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David Allen Cool Cat P-90 Bridge Pickup – Road Test

June 28th, 2015
cool-cat-full

David Allen Cool Cat P-90 Bridge pickup

It’s spring. Time for new projects around the house and the yard. New grass, new weeds, cleaning and fixing whatever you see. Also a time I decided to freshen up the JR.

Leslie West described the Les Paul JR as a plank with a mic on it, and he’s pretty much right. Not much there means there’s not much to go wrong. His tone was a very early influence for me so I’ve had a couple of JR-ish guitars over the years and now I have a stock 2009. Not Custom shop, not Billie Joe, just a JR. I bought it used and it was stock except for a Tone Pros adjustable wraptail bridge.

Stock Gibson P90’s aren’t junk. I’ve enjoyed all the ones I’ve had, but I felt the need for a change. The typical recipe for a P90 is 10,000 turns of 42 gauge wire on an A5 Magnet. Magnet strength changes whether by age or intent and has an effect on tone. So one A5 isn’t like every other A5 unless you seriously over or underwind or change magnets the sound is the sound.   And yet over the years I’ve had P90’s built by others and they do sound different from one another.

The David Allen “Cool Cat” P90 is an A5 42 gauge P90. It is built with the wood spacer and other original touches. It measured 8.9K at room temp, which does make a difference. If you measure a pickup you just took from the box UPS left on the porch in Connecticut in Febuary versus a pickup UPS left in a box on your porch in Arizona in July you’ll be surprised at the difference.

And so I installed the Allen CC P90 into JR. JR already had an Emerson wiring kit and repro Bumble Bee capacitor, so the spring freshen is complete, just add strings.

One am I use is a Tweed Deluxe Speed Shop 5E3 repro. It’s loaded with GOS (good old stock tubes) and a 1961 Jensen P12Q.   I also have an Emery Superbaby.   It is currently loaded with a 5751, JJ KT88, and a Mullard GZ34. The speaker is a large oval back pine 1×12 with a Warehouse Reaper 30 watt.

Just a note, I never use the tone circuit on the Emery. When I plug in, the signal is through the tubes, very few PTP wired components and to the speaker. Honest tones of what you plug in.

So what have I got? It sounds great. It’s alive and articulate and very responsive to my picking dynamic.

What did it do before? All of the above, but less so. Less enough to notice.

The Allen Cool Cat measures 800k hotter than the stock pickup. Sometimes those windings add up to a closed off congested kind of tone especially when the pickup is on “10”. In this case the stock P90 congested more than the Cool Cat when full up. So the tone of the Cool Cat on 10 is much closer to the tone of the Cool Cat on 8 whereas the Gibson goes through a much larger tone change and “darkens” from 8-10.

There’s more to pickup tone than windings though, and the Cool Cat sounds crazy good and wide open when you turn it down a few numbers. Turn up the amp and run the guitar on less than full volume and chords have a ring and a note separation that almost sounds like you stepped on a magic pedal.

Played into the Emery/Reaper combination I can get a really good LP bridge pickup sound. OK I’ll say it, like a good PAF, like an old Allman Bros tone. It’s got a real strong snarl if you want but that is more up to the way you attack the strings than the DNA of the pickup. Leslie West squeals and snarls are all there.

There are a whole lot of vocal qualities to be found on the first 7 frets. Picking style really brought this out. My pick choice and picking style is brighter than a friend’s who came over to try it, and it was very noticeable.

This isn’t an all mids kind of P90. There is plenty of treble, and it smooths out really well when you dial back the tone knob on the guitar.

Set the guitar on “10” and yes of course you can get all the Neil Young you can handle plugged into the 5E3.   The Cool Cat will do Cinnamon Girl all day. Cortez the Killer? Hell yes.

Yet the 5E3 and the P90 are so much more than Neil Young. Roll back the pickup and let the amp do the lifting and the beautiful lush chords of a Ryan Adams song come into full bloom. For Americana type music this really P90 works. For ripping power chord rock the Cool Cat really works.

