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Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by ML SOUND LAB, Jul 24, 2017.
Or perhaps people could let this old thread stay where it belongs and die it's natural death...
A story straight from a guy who tinkered with thee most iconic guitarist that's ever walked God's green earth. He stated that people would constantly hound him for specs and settings/tweaks or tricks and what not, that had been done to the guitars of Jimi Hendrix. He stated that back then, no one cared about aftermarket parts/pickups because they didn't exist yet. Players never cared either, they took what they had and made it sound great. He then went on to say that pickups are the most overrated part of the guitar.
With the technology we have today like the AxeFx, I now believe what he said to be true and still be the same case today.
Uli Jon Roth talks a lot about pickups and active, pre-EQ here and demonstrates his tones ("a pickup system that can deliver outrageous freedom") :
System and PSU:
Pickup design and demo starts here (after he talks about his LED lights):
With the right pickup you can 'bend it too your will' with pre-EQ a fair bit and get a lot of various voicings with it...can cover a lot of ground. Generally, IME, pre-EQ is far more 'useful' vs swapping tons of pickups, etc. to find 'the tone'. Medium output, tonally balanced pickups are all I need as generators; I then sculpt with pre-EQ.
I like his 18V system and how he phantom powers his guitar and I've considered doing that at times; having pre-EQ controls right on your guitar makes for an extremely flexible, and instantly tweak-able, setup. I love an active mid-control, in particular, right on the guitar...
I own a lot of different guitars primarily for their pups! They make a HUGE difference in sound. From P-90s to Zexcoils to the amazing (and amazingly cheap) GFS goldfoils - the differences are stellar! I mostly play single coils, but when I replaced my Epi-SG's stock humbuckers with 4 conductor Gibson Classic 57s (I think that's what they're called), the guitar instantly got more balls, more sweetness too. I am... sort of amazed that anyone would posit that pups don't make a huge difference - kinda like saying an SM57 and a U47 sound the same. Each transducer imparts its own character (and sometimes the cheaper character is what you want: we once tried every damn mic in a fancy studio for my brother's lead vocals, back in the late 70s/early 80s, and it was the 57 that he sounded best on. Then again, we were a punk band!)
IMO the differences between pups has become increasingly apparent with each iteration of FAS FW, which only makes sense.
P.S. I DO NOT believe that 'tone woods' matter much on a solidbody electric! I've heard great guitars made of plastic, cardboard, tin cans, and milk crates. I think that pickups and scale length are the two biggest determinants outside of the player's hands to solidbody electric guitar sound. Wiring comes in 3rd. Type of strings, 4th (unless you're going from flatwound to roundwound or vice-versa, in which case it might be 1st or 2nd place). People really underestimate scale length. Put identical pups into two guitars, one an SG and one a Strat, and they'll sound quite distinctly different - even if you replicate identical wiring. That longer strat scale will always have more chime.
I forgot to mention a few other things: solidity of neck/body joint, bridge mass, nut material.
Actually, I believe that if you changed the body, but it had identical pickups and wiring, you'd hardly hear anything at all. You could have 5 bodies, made from different tone woods, and even plastic, and I don't believe you'd hear much difference in a solidbody at all. A very, very slight difference is about it. There are quite a few videos on youtube that buttress my point.
This one is HYSTERICAL!
If there's one thing I've learned its that people don't like it when you tell them that what they passionately believe in is a bunch of bullshit. Be that religion, politics or tonewood. When you do that chances are you're not going to convince them, you're only going to trigger some form of cognitive dissonance that causes them to lash out at the messenger, not the message. Because then everything is right with the world again.
I've built several guitars using different woods. Alder, swamp ash, ash, mahogany, with maple necks, or rosewood necks. To me they all sounded the same, long before I even heard about the tonewood debate. I now prefer to use alder for guitarbuilding, because ash and mahogany are just too much of a pain in the nether regions to get a good finish with. I prefer maple necks just for the visual look, but I'll go with whatever looks best depending on the guitar's color scheme I'm going to do.
Everything matters a little bit. A guitar is the sum of its parts. Each part has some role to play in the whole system. Pickups certainly do matter, as do wood and construction type (bolt vs set neck, etc.), strings, picks, hardware and so on, but each part's contribution is often much more subtle than people want to believe (or at least not as much as sellers want you to believe). Put a PAF humbucker in a Strat and will not sound exactly like a Les Paul. Put a Fender single coil in a Les Paul and it will not sound exactly like a Strat. Each can sound a little bit closer though. People like to oversimplify what they do not fully understand and point to one thing and say "That's why it sounds like that". In reality, it is the combination of hundreds of factors or more. That reality does not sell parts. Hype and misdirection does.
