Anyone else wonder how much pickups actually matter?

Discussion in 'Pickups, Electronics & General Tech' started by Nag, Jan 10, 2021.

  1. Nag

    Nag chugs and screams

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    Even though I'm trying to be very conservative with my money these days, I'm still heavily considering putting different pickups in my starter guitar because I've been using it quite a bit lately (LTD M-50, still completely stock after 15 years).

    So I was wondering... nowadays, we have access to really high gain amps (or VSTs of those, of course), right? Back in the 80s, people tried their hardest to push a JCM800 to have enough gain to sound br00tal, with overdrives in front, EMGs, tighter strings that chugged harder, and whatnot. But now we have all sorts of really high gain amps, be it your 5150s, Rectos, Mark IVs/Vs, ENGLs, Diezels, and so on. Do we really need high output pickups to play metal with those? I don't know for sure, since all my guitars DO have high output pickups. And when metal guitarists talk pickups, they always talk about high output ones : your Duncan JBs, Distortions, Black Winters, EMGs, D-Activators, you catch my drift.

    I started looking around on YouTube, and didn't find any good videos discussing the subject, debunking myths or anything (although, granted, I didn't search for hours, either).

    BUT.

    I came across this rather interesting video :

    So in this video, they use the same amp and settings for each riff, but with different guitars that have different pickups in them. And of course, each guitar sounds different in an absolute sense, but the differences are seriously negligible IMO (except for the Strat, which has singlecoils, or maybe noise-cancelling stacked humbuckers, but no humbuckers in a traditional sense).

    Now, sadly, this video doesn't really answer to my original question of "do you really need high output pickups to play metal through a high gain amp/VST?", but it raises another question : how much do pickups really matter? Because in that video, it definitely sounds like tweaking the amp's EQ a tiny bit each time would have resulted in ultimate Ola Englund (for the laymen : "he makes everything sound the same"). I don't really know the output of the PRS pickups; knowing PRS as a company aren't really making guitars exclusively for the metal crowd, it could totally be the case that those pickups are lower output than all the others (besides the Strat, again).

    So, uh, let's discuss things. I know metal is broad, and some genres use completely different setups from what I'm thinking of right now. Sorry for the doom/drone/sludge/stoner peeps in here, but what interests me primarily is a "tight" metal riffer tone for things like thrash, death metal, black metal. I use my M-50 primarily as a thrash riffer in standard E these days. What do you guys think : tight thrash sound, achievable with moderate/lower output humbuckers, yay or nay? Advantages, inconvenients? Anyone got sound clips?

    By the way, just as a quick disclaimer : I totally know that I CAN just put a high output pickup in my guitar, and it'll do what I want fine. I'm not trying to question the true and tested methods that have worked for decades. But I'm curious to see what else can be done.

    Thanks for your input.
     
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  2. Nag

    Nag chugs and screams

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    I forgot to type a paragraph : I remember the two videos where Keith Merrow demo'd a whole bunch of Duncans, and there were again audible differences, but small enough ones that I think a few knob tweaks would result in ultimate Ola Englund. Do you guys have the impression that pickups DO matter a lot (again, in a high gain context specifically), or that their importance to your sound is marginal compared to your amp/cab/mic and just exxaggerated by pickup manufacturers and their marketing because $$$?
     
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  3. MaxOfMetal

    MaxOfMetal Likes trem wankery. Super Moderator

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    Everything matters, it's just going to vary depending on just how convoluted your rig is and how everything plays with everything else. Context is very important too. Not to mention the "x factor" of our own ears and brains and how we sometimes tend to hear what we want (or don't want).
     
  4. Zhysick

    Zhysick SS.org Regular

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    I think the most important factor of a pickup is how it feels when playing: how easy it respond to the pinch harmonics, if it picks up (yeah...) too much of the noise of your fingers "rubbing" the strings while moving from a position to another. How hot it is, not because of the overall distorted sound, but because a hotter pickup allows you to pick softer and still get a powerfull punchy sound (I use thin strings and pick relatively soft so... this is an important factor for me).