I’m certainly pleased with this Cool Cat. It did what I wanted. It doesn’t do anything I don’t want. It’s a win on all accounts.

Neil Swanson

Alnico magnets and guitar pickups – How to choose?

November 2nd, 2014

The heart of any electric guitar is the pickup, and pickups play a huge role in the overall sound of any guitar. So it only makes sense that when players look to improve their sound, the pickup is the most common modification. There are dozens of reputable pickup makers to choose from; from large volume producers like Seymour Duncan – who virtually invented the aftermarket pickup market – to boutique winders making vintage style pickups with OCD-like fervor. And to a great degree they are all working with the same basic materials: Wire, magnets, screws, and various methods to hold it all together.

Arcane Strat Special Pickup

For an item of such critical sonic importance, there are not many ways to quantify their design. Besides the typical specification of DC resistance, which is a function of wire gauge and number of turns of wire, magnet type is the other most commonly specified feature of a pickup. The choices are typically a ceramic magnet or some type of Alnico, which stands for Aluminum, Nickel and Cobalt. Alnico magnet materials have been around for decades, and are the material of choice for the majority of high quality pickups. The benefits of Alnico material is that it’s efficient (think in terms of power-to-weight ratio) and it’s also very stable and holds its power well over time.

There are several different grades of Alnico, and the different grades are based on their metallurgical makeup. The most popular for guitar pickups are Alnico 2, 3, and 5; oftentimes referred to as II, III and V. Generally speaking the grades are not in order of “goodness” and the numbers simply denote a particular material composition. Besides what magnet grade is being used, the pickup maker can also vary the amount of magnetic charge (Gauss) the magnet has. Magnets bought in bulk are usually shipped un-charged, and the pickup maker energizes the magnet as part of the build process.

There has been a lot written on the qualities of the various Alnico grades, and the how a magnet material affects the sound of a pickup. So while I’m not blazing any new trails, here are my general opinions on the impact of Alnico grades, gained from my own personal experience and experimentation.

Disclaimer: There are so many other factors in making a pickup – wire gauge, winding tension, winding pattern, potting – that attributing the tonal characteristics solely to magnet material is somewhat folly. Also, some magnet grades are closely tied to pickup style, so you’re unlikely to see a high output metal pickup using Alnico 2 material.

Alnico 2 – Alnico 2 is used most often as a bar magnet material in humbucking pickups. This was the grade used in the early “PAF” pickups, and as a result is commonly employed in vintage-flavored designs. Examples of pickups using Alnico 2 material are the Seymour Duncan Seth Lover, Alnico II Pro, and the Arcane ’57 Experience. Pickups using Alnico 2 material tend to have a slightly soft attack, generally warm tonal characteristics and a slightly loose, bouncy feel. Wound strings have a somewhat woody tone and for some may lack enough definition. While pickups of this sort are generally not wound for high output, when pushed they develop a nice singing quality and make a pretty nice pickup for leads. Players who like to work their amps hard versus using pedals will dig Alnico 2.

Alnico 3 – Alnico 3 magnet material is used in both Gibson humbucker type designs and Fender Telecaster style pickups. Common in early Telecaster bridge pickups, Alnico 3 has good attack qualities, and a clear high end that some would describe as “grainy” and complex. In humbucker pickups, they create a nice balance of warmth, bite and clarity. This is the material used in the Arcane Triple Clone, which is modeled after the 1960 Gibson PAF. Tighter sounding than Alnico 2 pickups, lead tones are crunchy and pleasantly tight, and don’t get overly mushy in the neck position. A nice pick for both rich complex cleans and medium gain rock.

Alnico 4 – Not as common as the other more traditional materials, Alnico 4 is used by few pickup winders such as David Allen, Bare Knuckles, and Mojotone. The opinion is that Alnico 4 combines the warm feel of  Alnico 2 but with better attack and note definition. We really like the tone and pick response of the David Allen P-51 humbucker, which is an Alnico 4 pickup.

