• We would like to remind our members that this is a privately owned, run and supported forum. You are here at the invitation and discretion of the owners. As such, rules and standards of conduct will be applied that help keep this forum functioning as the owners desire. These include, but are not limited to, removing content and even access to the forum.

    Please give yourself a refresher on the forum rules you agreed to follow when you signed up.

Guitar Pickups Don't Matter?!

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
I think the pre-EQ statement is exactly that Fluff and I have been trying to say all along.

Pre-EQ is not nearly as powerful as post EQ. Not saying that pre-EQ doesn't matter but the differences in pickup EQ are not big. They're just not. Pre-EQ is wide range, wide Q EQ while post EQ like a tone match or and IR is sharp Q and thousands of surgical EQ spikes. This is not a matter of opinion since you can measure this. EQ before gain stages is less powerful than EQ after gain stages. It's a fact. Try placing a PEQ block in front of a driven amp sim with some crazy settings. Then move it after the amp.......

Even if you had bad pickups you can do something about it. Low output? Add a clean volume boost before the amp. Muddy? Add a lowcut before the amp. Too bright? EQ it before the amp to your liking. And actually there's an EQ on the amp for this purpose as well.

We're on page 8 and people are still misunderstanding the point. You will not find crappy pickups on any of my guitars. That is not the point I'm trying to make here. Here's a clip I did yesterday. It's a $200 guitar vs a $2000 guitar. Real Mesa Mark V and a real Mesa cabinet:


One of the guitars is self made with the cheapest set of Duncans I could find. The other one is a full on Music Man Petrucci with his signature Dimarzio pickups. Let's just say that they should sound pretty much as different as any two humbucker guitars out there. I measured the difference with match EQ. It's 2dB more low end and that's all. Match EQ made them sound identical unsurprisingly.

Can we wrap this conversation up so we can start mythbusting tone wood already?
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
But......, but......, how else can we display our superior intellect by demolishing the silly arguments of our inferiors? We all know that he who has the last word, wins. If we don't respond, the inferiors win. ;):p
Hahaha exacty! Let's just say that the real truth lies somewhere between the extremes. So everyone is right because some aspects in here are opinions. :)
 

lwknives

Veteran
If pickups are irrelevant does that mean that coil tapping and parallel series switching is irrelevant? I've also heard great recordings done on Line 6 Pods, does that make fractal products irrelevant?
If the statement was that expensive pickups dont sound better than cheap pickups that are designed the same than I wouldn't have a problem but to say that aftermarket pickups are irrelevant is just spreading misinformation. Sometimes the pickup is the key component in getting a certain tone. I would even be ok if the statement was that IRs make a bigger tonal impact than pickups but sometimes a different style pickup is whats needed to get a special tone.
 

Fro

Veteran
Even if you had bad pickups you can do something about it. Low output? Add a clean volume boost before the amp. Muddy? Add a lowcut before the amp. Too bright? EQ it before the amp to your liking. And actually there's an EQ on the amp for this purpose as well.
For me, it's matching up the right pickup that's closest to the sound you like so that you don't have to work so hard to get to where you want to be with your tone. You can use eq and IR's to get whatever sound you want, and that is a great advantage to having an Axe Fx. Sure, you even have the tools to make an electric sound like an acoustic if you want to. But when I put a set of Super Distortions in my Guild S300 and realize that no matter what amp or cab I bring up, I spend the first 10 minutes constantly dialing out all of the things I don't like about the pickups, I might want to consider using different pickups. And when I put a set of T-Tops in, and every amp I call up sounds great to my ears at default settings, I would say that the pickups matter, at least from a work flow perspective.

Yeah, I know it's not the point of your original post. I would agree, don't change out pickups for small variations in tone when there are a lot of other quicker ways to do that and will get you to the exact same point. But when I have guitars that have sat for years untouched, and then become my favorite to play when I change out the pickups, I can't agree that pickups don't matter.
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
For me, it's matching up the right pickup that's closest to the sound you like so that you don't have to work so hard to get to where you want to be with your tone. You can use eq and IR's to get whatever sound you want, and that is a great advantage to having an Axe Fx. Sure, you even have the tools to make an electric sound like an acoustic if you want to. But when I put a set of Super Distortions in my Guild S300 and realize that no matter what amp or cab I bring up, I spend the first 10 minutes constantly dialing out all of the things I don't like about the pickups, I might want to consider using different pickups. And when I put a set of T-Tops in, and every amp I call up sounds great to my ears at default settings, I would say that the pickups matter, at least from a work flow perspective.

