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Thread: Thoughts on pickup position

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    Axe-honerated spellcaster's Avatar
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    Thoughts on pickup position

    Your thoughts on pickup position?

    I'm coming to certain conclusions. The first is that there's probably one position on a guitar body where a particular pickup sounds best. Not to say that a pair of pickups is a bad idea, to give the guitar multiple tone personalities, but if one of those pickups is in the sweet spot, it'll probably outshine it's companion.

    It seems credible to me that dedicated bridge pickups and dedicated neck pickups, which seems to be a standard arrangement, may not be the optimal spots. I heard lots of comments about "icepick" tone from bridge pickups, so maybe up tight against the bridge might not be as good as, for example, the spot a little further away, where a Les Paul Junior or a Musicmaster pickup is planted

    What started me thinking down this road is my recent revelation that the middle pickup by itself in the Strat I've been playing is really the best of the 11 possible series and parallel pickup combinations. It's nothing special....just an MIA Deluxe Strat alnico pickup, but it embodies the qualities that I look for to get a characteristic Strat sound.

    I'm sure it could be different for different people, and definitely for different pickups. (I remember someone, I think it was zontar, mentioning that he likes P90's in the neck position)

    This has me kicking around the possibility of a build, which would happen next year. I'm wondering about a Strat....or a Tele....with a single alnico single coil pickup - either mounted in the Strat-middle or Nashville-Tele position, or possibly set in what I think of as the "LPJr position" where it's not up tight against the bridge, but mounted midway between the normal middle and bridge positions......and not slanted or angled.

    Your thoughts? What do you like, and what's working for you?
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    Super Moderator die Bullen's Avatar
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    This is really a preference thing- one guy will say he always uses his bridge pickup and another will say he uses the neck PU.

    Personally I never use bridge pickups anymore. Even when I play my strat I always play the neck pickup- I am not even sure how the middle pickup sounds. I like my AVRI tele's sounds in all positions but the bridge pickup is unusable to me for the music I play, as much as I like it.

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    Axetastic doublewah's Avatar
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    I like all 5 strat switch positions, and will switch between them constantly throughout a set.

    The three pickups by themselves are what I will typically use the most for whatever style of song I am playing at the moment.
    Neck for jazz (which I suspect is why dB stays there), bridge for rock and country.

    To me, the middle pickup by itself is what I will use on a strat to get a quick acoustic sound.
    I'm not saying it really sounds like an acoustic, or any of the models that are out there, but it gets close enough to fool me enough to play the part convincingly.

    I do not like 24 fret guitars, because the neck pickup is sampling a different set of harmonics than on a 21 or 22 fret guitar, where the pickup is AT the 24th fret. And this stuff does not matter whether you play in E or not. Wherever the pickup is, is going to affect the tone regardless of the key you play in. So much of the music that has shaped our ears is played on guitars with a pickup at the 24th fret position. I don't think Clapton's "woman tone" would be the same if he played it on a 24 fret strat.

    So yeah, certainly the position of the bridge pickup is going to change the harmonics of the strings being sampled, again regardless of the key played in.

    I also like the idea of a humbucker in the bridge, and a P90 in the neck, regardless of the body type.
    I bought a relic'd guitar because I liked the way it sounded. Then I refinished it because I didn't like the way it looked.

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    Axetastic doublewah's Avatar
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    Spell, have you considered an experimental guitar? Buy a cheap guitar or body for $50 and route out a swimming pool from neck to bridge. Put screw-holes in like on a cribbage board. Then you could move pickups around until you found YOUR sweet spots. You could then build a nice guitar using this knowledge.

    I would bet that lots of guitar companies did this, especially as they were inventing this stuff.
    I bought a relic'd guitar because I liked the way it sounded. Then I refinished it because I didn't like the way it looked.

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    Axe-honerated spellcaster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by doublewah View Post
    Spell, have you considered an experimental guitar? Buy a cheap guitar or body for $50 and route out a swimming pool from neck to bridge. Put screw-holes in like on a cribbage board. Then you could move pickups around until you found YOUR sweet spots. You could then build a nice guitar using this knowledge.

