Guitar Tone Part 4: Pickups

Guess I’m keeping with the theme of posts that have been a long time coming. I was going to do a Tim demo, but after listening back to the video multiple times trying to convince myself that it didn’t suck, it still sucked. So that one’s getting pulled from youtube, and another one needs to get recorded today; which also means another day of uploading to said video sharing site. (That sentence was supposed to sound cooler than it did.) So I figured, hey, even though the video demonstrates so vividly that I don’t know how to play guitar, I can just pull it, and then pontificate on something else in a new article, which will then restore my faith in my own musical skills without having to actually practice. It’s perfect.

There are five main types of guitar pickups:

–Humbuckers
–Single Coils
–P90′s
–Active
–Piezo

Humbuckers

The double pickup. Like two single coils. Named as they are because originally, when single coils hummed, they put two of them together, wired each reversed from the other, and bucked the hum. What resulted was a thicker, more articulately full across the spectrum of sound, higher output sound. And then, of course, there’s variations on them, such as the more woody sounding, scooped mids-wound ones that ES-335′s and other hollowbodies use. And some of the Rickenbackers and old Gretsch’s used ‘toaster’ humbuckers that had a more open and woody sound as well.

Edge
(Here’s a picture of some of the ‘toaster’ buckers. Okay, okay. I just wanted to show a picture of Edge with his current rig, and the sweetest looking wood on a guitar I have ever seen. But mostly just Edge.)

Single Coils

The original pickup. Thinner sounding than the humbucker, lower output. They’re more mellow, and with the proper application of gain, can sometimes sing more, and sometimes be more responsive. Also have that ‘classic’ sound. Again, there’s different variations, such as between Strat single coils and Tele single coils. The main difference here is in the winding of the coils, to match the different pickup configurations on the two guitars. On Tele’s, you want to get the two pickups to match together for that neck/bridge combined Tele sound. On Strats, you want the three pickups a little more separate for the 5 position tonal options. And, of course, there are the scooped mids-wound ones for the woody, jangly sounds in Rickenbacker’s and some of the old Danelectro’s.

Jimmy Page
(Great photo of Jimmy Page playing some ‘lipstick’ single coils in a Danelectro. I believe this is on his extended solo on ‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’ But the important thing is the shoes. I have decided that I am going to have those. And the sad thing is that I am deadly serious. If my wife is reading this, she is cringing right now.)

P90′s

Bit of a mix between single coils and humbuckers, but not quite. I’ve heard them described as more trebly humbuckers, as fuller single coils, as ‘making a Les Paul into a Rickenbacker’, and everything in between. Personally, I think they have their own sound, which I can only describe as warm and mellow, yet with a vintage bite to them. Especially with gain. And I am quite aware that that might not make any sense whatsoever. It’s honestly been a long time since I’ve played on P90′s, and when I did, I probably threw the guitar down with a disdainful look meant to insinuate, ‘I am much too rebelliously raw, metal, and in love with Kirk Hammett’ to like this sound. (I don’t think the other metal kids in Guitar Center were as impressed as I would have hoped.)

(There’s some great pictures of Brad Whitford playing some Melancon P90-equipped guitars, but the Melancon Forum is down right now. I’ll try to remember to put them up later. I probably won’t.)

Active

I put this in its own category, because, even though active pickups are either in single coil or humbucker form, they always tend to sound the same to me. And that’s not a bad thing…just a style thing. Active pickups tend to have the thinner, more compressed sound that gives them tons of sustain, and less feel and dynamics. They work great for metal and other types of hard rock where you get most of the heaviness out of the amplifier, and the guitar becomes more of a ‘vehicle for sustain’ on some of the heavy chords and flying leads, where you need sustain all up and down the fretboard. And I hope this is sounding with good towards metal and hard rock, even though I usually tend to poke fun at the spandex, fans blowing in the hair…which Steve Vai actually does…the fire blasts from the side of the stage on the bends, the train whistle riffs, the Floyd Rose misuse that each band thinks they have invented, and the dramatic ‘this next note might just kill you with my talent’ looks in the eyes. Just want to make sure it’s coming across as complimentary, and that I do believe there is a place for metal, BC Rich’s, and shirts unbuttoned past where anyone would ever want to see. I just heard Jason Bateman say, ‘This is going to sound sarcastic, because it’s going to be complimentary…’, and that is not what I want. So if you play active pickups, rock those active pickups. Honestly, they do have a very unique sound, and can be put to good use. Oh ya! I totally missed this. By ‘active’, it just means they need a 9 volt to work. But that gives them that compressed sound. The biggest manufacturer of these type pickups is EMG.

