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A note concerning PICKUP HEIGHT... Keyboard Synthesizers
Old 24th December 2010
  #1
Lives for gear
A note concerning PICKUP HEIGHT...

I had always been of the thought that getting that pickup close was for better power and output. And yes that is basically true BUT...

I just redid my board again and was tuning in my boxes and amp. I started to realize my tone was just not there and without that basic tone you just cannot play well. I could not get what the problem was.

I just changed string types and had reintonated for the new gauge (11-50) and I now play a full step detuned. As a goof trying to get my tone going again I took the pickups down away from the strings. That tubbiness and flubber went away and here came the wood and roundness of the strings and tone again. The Strat was more stratty with the cool off position sounds. My pickups ruled again. I also use some modifed base plates on my neck and mid pickups (bridge is already a full size HB). I can tell anyone about that mod if anyone cares. [I have a strat with Carvin AP-11s with base plates and a full size HB and another strat w dual rail single coils. Fender recommends a too close distance for the HB single coils. I think anyway.]

Sooooo..pickup height. Most recommended distances are too close for my tastes. You start getting string pull and the magnetic field actually working to inhibit the string vibrations. The bass gets flubby and flat and you cannot seem to get the intonation right. Ever have that strat where you cannot get the 6 string to intonate right? Keep pulling that saddle back, I have alays had that problem on strats. The heavier guage strings and detuned helped a lot. Some of it is caused by string pull from the pickup acting on the string.

Backing down, away fm the strings lowers your output, so metal heads using EMGs or whatever will still need to stay within shred distance. But a Strat, bring them down. I find a distance of 2mm on the treble side and 4mm on the bass works best on mine. Fender recommends in general like 1.6 and 3.6 but I like just a little more. You can go to a 1/8" and a 1/4" distance which also works quite well. I was trying to find the exact balance of close and distance to get the best of both effects.

Another trick also to increase the plunky tone positions is to not have the neck and mid pickups exactly the same distance, (as many on the net recommend, they were also saying to match the output of each pickup to be the same, for me, this what you do not want to do at all!!) a slightly lower mid pickup will increase the cool stratty position 2 and 4 effect.

Same on a LP with dual HBs, offset the heights to get more of that cool LP mid 2 pickup woody tone. Some players have noted they like to put the mid pickup all the way down flush to the guard, on a Strat, and noticed it really increased the position 2&4 plunky tone on a strat. I like using my mid PU so I do not take it down that extreme.

I took a piece of hard coated playing card material, I used for neck shim and marked a 2mm and 4mm, hold the strings to the body up high (around 20th fret) and measure the 1st string (to the magnet pole, rail or screw) I set treble sides at 2mm on my strats, 4mm on the bass side. I might slightly go closer but not more than a 1.6, more like a 1.8. Slight changes really make a difference when you get close to the optimum for your guitar. I would go with the 2 and 4mm and just tweak a little from there.

Try it and see if your tone does not come alive and more acoustical, especially on a strat. Also FYI, some metal performance type pickups or low impedence pickups are designed with a really low string pull and can get closer without flubber. Try the offset height difference on the LP to increase that cool Pagey mid position tone. (On my mark on the measurement card, I tend to set string height to the top or bottom of the mark, just a slight difference is all it takes. Set the LP bridge height so the top of the string is even with the mark and the neck pickup so the string is aligned on the bottom, that slight difference will make a more pronounced plunk).

Offset the neck and mid and your Strat will come alive with more funk, and acoustical vibe just lowering the pickups down. Don't worry about the output, adjust your gear accordingly. There is plenty there to drive anything. Try out the metal base plates on your average single coils, they really change the game. Most use them on the bridge to increase the lows , mids and output. My bridge was already a fullsize HB and my dual rail strat pickups already had a plate in their design. I am the first one I know of who has installed them on a neck and mid pickups. Major improvement.

