I think we just use images like : woody, clear, tight, loose ... because we don't really have a better way to describe it through written and oral communication
     
  5. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire 8 string hoarder

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    Yeah part of the reason people go pickup x is tighter than pickup y, etc. is that you can feel it and there's no adequate way to address it verbally besides that. Those kinds of qualitative descriptions are largely stemming from people interpreting how the pickup and its components react in a given guitar/setup. Once enough people have tried a pickup though, you can begin to collate the qualitative info into something a little more concrete, but it's still not the same as looking at the frequency graph. Like I said in my previous post, all the components influence the sound to some extent and that influence can be manipulated in certain ways if you're trying to obtain a particular sound, like how I smoothed out the high end of the black winter neck by swapping the magnet to an alnico II. Obviously if you're making a whole other pickup from scratch you can further manipulate the base sound through number of winds, etc. If you're really interested in pickups I'd suggest googling how pickups work and reading around, there's a lot of good info out there.
    It'd be cool if people could post frequency graphs of all pickups so you could see exactly where the frequencies emphasized in the pickup and be like hmm I like the bump in 750khz, but don't like the big spike at 1000khz. As far as I know only fishman and cycfi actively build pickups where they can tweak them to that level of detail. Most builders just go by feel and probably have a certain sound in mind/happen to wind something cool from time to time (obviously depends on the builder).
     
  6. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

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    Well pickups are inductors and they aren't perfect electrical components.

    The way that all electrical components work is that whatever you reading you get is only a nominal reading across a very specific reading range.

    A speaker works in very much the same way. You have an 8 ohm speaker but once you hit a bass note or a very high note that same speaker can present itself as almost a dead short or thousands of ohms. Exactly how this happens is going to influence that tonal characteristics of the pickup.

    I'm not too familiar with how magnetics work but difference magnets definitely influence the behavior of the inductor.

    So going over your points...

    Pickup A compresses more than Pickup B
    Yes, the amp gain can be used to compensate for this. However, you have to remember that most of the time the only thing hitting the first input stage or an amp or a pedal is your pickups. When you turn down the gain on an amp you are cutting the signal far downstream of the input. So yes, it is a function of output but it's something that really can only be controlled by the pickups.

    Pickup A has more attack / bass response / tightness than Pickup B
    Well wound wire can be more more or less responsive depending on how it's wound. Every electrical field is not equally quick. In very simple terms. Suppose we have a low E at 330hz and a high E at 82hz. Two pickups that are wound differently can both show 10K on a multimeter. However, one pickup can be behaving at 30k and the second pickup can be behaving at 20k. On the low frequency one pickup can be behaving at 8 ohms and the other one at 100 ohms.

    Pickup A is more reactive to guitar-pot setting than Pickup B
    This happens because the pickup output is in series with the pot resistance and in parallel with the amplifier input resistance. So far example if you have a 500k pot turned down half way you will have 250k in line and 250k to ground and then usually 1 meg in parallel. That circuit is going to have different effects depending on the characteristics of the pickup.

    Pickup A has more string differentiation than Pickup B
    This is again a frequency response issue.

    Pickup A has more clarity / growl / bite / balls / than Pickup B
    Frequency response issue.

    Pickup A is more sterile than Pickup B
    I would actually call this a tone issue? like the frequency response of a pickup can be very good at emphasizes frequencies that aren't pleasing to the ear.

    Pickup A is is more wood-dependent than Pickup B
    Tone wood people are insane. just don't talk to them.
     
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  7. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    It's all frequency response issues, as @diagrammatiks pretty much covered, except, notably, the first and last things.

    Compression is usually something that you get with a boost or an active pickup, not so much from the passive pickup itself. This is more an issue with how the active components boost or cut depending on playing dynamics. For example, an EMG pickup will boost quieter playing more to compensate for the lower signal amplitude, which results in a slight loss of dynamics. As subtle as it might be on a meter or even an oscilloscope, it seems to be very obvious to the player.

    The tone wood thing...it's an issue maybe I shouldn't touch with a 50 foot pole, but I happen to love physics and stuff, so, yeah, some pickups will sound different in one guitar than in another. It has to do with the frequency response interactions. If a piece of timber (not talking about a specific species, just a specific guitar body) has a weird resonance, say, at 66 Hz, then a pickup that has a low frequency dip will mitigate that. If a pickup has a quirky high Q peak at some random frequncy, and the guitar's body tends to suck that frequency out of the strings, mechanically, then the pickup will sound more rounded in that particular guitar body.

    It really pretty simple, but people are so polarized in the tonewood debate that the discussion, once opened up, will attract some weird irrational responses.

