Pickups - Don't Make a Difference?

Discussion in 'Pickups, Electronics & General Tech' started by Djedi, Sep 28, 2020.

  1. Demiurge

    Demiurge Intrepid Jackass

    Messages:
    4,729
    Likes Received:
    1,639
    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2005
    Location:
    Worcester, MA
    Of course pickups matter, it's just that if you stuff your signal through the human centipede of DSP that is allegedly "modern" metal tone, the subtleties become less prominent.

    I propose an quick test whenever it's asked, "does ____ matter?": would you settle for an inferior-quality ____ on your guitar or in your rig?
     
    Emperoff, Chris Bowsman and Backsnack like this.
  2. broj15

    broj15 SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    2,738
    Likes Received:
    1,029
    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2011
    I think that there's a difference in terms of low quality stock pickups vs. high quality aftermarket pickups, as well as output making a difference in feel and dynamics (but DC resistance =/ output so it's hard to gauge that based on spec sheets from manufacturer's websites). Really there needs to be a standardized way of rating pickups like what's used by speaker manufacturers, but so much of the aftermarket pickup world lives & dies by thier hype and marketing so that will probably never happen.

    On the other hand I've swapped the bar magnets on various Seymour duncans from alnico v, alnico III, ceramic, etc. and I can definitely hear a difference in terms of *perceived* EQ and output. I'd urge anyone to buy bar magnets of different materials of of eBay for ~$5 each and just do some experimenting before dropping $75+ on aftermarket pickups.
     
  3. FILTHnFEAR

    FILTHnFEAR Dread it, run from it....

    Messages:
    2,090
    Likes Received:
    319
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2012
    Location:
    Naptown
    I think it seems some people greatly exaggerate the importance of pups over the more significant factor of cabs/speakers and eq but they definitely make a difference.

    I swapped out the V8 in my 1527 to a Blaze and could tell a huge difference. The V8 was just really bland, not terrible but much less character and harmonic overtones than the Blaze. I swapped the 81 in my S920 for an 85x and while the 81 is a great pickup there was a definite difference between the two.

    When I get the funds to do all the upgrades on my 7321 I'm going to put a Titan or Illuminator in the bridge. I guarantee there'll be a big difference because whatever in there now is even more bland than the V8 was.

    That said, incant really imagine spending $300+ on a set of BKP's or something. That seems like absolute overkill.
     
    XPT707FX and Djedi like this.
  4. littlebadboy

    littlebadboy SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    767
    Likes Received:
    556
    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2014
    Location:
    Midwestern USA
    I'm tone deaf. Can't even dial in what I want. So my philosophy is... if it rocks, it rock! If it metals enough, then it's good for me!
     
    couverdure, odibrom and Djedi like this.
  5. Lozek

    Lozek Desk Magnetic Contributor

    Messages:
    1,794
    Likes Received:
    326
    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2006
    Location:
    London
    My personal experience is that it varies based on the guitar. Some guitars can be made to sound wildly different with a pick-up change, others sound how they sound and there's not a great deal that you can do to change them. Doesn't appear to be wood related as such although, anecdotally, I 'think' there's something about brighter guitars being more changeable than darker guitars.
     
    Emperoff likes this.
  6. Carl Kolchak

    Carl Kolchak Last of the famous international playboys

    Messages:
    1,876
    Likes Received:
    755
    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2012
    Location:
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    I feel that pickups accentuate the natural eq of the wood itself. I found this to be the case with swamp ash, mahogany, and alder bodied guitars. Basswood not so much.
     