Next time you have a high gain box going turn your guitar vol down a little, the sustain and dirt will still be there but your tone will be better. (Just as an option verse alays playing on 10 which is what I ahve done for years and years) I was always a vol on 10 and a tone on 10 player until recently. I have a StellarTone ToneStyler tone control on one of the strats which is a high pass cap tone control which only rolls off highs, really is major cool and gets you into using the tone control to change your sound without losing it. Neat little gadget really, 16 positions of high pass cut w position 1 being bypass without a tone control and position 2 is a normal tone on 10 setting. It is also wired to the bridge pickup which gives you the option of a tone control there as well or just click it on bypass.
Satriani has a special push pull pot on his guitars tone control that has a high pass filter installed.

Anyway, I was loving the pickup changes and thought I would pass it on.
Old 24th December 2010
  #2
Gear Guru
 
kafka's Avatar
Pickups "pick up" the flux in the magnetic field, and convert this into electricity. Because of that, they place a magnetic drag on the strings, which will change how they respond, including how they sustain. For every individual, there will be a sweet spot where the string seems to respond to them the best.

In my case, I've always liked my pickups pretty low. If I need more signal, I can turn up the gain at the amp. But if I need more responsiveness, there's no knob I can turn. The only solution is to back off on the pickup height.
Old 25th December 2010
  #3
Lives for gear
I am rather ashamed, for so many years, I was pushing those puppies up close for output and power, ...big mistake. My tone was really getting flubby, muddy and weird and I was fighting my pedals and EQ to compensate.

The more I back off the better the tone gets. These pickups are so powerful these days they just do not need to be so close. I am using like 2 to 5mm distance with slants from bass to treble strings.

I thought of the analogy of a flame, as a magnetic flux field, the real heat of the flame is near the tip or above it not right down at the base. I have brought all my pickups height down to what I used to think was way too low but the tones are amazing. Full round, woody and more intonated. I recommend going lower than you imagine might be too much and then gradually slightly raise and test the tone. I also run some fairly heavy string gauge which also gives me a greater magnetic effect when vibrating which allows more distance away. I run 11-50s detuned a whole step down (looser equals more vibration and single strength as well), I suspect it's a good idea to drop the pickup height when detuning or using heavier strings! Seems to have done wonders for my tones on both types of guitars (Strats and LP fullsize HBs).

The base plates I installed on my single coils focus and direct the field more so they allow more distance. Simply kicking on a OD or clean amp boost brings the level up more if that becomes an issue.

Plus the Carvin's I use have more than double the poil pieces of normal pickups also increasing the field range and sensitivity. Great pickups by the way, I have several types in all three of my guitars. I dig Carvin guitars, what can I say, been using them for over decade. Those pickup Base Plates are a cool mod for any single coils you are thinking about changing. Just might turn out to be better tone that the replacement puppies. That was the case for me on the AP-11s. They sounded great std but a little chimey and bright ended, great SRV types, the base plates, thickened them up and increased their mid punch.

I also had some recent experiences and learning points on doing a neck shim adjustment which just made my bolt on come alive. Be glad to hash out the info if anyone is ever interested. I was a little scared of messing with neck shims but really it was probably the easiest thing I have gotten into. You will be amazed at how a very thin shim to adjust the neck plane angle can improve your intonation and playability all the way up and down the neck.
Old 25th December 2010
  #4
This is why you gotta love guitars.
For such a ridiculously simple circuit/concept there is so much variation.

I was inspired recently to really get to know my guitar, a humble Epi LP standard. I did a a DIY fret dressing, fingerboard refinishing, Unfinished the neck, replaced the P/ups and switch and rewired it from a modern to 50's wiring set up, changed out the nut and the bridge and the tuners and so on. Scary to start with but well worth it in the end

After that I spent a day with about 15 sets of strings from round wound pure nickel to hex core plated, to more exotic materials. And did nothing but record my noodlings on the various sets so I had a way to compare them after the fact to decide which ones I preferred (completely unscientific and totallly subjective but it works for me). While there is a good deal of snake oil magic talked about strings I did find that there was a noticeable difference when you go from round wound to hex core especially (more of a swell and non linearness to round wound) and some variation with the materials, especially in terms of output.

Next was an afternoon spent messing with Pup heights. Started with the Gibson recommended specs and messed from there. dropped them, raised them dropped the Pup and raised the pole pieces and on an on until I found what worked for me.

