Pickup 101: Not pickups for Dummies!

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Dec 11, 2004
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This great post was made by Six String, and is quoted below!

Six String
Vintage SG Member

Pickups.... What Are The Chances?
« on: Today at 08:48:40 AM »

Although pups are one of the 2 most important factors of how your SG sounds, I have seen many a post on the P-90, Hums, Fats, PAF, PCU, COD, MOUSE.................. and there have been a lot of great pix. Pups have been one of my least liked sections simply because my understanding of them is that if they don't work............. "pickup" your backup guit. So would it be possible to do this section of the Pup area with a little basic and general information for all of those that 1) Know they're there....... 2) Don't have an idea what they are looking at....... and 3) Don't necessarily want to know enough to be able to go for an engineering degree. Like maybe the first might be a comparitive pix of the differant types. Bring them all together. This could be useful in other ways as well.

Just a thought.

Ok, so the question got asked, and here's some simple answers.

All pickups have a few basics in common. They all have a coil (or coil) of wire, they all have a magnet (or magnets), they all have some sort of frame, and they all have some sort of wire to connect them with the output of your guitar (hopefully through some basic controls as well).

Pickups all work the same way. The steel string on the guitar moves through the magnetic field of the magnet. This causes the field to be tossed around a bit at the same frequency of the guitar's string (and its overtones or "harmonics"). That "tossing around" of of the magnetic field causes a current to be "induced" onto the wire in the coil, and this current is what is amplified by your amp, and comes out the amps speakers.

Thats it! Well.... almost.....

Pickups come in many shapes and flavors and sizes, so here's a brief description of each:

Gibson Charlie Christian pickup
: an early, weak output pickup with unusually balanced tones. Charlie used it for Jazz, and it worked for him, since he played with his thumb and fingers, adding some mellowness to the tone.

Fender Telecaster pickup: Consists of six magnetic pole pieces and a single large coil. Telecaster pickups have a steel plate under the magnets which adds to the sharp trebly biting tone

Fender Stratocaster pickup (and varients): Basically a Telecaster pickup with no steel plate. The size is a bit smaller, the shape a bit different, but its basically constructed the same way. Note that those size and shape differences make a huge difference in tone, and Strat pickups are much different in tone than the Tele pickup. The Tele neck pickup is a sort of "mini-Strat" pickup.

Gibson P90 (and to some extent the Fender Jazzmaster): A pickup with a single coil but without mognetic pole pieces. In the P90, the poles are made of steel (screws) and these thread through the coil and are situated between two strong bar magnets. The magnetic "circuit" and thus its field are different than in a Tele or Strat type pickup. A P90's coil is short and wide, and combined with the different magnetic design, P90's produce a unique beefy yet biting tone, and are capable of great output volume.

Gibson Humbucker (and all varients): By using two coils of wire, but keeping the direction of the wire's windings reversed, the annoyance of hum, which is present in single coil designs, can be eliminated. In order for the pickup to work, the magnetic field for each coil must also be "reversed". This is sort of like a double negative signal being a "positive" one. Traditional humbuckers have one bar magnet that is situated between the poles of each pickup. One set of poles is adjustable, while the other is "fixed" in place. Other types of humbuckers use two "blade" magnets at the core of their coils, or use two sets of adjustable poles or any varient thereof. Some 70's Gibson Humbuckers had three magnets: One traditional one, and two mini magnets on the opposite side of each pole piece. Lots of variations, but they're all still basically the same: two coils, opposed magnetic fields. The holy grail of humbuckers is a PAF which is a type of old Gibson design, named for its "Patent Applied For" decal under the pickup.

In terms of tone, the size and placement of the magnets, the magnets strength, and magnetic properties from the frame of the pickup or an underplate (as in the Tele pickup), the coils size, the coils shape (tall, low, skinny, wide), the coil wire gauge... and even its insulation... are all factors that influence the tone of the final output signal. Generally speaking, single coil pickups are more treblier, a bit less output than humbucking pickups, the exception being the P90 which has powerful output and a more full bodied response (the perfect pickup?).

Some links off the Gibson factory website:
http://gibson.com/Products/Accessories/Gear/Pickups/How They_re Made (1)/ and maybe this http://gibson.com/Products/Accessories/Gear/Pickups/History/

ZMAN9001 adds

Hexaphonic pickups (also called divided pickups and polyphonic pickups) have a separate output for each string. (Hexaphonic assumes six strings, as on a guitar.) This allows for separate processing and amplification for each string. It also allows a converter to sense the pitch coming from an individual string. A hexaphonic pickup and a converter are usually components of a guitar/synthesizer.

Found this too:
Optical pickups are a fairly recent development that work by sensing the interruption of a light beam by the string. The light source is usually an LED, and the detector is a photodiode or phototransistor. These pickups have complete insensitivity to magnetic or electric interference and also have a very wide and flat frequency response unlike magnetic pickups.

Sounds neat^^

Note these are quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickup_(music)

Anyone wanting to add to this thread, please contact me with submissions via PM.

Many thanks!
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