  7. akinari

    akinari SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    635
    Likes Received:
    516
    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2013
    My take on pickups is that, like Knightbrolaire said earlier in the thread, they're the first thing in the signal chain and a fixed EQ. They absolutely make a difference in your sound, but one thing I think we generally kind of overlook is players, especially when suggesting things to others, is that they can alter the FEEL of your rig in drastically different ways, sometimes moreso than changing the overall tone. Certain pickups will feel very flubby or very tight in the bass, very singing and musical or very strident and stiff in the treble range etc. and it's important to select something that is going to work for the rest of your rig and playing style, not against.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that boosting, imo, tends to homogenize the sound if you're not using something as close to completely transparent as possible like an EQ pedal. Tubescreamers cut low end and exaggerate the midrange. Metalzones at noon add a narrow midrange "point" to your sound. Grinds lop off a ton of low end. So basically, no matter what you put into them, you're going to get more of the sound of the boost and less of the pickup.
     
  8. ElysianGuitars

    ElysianGuitars SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    1,206
    Likes Received:
    548
    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2014
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    I'm not sure I'm really allowed to respond to this, but my :2c:, hopefully that's okay. As someone who builds guitars and guitar/bass pickups, obviously I have a vested interest in making money on pickups, but I didn't just get into this because I wanted to make money, it's something I love to do, and learning all I can about building both guitars and pickups is important to me. If it were about money, I'd be doing something else :lol:

    That being said, pickups absolutely matter, arguably much more than the body woods (which do matter, just to be clear). Do some guitars come with good to great stock pickups? Absolutely! Sometimes those pickups work great for people, sometimes they don't. One example of pickups/wood mattering that springs to mind is the New7's in the RG762X, which don't really sound so great in basswood, but in mahogany sound fantastic. There's consensus all over this board on that as well.

    The pickups I build cover all sorts of ground, and all sound different. Pairing the right pickup up with the customer is the biggest part of my job. If they all sounded the same or didn't matter I wouldn't have to put any thought into it, but when a customer tells me what they're after tonally, I have to think through all the variables I have at my disposal to help them get there. Pickups are also a massive part of the feedback look between you, your guitar, and your amp. When playing at volume, you FEEL the pickup much more, and that is also a big part of the enjoyment we get out of our instruments.
     
    cernunnostag, Emperoff, laxu and 5 others like this.
  9. efiltsohg

    efiltsohg SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    835
    Likes Received:
    901
    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2019
    IRs make everything sound the same in people's youtube comparison videos. Pickups don't sound the same.
     
    odibrom likes this.
  10. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire only pointy guitars remain

    Messages:
    15,242
    Likes Received:
    15,407
    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2015
    Location:
    Minnesota
    The dimarzio vid posted in the OP used a real cab so....
    I mean I use the same greenback IRs for most of my demos anymore and you can still hear the difference between pickups.


     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2020
    XPT707FX and ElysianGuitars like this.
  11. yan12

    yan12 SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    139
    Likes Received:
    208
    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2009
    Location:
    usa
    The most defining variable in any chain is the musician. If Hendrix, Dime, Johnny Winter, and Lenny Breau all played the exact same guitar rig, they would all sound vastly different. It's in your hands. That said....

    Pickups make a huge difference. Play clean and if one pickup swap adds lots of mids, you will get the same result with high gain, although it will be much harder to hear due to the distortion. In my world, there is way too much distortion these days in metal music. I am turning 50 and grew up as a metal milita tape trader, and early thrash was my type of metal. But I also liked players like Gary Moore, Sykes, and especially Michael Schenker. I thought they all had great tone.

    But it is entirely a different approach then today. Bottom line, high output pickups do not pair well with high gain preamps to my ears. I like high output humbuckers with very moderate gain, or lower output pickups with higher gain. I feel I get way more nuance and my personality in my lines with that approach...and I don't play in two guitar bands very much either, which influences how I choose to represent myself sonically.

    For super maximum gain settings with a modern preamp, I would say pickups swaps will be harder to notice and therefore may not be worth changing...but that defeats the purpose of having an identity to me.
     
  12. IronSean

    IronSean SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    12
    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2015
    Location:
    Canada
    A real cab mic'd is just an IR you can't re-use later
     
    KnightBrolaire likes this.
  13. IronSean

    IronSean SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    22
    Likes Received:
    12
    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2015
    Location:
    Canada
    Sean's order of importance

    ... I gave up on making an order. It depends. But loosely:

    • Amp matters a LOT for feel, saturation, gain response, etc. But when you get into heavy saturation/high gain the individual amp becomes a subtler matter of texture and feel and not overall tone.