Yeah, I know it's not the point of your original post. I would agree, don't change out pickups for small variations in tone when there are a lot of other quicker ways to do that and will get you to the exact same point. But when I have guitars that have sat for years untouched, and then become my favorite to play when I change out the pickups, I can't agree that pickups don't matter.
I agree with you. That's a well put message. Obviously given the choice I would choose the pickups that have the amount of output I want and the kind of EQ balance that I want. Maybe the title should've been "Pickups don't matter as much as many people think they do" would've saved an arguement or two. :)
 

Mark-B

Inspired
...Can we wrap this conversation up so we can start mythbusting tone wood already?
Like balls you will!! :0)

...Was thinking about this today. Maybe this is just the sign of the times? ...People re-sampling audio – reducing a guitar’s input to 0s and 1s, manipulating digitally, and stringing the resulting code back-together in ever entertaining ways.

Hey, my soul isn't stainless in this arena. ..I was doing a bit of recording yesterday, and I thought to myself ,“Self! Y’know what I need?.. I need me a male choir.. Yup! That’s what I need!”

So, I looked around. ...and snagged something called “The Orchestra” by Best Service ..an amazing piece of software really. Samples of everything “orchestra”, with a very decent engine you can use to manipulate those samples with. You know midi, you tweak the samples - feed the resultant racket into your Midi track editor.

Sounds JUST like the Real Thing!

I BET, you could get a REAL Violin, ....and one of those samples.... :0)

Midi..

Remember when midi first came out? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but you had an option of “OomPaPaa!” and “MeeeeMeee!” noises to craft creative excellence with.. :0/ ..Now? Violins. Pianos, Flutes Oboes, ...Guitars even – can’t tell them from the real thing!!! ...Because they are samples of the real thing, that you can manipulate in...ever entertaining ways.

Now, I’m sure there are people on this forum who have played a violin or whatnot with an orchestra – or a guitar even - and are mid-eye-roll as we speak...because.. You can sample whatever you like, the perfection in music is it’s nuances, it’s imperfections, it’s humanization. An instrument’s beauty is a culmination of the little things.

Being around more amps than good modelers, back in the day, we had a choice – good sound, or bad sound, and you would buy gear to get as good a good-sound as you could afford. The higher quality the guitar and amp the better the sound (always).

These days.. It’s more zeros and ones..

As to your original premise - You never did explain why taking the pickup out of one guitar, and putting that same pickup in another, creates such drastic differences in sound, using the same settings.

It can only be one thing.. ;0)

My issue with your premise, that IRs negate the importance of the instrument and all that goes into it, is just that. Lack of respect for the instrument.

...Now if you want to reduce everything to the manipulation of samples/IRs.. Shouldn’t we just be going the whole hog? Cut Guitars with their IRs out of the equation and replace everything with midi? Hey, you don’t even need a guitar to play guitar, you just hit a key, or draw little blocks into your DAW’s midi editor.. With a little tweaking, eq’ing, Sounds just like the real thing!

..Hell, we don’t even hafta tweak that sampled midi anymore, in Studio One 4 Professional (for example) – it has an option – get this - “humanize” .. it takes midi input and makes it imperfect in human ways.

Phhh ...These times we live in.

But..Remember when we just had a “guitar” and an “amp”.. and quality – what a guitar and amp were comprised of, and how you played it, meant something?

Here’s another conundrum for us to tweak on over a cup of coffee and a sugary donut.

“Tone is in the fingers” .. Is it?

.. Now, if, these days, guitars don’t matter, and samples (IRs) are the only things that DO matter.. then, it would follow that neither does how we uniquely play guitars. So, “Tone is in the fingers” .. is it really ..or do we have an IR for that now?

Here-be another question – YOUR rig gets struck by lightning one night before the BIG Show.. Luckily, the Gods smiled upon you, and you manage to scrounge up an amp and a guitar and a couple of stomp boxes. Do you hope you find a good amp and a good guitar and some good stomp boxes, or some crap bargain basement stuff?

Honestly....Which would you hope to find?

... All BS aside, My issue is simply this.. You seem to be negating the instrument, over the processing. It’s one thing to say “well., we have an IR for that”.. it’s another thing entirely to say that the instrument, what it’s made from, the engineering, materials and craftsmanship that goes into a guitar just doesn’t matter.

I play guitar, been playing for a spell.. A guitar, what it’s made from, how it’s put together, to me? ...well ..it really does matter..

A few years ago – before IRs - I used a programmable digital EQ and EQ’d all my guitars through my rig to sound roughly the same as each other. Never really worked out.. Some of my guitars are so-very different from one another – no amount of tweaking would iron out their lumpiness.. So! That didn't last long..

Then ..Why would you have “guitars”... if you wanted them to all sound the same?

Me? I much prefer to use guitars to shape my sound these days – “Old School”, you might say. But, I do ..I like to grab "a different tool for the job", when it’s called for .. Works for me. ...and I can do that because each guitar, and the sounds that they make, are different. ..They just are.

..and you can do all the literary gymnastics as that you like, trying to negate the instrument in favor of impulse responses .. But ..I would imagine that - generally - you may have a tough sell on your hands regarding your theory.

Because – well ..pretty-much to a man, we all play guitars. :0) ..and since there is nothing special about me, I would hazard a guess that many of us have noticed those differences between guitars, pickups, construction and woods, you seemingly haven't.