Now that being said, certain guitarists have used active pickups in different ways, capitalizing on the sustain. Michael Brook uses them sometimes for some of the long, swelling, soundscapes he gets on guitar, and bassists use them a lot for added sustain so they can play less and fill more space. So there are other uses besides metal.

Cinderella band
(Here’s some active pickups. Nope. Just wanted to show some metal. Fantastic, fantastic metal. But I’m sure they used EMG active pickups. It’s not a question, really.)

And if you’ve never seen this, well……it is beyond what mere words can attempt:

Piezo

These pickups are used to ‘mic’ the strings in a traditional way. Usually on the bridge. They’re more for acoustics, to get that real acoustic sound of the vibrating strings without trying to add gain, but certain electric companies are using them now to mix in with the signal from the other pickups, or to give you added versatility by trying to give you an ‘acoustic’ sound without switching guitars. I’ve yet to install one, and am not sure if I will, but I do think it’s at the very least a cool and innovative idea.

Now that the basics are out of the way (or at least, my opinion on what the basics are, which could be totally wrong…except that it’s not ;) ), we can go into what makes pickups sound good.

Quality of the Components

As with anything, the component quality is very important. And, like it or not, most of the mass-produced companies use poor quality. And with the independent or boutique ones, you pay for it, but they are using higher quality or even ‘real’ copper, and better magnets.

Handwound Versus Machinewound

There are advantages to both. Handwound tends to have a warmer and more dynamic sound. There is care put into the winding. However, there is also tons of room for variation, which is why sometimes the exact same model of a ’62 Les Paul which looks to have the same wood, can sound incredibly different. With machine-wound, you get a much more uniform sound over a larger number of instruments. But what it comes down to for me, is hearing handwound, and hearing machine-wound. Handwound has ‘that’ sound. More weight to the notes, more dynamics, and much less sterile.

Magnets

Most pickups use Alnico V magnets. However, certain independent pickup manufacturers are starting to subscribe to the theory that part of what gives vintage pickups ‘that sound’, is not only the hand-wiring, but the fact that the magnets are wearing out a bit. So some of them are starting to use Alnico II and III magnets, as this is what is guessed to now be the strength of the magnets after they’ve worn out a bit in some of the vintage guitars. Very interesting theory, and one that I’ve found a lot of truth to in using the lower output magnets.

Pole Position

Some pickups have staggered poles for each string, and some uniform. Personally, I like uniform for Les Pauls for the clear ring, and staggered for strats and teles for a more textured sound. All up to personal preference, and of course, my opinion. hehe

Pickup Height

This makes a huge difference! And you can do it with a screwdriver and don’t even have to remove the strings. Think of it like a singer’s placement to the microphone. The further back, the warmer and more spacious it sounds. But too far back and you don’t get the punch. The closer up, the more full and punchy it is. But too close, and you lose clarity and get distortion. Finding the spot your pickups are most happy at, is crucial. And every guitar and pickup combination is different. There’s no formula. And for those of you who are Edge and U2 fanatics (stupid…can’t believe you guys), one of his secrets is having the top of his pickups slightly lower than the bottom, so that he can turn up his bass and mids a bit more on the amp and get a fuller sound when he goes high on the neck, without it getting too muddy when he comes back down to play on the lower strings.

Magic

Certain boutique pickup companies are rumoured to have put actual magic into their products. Same magic that Klon, BJFe, Toneczar, and Pete Cornish effects have inside of them. It’s true.

Pete Cornish
(See? Actual magic. And if you can’t see the magic, then the only possible explanation is that you don’t know tone. It’s actually ‘anti-true bypass’ and ‘my hands will turn into David Gilmour’s if I play this’ magic. Honestly, I’m sure they sound great. Because of the magic.)

So, I subscribe more to the boutique pickups deal, because I like the higher quality components, the hand-winding, and using lower output magnets, although that’s an easy switch if you want to do it yourself. So, here’s a list of just a handful of some of the boutique pickup companies:

WCR–great pickups, great blend of warmth and ‘singing.’ I’ve used these and have been very impressed.

Lollar–also a great pickup company. A little more highs on his pickups, but also a sweetness that I haven’t heard elsewhere.

Seymour Duncan–the original boutique company. There’s debate about whether they’re still good, or whether they’ve gone to more ‘mass-producing’ techniques. Either way, I think they still sound good. Not my favorite, but definitely a very good sound. Oh ya…make sure they say ‘Seymour Duncan’ and not ‘Duncan Designed’. Not the same thing.

Gibson (actual vintage) PAF’s–yep, there’s a reason these pickups cost more than most guitars. Killer sound, especially if you get a well-wound set.