Alnico 5 – Likely the most popular magnet material, Alnico 5 shows up in both humbucking and single coils designs; Strats, Teles, and P-90’s. Alnico 5 pickups are characterized by strong output, clear tone, and punchy attack. This all sounds pretty good, and just about every conventionally constructed Stratocaster pickup uses Alnico 5. Some of most popular humbuckers use Alnico 5 including many Seymour Duncan models including the SH-1, JB,  and just about every Rio Grande pickup. Compared to Alnico 3 they may lack a little sonic complexity, but for those about to rock, Alnico 5 is a very good choice.

The Wrap – As they like to say in commercials, “your results may vary.” Your own experience with your own guitar will be the best teacher. Fortunately, pickups are neither very expensive, or hard to install. So do a little testing of your own and see you what you think. You can always drop me a line at sales@upfrontguitars.com.

 

Solid Body or Semi-Hollow for your G&L Guitar?

July 5th, 2013

With just a few exceptions — the SC-2, Invader and Rampage come to mind — just about every G&L guitar is available in solid body or semi-hollow format. On the bass side, the ASAT bass is also available in both flavors. Here is a rundown of the things to consider when selecting whether to go with a semi-hollow or solid body G&L.

Finishes – Any semi-hollow model automatically includes the premium finish option on swamp ash, and this is built into the cost. You can get a solid finish too, but the wood choice will still be swamp ash. Of course the “Deluxe” models have flame maple tops so don’t ask for a solid finish on that!

Weight – Some guitar players are obsessed with the topic of weight. For many, the tone of the guitar is often ascribed to the weight of the body. While weight and tone is a subjective discussion, from a purely comfort standpoint, a semi-hollow is definitely easier on the back. Typically, a semi-hollow G&L will tip the scales at about a pound lighter, which you will definitely feel. An ASAT semi-hollow will generally weigh between 6.8 and 7.6 pounds, while its solid body brethren will weigh from 7.6 to 8.8. Why such a wide swing on the weight? Swamp ash has more inherent variability than alder, and sometimes can get pretty hefty. Really light swamp ash is out there but it’s getting rare.  An and ASAT, solid body alder is generally within a couple tenths of 8 pounds. Body contours and belly cuts can also take a little weight off a solid body ASAT, but are not available on the semi-hollow. Note that the ASAT Deluxe semi-hollow has a mahogany back, and theses are often the lightest of the ASAT family (and the most expensive). Any other semi-hollow is all swamp ash, and alder is not available.

Cosmetics – The entire semi-hollow line is available with or without the f-hole. So if you don’t like the look of the classic violin-type sound hole, no problem. My own ASAT is a semi-hollow with no f-hole, and while I have not played enough guitars side-by-side to determine if the hole makes a big difference, I imagine the effect is subtle. Generally, make your decision on whether or not you like the look. G&L does not finish the inside of the guitar, so if the guitar has a very dark finish, the white swamp ash wood inside the f-hole may be too much of a contrast for some tastes.

Sound – So the big question, how does it affect the sound of the guitar? To my ear, the semi-hollow configuration seems to even out the sound across the spectrum, making the response a little more even and less peaky in spots. Overall the attack is a little softer, and there is slight reduction in low end response. If maximum attack/punch or low end response is of great importance then a solid body G&L is generally a better choice (hard rock or snappy country picking come to mind). It’s not a true acoustic, so feedback is a non-issue, and overall the sound is a touch richer and more dimensional that a solid body. Because of the slightly reduced low end, I’m not sure I’d recommend a Legacy semi-hollow. The conventional Alnico pickups are a little bass-starved to begin with, and a solid alder body is the best choice, just as Leo intended. In contrast, the G&L MFD pickups have plenty of attack and response, and the semi-hollow treatment works very well with them. In particular the ASAT Classic makes a great semi-hollow, and so does the relatively rare Z-3. The Z-coils are powerful critters, and the combination of saddle lock bridge and chambered construction creates a simultaneously complex and powerful sound, with the only downside being that the bridge pickup lacks a little low end.