Now if only I could play worth a Damn!

The big things it did make me realize is how ridiculous the concept of a signature guitar is except as an object of weird, cultist worship (IMO). And, how crazy all the stuff on guitar forums are about what's the best Pup, what's the best string, should I overwrap or not etc etc.
Everything effects everything else and is so subjective. Even before you get to the workings of guitar itself just your own physical way of playing the guitar has a massive impact on the sound and even if someone loves the sound of a certain configuration, you might hate it.
So now my guitar is my signature guitar because it works exactly how I want it to. Whether it would work for Jimmy Page, EVH, Slash, Zakk Wylde is irrelevant to me.

Who'd have though a chunk of wood, a couple of magnets and some wire could be such a personal thing
Old 25th December 2010
  #5
I agree with the premise. At least five times now I've gone through a recalibration where I decide I must be missing something because every single reference about calibration, including from Fender, says something like 4/16ths to 5/16ths on the treble side and 6/16ths to 8/16ths on the bass side.

But every time I end up back with a much lower setting and it sounds vastly better to me. And yeh, sllightly lower middle pickup for more 'quack' in the out of phase positions. And, if you really pay attention to the pickup heights you see on Strats played by people whose tone you like, I never see them that high. I see them more like I like mine.

The kneck pickup is just a bit above the faceplate. The middle pickup a little higher, and the bridge pickup a little higher still, which provides a pretty balanced output. I tend to have a slight lean toward the treble on the kneck pickup, mosty flat on the middle, and a slight lean towards the bass side on the bridge. I play with the middle pickup in the out of phase positions until I like the sound, but it still sounds fine on the middle position as well the output is just a slight bit lower. Since the strings move less the closer you get to the bridge, the middle being a little higher than the kneck still means it's really 'lower' in terms of output generally.

To me, this provides the best tone. It's mellower for one thing certainly. It just sounds more 'vintage' to me, more 'Hendrixy'. One thing that I've noticed is that, since I got the Vibrochamp, those types of amps are like 'wire with gain' pretty much. The simple circuit is SO revealing of the sound of the guitar, and the slightest changes in pickup positions and picking style are incredibly obvious. It really helps in getting a good calibration.

Of course if you have staggered pole pieces as mine does, then the actual distance from the strings is varying a fair bit, to compensate for the kneck radius somewhat and to compensate for different string output levels.
Old 26th December 2010
  #6
Gear Guru
 
kafka's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by darkhorse View Post
Plus the Carvin's I use have more than double the poil pieces of normal pickups also increasing the field range and sensitivity. Great pickups by the way, I have several types in all three of my guitars. I dig Carvin guitars, what can I say, been using them for over decade. Those pickup Base Plates are a cool mod for any single coils you are thinking about changing. Just might turn out to be better tone that the replacement puppies
Each pole piece will each extend the magnetic field by it's height. By having them individually adjustable, you can control exactly how much drag you want on each string. This is good for balancing out a flubby G string, or making the high E less piercing.

For me, I'm going for a balance. But, you can 'bias' your guitar heavier or lighter, depending on your preference.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bristol Posse View Post
I was inspired recently to really get to know my guitar, a humble Epi LP standard. I did a a DIY fret dressing, fingerboard refinishing, Unfinished the neck, replaced the P/ups and switch and rewired it from a modern to 50's wiring set up, changed out the nut and the bridge and the tuners and so on. Scary to start with but well worth it in the end.
I would say this exercise would probably be well worth the effort and risk. You really need to experience the subtleties for yourself to see how they all play out.