Don't consider body material much different but I know a maple fretboard vs a rosewood IS EXTREMELY DIFFERENT!!! So don't even go there, please!! Then again this takes me back to my original point in this thread, even after the Uli Roth video, with an AxeFx, YOU HAVE ULI's guitar, you have both maple AND rosewood tones, you have strat tones, you have Bare knuckle pickups, actives AND passives, Duncans ect ect, the list goes on man with an AxeFx YOU HAVE IT ALL DOG GONNIT!!!!!!!
Not so much bridge mass as elasticity. If bridge mass were a determining factor, the best bridges would be made of lead.
Osmium is the way to go! It's twice as dense as lead. Hard to come by somewhat, though. But so is good tonewood.
It's not that I want to start a debate, or that I am denying your claim, but to me, other then a slightly different feel, I really don't notice much of a difference.
I'm loving the conversation here right now. Like I said before, my "clickbaity title" was meant to get more people into the conversation but maybe it was too much so that people jumped to gun to defend that pickups do matter. It is a matter of opinion whether or not something matters to you or not so this was all just about getting experiences and conversation going which it did so that's a good thing.
Much like @Muad'zin and several luthiers I've talked with (that I believe have a good understanding of everything that goes into making a guitar) have said that guitarists should pay more attention to everything that touches the strings so the nut, saddles, maybe even frets if you really think about it. Something that's easy to notice is when a plastic nut muffles those open chords. There is a wide spectrum of beliefs when it comes to guitar hifi and while at the other spectrum there's that Gibson guy just can't get the right sound without a nitro finish, at the other end of that spectrum is that guy who will make any tone work for him. I'm sure we would all like to be that guy that makes all gear sound good but that's not always the case for all of us. Also it's really easy for everyone to read about stuff with Google and all that but once again first hand knowledge is IMO more valuable (hence the point of this thread). Surely you'll find a pickup company on Google stating that pickups are the biggest thing you can change in a guitar and that may very well be the case. I think we can all agree that:
PICKUPS MAKE A DIFFERENCE - But does the difference matter to you? Can you get something out of a pickup that you can't do with EQ, drive and compression? I for one can get something out of my Fender, Gibson, PRS and Music Man guitars that the other brand can not do. Tone-wise the differences will be more about the single coil vs split coil vs humbucker thing. You can't use EQ to make a humbucker to sound like a single coil so at least there I would say pickups matter to me. However placing Strat pickups in an Ibanez did NOT make it sound like a Strat.
True. You gotta change the pots to 250K to get that Stratty sound. Even then, it won’t sound exactly the same, but it’ll be a whole lot closer.
Most certainly yes. Or rather, it might be possible to minimize the difference between pickups with an EQ (or an IR, which would be better), but it’s not very practical, certainly not with Axe FX.
Also, the difference in output and resonant frequencies somehow is difficult to match, too. Although I admit I didn’t try very hard.
IRs start to get expensive once you have spent a lot of money on different sellers just to find out that a library from 5 years ago sounds "better" than an up to date offering.
I´m short by $100 to hit the 1K spent on IRs, i have stopped because i really cant hear any more benefits of buying the newest library.
But i have spent a small fortune on pickups also, especially PAF clones and 1 vintage set. To me pickups have a tremendous impact in tone and feel on the way your amp will behave.
Every song has a magical IR, but the fewer you have the quicker you´ll find it.
Don't forget that IR's are linear. They do not take into account the minute differences you get from changing levels. Even for speakers and cabinets, the response you get at 80dB may not be exactly the same as the response you get at 110dB. It's usually pretty close, but there are usually minute differences (and sometimes even big differences if you push the speaker into breakup). Pickups are physical systems as well and they too can sometimes have similar idiosyncrasies (resonances, microphonics, etc.) that an EQ curve isn't going to fully capture.
Here's some links relevant to this discussion, if people want to get nerdy about pickups:
Cone breakup happens at low levels. Volume isn't a significant part of a guitar speaker's sound.
Our ears do like louder sounds though, so probably has more to do with perception/psycho-acoustics.
This is from Celestion:
"The effect of signal level is not huge,” says Ian White, "and certainly not as big as it is on the amplifier. These cone break-up mechanisms happen at a few microvolts input. You don't need to drive 20 Volts into the thing to make them happen. There are some level-related effects that come into play, but they're not the ones we've been talking about up to now. As the level goes up, the voice coil does heat up naturally. That will cause some compression and it could cause some other things to change slightly as well, so the sound will change a little bit as the speaker is driven harder. But the sound character of the speaker is just as much there at low levels as it is at high levels.”
The voice coil heating up would be part of the new Speaker Compression parameter in Axe-Fx I think...
On thegearpage, Jay Mitchell recently wrote that "cone breakup" is not related to nonlinearity, and can be captured in an IR taken at a realistic mic position.
My guess is that cone breakup essentially creates phase additions and cancellations at the higher frequency range of a woofer, creating peaks and lows which are linear and capturable by an IR.