Gibson (new production)–still haven’t been impressed. Supposedly the custom shop ones are good, but I’m still not a huge fan. Apologies all around. hehe

Gibson (actual vintage) Dirty Fingers–yes on hollowbodies. Great woody and dry sound that really brings out the acoustic sound. No on solid-bodies. The dry sound doesn’t do much for the guitar.

Gibson (actual vintage) T-Tops–really good sound. Not quite vintage PAF, but still killer.

Wolfetones–my current favorite for humbuckers. Very well-wound, will use the Alnico II magnets on some models, and closest thing I’ve heard to a vintage PAF, while also having some of its own unique characteristics. Very dynamic, and reacts to different amplifiers.

Fender (actual vintage)–absolutely.

Fender (new production)–definitely lacking that ‘Hendrix’ weight to the notes.

Laguna–surprisingly? Not bad.

Lindy Fralin–favorite single coils at the moment. Lower powered magnets on some models, staggered pole positions, and incredible warmth, clarity, and weight.

Suhr–incredibly classic sound. Little more trebly, maybe like Lollars. But big and singing. Good times.

Manlius–good pickup. Really, really big sounding. Bit over the top for me, but still a great pickup. Well-priced, too.

Kinman–get rave reviews. Very expensive. I’ve et to try these.

Bill Lawrence–only heard these in clips, and they sound good. Might be a sleeper, or might be not quite up to snuff. But I’m sure they’re quality…his cables are stellar.

There are a ton of other boutique, independent, handwound, and mass-produced pickups out there. A literal ton. Of course, the problem with pickups is that the good ones also react to the wood in your guitar, so you have to install and de-install. Takes a lot more time to try them out then a bunch of pedals, or even amps or guitars. But it can be worth it. Like I said, I’m a believer that the guitar is the most important factor in your tone, and the pickups are the microphone for your guitar’s tone. Just as if you get Emmy Rossum singing into a Fender Passport mic; doesn’t mean her voice is bad, but the sound is still terrible. Now, get her singing into a Shure blue line or what have you, and now the true sound of her voice comes out. Same with pickups in a guitar. Except active ones. Just kidding, just kidding! But you still gotta love the ’80′s. Or the bands who still think it is the ’80′s.

Meat Loaf 2
(Absolutely fantastic. And props to anyone who can name the film Meat Loaf appeared in that may have been the only decent piece of entertainment he has ever performed. hehe I think something scary is coming to get him. At least in his mind. Or in his pharmaceuticals. Don’t worry. He’ll fend it off with a Stryper-esque vocal shriek I’m sure. I would say with an anti-tasteful guitar solo, but I’m not sure he ever plays the guitar. He just likes to hold it.)

Splendid.
Karl.

60 thoughts on “Guitar Tone Part 4: Pickups

  1. I hate to be a nitpicker on my first comment but you say you’re going to talk about four pickups but you actual list and discuss five different types.

    That aside, thanks for the info on pickup mfg’s. I’m hoping to get my hands on some old wood soon. I would really like a 50s or 60s LP Jr but can’t quite afford the $5k or so I would need to spend so instead I’m thinking of purchasing a ’61 Melody Maker that a store here in town has and installing a P-90 in it to basically make my own LP Jr. I will probably purchase the P-90 from one of these guys you mentioned.

    Thanks

  2. ++1 on the WCR’s. There is definitely some magic put into the Klon and BJFe pedals. It is best to store those pedals in zip lock bags when not in use. This will ensure that the magic does not deplete by escaping into the air and attaching to BOSS or Danelectro pedals. Therefore causing these pedals to become true bypass and not suck (OOHH! Sorry!).

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  5. Matt–quite right! Thanks for pointing that out. Wow, good thing you didn’t read it right when I posted it. It was Guitar Tone part 3, but I already had a part 3, but I didn’t remember writing it; there were captions for missing pictures…one of those mornings I guess. lol

    And hope you get the right wood for ya. You’re right, they can be really expensive, but definitely worth it. :) Hope the pickup info can be of some use!

    Mark–are you using WCR’s right now?

    haha Definitely ziplock bags. :) I’ve played BJFe and they were really, really good…but in the end I liked some others better. And I’ve yet to play a Klon…haven’t been impressed by any clips yet. Probably because they were all clips of the silver ones, not the gold ones with the centaur on them. ;)

    Keith–winner. I’m really stoked that somebody knew that! Props!

  6. Meat Loaf was also in an episode of “House” last season as one of House’s patients. Just had to point that out.

    Thanks for the tips on pickups by the way. I’m considering new pickup for my Ibanez Artcore, so this was helpful.

