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Guitar Setup and how setup affects Axe-Fx

favance

Veteran
@Admin M@ Would be cool if we could have a Thread Group dedicated to how Guitars (and Setup) affects the Axe-FX. I had an affinity after having issue with a guitar setup and how it affects the sound (w/Axe-FX III or real amps). It seems I had adjusted the pickups on a couple of my guitars too high (to close to the strings). Once I started experimenting, I got the guitars dialed in and it just opened up the Ax-FX... I cannot understate how much the guitar/pickups/action affects the sound. I really think this is an issue that others are having, that could be addressed in an Axe-FX Thread! Thanks.
 

chris

Legend!
That doesn’t just affect the Axe though. I’m sure a resource already exists explaining how to setup guitars.

Pickups are magnets. Magnets pull on the metal strings if they’re too close. It’s sorta standard guitar setup 101, so I’m sure some site talks about it.
 

favance

Veteran
My point was that I don't think many of the Axe-FX user base realizes how much the guitar/setup effects the response/tone that impacts the amp/effects...many of the posts I've seen, could be easily solved with a basic tutorial on the guitar/setup.
 

Muad'zin

Forum Addict
Well, then explain in what way exactly and precisely how a guitar's setup impacts the Axe FX. Because other then coming in a little too hot I can't see how, and you don't give any details. And LOTS of people use guitars with very hot pickups, so the Axe should be able to handle that.
 

jon

Fractal Fanatic
Pickups are magnets yes, but there is a lot more that goes in. It's probably the most important factor regarding the axe.

"Tone"wood means absolutely nothing to the axe.....it might come into play for acoustics, not electrics. I have a guitar that is simply a neck, bridge and pickups and sounds better than most of my other guitars

A good bridge will give you chime and sustain, and change the attack slightly

Picks make a big difference in sound - materials, thickness, etc.

Strings affect the tone - gauge, material

Cap values make a big difference in the axe as well....


But it's mostly about pickups - the height, wiring (eg parallel vs series), magnet strength, number of turns, orientation of poles.....LOTS to consider here....

I have over 50 guitars and have set up and played many hundreds more, and the axe is all about pickups
 

unix-guy

Legend!
Pickups are magnets yes, but there is a lot more that goes in. It's probably the most important factor regarding the axe.

"Tone"wood means absolutely nothing to the axe.....it might come into play for acoustics, not electrics. I have a guitar that is simply a neck, bridge and pickups and sounds better than most of my other guitars

A good bridge will give you chime and sustain, and change the attack slightly

Picks make a big difference in sound - materials, thickness, etc.

Strings affect the tone - gauge, material

Cap values make a big difference in the axe as well....


But it's mostly about pickups - the height, wiring (eg parallel vs series), magnet strength, number of turns, orientation of poles.....LOTS to consider here....

I have over 50 guitars and have set up and played many hundreds more, and the axe is all about pickups
What kind of music do you play? Because I would disagree with your comments on tone woods.

Everything you mentioned has an impact, including tone woods.

Interestingly, @ML SOUND LAB had a recent thread that basically said the opposite: basically that pickups don't matter.

I own many guitars with the exact same pickups, same construction, same setup, same bridge. They don't sound the same. The difference? Body wood and neck wood.

Mahogany is different than Basswood which different than Alder.

Rosewood fretboard is different than Maple.
 

favance

Veteran
Many have complained of buzzing on certain amp models...I too experienced this when my pickups were too close to the strings. Widening the gap between pickup and strings solved the problem for me....just wanted to note this might help others when diagnosing issues. Of course other guitar setup issues (strings too low, etc.) could cause similar issues.
 
Pickups are magnets yes, but there is a lot more that goes in. It's probably the most important factor regarding the axe.

"Tone"wood means absolutely nothing to the axe.....it might come into play for acoustics, not electrics. I have a guitar that is simply a neck, bridge and pickups and sounds better than most of my other guitars

A good bridge will give you chime and sustain, and change the attack slightly

Picks make a big difference in sound - materials, thickness, etc.

Strings affect the tone - gauge, material

Cap values make a big difference in the axe as well....


But it's mostly about pickups - the height, wiring (eg parallel vs series), magnet strength, number of turns, orientation of poles.....LOTS to consider here....