Cost – Because the semi-hollow construction includes both the added labor of a chambered body and the premium finish upgrade, it does command a price premium. For an ASAT-style guitar, the street price up-charge is about $225. For reasons that I can only imagine relate to build complexity, the semi-hollow Legacy, Comanche and S-500 guitars are a lot more expensive. The street price up charge is close to $700. For that reason alone I really have no experience with them, and customer inquiries about them are rare.

Wrap Up – While other guitar makers offer chambered guitars — Carvin, Gibson, Fender and Godin have them as standard offerings — G&L has really made them a staple of their line and not just catalog oddments. While the additional cost of going semi-hollow is not insignificant, they do offer both sonic and comfort benefits that may “tip the scales” for many players (sorry about the pun).

To check out body styles offered at Upfront Guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com

The Godin Core P90 – A New Sound is Waiting for You

December 21st, 2012

In the interest of full disclosure, I do sell Godin guitars. Actually I sell quite a few Godin guitars, although most of them are the Multiac Electro-Acoustics and the Kingpin Archtop Series. These are guitars that are fairly unique in the marketplace, and for that reason do quite well. In the case of the Multiac series, there is probably nothing better for trouble-free acoustic sound in a live performance setting, especially with a loud band clattering away.

I also carry Godin solid body guitars too, but these often move much slower as buyers more often than not buy a Fender, Gibson, Epiphone, or if a younger guitarist an ESP or Ibanez. This is too bad, as Godin makes as nice a solid body guitar as anybody, and they are made in the USA and Canada to boot. But the lure of the brand is a very powerful thing, and to some degree why buy a Stratocaster-shaped Godin when one can buy a Stratocaster from Fender, and depending on your price point pay anywhere from $199 to $4000?

But instead of having the Fender-versus-the-world discussion, how about trying a guitar that really can really do something different for your tone and your playing? What I’m talking about here is the Godin Core P90. Yes, it is shaped very much like a Les Paul, and yes it has two P-90 pickups, but the world is not choking on P-90 Les Paul’s like it is Stratocasters. So while the Core is derivative, it’s derivative of something that is not all that common in the marketplace. That’s sounds like a questionable marketing plan, but bear with me.

The Core P90 uses a chambered mahogany body with a flat maple top. The chambered body keeps the guitar around 8 pounds, and the maple top gives the guitar a nice high end response. Although it’s not a carved top, it still looks pretty, and besides this is a guitar that you can score for around $850. It’s got a mahogany set neck with rosewood fingerboard, Gibson length scale, a GraphTech wrap tailpiece with adjustable saddles, three-way switch and individual volume and tone controls for each pickup. All good stuff, none of it screams high end, but it’s all far from budget or cheesy.

For pickups the Core uses a Seymour Duncan SP90-1 in the neck and a hotter SP90-3 in the bridge. I’ve heard more than one person remark that they don’t like P-90 pickups, and there are several reasons for this, and some quite justifiably so. A P-90 pickup can sound muffled and dark in an all mahogany guitar. The great exception to this is when they are used with a dog ear mounting like the Les Paul Junior. Getting the pickup up and out of the body really seems to help. Another reason for P-90 disdain is that there are a lot of lousy ones out there. There is temptation to wind them too hot, creating dark nasal pickups that are one-dimensional and have no harmonic qualities at all. Stick these in an all-mahogany guitar and all you’ll want to be is Pete Townsend at the end of the show so you can smash the damn thing to pieces.

So after some initial trepidation upon reading the specs on the Duncan’s, I was more than happy with how they sounded. No doubt helped by the maple top and chambered body, the neck pickup was clear and clean with good note definition, and a midrange that was fat enough to punch but still had a little bit of scoop to it when played up the neck. Single notes had enough girth to stand out, but the overall tone was not so thick as to discourage heavy strumming. Great for the blues, me thinks.