    –Jesse

  7. Great topic. I put a Bill Lawrence L-609N pickup in the neck position of my Ibanez AG75 Archtop ( I know, cheap guitar, which I now only use for home practice ).

    Very happy with that one. Quote from a website:
    “L-609/610: This is one of Bill’s newer designs. Bill was the first designer to create a pickup that captured the sound and feel of a single-coil, without hum. After doing that for Strat and Tele pickups, Bill sought to make a single-coil sounding pickup for humbucker guitars. The L-609 is just that. It’s a unique sound, that, while not a copy, will be instantly familiar to fans of classic fat single coils, like the P-90, Alnico V “Staple” pickup, Jazzmaster or DeArmonds. It doesn’t sound exactly like any of those pickups: it’s got a wider freq. range, and no noise, for starters, it does have a “classic” sound. I love this pickup. You can ask Bill & Becky for more specific tonal requirements. The L-610 is raunchier and rawer like a P-90, with adjustable polepieces. Both match well with any of the other Lawrence pickups as a neck position unit, and in the bridge, can get a great twang. Two of them together get a beautiful “quack” sound, that I just love. ”

    Maybe I should see if that L609 would replace the stock carvin humbuckers in my Carvin AE185.

    In the bridge of that inexpensive Ibanez I put a Guitar Fetish Memphis I found on ebay — inexpensive but I like the sound. http://store.guitarfetish.com/meal2ritovij.html

    My 74 strat has Gold Lace Sensors in all 3 positions. I’m pretty happy with those too, quiet and good tone to my ears anyway. I’m open to suggestions to pickup replacements on either the Carvin or the Strat, but the thing really bugging me about the Strat is somewhat worn frets and the neck shape which is so different than the Carvin I play most weeks at church.

  8. I actually have gotten a couple different pickups traded out in the last 5 months:
    Went from stock Epiphone Humbuckers (which actually weren’t bad for smooth blues/jazz… very smoooooth) to some Seymour Duncan vintage wannabes. I think the output went down, but the strings individually can be heard and it “rings” out more. Also sustains a bit longer.

    Then the Lindy Fs on my new Thinline. Very responsive, and very meaty sounding.
    Rhoy: I’d look into the Fralins for the Tele! :)

    @Karl: I was gonna say Fight Club, but I think #2 would be Meatloaf’s cameo in Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny.
    Which I also have to deny having seen… ;)

  9. I have to agree with you regarding the importance of setting pickup height. It makes a huge difference in sound. With a strat, there are already 5 variations in sound, and when you start changing the pickup heights, it really is mind boggling the changes you can make with a twist of a screwdriver.

    However, with my strat w three single coils, generally lowering the pickups makes the sound clearer and less mid rangy. Particulary lowering the neck pickup really makes a HUGE difference. Also, having the middle pickup lower than the bridge or neck p/u accentuates the strat notch positions.

    Having a well set-up guitar with well adjusted pickups really solves alot of tone “problems” people try to fix with amp modifications or new pedals. I know I don’t need any excuse to buy new pedals.

    Nate

    PS-In other news, my Aqua Puss clone sounds AMAZING! The almost endless repeats with a very low mix level is my new favorite effect. Simply astounding. I think I played an E-chord for about 20 minutes last week. It’s mezmerizing!

    • wasn’t meatloaf in rocky horror thingy .i agree get guitar set how YOU like it a half decent valve setup pedals gone i’ve only used a comp.sustain for last 7/8 years ,& for value look into epiactives by epiphone i was plesently surprised

  10. +1 for the importance of pickup height

    I play the Kinman AVN48 in my tele and they rock both clean and distorted. I like their sound more than all the other “true” singlecoils I’ve played + no hum. Had the AVN60 wich where even more vintagy and bellschimey for cleans but sounded a bit thin distorted.

  11. Don’t even HINT at getting a Pete Cornish pedal! I emailed him to ask him what a build would cost. I still don’t understand how I’m supposed to play guitar if I give him my left arm…

    Seymour Duncan still makes some great stuff – especially their “Antiquity” pickups. They’re gorgeous (especially the ‘buckers).

    Fenders higher end stuff is decent but for the almost the same money you could be rolling with Lollars or Fralins, so it’s really a no-brainer at that point!

    On a different note, I gotta tell you that I agree with Jason Lollars position on staggered height pickups (single coils) – they’re stupid. I have staggered pickups in my Strat and I can’t get the string balance I want because of it. Then again, I do have American Standard stock pickups in my Strat (shock! horror!)…

  12. I forgot to mention that I love the Lollars I put in my Glendale Tele. The search ended with those babies.

    I also picked up a ’72 Tele Deluxe reissue because the Fender humbuckers are surprisingly good with a great blend of smooth mids and not too much brightness in the highs.