    In the "just sound" department the pickups are not very important, specially nowadays with actual amps with so much gain, complete EQ, lots of pedals... not to talk about MultiFX (Helix, AxeFX... that kind) or VSTs where you can use the same "gear" and just tweaking all the endless posibilities of the signal chain you can go from sparking clean to doom distortion.

    Yeah, nowadays I choose the pickups depending in how I feel when playing because, specially since I got the POD Go, I don't have to worry about the sound that much as it is easier to mold the sound with one of this units.
     
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  5. lewis

    lewis SS.org Regular

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    im surprised we dont have an all digital active pickup by now that just loads in pickup IR toneprints of the whole range that company offers.

    i.e Imagine an EMG IR pickup that you can cycle through EQ matches of all the range. One second you are jamming with it as an 81, next minute you select 57 etc
     
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  6. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire only the dead have seen the end of GAS

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    Pickups do matter. They're essentially the start of the signal chain. Whatever EQ and feel they give off will translate through to the rest of the rig. There are some very tangible differences between pickups ime.

    As far as tight thrashy riffs, they are totally achievable with lower output pickups. The duncan custom 5 is probably my all time favorite thrash pickup and it's not exactly high output, but it delivers tight thrashy riffs with ease. Same thing with the Elysian Trident IIs I have.
     
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  7. DrakkarTyrannis

    DrakkarTyrannis

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    Isn't that a thing already? I could have sworn some company was trying to design that very thing. Obviously it's not out yet (I don't think), but I could have sworn someone is trying to develop that.

    Anyways..lemme be "that guy" for a minute.

    Do pickups matter? For me it depends on what you're expecting them to do. In an overall band mix they make a very very small difference and it's not one that'll be super noticeable by you and especially not to listeners. For example if you hate your guitar tone in a mix, the pickups aren't the issue 9 out of 10 times and I'd say that 1 time out of 10 that it mattered it was because the pickup was faulty, not because it didn't "sound good".

    These days, especially when using a bunch of gain and other shit, ESPECIALLY if you use boosts...pickups don't really have to be paid attention to beyond the pickup type (P90s, single coil, humbucker, etc), and if it has enough juice to do what you need. Even the whole being hot enough thing is debatable. These days your gain is coming from your amp and your boost pedal so you don't need a hot pickup honestly.

    I was wondering the same thing and I was considering changing the pickups in a guitar I had. So I did a whole test situation with my guitar loaded with Seymour Duncan Black Winters, and my guitar (same make and model) that had the stock pickups. I ran it through some VST and IR setup and honestly I could hear a difference but not so much that it justified the kind of money Black Winters cost me. I posted the test in the gear section. It's in there somewhere.

    Anyways, if you want to improve your tone, the IRs are the big factor. The amp sim barely matters because you can practically EQ anything to be anything these days, the pickups don't matter unless you're looking for more feel or articulation, but the IR is really what makes or breaks your sound in a mix.

    You don't need high gain pickups. Modern amps have more than enough gain and most bands boost so that does the job.

    I'd say if you want to change articulation, feel, and response then pickups are what you look into..but not to make your tone better.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2021
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  8. odibrom

    odibrom .

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    I think Roland has done a bit of that with their GR/synth produtcs as well as Line6 with the Variax line...
     
  9. lurè

    lurè Fake Shredder

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    As said above everything matters.

    Just trust your ears and use the pickup that sound best with your current rig; there's nothing to "debunk".
     
  10. Matt08642

    Matt08642 SS.org Regular

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    Watching the that video, EMG 81 is absolutely wrecking all the other pickups shit with the Livewires in a surprising 2nd.
     