The SP90-3 bridge pickup is considerably hotter in output than the neck, but again I was pleasantly surprised with its overall clarity and lack of harshness. A P-90 in the bridge is the quintessential recipe for classic rock tones. The fat midrange works great with pedals or low powered amps, and the high end is ample enough to produce a lot of sparkle without getting icy or brittle like — you guessed it — a Stratocaster. Whether dialed in to a level of mild crunch like AD/DC or with heavy distortion, a good P-90 is an indispensable rock weapon.

But wait, there’s more. Unlike most of their guitars, Godin very wisely equipped the Core with individual volume and tone controls. This is not a guitar you should just play with everything on ten: With both pickups engaged, small adjustments of volume, tone, or both create varying shades of bright, dark, warm and cool that can expand your playing in ways that you’ve never considered. Neck a little too dark? Blend in some bridge. Bridge not thick enough? Add a little neck. Roll down the tone a little on one of the pickups and you get an almost out-of-phase growl. If you thought a 5-way switch was versatile, you’re in for a real treat.

And if you are a fan of Fender amps, your day just got even better. P-90’s love Tweeds or Deluxe style amps, where the leaner tone of the Fender circuits complement the chunky nature of the P-90. The Core P90 sounds magical through our Bassman Ltd, and positively rips when plugged into the gain side of the 6V6 powered Andrews Para-Dyne 20.

So while most of the world is buying another Stratocaster thinking it’s going to be radically more awesome than their other Stratocasters, here is a guitar that will give you some seriously good tones — different tones — for not a lot of money. The set neck and shorter string length will also provide a different feel and response than a bolt-on 25.5″ string length guitar. There is of course nothing wrong with a Strat: It’s the world’s most popular guitar design. But different guitars make you play differently, unlock different tones and musical thoughts, and expand your range of creativity.

With their Core P90, Godin is building a great guitar that not many people are paying attention to. This chambered maple top P-90 guitar is lean enough that Strat players won’t freak, thick enough that Les Paul players will still dig it, and flexible way beyond its 3-way pickup switch. Does it need anything? Maybe a good wiring kit with better caps and a treble bleed on the volume controls. The tuning machines are nothing fancy, but there are no issues with them either. There are plenty of cork-sniffer P-90’s out there, but for my money I like the sound of this guitar more than their Lollar P-90 equipped Icon 3. Of course that has a mahogany top and an ebony fingerboard, which slides it more to the dark side. No, it really does not need to be “improved” right out of the box. As I sometimes say to my customers, “Be secure enough to spend less.” This is one of those times.

 

 

 

G&L Guitar Sound Clips

February 16th, 2012

We are just getting started with this blog page, but it will include sound clips of the some of the many guitars that we currently have in stock or have carried at UpFrontGuitars. We’re on a steep learning curve recording-wise, so probably the clips will get better as we go!

ASAT Classic Custom Semi Hollow, Maple Neck – Recorded through Dr Z Remedy Head into pine 1×12 cabinet with G12H30 speaker, Shure SM57 microphone. JHS Charlie Brown Pedal used for overdrive tones. Recorded February 14th, 2012

ASAT Clas Cust SH

 

 

Selecting Guitar Pickups – Science or Art?

December 7th, 2011

Without a doubt, if you want to change the sound of your guitar the biggest single difference you can make is to change the pickups. Anything else: Bridge, saddle materials, pots, caps or tuners are refinements and tweaks that may or may not have a noticeable effect. But changing a pickup can have a mild to radical effect on the sound of your guitar. So how do you select a pickup with any level of certainty? After all it is a “blind” purchase, and aside from a demo guitar or sound clips there really is not an effective way to audition a new pickup.

Like music itself, making pickups is a blend of science and art. Furthermore, describing how a pickup sounds practically has it’s own vocabulary. You’ll hear words like “cluck”, “chime”, “hot” and “glassy” among other words to describe how pickups sound. To some degree you just have to immerse yourself into the world of pickups, read a lot of descriptions of various pickups, listen to sound clips or demo videos where available, and  learn to relate what they are saying to what you are hearing. Like wine buffs, “pickup geeks” have their own language. But at the risk of generalizing, there a some basic categories and classifications that most people can agree on.