    Actually, that’s crap. I bought it because Johnny Buckland has one.

  13. Jesse–Meat Loaf was in ‘House’? hehehe

    And how’re you liking the Artcore?

    Randy–awesome! Great to hear good things about Bill Lawrence pickups! For your Carvin or strat, if you’re liking your current setups, I’d say you’re good to go! But if not, for your situation, you might want to look into Lollars. They’re the sweetest sounding single coil I’ve as of yet heard. :)

    Rhoy–that’s a killer guitar! hehe

    And if you’re liking your pickups, then you’re good! But if you’re feeling like there’s something missing, pickup swapping can be fun and make huge differences…not necessarily good differences all the time, but big differences. hehe

    Larry–great choice on the Fralins! :) hehe (Sure I’m biased, though. ;) )

    And I never saw Tenacious D. I heard something about male nudity, and figured it was probably Jack Black, and then figured that I’ve already seen much more of his body than I’d ever care to in various other films. hehehe But I did hear it was very funny. And if Meat Loaf was in it… lol

    Jonathan–Do you use DiMarzio’s? They don’t suck if you like ‘em! hehe My experiences with DiMarzio’s have been mixed. A friend has some of the metal ones John Pettrucci uses, and they’re actually decent. But I played a ToneZone and did not like it. But if they give you great tone, and you’re happy with ‘em, rock on! :)

    Nate–good points! Ya, lowering pickups can be great for getting rid of midranginess or harshness, just like backing away from a microphone. I always make myself (especially on clean tone) mess with my pickups before searching for a new guitar or amp. hehe

    And did you build an Aqua Puss clone, or bite the bullet and get a Way Huge one? Nice to hear it sounds so good! I’ve yet to play one. :)

    Ben–eh, bro, you’re making me want to try the Kinmans! That’s something I’ve been looking into for a while, as they are supposed to have not compromised on tone, but they are still noiseless. Aw man… hehe

    Jeff–haha Ya, I don’t think I’m ever going to play any Pete Cornish. I’m sure he’s a great guy and builds killer pedals, but they’ve become almost a status symbol on boards…moreso than any other pedal I’ve seen, and that turns me off just a bit.

    Agreed on Duncans. And that’s a very interesting point from Lollar. Personally, I like the unbalanced aspects, at least for a strat. And the poles on the Fralins are adjustable…but ya, not very easily as you gotta take out the pickups to make an adjustment, then put them back in, test, start over. So, good point!

    And,

    “Actually, that’s crap. I bought it because Johnny Buckland has one.”

    –My day is now fulfilled in this comment. :)

  14. Karl – as usual, you make me think…I LOVED the ambient post..just listened to the video a minute ago…got some ideas that I’ll have to play with now. You devil you!

    As far as pickups, since I’m an Anderson player, I’ve got Anderson pickups on the Cobra that I play (2 humbuckers with a five way switch for all sorts of sounds). On my Strat, I have Seymour Duncans on the neck and middle position (single coils, one rails pickup) and then an Anderson humbucker at the bridge. Great tones…I also put a Fishman on my Strat so I can get some acoustic sounds if I want without picking up my “every worship leader has one” Taylor 314. Oh well…at least my Taylor isn’t a cutaway…full bodied baby!

    Keep up the posts…I’m going to have to get a second joy just to keep up!

    Rob

  15. i was worried you didn’t like Duncans whew got em in my baby dean , and my charvell.( Jeff beck) smooth and great tone don’t you think ? these are pre production jbs so i hope they didnt fall into the hands of a big machine versus a nice old man wrapping with love and tender care !!! lol thanks Karl ps. how do i put a picture of my ax in place of these nice snow flake images??? really feeling like a pc dork right now craig

  16. Robin–I totally should’ve included Anderson pickups. I just made a list off the top of my head, and forgot a couple good ones. Glad you’re diggin’ those! And cool idea on the Fishman…I’ve yet to do that, but probably will one of these days.

    And thanks for the encouragement. Like I always say, if by reading this blog you go buy more gear, then it’s all been worth it. ;) lol

    Craig–hehe Ya, great stuff! The older Duncans are totally where it’s at. :) And honestly? I have no idea how to get a picture into your little box. I think you probably need a wordpress account, and then you can upload one. My wife did it for me when she transferred this blog from blog.com about 9 months ago. As I am computer-illiterate myself. hehe :)

    Jamianne–really? Wow! Next time we got to Hollywood, I’m so looking for those! You’re the best and I love you!

  17. A couple of years ago, Meat Loaf sang with someone on American Idol. I thought he acted really odd. The next day I did a bit ‘o research and found out he suffers from near-paralyzing stage-fright.