    Wood grows on trees. Yes, two trees of the same species are different, but, just like the fruit that grows on a pear tree tastes like pears 99.9% of the time, wood from the same species of tree will apply a similar colour of tone to your sound every time. Except that, with electric guitar, the role of the wood is downplayed. But just how the role of source of sugar is downplayed in sodas, many soda drinkers believe sodas made with cane sugar taste better than sodas made from corn sugar. It's subtle, but as humans, we have a tendency to hone in on subtle things often times.

    Anyway, I think we should all agree that wood can colour tone, by reacting differently to different frequencies, since the pickups will read how the strings vibrate, and the string vibrations transfer into the wood, the wood does matter. It's just that it matters more than some people say and less than what a lot of others say.
     
  8. odibrom

    odibrom .

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    Do not forget that strings are also magnetic. This means that the pickup's magnetic field interferes with the strings vibration (magnetic pull anyone?) and therefore changing the string's sound. So different magnetic fields for the same overall setup (same everything, including pickup to string distance) will make the strings vibrate differently, delivering results with emphasis in this or that other frequency. Adjustable pickup poles can also modify to a certain extend how a pickup behaves and responds to the sound spectrum...

    Some known facts about pickups that might be interesting to remember:
    • The bigger the string pull is, the muddier the overall tone will be.
    1. Pickup to string distance: the closer it is to strings the hotter it becomes, more string pull, more output, more bass/mud, less sustain.
    2. Output: the hotter a pickup is, the "muddier". More output is usually related to more magnet strength and/or more winding turns. Stronger magnets and overwound coils push up the bass frequencies and increase string pull.
    Number 1 is used to adjust/compensate the pickup's tone. It can change significantly the pickup's response in some low/mid output pickups but can't un-muddy a very hot pickup if there is not enough pickup-to-string distance (this is dependent on pickup cavity depth or string action, but this latter interferes with the playing and we're excluding that variable).

    Number 2 is done at the pickup design stage and that's were all the "magic" comes from. Variables are: magnet type and strength and size, wire turns, wire gauge, wire type (material, usually copper), coil geometry (P90 versus single coils versus Q-Tuner/rotated coils...), pole types/adjustable or not, cover or not and its material (since may or may not interfere with the magnetic field), winding method (scattered versus straight), base plate material (so I've been told), magnet placement relative to coils... so, basically everything.

    As everyone has been saying, it all comes down to string vibration. Wood and guitar construction may absorb or emphasis this or that frequency and a pickup designed in a certain way may or may not enhance that frequency. This to say that some pickups are designed for certain types of woods/guitars in mind, which doesn't mean that shouldn't be used somewhere else.
     
  9. larsmul

    larsmul SS.org Regular

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    The winding of the pickup decides on the dynamics and the output level .
    Low winding = more dynamics ( quick response to pick attack ) and less output .
    High winding = less dynamics and more output .
     
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  10. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    Edit: Too many wrongs to right. Good luck to OP.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2017
  11. Petar Bogdanov

    Petar Bogdanov SS.org Regular

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    Pickups are a lot more simple than one would think, from reading forum reviews. There are three factors that determine a passive humbucker's performance:
    • Strength and shape of the magnetic field
    • Resonant frequency of each coil, which is determined by the number of winds
    • Loss of treble, which always occurs above said resonant frequency

    Mapping the mumbo-jumbo terminology to engineering reality is mostly futile.
     
  12. laxu

    laxu SS.org Regular

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    These are all based on the perceived sound when combined with your amp. If a guitar has more output it can push the front end of the amp more and cause it to compress more at certain frequencies. The frequency response of the pickup makes it seem that for example a pickup like the Kiesel Lithium, which has a dip in the low mids, is very clear and tight sounding so individual strings can be heard easier when picking. Conversely a pickup with either a strong midrange emphasis or plenty of bass and low mids has more "balls" or "growl".

    This pretty much only applies to EMGs because they apply fairly heavy EQ on their pickups to the point where they make guitars with them sound similar regardless of the woods. In my experience the EMG pickups impart more of their character on the overall tone than passives or some other actives.

    While all pickups definitely make their mark on the overall tone, usually when putting even the same pickups in a guitar made of different materials or other specs it will sound different. For example I used to have Jackson Soloist type Kramer Stagemaster superstrat and the stock Seymour Duncan JB in the bridge sounded like crap in that guitar. Replaced it with a SD Custom and that guitar was made much better sounding. However, that exact same JB put into a Les Paul type guitar sounded just fine. It's always about finding the pickup that best complements both the guitar and what you perceive it should sound like for the things you play.
     
  13. odibrom

    odibrom .

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    Perceived sound... key words here...
     
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