I recently replaced the bridge on my Les Paul. They tend to 'collapse' after about 30 years or so. Now, 'collapse' is a funny word, because it means to go concave by about the width of a couple of hairs in the middle of the bridge. But mine had collapsed, as they all eventually do. The difference in actual measurement was just a few hairs. However, the replacement was much better, and much more balanced and even to play across the neck.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dean Roddey View Post
But every time I end up back with a much lower setting and it sounds vastly better to me. And yeh, sllightly lower middle pickup for more 'quack' in the out of phase positions. And, if you really pay attention to the pickup heights you see on Strats played by people whose tone you like, I never see them that high. I see them more like I like mine.
My ideal for the electric guitar is more like a really big acoustic guitar, or a grand piano. I find I don't really like a lot of gain. I prefer to get sustain the way God intended, through volume. ;-)
Old 26th December 2010
  #7
Gear Addict
 
Screwdio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by darkhorse View Post
I thought of the analogy of a flame, as a magnetic flux field, the real heat of the flame is near the tip or above it not right down at the base.
I understand the point you are trying to make, but this is a bad/incorrect analogy. In fact, the opposite is true. The base of a flame is hotter. The more blue/white/violet the flame is the hotter it is. To be practical about it, think about a cutting torch. Is it yellow and orange...? Nope.
Old 26th December 2010
  #8
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bristol Posse View Post
This is why you gotta love guitars.
For such a ridiculously simple circuit/concept there is so much variation.

I was inspired recently to really get to know my guitar, a humble Epi LP standard. I did a a DIY fret dressing, fingerboard refinishing, Unfinished the neck, replaced the P/ups and switch and rewired it from a modern to 50's wiring set up, changed out the nut and the bridge and the tuners and so on. Scary to start with but well worth it in the end

After that I spent a day with about 15 sets of strings from round wound pure nickel to hex core plated, to more exotic materials. And did nothing but record my noodlings on the various sets so I had a way to compare them after the fact to decide which ones I preferred (completely unscientific and totallly subjective but it works for me). While there is a good deal of snake oil magic talked about strings I did find that there was a noticeable difference when you go from round wound to hex core especially (more of a swell and non linearness to round wound) and some variation with the materials, especially in terms of output.

Next was an afternoon spent messing with Pup heights. Started with the Gibson recommended specs and messed from there. dropped them, raised them dropped the Pup and raised the pole pieces and on an on until I found what worked for me.

Now if only I could play worth a Damn!

The big things it did make me realize is how ridiculous the concept of a signature guitar is except as an object of weird, cultist worship (IMO). And, how crazy all the stuff on guitar forums are about what's the best Pup, what's the best string, should I overwrap or not etc etc.
Everything effects everything else and is so subjective. Even before you get to the workings of guitar itself just your own physical way of playing the guitar has a massive impact on the sound and even if someone loves the sound of a certain configuration, you might hate it.
So now my guitar is my signature guitar because it works exactly how I want it to. Whether it would work for Jimmy Page, EVH, Slash, Zakk Wylde is irrelevant to me.

Who'd have though a chunk of wood, a couple of magnets and some wire could be such a personal thing

I have been addicted to the guitar since I was 17, that was about 35 yrs ago and I am still constanting working to improve my board or trying out different tubes in my amp as I learned to set bias trim after years of being chickne about it. Really, really simple.

At one point I had like 10 guitars, all set for play. After a bad divorce years ago I am slowly rebuilding things but I do not have a budget like I used to. One reason I love Carvin so much. I have some beautiful pieces from them. The quality of build and custom issues for around a $1000 keep me coming back. I get to select what woods I want, pickups, wiring, and finish and they put my name on them on the truss rod cover. I demand a very versitile instrument for my use and these puppies deal the cards no matter what mood I am in. After I spend a day working on the setup and hyper tuning them in, they are just amazing. You should see my kit strat I made, it has an ebony fingerboard, that is something you do not see.

I have gotten into the wiring, neck shim and a lot of set up things, but I am scared ****less to attempt a fret dressing. The last time I messed w that when I was a teenager I screwed up a strat really bad.

I have like a 12 yr old beautiful like new DC400 Carvin w the most amazing finish and abalone shell inlays in the neck. I am afraid to do anything to the frets for fear of screwing it up. I have just a couple worn spots under the 1st few frets of the 3rd string, nothing serious but I have not been able to locate a good guitar luther around here.