  18. Really? So, does he just perform because he needs more money, or what? I thought he looked like a dirty old man on American Idol, and it was creepy. hehe :) But if he really suffers from a disease, then my apologies to Meat Loaf.

    By the way, loved your latest sound blog! The one on keeping a good relationship with your sound guy. Much props! :)

  19. I put Suhr FL’s in my strat and haven’t looked back since. Had Lollars before that but I guess I like a fatter mid-range than the Lollars I had installed.

  20. If I recall, for meat loaf it was like this…touring and on stage = money.

    Um, I wrote one recently and the counter-point was a guest writer. it was probably his! he fleshed out more of the details in his point.

    You are always welcome to write a guest article yourself!

  21. Brian–nice! :) Ya, some of the Lollars can tend to be a little thin sounding in some guitars. That’s why I switched, too. But I’m kind of thinking about trying some of their more mid-rangey models now. And maybe Suhr’s, too! I’ve heard great stuff from them. :)

    Chris–hehe Gotcha! And it was a great article. :) You do guest posts? Way cool! Your site is so rad.

    Jonathan–haha I’ve never seen that. Props to you for that!! lol

  22. I debated mentioning Meatloaf appearing in RHPS…then decided not to – glad someone else did.

    I’m not sure if that qualifies …

  23. Jonathan–sorry bro, must’ve missed this! I’ve yet to try Fralin buckers. But I’d bet they’re good! :)

    Murray–absolutely!! lol You still get props. ;)

  24. I got into Seymour Duncan in the early ’80s. They were definitely a small shop then. I won’t use anything else to this day. I’ve always had good experiences with them. I, too, always set my guitars up and have found that sometimes the sweet spot isn’t where the schematic, or guitar manufacturer, tells you it is. So play around with’em a tad. I love that part of the game! lol

  25. Totally! Pickup height is so crucial. And that’s awesome that you were diggin’ Seymour Duncan when they were still small. It’s funny how the bigger companies get, the less ‘cool’ they become sometimes. hehe But the quality is still there!

  26. +1 for the Bill Lawrence (now goes by Wilde Guitar USA) L-609. I have a G&L Legacy w/ Bill’s L-609 in the Neck and Bridge, and an L-298 in the middle. The L-609 is Bill’s ver of a Fender type P-90 (think Jazzmaster). It’s the same size as his humbuckers like the L-500 series. The L-298 is a single coil, but it’s pretty hot and fat, and mixes well w/ the L-609.
    I have a variety of other guitars w/ Fender, Gibson, and Seymour Duncan pups, and I’ve tried a lot of other pickups in the past. Currently, the 609s are my favorite. I won’t be putting the same pups in my other axes, since I like having variety. But man, these are cool. And they look awesome!
    Playing this axe into a reverend hellhound w/ a Fulltone OCD in the front (plus various other pedals). Super versatile setup, and sounds great for the whole Chris Tomlin, Hillsongs United, David Crowder, Michael Gungor type tunes.
    Bill’s always made super high quality pickups. His website’s really informative too regarding the marketing hype that you get from a lot of other pickup manufactures. Don’t think you have to spend over $300 to get a sweet set of hi-end pickups. You do NOT always get what you pay for.

    Last, remember that tone is in the fingers! You’ll improve your tone more by slowing down and working on your technique than you will by buying new pickups! :-)

  27. Hey Norm, I didn’t realize that he’d changed the company name. Thanks for the info! And ya, I’ve heard great things about his 609′s. How do you like the Reverend? I’ve been intrigued by what seems to be a great price/quality ratio in those amps.

    And good point on fingers/feel. That does make a huge difference also! Actually, that’s another post that’s been brewing in my mind for a while. :)

    Cheers!

    • I really like the Reverend Hellhound. It’s been my main amp for about 7 years I think. Been playing it in church worship teams since the first day I owned it. I’ve also played it outside of church for funk and rock gigs. It’s not perfect. But I consistently get lots of comments on my tone. More than I do on my playing, unfortunately. :( Maybe that’s more because I don’t typically burst into a flurry of 32 note alternate picking, following by a couple giant fully diminished arpeggios, flowing into 8 bars of 8 finger tapping! I’m more into feel than shredding anywho.