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  11. InfinityCollision

    InfinityCollision SS.org Regular

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    Cycfi is working on some tech that can do this, among other things.

    https://www.cycfi.com/2020/11/virtual-pickups-part-5/
    https://www.cycfi.com/2020/12/ascend-vpu-v1-0/
     
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  12. steinmetzify

    steinmetzify CHUG & SLUDGE

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    More of a feel thing for me anymore.

    I have EMGs, Fishman Moderns, Black Winters and some PRS McCarty pickups in a Les Paul.

    Depends on what I wanna play that day, and the response I want out of the pickups. The EMGs, Fishmans and Black Winters can do thrash metal all day, the McCarty pickups are better for doom/sludge but the EMGs can do all that too.

    Do we NEED high output pickups? No. Especially not given the amps and boosts I have here. I just dig on the feel of certain ones for what I like to do.

    Keep in mind we’re all gear whores and trying different things is part of the game, but I’ve settled down with those pickups, know how they respond, how to EQ them (not really) and dig em.
     
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  13. Nag

    Nag chugs and screams

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    Yeah, experimenting is half the fun.

    Usually, I try to have a simple rig/setup. Amp, cab, mic (their virtual counterparts these days, but whatever), boost in front if required, noise gate. I don't use many effects. Delay and reverb are common, modulation when it fits. When it comes to gain though, I like keeping things simple and "pure".

    You know what? If I'm being actually honest for a second, I said I use that guitar primarily as a thrash riffer. As long as the pickups aren't so hot that they clip a clean channel (for that one time I play the clean bridge in Master Of Puppets :lol:), I have no actual reason to be super picky, do I.

    Some of the stuff I've read in here has been rather helpful. As some of you guys might have realized... I like overthinking stuff.
     
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  14. Lemonbaby

    Lemonbaby SS.org Regular

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    Hearing what we want is the most important factor in this one. An EQ between guitar and preamp makes it literally impossible to identify a pickup.
     
  15. odibrom

    odibrom .

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    There's a difference not yet spoken about what we hear at the performance and what we hear when recorded. The first situation is the responsible for most of our gear buys. It may not be much in the end of the chain (the recorded product) but may mean the world during performance...
     
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  16. DrakkarTyrannis

    DrakkarTyrannis

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    I think in a performance it'd be even less noticeable. With a recording you're putting it in a balanced mix with other instruments and even then the difference isn't huge. In a live setting with people yelling, shitty sound systems, uneven volume between instruments, natural room reverb, etc you're not gonna notice the tone of pickups. Especially when it comes to metal after a certain point loud guitar just sounds like loud guitar and it's not exactly easy to pick things out.
     
  17. odibrom

    odibrom .

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    Performance isn't only live situations or is it? I was refering preferably to individual play and band rehearsals...
     
  18. lewis

    lewis SS.org Regular

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    I just watched it. Jesus I know I love the 81, but damn in this comparison, in that guitar, it does shit on all other PUPs in the comparison.
     
  19. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

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    depends entirely on your signal chain and where you're willing to draw the line.

    if you run a lot of effects and a lot of gain then the difference will be less noticeable.

    If you think the audience and then listener can't hear a difference on the album then they probably can't. but really at that point you don't even need to play a guitar. 90 percent of people wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a real guitar and a sequencer.

    I've got 20 guitars here all with different pickups. they all play and sound different. so it's really up to you what you want to do. no one is forcing you to spend money.
     
  20. Lorcan Ward

    Lorcan Ward 7slinger

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    I find its the brand of pickup that matters the most. Like BKP have the mid-spike, Dimarzios have a certain fizz with rounded highs, lundgrens have a low-mid emphasis with a clank in the highs, EMG have a flat grindy sound. They all have those characteristics across 90%+ of their range.

    :agreed:

    I've seen so many guys plan out a video showing all the tonal variations from different string brands or plectrums only to abandon it once the hear the end clips sounding almost identical and nothing like the big differences they heard while playing.
     

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