Say, I am wondering, how do you get a neck nut off without messing the finish. What is used to make the glue let go or clean it up to refit a new one? The nut on my kit is cut too high and I would like to refit it (filing one is another thing I do not trust myself to do. What sort of glue and cleanup is used and where might one find such magical things?
Old 26th December 2010
  #9
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by Screwdio View Post
I understand the point you are trying to make, but this is a bad/incorrect analogy. In fact, the opposite is true. The base of a flame is hotter. The more blue/white/violet the flame is the hotter it is. To be practical about it, think about a cutting torch. Is it yellow and orange...? Nope.

All I know when I used a hydrogen torch for quartz wielding the tip is where everything melted and when you light a cigar you really do not touch it to the flame but hold it above the flame (or at least that is what you are supposed to do). I get the color thing with temp, that is basic physics when dealing with stellar objects and whatnot. But I guarantee you will not get good torch effect trying to get too close to the gas tip. I had that in mind when I was thinking of the magnetic field thing.
Like in combustion things catch from the tips of the flames and the heat. You get my point though.

Sure the field is stronger closer, but we do not want too strong we are are moving through it w a magnetic material to create a current. The whole concept is amazing really much less how we get such musical effect from basic electronics. Modern pickups are so much more powerful than they used to be and in some cases that may be inhibiting to getting the better tone.

The magnetic field is massive and one does not have to be too close to the magnets. Sort of like a paper clip swinging across the field, get too close and it grabs it. A strong pickup can really wack the intonation on the 6th string by too much magnetic pull. I do not know any other way to descibe the effect.

I am in heaven lately jamming out because me tone is better than ever and all my boxes and amp is are just singing like never before. I still have all the gain attack I need because I can click on an OD to increase pickup sensitivity if needed. I do run my more hotter SD a little closer to get that more metal attack when I am in the mood to use heavy dist. But those single coils, delicious, lowered down.
Old 26th December 2010
  #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by darkhorse View Post
Say, I am wondering, how do you get a neck nut off without messing the finish. What is used to make the glue let go or clean it up to refit a new one? The nut on my kit is cut too high and I would like to refit it (filing one is another thing I do not trust myself to do. What sort of glue and cleanup is used and where might one find such magical things?
I talked to a couple of luthiers in the LA area about setups before I started and got the same answer from both

score, carfully around the nut with an exacto knife so that removing it won't crack the finish around it. take a screwdriver, place it against the side of the nut and gently tap with a mallet. It poppped right off wiith one tap for me

The magic ingredient for most things seems to be superglue, lightly sand off the residue of the old, put a dot of superglue and seat the new/adjusted nut.
There may be some special "Luthier" glue at Stew Macdonald on line but both of the guys I talk to seem to use superglue for most things

there is a great thread about setting up an Epi LP here which includes removing, shaping and installing a new nut. Complete EPI custom setup - My Les Paul Forums
While this is focused on an LP copy the techniques this guy shows will apply anywhere
Old 26th December 2010
  #11
I created and put in a new nut on my Strat. It's a little scary the first time, but it went just fine. You can't see the slightest space around the new nut. As long as you score it very careful, exactly at the intersection of the finish and the nut, and as straight down along the flat of the nut as possible (easy since you just keep the knife blade flush with the nut, and since it's an x-acto type the blade is very thin), it'll pop right out without any visible effect on the finish. As mentioned, put a wood block or something like that against it and tap lightly. I think the wood block is better than a screw driver since it evenly distributes load across the whole width of the nut.

The harder part is filing out your own nut, but it does give you a lot of control. It just takes some careful experimentation as to the correct width and depth of the slots. But, if you go too far, it's yank it back out and start again.

One thing I figured out is that you can flare the rear of the slots a bit, but the neck side have to be completely straight. If you give the string any wiggle room on that side, you get Ravi Shankar pretty much, which could be a cool thing if you had a spare guitar to use for that type of stuff. Though I guess you'd want the buzzers to be on the bridge, otherwise you'd only get it on open strings.