    • Cab's matter less on clean tones but still play a big role, but on distorted tones they're a huge EQ that brings out or suppresses a lot of your amp tone. People often underestimate how important a cab and speakers is in tone. Easily vies for first place in high gain tones.

    • Then pickups matter quite a bit, direct into the amp. They are the EQ of the signal coming from your guitar, and anyone that's used a mesa Mark series (the tone stack is pre-gain) or an EQ pedal before an amp will know that boosting or cutting different levels has a big difference. turning bass up on a Mark series goes from tight and skinny to full to bloated and flubby. Turning treble up increases highs but also gain and tight saturation, etc. A pickup on many amps is the only built in way to do that without getting EQ pedals or other tone shaping tools. More or less bass, where the midrange peak is, high how the output and how much it distorts the early stage are pretty powerful things at a similar level of impact to tweaking knobs.

      But the more you process your signal before the amp, the less it matters. Are you running it through a boost that pushes the output level higher? The output level of your pickups won't matter as much now since you can compensate. Does you boost emphasize the mids (which is similar to cutting the highs and lows)? Well guess what, whatever personality your pickup had in those highs and lows is now going to have much less impact. The difference between 500hz being 2 dB louder or quieter than 1k going into the amp is much bigger than 500hz being -12dB vs -8dB. Are you using a DAW where you adjust the signal strength of your guitar DI until it peaks around -6dB for the best Signal to Noise ratio, then sending it to your plugin? Congrats, any difference in output level have just been eliminated.

    • Then sound of the guitar (not tonewood, but related to tonewood) affects how it resonates and rings out, and that can work with or against your pickup to also color that input signal, or be de-emphasized by your signal chain accordingly. Tonewood debates are people comparing how the average or usual piece of that wood sounds, but individual pieces still have their own character. You can get bright sounding mahogany guitars or dark sounding maple guitars.

    I'll say as well, on youtube you can either do a comparison that emphasizes the differences, or one that somehow makes them all sound similar. The Keith Merrow videos (especially the 6 string bridge one) does it right. You can hear comparative differences between each. Lots of other videos have enough gain, boosts, or just a type of amp that de-emphasizes the differences and you can barely hear the difference.

    As an anecdote, I was debating getting an Fishman Fluence set of pickups, and listened to a ton of comparison videos. And found in many of them the two voices were not very different at all. Just shades of the same base pickup. Especially the moderns: the active and passive voicing sounded like it was barely a difference in any clip I heard. Then a I tested an Ibanez Iron Label FF with Fluence Moderns in a Marshall DSL at mid-gain and was blown away. Voice one was searing, clear, and very EMG sounding. Then voice 2 was a lot rounder, looser, and softer on the high end, and lower gain. But the person beside me just said "yeah, it's subtle". My position next to the cab might have mattered too: in direct line where you're getting all the high end maybe the differences are subtler, but off to the side where you hear more of the mids and lows maybe the difference jumped out more.
     
    gnoll and XPT707FX like this.
  14. Phlegethon

    Phlegethon SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    346
    Likes Received:
    82
    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2009
    Location:
    ON, Canada
    Out of all the things that may affect an electric guitar? Pickups are one of the three 'big' things to affect the sound of your guitar. Single coils vs. humbuckers? Or maybe active vs. passive? Either way it does matter. But comparing apples to apples? It becomes less about the pickup and more about what it was designed for and how well it was made. You wouldn't put a Dimarzio X2N in a jazz box for example, but once you get to a certain quality level? Usually a stock pickup can do whatever you need if you sit down and twist some knobs on your amp for a bit. Guitarists aren't exactly living in the world of ibanez INF's, axis 7's, and powersounds any more (thankfully). Well, if they avoid bottom of the barrel gear at least.