      I go back and forth on replacing it. I’ve looked at old Fenders, Marshalls, Boogies, Orange, Black Cat, Matchless, Vox, and recently Egnaters. I’d really like to get the Egnater Rebel 30 once it’s more available in head form. I really really really like the sound clips I’ve heard of the Rebel 30.
      But I know I’ll regret it if I get rid of the Reverend. Plus, it’s cool playing an amp in church that says ‘Hellhound’ on it! Hahahaha

      I definitely had growing pains w/ the Reverend at first. I was previously playing a modeling unit into a flat reference amp (and before that had a Marshall Jubilee 25/50 half stack that I sold for around $500 – stupid stupid stupid!). The Reverend was way different to me. It’s basically a tweaked out fender bassman circuit, w/ a voicing switch that, when switched to UK, gives a significant bump in the upper mids, as well as more gain (but not a Marshall JCM or Mesa rectifier type of gain, which is what I was used to). It’s also more ‘present’ in the mix than I was used to. So my poor technique showed more.
      But I gave it a chance and learned to work with it. Found its strengths. Got more familiar w/ the US vs UK mode.
      I also began focusing more on my technique. As I grew, I sorta grew w/ my rig I guess.
      I usually leave the amps gain at about 11 or 12 o’clock, whether in US or UK mode. That’s enough gain to warm up the signal, and get more life to the sound.
      I’ll then juice the input w/ a dirt box set to moderately low gain. At first I used a Keeley Boss DS-1 SEM, then a Zoom PD-01, then a Fulltone DP-1, and now a Fulltone OCD (though I still use the DP-1 now and then too to juice the input of the OCD). Let’s hear it for layered gain stages! ;)

  28. Norm, great stuff! I especially love the ‘not bursting into 32nd note’ stuff. haha I totally agree!! I’m also the same way, I suppose, in growing with my gear. Great point!

    hehehe A Hellhound in church. Now that’s pretty cool! :)

  29. I’ve heard good things about the Wolfetones and WCR’s. They’re also wicked expensive. But I’ve had so much trouble finding a decent humbucker for my Explorer that I’m willing to try anything. I’d rather it not equal 25% of the guitar’s value, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

    Part of the problem is that the Explorer is just a strange, giant piece of wood. The other problem, to be more specific, is that I’m having a hard time finding a humbucker that pares well with that guitar and and my AC30. It’s worth noting here that I am at heart a single coil guy. Also, I’m hardly a purist. My other 2 guitars are a Clapton strat with Lace Sensors and a Tele copy (that I built and finished myself) equipped with Bardens. (The thing I like about Bardens is that they’re high output, but they don’t SOUND like high output pickups.) I love the way both of these guitars sound through the Vox — the Tele w/ Bardens especially has turned into my go-to guitar for nearly everything. (Although the Clapton strat through a my 80′s Marshall JCM 800 can absolutely rock the balls of a Clydesdale. It’s a heavy combination.) So when I do need to reach for a guitar with humbuckers, I want a something with a more classically representative sound — and I also want it to sound good through the Vox. (Think, The Edge.) The pickup I currently have (a Duncan Pearly Gates) sounds pretty good through the Marshall (although it’s a very specific “My Head’s in Mississippi” kind of sound…), but it’s very much lacking through the Vox. It leaves me looking around the room for something with more sparkle and definition.

    So finally, to my question: I realize that your Matchless and my Vox are not the same amps, but they have more in common than they don’t. What is your experience with humbuckers and 30 watt EL84 amps? I want something a slightly hotter than vintage that sounds like a humbucker, but with the sparkle and definition I’m used to getting from single coils. (And by “sounds like a humbucker,” I mean NOT the Duncan Alnico II pro — I played one of those for years before finally asking “what’s the point?”)

  30. Hippie Killer, hopefully others can answer your pickup questions ( what’s that mean anyway?) I’m curious where you play ( church?). I’m picturing myself describing my rig to our conservative church folks as “rocks the balls of a Clydesdale” !! LOL They probably already think my pedal board is a bomb.

    You know, if you gather enough pedals, with enough different colored lights, you might just hypnotize your Senior Pastor and church elders so you could really crank up without negative feedback. hmmm blue, red, green?
    :-)

  31. I don’t play at church (don’t hold that against me), but you people who do play at church seem to know the most about gear :-)

    And then there’s Karl, who knows more about delay than anyone else on the internet.

    But for the record, my Dad plays at church, and I’ve heard him say “rock the balls of a ________ ” many times. Not from the pulpit, mind you…

  32. not to take over karl’s job, but if your looking for a humbucker that is very open and clear sounding then check out the lollar imperials. might open up the sound of the explorer a bit.

  33. Hippie: Have you considered Gibson 57 classics? It’s probably lower gain than you’re thinking of. But, I have a friend who plays a Gibson reverse V w/ 57 classics into a Tophat King Royale (basically Top Hat’s version of an AC30, 30 watts 2×12 EL84 etc.). That guitar on the bridge pickup into the Tophat sounds insane! Seriously. When I first played w/ him after he got that guitar, I had to stop playing and just listen. During this one song, he was getting this amazing to die for tone. Total The Edge humbucker sound.
    L8r

  34. The Gibson 57 is intriguing, especially the way you described it. I could probably get one of those of ebay for a decent price too.