I have over 50 guitars and have set up and played many hundreds more, and the axe is all about pickups
You refer to the “axe “ several times...do you mean the guitar or Axe Fx? Just curious.
 

jon

Fractal Fanatic
What kind of music do you play? Because I would disagree with your comments on tone woods.

Everything you mentioned has an impact, including tone woods.

Interestingly, @ML SOUND LAB had a recent thread that basically said the opposite: basically that pickups don't matter.

I own many guitars with the exact same pickups, same construction, same setup, same bridge. They don't sound the same. The difference? Body wood and neck wood.

Mahogany is different than Basswood which different than Alder.

Rosewood fretboard is different than Maple.
Now I'm an engineer by trade, so I'm not one to make a 17 page argument thread about a subjective matter . Instead, let's do an objective tone test or 'learning experiment' so we can all benefit, and see for ourselves :)

We both will do two short videos - with us demonstrating our points

In the first one, you can use as many guitars as you like, provided they are indeed as you say - same setup, strings and otherwise identical except for the woods they are made of. The bridge has to be the same height and the strings have to be the same gauge and material.
With them both unplugged, strum an F# chord twice the same way, in the same place on both guitars, and post up the video.

This eliminates the pickups entirely, leaving the sound difference due to the woods.

There may be a subtle difference, so to make it more pronounced, you can use a transducer like say the Korg CM200 and clip it on to the same place on the body of each guitar. Post the video too. The difference now is pretty much ONLY wood vibration.

But the difference is still not that stark as when I play through my Axe Fx you say.....

Now plug into the axe fx and using the same patch (preferably a clean sound), play the same F# twice on the guitars. Post the video, and you'll hear some more difference....you will wonder why on earth they didn't sound as pronounced unplugged, and I'll explain in more detail why when you post the video.

I'll also make a video, with just ONE guitar, and will make a couple adjustments to ONE of the pickups, and you will hear a VERY marked difference. I'll use the same patch you do, you can post it here, or use a factory preset. I still have my ultra, ii, AX8 and iii, so whichever one you wanna make the video with I can use the patch. I'm going to play the same F# twice, just in the same way you did, and post the video.

We can do a poll and see which of the videos the readers here find have the most significant differences and which have the least - just to make things more objective.

Sounds like a good test? I'm sure even Mikko would have to agree with the results afterwards.

I already know the answer, done experiments like this so many times to know the outcome, butets do it for the sake of edification for everyone here, what say you?
 
I meant the Axe FX, sorry for not being more specific
Ahhh, no worries! Now, you guys got me thinking about this, and yes, I can hear pretty big differences between the different pickups in my guitars, although they're not all the same wood. The thing is, I would have to say that speaker choice and\or IR would still hold the top spot for me, as far as having the most impact on my tone. YMMV:)
 

jon

Fractal Fanatic
Ahhh, no worries! Now, you guys got me thinking about this, and yes, I can hear pretty big differences between the different pickups in my guitars, although they're not all the same wood. The thing is, I would have to say that speaker choice and\or IR would still hold the top spot for me, as far as having the most impact on my tone. YMMV:)
Oh yeah!! The speaker is the single biggest tone impactor, but this thread is not about amps and cabs, it's about the things that makes a difference to the axe, like guitar setup, so that's what the focus is on
 

lqdsnddist

Axe-Master
My guitars that sound best with real amps are the same that sound best with the Axe

Good setup, good resonant tone, comes through with the Axe models, just as with real amps

Never thought to myself “I’m using a modeler, I need the raise the action a little more”.....

Whole point of the Axe, and Cliffs constant improvement, is to have soemthing that sounds and responds just like going into an amp, with the goal being that the same guitar plugged into and amp or the model of the amp will sound the same.

If you need to change pickups, setup a guitar different etc to sound best, but don’t with a real amp, then the model would be lacking
 

unix-guy

Legend!
We can do a poll and see which of the videos the readers here find have the most significant differences and which have the least - just to make things more objective.
Here's the problem: you totally misread my post. I didn't say that pickups are not important, nor did I say they are not the most significant contributor to tone.