Conventional Pickups – By this I mean pickups that follow that follow the classic construction and material techniques set forth by industry pioneers at Fender, Gibson, Rickenbacker, etc. Within the world of conventional pickup designs there are arguably three typical configurations:

Fender® Style Single Coil – Essentially thousands of turns of fine gauge magnet wire wrapped around a bobbin with six individual magnet pole pieces. Some erroneously call it an electromagnet, but a pickup is actually an inductor. The vibrating strings disturb the pickup’s magnetic field and induce a current (signal) in the coil which goes to your amp and the rest is history, and a lot of it. This type of design is famous for clarity, good string definition, high end response, and the propensity to pick up stray electrical noise (hum).

The P-90 Style – This design was introduced by Gibson® in 1946, although there were earlier similar designs. The p-90 is a single coil pickup but the (6) pole pieces are threaded steel screws that pass through the coil with a bar magnet located beneath the coil. The overall coil resistance of the P-90 is generally higher than the Fender single coil, and the magnetic field is different. P-90’s tend to be higher in output with a thicker midrange and less clarity at the high end. The P-90 has gone in and out of vogue over the years, but a good P-90 is a joy, especially in the bridge.  Some Fender-type pickups are really “imposters’ and actually follow the P-90 design. For example, many Fender MIM (Made in Mexico) and some Godin Stratocaster-type pickups are actually steel pole pieces with bar magnets beneath the coil. Usually this is a cost-driven decision although they can sound pretty good. P-90’s share the same noise issues as the Fender pickup, sometimes worse.

Hum Canceling (Humbucker) – Invented in 1955 by Seth Lover, who worked at Gibson. The humbucker pickup uses two single coils wired in series and out of phase. Using what is call common mode rejection, the two coils cancel most of the hum. Humbuckers are characterized by a fuller, thicker sound than a single coil, a strong midrange, but also with less high frequency response and upper end clarity. Nearly all Humbuckers use a construction similar to the P-90, with a bar magnet underneath the coil, and threaded screws or steel pole pieces that pass through the coil. There are many variation of the humbucking design: The coils can be in line which is the most typical configuration, facing each other with the pole pieces in between the two coils, or stacked which gives the appearance of a single coil pickup. The Precision Bass and G&L Z-Coil pickup have two coils side-by-side with each coil covering just half the strings. This provides hum canceling benefits while retaining a more single coil tone.

Variations on a Theme – For many, the best pickups were invented nearly sixty years ago, and that’s that. But there is always somebody our there trying to improve the breed and there are some notable examples. Lace Sensor has been producing uniquely designed hum cancelling pickups for many years, aimed primarily at Stratocaster players. Their Lace Alumitone pickup is a real departure — in both looks and sound — from a normal pickup and combines both noiseless operation and a very broad frequency range. The G&L MFD (magnetic field design) pickup in terms of construction is really very much like a P-90. However, the MFD has a fairly low coil resistance and larger magnetic field. The result is high signal output and a broad, flat frequency response. The term “hi-fi” is often associated with MFD pickups because they don’t over accentuate any particular frequency. Guitar players in general are conservative bunch, and many shy away from anything seen as deviating from past classics. But the Lace, MFD, and noiseless pickup designs from Lindy Fralin and others offer some real alternatives to the classic limitations of pickup design.

Can you buy a pickup on “specs”?

There are a several ways to characterize a pickup by measuring certain properties. However some of those are hard for the typical consumer to relate to. The most common measurement of a pickup is resistance (usually in thousands of ohms, or KΩ). Resistance is essentially the DC resistance of the pickup coil. Resistance can generally describe the approximate output of a pickup, and typically higher resistance pickups are hotter (louder) pickups. Resistance can be increased by either more windings, or changing the gauge of the magnet wire, or a combination of both. While we are talking generalities, higher resistance pickups will often have more midrange and less high frequency response, and a “fatter” sound.  As mentioned earlier, pickups are not actually resistors but inductors, and inductors are measured in Henries. Lace actually lists the inductance of their pickups, but I’m not sure that is of much value to the average guitarist.

