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Guitar Pickups Don't Matter?

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
Vendor

Check this video!

This topic gets mixed opinions but I felt like sharing my attempt of once again replacing stock pickups in one of my guitars. Granted most of my guitars are premium instruments so the stock pickups are usually good to begin with but I've had everything from Ibanez to Squier in the past and I've never really felt a huge difference with new pickups, rather I feel the placebo effect in combination of fresh strings after the pickup switch.

I think I have tried the most common pickups out there and I don't by any means think that all pickups are bad, quite the opposite, I feel like most pickups are really good these days and you're maybe not getting much bang for buck spending hundreds of dollars on pickups (especially boutique premium pickups). I'm intentionally not naming any brands as I don't mean to single companies out.

"Where I'm coming from" is pretty clear so there's no reason hiding it. Luckily most people understand the value of IR's and I can make a living out of it but there's one guy out of ten who thinks IR's are too expensive. Really? After getting a $2.5k/$1.5k unit, two $500 monitors, a $2k guitar with $200 pickups... the most effective part of your signal chain is still IR's am I right? :)

I'd love to hear your experiences as I'm sure pickups have saved some of the guitar for you guys! :)
 

Jeries

Power User
Well...

If we just talk about single coils- there's a huge difference to me...

I can't use cheap or stock single coils- they kill me, and buzz/hum- drive me nuts- and overall sound like shit.

I'm not talking about Squiers either- to me- even what they put in MIM or even USA strats isn't good enough to me...

Not that I'm a strat snob or pickup snob- I just think cheap/stock/bad single coils are really really bad...

With that said (I hate when people use 'with that said' as a transition)

Humbuckers are a little different---

For me- most of the pickups Ibanez uses- even in their cheaper guitars- the humbuckers are 1- not that bad at all and 2- sound pretty damn close to dimarzio- OR they're actually made by dimarzio in the first place.

For me- it's more about the sound I'm trying to get not trying to get something "better"

So- I like EVOLUTION pickups- they're pretty shrill and in the wrong guitarists hands they're terrible- but in the write conditions they're great.
Not that whatever was in the guitar was bad- I just wanted a different bite to the guitar sound.

I got an Ibanez with 30 frets- I wanted a pickup that wouldn't be shrill and painful- so i got a dimarzio BREED in it- to tame the high end...

When it comes to like the pickups Satriani uses that I have in a few guitars- I wouldn't say they sound BETTER than the stock ones just different.

I watched that video- it's a little misleading because- you're comparing
a $100 pickup to a $100 pickup to a $100 pickup

Saying pickups don't matter is putting a Burstbucker in an Epiphone LP- where there's a difference.

BUT- if someone says 'i want new pickups' and they spend $100 on a neck pickup and $100 on a bridge pickup and get it installed- it's not going to be a bad sounding pickup. Whatever I suggest or they do- they can't really go wrong in that range.

But those subtle differences to the right people at the right time in the right guitar mean everything.

I had a while ago a knockoff china SG- with garbage electronics and defective epiphone factory pickups
replaced all the pickups and wiring- and didn't go for expensive ones- my friend makes pickups and i bought 2 or 3 of his burstbucker style replacements and they were good. And it was a huge difference....

In the $2000+ guitar range they all have pretty good pickups to start- and changing them is more subtle.
 

mr_fender

Fractal Fanatic
I like to think of pickups like microphones. They can definitely make a big difference at times, but a $10,000+ vintage Neumann condenser mic isn't going to make Yoko Ono sound like Adele. There's only so much any transducer can do to change or improve a source. It's just one piece of the puzzle.
 

Johan Allard

Power User
That's a little bit like saying as long as you use greenbacks, and some decent mics and roughly know what you're doing, you can shoot an IR that sounds good with a Plexi style amp. Beyond those fundamentals - IR's don't matter. Maybe you can't here the difference or the difference is not important to you. But replacing the stock burstbucker pups in my Les Paul with some Bare Knuckle pickups made a massive difference to me. But as with anything you're going to have a law of diminishing returns, are replacing good pups with other good pups is not going a make massive difference, just as replacing a good ir's with other good ir's is not going to make a massive difference. To some people the stock ir's are good enough, to some the stock pickups are good enough. Same diff, except maybe that as a collective we've been building pickups for far longer meaning that there's more collective knowledge of what makes a good or a bad one and there's therefore less bad ones available these days.
 

symphx

Fractal Fanatic
Sounds like an ad for IR's ;) pickups make a huge difference in sound. MOre so than ever since using the axe fx vs a real amp. In fact, it has become a chore switching guitars as I have many, as it so greatly changes the sounds I hear. Sure this could be the woods etc. but even in very LIKE guitars the pickups present the most change. More than IR's no probably not, but yes they matter a lot.