What I said was:
  • Tone woods DO affect the tone
  • That somebody ELSE (Mikko) said pickups don't matter (didn't say I agreed)
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
Just to be clear about what I said exactly. I've been building guitars myself with a buddy for a couple of years now so we test a lot of this stuff out. What this enables us to do is to have the exact same guitar designs made of the exact same piece of wood with different hardware/pickups etc. on them. The first builds we did had cheapo no-name Korean pickups in them that are literally $15 pickups. Those guitars sound really good! Really good. The latest ones have everything from DiMarzio to Seymour Duncan to Bareknuckle and yes although there is a difference it's not a $200-300 difference.

There are simply many other upgrades to make your guitar good besides pickups like having your nut done properly and it being a bone nut or tusq. Upgrading the bridge, saddles and having nice frets.. essentially everything that touches the string is in my opinion MORE IMPORTANT THAN PICKUPS. Yet guitar players will drop $300 on boutique pickups but they won't spend $30 on getting that nut fixed. This is where I feel so many guitar players automatically blame their pickups for a guitar tone that they're not happy with while in reality I would say that's hardly ever the reason. Cheap pickups "can" sound really good.

Strings vibrating against a plastic nut or plastic covered saddles/bridges with crappy rusty frets will always sound really bad no matter how expensive pickups you put in a guitar. Tonewood IMHO affects the brightness of the instrument and depending on the case it might actually be a bigger difference than pickups but many of the tonewoods being used have very similar characteristics to them so you won't necessarily notice a big difference. One of my guitars is essentially like a Music Man/Blackmachine clone and it's got a birdseye maple fretboard with a walnut neck and an ash body. I have a set of SD JB/Jazz humbucker pickups in it and people think it's a Stratocaster based on clips like:

 

jon

Fractal Fanatic
I was a luthier for quite a few years, and I have done all the tests you probably have done to arrive at your conclusion. I've also done other tests that most others have NOT done - scalloped vs non scalloped, swap out the nickel frets for stainless steel, plastic nut for bone and tuck etc, steel bridge for brass, replaced sustain blocks, different saddles, swapped out necks, swapped out bodies, chambered vs non-chambered etc. So when I say what I say, it is from years of hacking up poor guitars!!

Here's the thing, the 'higher tier' pickups tend to start to sound similar.....most of the time they are well potted, have great construction, similar magnets, have a lot of turns, similar or same pole pieces.

With a little gain, they ALL will seem to sound the SAME.

Where the difference is completely night and day is the lower output stuff...usually the stuff players consider 'low tier or mid tier' where the pickups are not as well wound....or have 'cheaper' magnets.....or where the poles are just short iron blocks, and the copper is this super thin wire...

This to me is where most guitar players are after those tones from those classic guitars...the construction then was quite different...and on lower end guitars, or 'vintage styled' guitars, you get these great sounding pickups that are most times replaced with something to 'drive the amp', however, in the axe fx this is no longer a concern.
You'll hear it though- you'll gloss over those fender amps when using 'hot pickups' cuz they sound flubby and compressed and wonder why the mesas sound like crap with your jazz master or 335. However, with so many options in the axe, you don't give it a second thought....you just switch to another patch and all is right again.

That's why M@ was saying the other day - pickup makers like Dimarzio are coming around with the times and what modelers are doing for the guitar world. In years gone by, you'd want super wound hot pickups to make that amp come to life, but with axe fx, you will find much better sounds with 'weak' or 'cheap' or 'vintage styled' pickups.

That's why your $15 Chinese pickups sound better than most of the other guitars and you obviously came to the conclusion that pickups don't make a difference- I did too at first years ago, but just like the cab makes the most significant difference for your tone, the pickups make the most significant difference for your guitar.

Here's the paradigm shift- with most guitar gear, you get better sounds with higher end stuff.....amps, speakers, cables, pedals...but if you want some amazing unique dynamic tones, look at lower tier pickups.....quite the opposite!! :O

If you don't believe me, do the video I suggested, let's debunk some myths.
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
@jon I think we're agreeing. My point was never to say "pickups don't matter", none of my "real" guitars have cheap pickups in them but most of them do have stock pickups in them. While I agree with you I will call out one of the most common myths that the majority of guitarists believe in:

"Buy a cheap guitar but replace the pickups with DiMarzios or Duncans and it'll be just as good as all the expensive guitars."