Magnet power can be measured too, but measuring the magnetic field of permanent magnets is quite complex, and beyond the realm of most of us. Different magnet materials such as generic ceramic magnets and the revered ALNICO (Aluminum, Nickel, Cobalt) have differing magnetic properties, retain their magnetic properties differently over time. Some pickup makers will actually “age” their pickups, essentially demagnetizing them (degaussing) to replicate how an old pickup might sound now. So magnet efficiency and material (Ceramic, ALNICO 2, ALNICO 5, Samarium Cobalt) do make a difference in pickup sound and efficiency, but most people rely on subjective descriptions rather than hard measurements. You can always subjectively measure the magnetic properties of a pickup by taking a small screwdriver and seeing how strongly it is attracted to a pickup pole piece. Again talking in generalities, stronger magnets will induce a greater signal in the coil and produce more output.

Many months ago I was swapping out some pickups in my son’s “Highway 1” Telecaster. It’s a nice guitar, but I’m a Rio Grande dealer and wanted to road test some of their product. The stock Telecaster bridge pickup sounded pretty good but was maybe a little thin. I measured the resistance, and it was a whopping 11K ohms. But the magnets had almost no “pull” on the screwdriver. The resistance of the Rio Grande Halfbreed Tele bridge pickup was a more normal 8K resistance, but the ANILCO magnets had a much stronger subjective pull. The result? Both pickups had similar volume output but sounded different. If we looked at the Highway 1 pickup solely in terms of resistance we would think, “wow that’s going to be really hot”. But not knowing the magnetic field of the pickup showed how resistance is a incomplete measurement by itself. It’s reasonably safe to say that selecting a pickup by reading the manufacturer’s technical data is not going to accurately describe the tonal qualities of the pickup.

So How Do I Select A Pickup?

Without being a wise guy: It’s a journey. As mentioned earlier it’s important to read pickup reviews, gear pages, and manufacturer’s websites, and experiment a little by trying out some pickups. If you can handle a screwdriver and a soldering iron, the world is your oyster. If you try a pickup and don’t like it very much, chances are somebody on eBay will. Keep in mind that pickups will sound different in different guitars, so it’s most effective to experiment with your own guitar.

There are many other factors that affect the sound of a pickup than just resistance and magnetic force: Winding pattern, winding tension, potting (usually a wax material applied to the coil to help prevent feedback), bobbin size and height, etc. It’s impossible for the consumer to predict the effects of all these potential design considerations. It’s for the manufacturer to do the proper R&D to determine what variables give them the sound they want within their cost targets.

Do not assume that only boutique manufacturers can produce good pickups. There are many small winders devoting tremendous energy into recreating the vintage vibe of early pickups, but reverse engineering a 1957 PAF may not be the solution to everybody’s needs. Larger companies can do a lot of R&D and invest money into building very consistent processes. Just because “Company A” sells thousands of “shred-o-matic” pickups at the local big box does not mean they can’t satisfy the needs of a blues traditionalist. I work with a guitar builder that often uses boutique pickups in his guitars but also really likes the DiMarzio Area 51 pickups and encourages their use. I sell Rio Grande pickups, and they don’t get hung up on creating vintage reproductions. Their focus is to build great sounding pickups for a variety of applications. I wish they would write better descriptions on their website, but I’m OK taking the time to write my own. I also really like the G&L MFD pickups (not all of them equally though) and their large MFD is probably my favorite pickup to play. But it’s not a vintage anything, and especially not a traditional Fender single coil. Leo Fender developed the MFD because he was trying to develop something that was even better. He was looking forward, not backwards.

So while there is science in pickup building, the selection of a pickup is almost totally subjective, and purchasing pickups just based on specifications or snob appeal will not lead to guaranteed satisfaction. Read, listen, test, experiment, and develop your own understanding of what works for you. And don’t forget to practice in between pickup swaps!