No doubt.. Just like today's Midi. ..IRs and samples are a wonderful thing.. Can be anyway ...But they are not All things. And just like that "Male Choir" 'instrument'" ... These things do not replace the real things..
 
Last edited:

Billbill

Forum Addict
"Pickups are the most overrated part on a guitar". I believe Jimi Hendrix's tech said that in an interview.
They're so over hyped it's almost funny because now that I think about it, regardless of what was or wasn't available, some of the most saut after tones were made with stock pickups for example EJ's Cliffs of Dover (stock ES335), anything you've heard by Jimi or that era, and that's a many! The list goes on man
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
"Pickups are the most overrated part on a guitar". I believe Jimi Hendrix's tech said that in an interview.
They're so over hyped it's almost funny because now that I think about it, regardless of what was or wasn't available, some of the most saut after tones were made with stock pickups for example EJ's Cliffs of Dover (stock ES335), anything you've heard by Jimi or that era, and that's a many! The list goes on man
That's a good point. At least on the IR side of things I can say that the older the speaker - the better the sound. The oldest V30 speakers with the original design I have are definitely the best. The oldest Greenbacks.. that brings us to the Jimi/Jimmy ages. Let's face it, the most iconic guitar tones were done when there wasn't even an aftermarket pickup industry.

I would like to point out pickup height. Even if you're having problems with a specific pickup you can make it sound different by raising it up (depends on the pickup but generally more output = easier to play) or lowering it down (gives you more of a tight/bright sound generally but depends). So if you feel like your pickup is too whimpy maybe raise it up a bit and if you feel like you don't have much definition then lower it a bit. This brings me to things that make comparing your old pickup to a new set problematic: a) did you adjust your pickup height just like on your old pickup - if not then I don't thing you can judge that it's "tighter, brighter or higher output". b) did you change strings while changing pickups? Why not while at it right? Changing strings IMO affects your tone more than changing pickups so if you did therefore I think you can't truthfully A/B the pickups.

Just now I pulled up the Ozone match EQ and played around with my humbucker guitars without an amp: Gibson Les Paul, PRS Custom 24, two different PRS CE24s and my self made custom guitar with Seymour Duncans. I would say that the differences are usually in the low end where you find +-3dB variance and the middle frequency character is slightly different on the guitars. It's usually +-2dB from 500hz-1000hz. So I picked the most bassy guitar: stoptail PRS CE24 and the brightest guitar: my custom guitar and started changing pickup height to try and make them sound more similar. This is where I found that I can get them closer but those middle frequencies changed quite randomly in the process. Still those middle frequencies are just a couple of dBs and you can't really hear them even out of a mix let alone in a mix. The biggest difference was clarity and the pick snap transient which both come from fresh strings and the guitar itself. I'll probably make a video explaining this a little better at some point.
 

Muad'zin

Forum Addict
People love a simplistic explanation, as they like things clear cut and simple. But there are so many variables that go into making a guitar, wood, pickups, paint, electronics, builder skills, workshop climate. And that's excluding tolerances. There's probably 5 to 10% tolerance in values between electronic components, even quality ones. So that 500K pot in one guitar can be a 450K in one and a 550K in another. There's just no way that two guitars from the same builder built along the same specs can sound identical. Close, yes, the same, never. Changing pickups adds just another variable to a whole list of variables.
 

Mark-B

Inspired
... There's probably 5 to 10% tolerance in values between electronic components, even quality ones. So that 500K pot in one guitar can be a 450K in one and a 550K in another..
You see this all the time. I measure resistance of the pots these days, before fitting them. Some are way off. Seen pots stamped at 500k meter-out at closer to 325.

3 strats, all 3 single coils. , 2 suppliers, 3 different styles, 3 completely different tones, freq., warmth, volumes........and love all
4 Westone Panteras, 4 sets of different pickups. .. One wired passive, as a hot shredder, one wired passive for more mellow tones, one wired active 3band EQ w/gain, and one left stock... It's a collection of beautifully different sounding things. :D

...Somebody else said it, but I agree.. I would have left that Les Paul featured in the vid wired as is. The choice of tonal configurations in the original setup covered more ground in my opinion, and the pickups he chose to replace them were too close in character to the originals - though, in the samples, you could still pick out that Burstbucker top end clarity.

Then, I like Gibby Busrtbuckers..some people hate them.

...Ripped the stock EMGs out and Fitted Burstbucker Pros into an EC1000 ..Love that guitar now. The EMGs were great for percussive heavy rhythm but lacked idk?? ...detail? in anything more mellow (to my less than perfect ears).

I was playing a Gary Moore tune the other night.. something just didn't sound right, it was bugging the hell out of me.. Rotated the tone knob about six degrees - shaved off a tiny bit of top-end ...everything fell into place..

Tone might be in the fingers .. but it's also in the details.. ;) :D
 
Last edited:
Top Bottom