NOw if your point is can I eventually dial out the idiosyncrasies of different pickups with the axe fx probably, this is why I almost never replace decent stock pickups. But yes they change the sound.
 

Severed

Fractal Fanatic
I use mostly EMG actives and there is huge differences between them all as I have personally spent the time swapping them out in all guitars to find the best combinations for each.

As for IR's being too expensive... I think they are. So many sheep in this world though fueling the industry, but that's a topic for another thread....
 

Jemwiz00

Member
I think an instrument is more than the sum of its parts. I've had some magical combinations that are hard to replicate. Much like the "amp in the room" scenario, it is entirely subjective. There are so many variables nowadays (Including ir's) that is hard to know where to start. I'm in the "it's all important" school. Full disclosure, I am also a believer in tone wood. It's so cool to be able to try so many options in-the-box with Fractal products. I'm a fan of using all the tools they have to offer. Rock on...
 

Geezerjohn

Fractal Fanatic
I have owned a LOT of guitars since buying my first electric in 1962. Back in the "vintage" days, quality control was not what it is today. There was a huge variation in how various guitars sounded (though the same amp). While there is less variation in this day of machined parts, there is still variation.

I have purchased a few guitars online, but most I purchase after carefully shopping. For example, when I was shopping for a Strat back in 1990, I tried MANY Strats. I use a specific methodology to select a guitar. After playing dozens of Strats, I still could not find one that had the "ring". I expanded my quest and started trying PRS. After playing a few 24CE's I picked up one that just rang like a bell. Sounded WAY different than the others. I bought it, and still have it. That guitar flips more notes than any other guitar I ever played. ANYONE who plays it, is stunned at how it sounds. I have had MANY offers to buy it. If pickups make no difference, how is it that only that guitar sounds the way it does? How is it that even when trying similar guitars, only a few have the mojo? How is t that of all the PRS CEs only that guitar sounds like it does?

I have been an avid guitarist for 55 years. Variation in pickups is an important piece of the tone pie. To say that they are all the same is bool schidt. I have 55 years of experience that says otherwise.
 

antcarrier

Power User
I agree with you that IRs are far more important than pickup choice. Mic position and technique are the most important aspect of a guitar's recorded tone - acoustic or electric. You can't play the worlds greatest pickup though an IR of a makeshift paper plate speaker and have it sound good (or can you??), but you can play rubbish pickups through a good IR, and the tone can be decent. Also, gear choice aside, microphone technique by nature has a lot more variables than pickup adjustment.

However I absolutely disagree with you on the importance of pickup choice. I don't think this video demonstrates how different pickups behave in the real world. I use the word 'behave' specifically, because to me, pickups are more about feel and amp interaction than anything else. Some pickups make me play slow and soulfully. Some make me shred diarrhoea. Some make me play country licks, or make me prefer to pluck the strings with my fingers in stead of a pick. Some bounce and groove, some are cold and rigid. I could keep on making up silly comparisons all day.

I think it's less about EQ, and more about dynamics and inspiration. If you find pickups that bring out the best in your playing, you have found the right ones :)
 

PumpkinKing86

Experienced
Sorry, I don't agree with the position that pickups don't matter.

For one, you chose two similar styles of pickups to compare (and even then they sound different to me). Are you telling me there'd be no difference between the stock Gibson pickups and say a Dimebucker or a FilterTron? A high output pickup versus a low output pickup? That I'm experiencing some sort of placebo effect when I switch guitars and that they don't sound different at all and that the only thing that matters for guitar tone is an IR? I guess Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, Bare Knuckle, etc. should all go out of business because what they're doing doesn't matter. :p

I don't buy it. I don't want to seem harsh, but this argument is just bonkers to me.
 

dpeterson

Axe-Master
Single coils and p90's buzzing is part of the charm and sound. I think pickups just add flavors like speakers and woods in guitars. Take the JB for instance, I've heard it be a muddy mess in one guitar and quite different in a few others. All parts of the puzzle of finding what works for you and makes you happy.
 

GM Arts

Power User
Certainly not much difference between the pickups you used in the video.

IME pickup choice can make a HUGE difference to your guitar tone. I think the most noticeable difference is additional mids with hotter pickups, so it's common to have something slightly hotter at the bridge to get good solo tones from both pickups with the same amp settings.

Another noticeable difference, particularly in single coil pickups, is the string attack tone. Some pickups have a percussive and "chimey" attack while others have a soft attack, even cardboard-like in extreme cases.

Pickups affect the tone going INTO your amp/cab/rig. IRs affect the tone coming OUT.
 

benvigil

Experienced
Complete gap in logic here. I could come up with a hundred similarly false analogies, but time's-a-wastin'.

