Interesting little things...
Updated: Aug 3, 2021
Output (high vs. moderate)
Although still not quite as “hot” as active pickups…
With passive pickups…you can actually increase the output, simply by adding more winds of copper wire. At least that’s true up to a certain point…
Because beyond that, more winding results in a dull, flat sound.
So you basically have 3 options to choose from here:
-high output pickups
-moderate output pickups
And then there’s “vintage-style” pickups which have the lowest output of all, and designed to mimic the weakened magnets found in old classic guitars.
As a general rule of thumb:
-Higher outputs – make it easier to drive your amp to distortion, but they give you less dynamic range.
-Lower outputs – give you a cleaner sound with more dynamic range, but make it harder to achieve that overdriven amp sound.
It's when the pickups in the set are wound in such a way to keep the tone and output balanced between the positions.
In a 3-pickup setup, that also means reverse winding the middle coil and reversing the polarity of the magnets
(RWRP) to make it hum cancelling in the 2 and 4 positions.
ANOTHER major factor that affects a pickup’s output (and tone) is the magnets themselves.
Particularly, the magnet’s layout and material.
So first, let’s look at the 3 popular layouts:
1. Individual magnetic poles – which have a thinner, brighter sound, and are commonly used on Fender guitars and other single coil pickups.
2. Steel poles extending from a magnetic bar – which have a fatter, dark sound, and are commonly used on Gibson guitars and other humbucking pickups.
3. Blade style – which replaces the individual pole pieces with a single metal bar, and is known to have more consistency with string bends.
Next let’s look at exactly what these magnets are made of:
The most common material is a metal alloy that blends aluminum, nickel, and cobalt…and is known simply as “Al-Ni-Co” for short. And one reason why this alloy so popular is its ability to maintain its magnetic properties over time.
The 5 most common varieties of Alnico are:
Alnico 2 is the second weakest of the Alnico Guitar Magnet strengths, thus it pulls the strings less. It also has what’s referred to as the most “vintage” tone. It has more mids, and more tapered and softer highs than Alnico 3. As a guitar pickup magnet, the lows are loose and bouncy, instead of tight, some might refer to it as “vintage” or “smooth”. We use Alnico 2 in our Pure P.A.F.’s to give them the classic vintage tone we all know.
Alnico 3 is the weakest of the Alnico magnets and has the lowest amount of string pull in a bar magnet. As a guitar pickup magnet, it’s lows are soft and bouncy, mids are generally warm and full, and highs are glassy. We use Alnico 3 magnets in our Real 54’s to give them a bright, glassy tone. Curiously, Alnico 3 is weaker than Alnico 2 in a Bar Magnet form, but stronger than Alnico 2 in a Rod Magnet form.
Alnico 4 is stronger than both Alnico 2 and 3, but weaker than Alnico 5. It has the most balanced and “even” EQ out of all of the Alnico strengths. The bass and highs are tighter and stronger than Alnico 2, and the midrange is more balanced. We use this pickup in our Modern P.A.F. and P90‘s, and it helps to balance out the overwound properties of them. Alnico 4 has softer highs than Alnico 5.
Alnico 5 is by far our most widely used guitar pickup magnet. In it’s rod form, Alnico 5 gives the traditional Fender tone. We use Alnico 5 in all of our Strat, Tele, and Bass pickups. In Fender-style pickups, it has the best balance of extended lows, mids, and highs. Alnico 5 gives that open, airy top-end sparkle that we’re so used to. In Humbuckers, it gives our pickups a brighter tone, which is why we use them in our High Output Humbuckers.
Alnico 8 has the highest output and the heaviest tone. The magnetic pull is incredibly strong, making it great for rock and metal genres.
The only material with an even hotter output is ceramic, which has a more “trebly” sound, and is used primarily in heavy metal and hard rock genres.
Potting is one of those rarely discussed topics…
That up until now, you may have never heard of.
So here’s how it works:
In order to hold every component of the pickup in place…
And prevent any movement or vibration between parts…the entire pickup is dipped in wax.
In terms of sound, the potting process has the effect of preventing any sort of unwanted feedback when standing in front your amp.
The problem though…is that not all feedback is unwanted.
Many vintage guitars with un-potted pickups will catch random sounds in the air…which sounds bad in theory, but actually has a unique vintage charm that some players absolutely love.
Unfortunately these days, almost all modern pickups are potted by default, so it’s tough to get that effect with newer guitars.