    But if you are going to swap the pickup threads on here are a good resource to have. Not to mention the 'feel' factors into it as well. The quantum pickups from my one 7421? Didn't do all that well in their original guitar. When I threw them into the iceman body for my one 7 string build? They worked out much better, as did the blaze set in the 7421 I took the quantums from.
     
  15. Hollowway

    Hollowway Extended Ranger

    Messages:
    14,338
    Likes Received:
    7,324
    Joined:
    Dec 28, 2008
    Location:
    California
    I think they matter in the sense that there is a substantial sound difference between pickups. But where I differ from most people is to say that one pickup is objectively better than another. When talking about good companies, anyway. I rarely swap out pickups, and instead just accept the pickups as part of that particular guitar’s “tone,” and use it as such. If I only had one guitar I’d probably be a little more uptight about it, but with several guitars I’m happy to have the tonal variety.
     
    Emperoff, XPT707FX and ElysianGuitars like this.
  16. Protestheriphery

    Protestheriphery SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    49
    Likes Received:
    26
    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2014
    Location:
    Los Angeles ca
    I can agree with this point to some extent. In my case, I plugged 5 Gibsons into a 25w Mesa Mini Rec, EVH 6L6 50w, and Marshall JVM. Also, the guitars went straight in with no pedals. The 3 stock Gibsons with medium output pickups didnt sound drastically different than the one with a JB in the bridge.

    Out of all of them, the one with stock burstbuckers was the only difference, sound and feel wise. I assume its because burstbuckers are lower output and brighter. It must have something to do with all the compression in the high gain channels of each of those respective amps.

    This video brings up some interesting points about which aspect of a signal chain make the most drastic impact . This is in the context of a recording situation, however. Things tend to play out a little different when you stand in front of a rig.
     
  17. Protestheriphery

    Protestheriphery SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    49
    Likes Received:
    26
    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2014
    Location:
    Los Angeles ca
    Thorn makes a good point. Personally, if I plug a guitar with vintage output pickups straight into a modern high gain amp, I'm pretty sure it will pass the "chug" test. Add the boost pedal, and I'm set.
     
  18. surprisedpikachu45

    surprisedpikachu45 SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    42
    Likes Received:
    8
    Joined:
    Sep 12, 2020
    changing anything in your signal chain makes a difference, for better or worse, if you don't hear differences though that's better for your wallet and your sanity
     
    Emperoff likes this.
  19. Flappydoodle

    Flappydoodle SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    1,307
    Likes Received:
    1,237
    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2018
    Rofl, total disagree.

    Pickups make a HUGE difference. I've changed pickups in the same guitar several times before and each adds their own flavour. The difference is especially large if going between passive and active. It won't totally transform the instrument, but it can make it less harsh, tighten up a loose low end, let you cut through the mix better etc.

    A huge part of it is the feel, like how it responds to your picking. So differences between pickups are probably more noticeable to the player than the listener. I've recorded comparisons before and the difference is definitely more subtle than I recalled it being when I recorded it.

    To address your other comments - the wood absolutely makes a difference, and people definitely still care about it.

    The construction of the guitar also makes a massive. If you're going to tell me that neck-through, bolt-on and set neck makes no difference to the sound... you're deaf, sorry. Same for TOM, Hipshot, Hannes, Floyd bridges - definite difference to the feel and tone.
     
    Emperoff and ElysianGuitars like this.
  20. Vyn

    Vyn Not a Sparkly Vampire

    Messages:
    2,495
    Likes Received:
    3,161
    Joined:
    Apr 30, 2010
    Location:
    Australia
    The order goes:

    1 - Cabs/IRs, arguably the biggest impact on tone.

    2 - Amp, next most

    3 - Pickups

    4 - Natural guitar sound

    The first 3 in that list make up a good 95% of the final sound. The first 2 make up probably up to 70%-80% of the final sound, however most players don't have the space/dosh for a wall of amps and cabs where as comparatively pickups are quite cheap and easy to swap in/out. They are a fixed EQ, they are important however the amp and cab are far more important IMO.
     

Share This Page