Sounds like an ad for IR's ;)
This....

pickups make a huge difference in sound.
...and this.

Go buy a $499 Ibanez or a $249 EBMM AX4 or a $349 G&L Legacy, swap the pickups with Bare Knuckles, and I'm betting you'll retract your post... at least the part about pickups.
 

Shredology

Experienced
I have replaced many pickups over the years and there has always been a clear difference. Many times I have made a blah sounding guitar into an amazing sounding one.
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
Vendor
I don't know who sold us guitar players the idea that pickups are the most important part of your guitar tone. We're still in early stages but we're building guitars at the same studio where we make IR's and once you study how guitars are being built you'll quickly start to appreciate "all parts that touch the strings". The nut, saddles and frets are always touching your strings. Those are IMO something guitar players should pay more attention to. The pickups are there to pick up the sound just like a microphone picks up a vocalist. A different mic will sound different but Pavarotti will still sound like Pavarotti even with a cheap mic.

I think the click-bait title mislead people to think that I don't think pickups matter. Like I said before, my guitars are all premium and come with good pickups. I love PRS but when I put my PRS pickups into a Jim Root tele it didn't sound anything like a PRS. When I put BKP Juggernauts into my cheap 8-string it didn't feel or sound anything like Misha's Jackson did. Still this has just been my experience and my aim was to start a conversation about it.

The IR comparison thing doesn't hold up... I've shot almost a 100 different V30 speakers during the past three years and if I made this kind of a clip with all of them the difference would be clear even when using the same mic on the same type of speaker, which is something I've done countless times.
 

steadystate

Fractal Fanatic
Based on personal experience, I believe the pickup is the single most influential aspect of tone inherent to the instrument itself (assuming the instrument does not have a defect in construction or setup). It may be true that amplification and processing can (and usually do) make an even larger difference, but that does not negate my observations of my first statement.

Anyone who tells me they could discern that Ted Nugent was using a hollow bodied Gibson Byrdland based on recordings alone is kidding themselves. Replace his P.A.Fs with Strat, Danelectro, Filtertron, or Invader pickups, and you might hear a difference in tone.

The evidence that disparate pickups make a major difference in tone is clear enough for me to considered it fact, not opinion. Whether it matters to you, or anyone else, is opinion. Whether or not you can even hear the difference provides no support to your argument. If you can't hear the difference, then it shouldn't matter to you. But statements suggesting that those who disagree were somehow "sold" the idea is condescending. I do agree that price does not indicate quality. Some of my favorite pickups are ultra-cheap stock Ibanez Powersounds from the 90s.

Edit: Added 20 lines of space after my post to make it seem more important and to waste space. Perhaps one day I'll add it to my signature to make sure I waste said space in every post.























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steadystate

Fractal Fanatic
I don't think anyone in this thread has said that, except @steadystate who posted after you.
I didn't say it was the most important. I said it was the single most influential. More importantly, no one sold me on the idea. I came to the conclusion based on my own experience. His statement implies that this conclusion can only be reached by accepting a myth proposed by a third party at face value. I know for a fact that the pickup makes more of a difference in tone than any other single aspect of any electric guitar with which I have personally experimented. If his experience gives a different conclusion, it only means that the guitars and pickups with which he has experimented do not represent an adequate sample.

I've swapped pickups in many guitars and recorded the raw output onto tracks in my DAW for direct comparisons. In every case, the same pickup sounds essentially the same, no matter what guitar the pickup was in. The converse was true of the guitars. In every case, the same guitar sounded very different depending on the pickup installed (assuming the pickups themselves sounded different).

Also note that I specified any "single aspect". Obviously, everything about a guitar's design and construction will affect the tone in some way. But I can think of no other single consideration that has more of an effect on the unprocessed electric tone than the pickup. Flatwound vs roundwound strings (and nickel vs steel) would probably be second.

The bottom line is that the OP's video used a comparison between two similar pickups to make an erroneous general conclusion based on extremely limited samples. If the gentle reader of this thread has no direct experience on which to base a conclusion, Youtube is loaded with pickup comparisons that show striking differences in raw pickup tone between makes and models.
 
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electronpirate

Moderator
Moderator
Also note that I specified any "single aspect". Obviously, everything about a guitars design and construction will affect the tone in some way. But I can think of no other single consideration that has more of an effect on the unprocessed electric tone than the pickup. Flatwound vs roundwound strings (and nickel vs steel) would probably be second.

Agree with this.

But I also believe that a good pickup won't make a crap guitar sound great. BETTER, but not great. However (as was said) Isolating any one thing as 'spend your money here' is a nice way to blow cash.
 
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