    Thanks for pointing me towards the Lollars. For some reason, I hadn’t given them much thought.

  35. I have the 57 classics in two different guitars and can’t recommend them enough. Stellar pickups. Be sure to evaluate the pole piece adjustments too if you do try them out.

  36. Hippie Killer–I’m biased, but I really like the Wolfetone’s. I’d check out his CareTaker set…they seem to be just what you’re describing. I’d also second the Lollar Imperial suggestion, as Lollars tend to be very clear and sweet-sounding…they also though, tend to have a little less punch to my ears, which can be desirable or not, depending.

    And, it’s weird, but the WCR’s I had, did very little for me.

    Hope that helps a bit! :)

    Randy–shh!! You just described my secret ‘flashing lights’ plan! ;)

    Hippie Killer–you mean, ‘overuses’ delay more than anyone on the internet. ;) hehe Sorry, had to throw in a little joke at my own expense.

    RyanJ–awesome suggestion! And you’re not taking my job…most of you here know a good deal more about tone than I do. That’s why this little community is so cool!

    Norm, Hippie Killer, Brian–interesting. The one’s I’ve heard didn’t really do it for me; but that was in a guitar without the best wood. So, maybe!! Cheers!

  37. I think I’m going to email Wolfe and explain my situation to him. I exchanged a few messages with Jim at WCR, and he recommended the Godwood for the bridge. But I think he recommends the Godwoods for everything these days. Call me nuts, but I’m not exactly leaping at the opportunity to drop $233 for A SINGLE PICKUP. Plus, I’m under the impression that Jim is much more of a Marshall / LP guy. And if I’ve figured out one thing by now, it’s that Vox / Explorer is a completely different beast.

  38. I think that’s probably the best idea. Ya, Jim’s a rocker. Great guy, great pickups, but very classic rock and intended to be run into a cranked Marshall. At least that’s how they sound to me. Wolfe seems to be a bit more widespread in his tonal creations. :)

  39. p.90′s on sg unbeatable ,also got custom l.p with emg’s & floyd rose original[not licenced] & x50 with b&w’s @n& rails@br but no matter what i always find my ears wanna play the sg ,but my fingers want to have fun on the l.p next up strat fitted with gilmore emg’s & a f.r tremlo? unless can find a nice early 70′s original ,havn’t played any of the reissued 73′s so will have to get out looking any ideas on the strat?

  40. Andrew–ya, setup sure is important! And you’re lovin’ the P90′s? Awesome. As for starts, I really like Lollar Blonde’s and Lindy Fralin Blues. :)

  41. Hey Karl! Loving the Site. Can’t believe I’ve found a tone junkie who’s also a worshipper! I’m in heaven. No Really. I spend more time on this blog than I breathe. I think.

    Anyway! Haven’t really seen anything about Paul Reed Smith pickups in this post/comments section (unless my ctrl+F function defies me). Just wanted to hear your thoughts about them.
    I’ve recently bought second hand PRS Dragon 2 pickups and installed them in my PRS SE Custom 22 (they were a steal, that’s why i got them). I personally love the sound especially of the neck pickup but I’m not too sure about the middle combined position. Sounds a bit like a weak out of phase sound to me. Wondering whether something could be wrong with the wiring. Any thoughts? (also about PRS pickups in general).

    Cheers ;)

  42. Hey Mike! Thanks for the kind words, and stoked you’re enjoying the site. :)

    As for PRS pickups, I have to admit, I haven’t really given PRS a fair shake. They started off as a handmade, boutique company, and then somewhere around 1995 everything got all cheap and mass-produced…while still maintaining the high boutique pricing. But lately, they seem to have been actually making an effort again, and I have played through one of their new amps, and it sounds very good. But I just haven’t gotten around to trying all their stuff again. So the pickups just might be fantastic!

    As for the weak middle position, ya, I would assume that’s a wiring thing. I don’t know exactly what would be wired wrong; I always have to look at a schematic when I do that stuff. hehe

    Hope that helps, at least a bit! Cheers!

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  44. During verse breakdowns and filling in between songs, I’d like to be able to loft some sparsely played notes out there with a sweet Edge style strat-quack 2nd position type tone through some lush delay/verb. But the rest of the time I want a good old bridge humbucker. I know these are conflicting desires, but is there any way to pull it off? Any pups I could put in a Schecter C1-Plus?

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