    I would bet that lots of guitar companies did this, especially as they were inventing this stuff.
    It's definitely an interesting idea. For some reason, I thought I remembered you talking about something like this, maybe with back-loading pickups and electrics. Anyway, the idea has merit, and it's something I wouldn't mind trying. I'm in the beginning of a financial trauma that'll take me the rest of the year to solve, so I won't be buying anything anytime soon.

    That said, I do have the old Tele guitar body that I cast aside when I rebodied my big bass. It would need the neck pocket resized again so a guitar neck would fit, but it might be fun, and the project fits my budget. Plus, I might feel pangs chopping up a useable Strat or Tele body, but the old bass body owes me nothing.

    Maybe this'll be the "Slidecaster", with moveable pickups,,,,,

    "I know just enough to be dangerous....."

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    Axetastic doublewah's Avatar
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    Yep, that was me. Two projects that are not getting much attention lately.
    I bought a relic'd guitar because I liked the way it sounded. Then I refinished it because I didn't like the way it looked.

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    Super Moderator die Bullen's Avatar
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    Cool idea, the slidecaster

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    Axellent Member Mreilander's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by doublewah View Post

    I do not like 24 fret guitars, because the neck pickup is sampling a different set of harmonics than on a 21 or 22 fret guitar, where the pickup is AT the 24th fret. And this stuff does not matter whether you play in E or not. Wherever the pickup is, is going to affect the tone regardless of the key you play in. So much of the music that has shaped our ears is played on guitars with a pickup at the 24th fret position. I don't think Clapton's "woman tone" would be the same if he played it on a 24 fret strat.

    So yeah, certainly the position of the bridge pickup is going to change the harmonics of the strings being sampled, again regardless of the key played in.

    DW nailed it. The pickup placement will pick up certain harmonics and cancel others out (if the pickup is mounted under a node, for example), which adds character to the fundamental tone. This is why 2 pickups together sound drastically different than either of the individual pickups. Each one is picking up the harmonics on a different plane of the vibration. This will cause some of the harmonics to cancel out or partially cancel out depending on their phase directly above the pickup.
    To add to this, the velocity of the vibrating string at the neck pickup is greater than the velocity at the bridge pickup on any given vibration.

    As Spell and DB said, what is considered 'good' placement is highly subjective. Most of the time, the guitars that are described as 'full', 'rich', 'woody', and/or 'acoustic like' have a pickup on or very close to a harmonic node.
    Last edited by Mreilander; 04-02-2015 at 03:57 PM.

  9. #9
    Axeaholic Hu Duck Xing's Avatar
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    Hmmmmmm! I'm a Tele player who never plays the bridge pickup by itself. My favorite tone is from the neck pup. But, of course a lot depends on how you set your amp. I do use the two together, and get planty of twang when I need it. One of these days I'm going to build my Coodercaster. I have a Chicago for Strat pup from Jason, and two gold-foil Tiescos. I plan on using an old Tele body with a swimming pool route to determine where the Teiscos sound best. I'll Make a little holder/jig that will let me slide them around to find the best-sounding spot. The real body I'm going to use is from a Cray Strat.
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  10. #10
    Axe-honerated zontar's Avatar
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    I used to prefer the neck pickup and almost exclusively used it, and barely used the neck pickup (Except on my Mustang where I used both pickups--both in & out of phase, and went through a phase--so to speak--where I almost always used it out of phase)

    Over time I started using the neck pickup more often than before, and now I probably use it more than the bridge.

    If I had a Strat (Or Strat style guitar) I can see most of time playing it with the middle pickup with the neck pickup.

    But I don't think I'd be happy with a single pickup guitar.

    In addition to the phase options on my Mustang, my LP & LP copy have switching options. (Series/Parallel, Coil Split and a P-Rail set for humbucker/P-90/Rail)
    I use them all.

    But a sliding pickup would be cool.
    I've been a pilgrim on this earth, since the day of my birth, I'm a long way from my home.

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