That's the myth I want to kill and that's the one I hear the most. You'll hear the most idiotic things that people try to fix with pickups. "I can't play this part because my guitar's tone [insert adjective] so I got these pickups and now I can play a lot faster". When you change your pickups you often change your strings while at it. The bigger difference in tone is most likely the new strings.
 

favance

Veteran
@jon That's the myth I want to kill and that's the one I hear the most. You'll hear the most idiotic things that people try to fix with pickups. "I can't play this part because my guitar's tone [insert adjective] so I got these pickups and now I can play a lot faster". When you change your pickups you often change your strings while at it. The bigger difference in tone is most likely the new strings.
I've been able to make more of a difference with changing the control cavity components, including better pots and capacitors...Also, I can't understate the value of leveling the pickups: not too close and not too far from the strings! (see original thread comments).
 

jon

Fractal Fanatic
Yeah I agree with that...a lot of the time when players change pickups, they change strings and that has a big impact on tone - new strings will always feel more 'alive, dynamic, bright, clear, responsive' and all the terms we like to use....

Most times too they install the pickups at a different height too which has a big impact on sound - it's like a Farfield IR vs one on the cone....same mic/pickup can yield drastically different results!

Now say ceramic vs neodymium vs alnico 2 can cause a big difference in tone, just like with how many windings there are, so if factors like this change, they are also hearing this, combined with new string and pickup height, so the difference appears more stark.

The difference becomes less apparent however when you go up in output...

If you swap a D-sonic and a crunch lab for eg you might not notice as much difference as opposed to say the D-sonic and an Air Norton. Diminishing returns as the pickup gets 'hotter'.

There are lots of things that affect tone, but pickups are the biggest one....not only different ones, but even the same one with a different magnet (ever tried swapping the magnet or adding tiny neodymium ones on the bottom?) or turns (eg coil tap) or height or pole piece orientation or angle will make a noticeable difference.

Similarly, tone woods and fret material DO make a difference as well, but it's so small in comparison that it's practically negligible - in a blind listening test who can tell the difference in two otherwise identical bodies that just have say an ash body vs a basswood one? Not much....there will be a difference but it's not that pronounced. However, split a coil or raise or lower the pickup 1/4" - just about everyone can tell which is which.

If I had to pick an order, in terms of significance of guitar only differences (electric), it would be:

Pickups (includes wiring changes, actives, position etc)
Cap values
Pot values (eg 250 k vs 1Meg)
Strings (eg thick vs thin)
Chambered vs solid etc
Bridge type/material and construction, fixed etc
Pickup guard (eg aluminium vs plastic)
Sustain block
Scale length

Break angle (larger angle is usually better)
Neck material
Body material
Bolt on vs neck through
Construction (eg properly fitted neck joint)
Fret material
Nut type (only really makes a difference for open strings, but can make a big difference if you play ONLY open strings)

Wire type/material (really only makes a difference for say, smaller wires eg solid gauge vs stranded)
Spring claw material
Tuners (eg PRS tuners are brass posts)
Scalloped vs non scalloped


In the first list the differences are obvious and can be told from a couple seconds in a blind listening test.
In the second list, there are differences to be had, but less impactful and you'll be hard pressed to tell which is which.
In the third list, these are often so minute you can't really tell. In a blind listening test you're likely to get them wrong, and the audience will certainly not know the difference.

There are lots of more major factors that are not on the guitar itself but I've stayed away from those, eg player dynamics, picks, cables, etc....these are just things on the typical guitar itself that make a difference.

YMMV, but after years of hacking guitars to bits, these are the conclusions I've come up with.

This is for electric guitars though - acoustics are quite a bit different
 

Henry

Inspired
If you listen to this very well made video by the mighty Keith Merrow, I think it will be hard to defend the position that pick-ups don't make a huge difference, or differently put, can sound very different. But you be the judge, I'll not engage in an argument.

He's even only comparing Seymour Duncan humbuckers. The first 3/4 of the video are guitar in the mix, so it's not that easy to hear a difference, and he spends longer on each pick-up. Towards the end he plays just the riff on guitar alone, and here it becomes very obvious how different these pups sound. Imho.

Also, super cool riff by Keith.

 
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