Also, to deepen the slot a little bit more on the back side, so that the string can run upwards through it to a bit of a peak at the kneck side, which gives it a tiny bit of an upwards bow as it comes out of the slot, and a non-ambiguous and equal end of slot point for all strings.
Old 28th December 2010
  #12
Lives for gear
Pickup heights do vary, depending on the pickup type as well. Strat style pickups tend to have much more drag on the strings than humbuckers do, so they have to be farther away. And yeah, active pickups can be pretty close since most of the heavy lifting is done with electronics, not big magnets. So my Epi Explorer with the EMG 81/85 combo had to be set up with the pickups WAY closer to the strings than the factory setup. You should be able to determine the exact distance by starting with the pickups even with the pickguard then gradually raising them, listening to sustain and backing down a bit when sustain starts to suffer...
Old 29th December 2010
  #13
Gear Head
 
honeyiscool's Avatar
 

I always put the neck pickup close to the body. I also try to have very weak neck pickups. I usually adjust the bridge to be about the same as the neck in terms of output so it usually ends up closer to the strings. I just put high output bridge pickups in a Mustang, though, and I really like it because the out-of-phase sound just leaps to life when you have unbalanced pickup output.
Old 29th December 2010
  #14
Peter Florance

Peter has some great pickup height setup info on his site. Part of his method is to set the treble side of his pickups and then raise lower the bass side of each to taste/balance, I find this more evident using strat or tele pickups but to an extent cheat my humbuckers down on the bass side as well so everything sounds balanced.
Old 29th December 2010
  #15
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bristol Posse View Post
I talked to a couple of luthiers in the LA area about setups before I started and got the same answer from both

score, carfully around the nut with an exacto knife so that removing it won't crack the finish around it. take a screwdriver, place it against the side of the nut and gently tap with a mallet. It poppped right off wiith one tap for me

The magic ingredient for most things seems to be superglue, lightly sand off the residue of the old, put a dot of superglue and seat the new/adjusted nut.
There may be some special "Luthier" glue at Stew Macdonald on line but both of the guys I talk to seem to use superglue for most things

there is a great thread about setting up an Epi LP here which includes removing, shaping and installing a new nut. Complete EPI custom setup - My Les Paul Forums
While this is focused on an LP copy the techniques this guy shows will apply anywhere
Thanks for the info guys!
Old 29th December 2010
  #16
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dean Roddey View Post
I created and put in a new nut on my Strat. It's a little scary the first time, but it went just fine. You can't see the slightest space around the new nut. As long as you score it very careful, exactly at the intersection of the finish and the nut, and as straight down along the flat of the nut as possible (easy since you just keep the knife blade flush with the nut, and since it's an x-acto type the blade is very thin), it'll pop right out without any visible effect on the finish. As mentioned, put a wood block or something like that against it and tap lightly. I think the wood block is better than a screw driver since it evenly distributes load across the whole width of the nut.

The harder part is filing out your own nut, but it does give you a lot of control. It just takes some careful experimentation as to the correct width and depth of the slots. But, if you go too far, it's yank it back out and start again.

One thing I figured out is that you can flare the rear of the slots a bit, but the neck side have to be completely straight. If you give the string any wiggle room on that side, you get Ravi Shankar pretty much, which could be a cool thing if you had a spare guitar to use for that type of stuff. Though I guess you'd want the buzzers to be on the bridge, otherwise you'd only get it on open strings.

Also, to deepen the slot a little bit more on the back side, so that the string can run upwards through it to a bit of a peak at the kneck side, which gives it a tiny bit of an upwards bow as it comes out of the slot, and a non-ambiguous and equal end of slot point for all strings.

Coolness. I will just need to talk to my Carvin buds and inform them the nut on the kit neck is just too high.
Old 29th December 2010
  #17
Lives for gear
I experimented with neck shims on my last kit guitar and it is amazing how a small thin piece of a shim can raise the base of the neck up to more a level plane and improve the hell out of your intonation and playability.

An easy mod fix I had to do after then realizing my string nut had not been cut low enough. I may get brave and change it or possibly just opt for another neck as I need to replace the body anyway. (Busted the back, splintered it trying to knock out some out string hold guides w new ones. Tone is not effected as I repaired it as best it can be but for looks I plan to get a better body anyway. You can't see it from the front just bugs me I splintered the damn thing. Building a kit was a real hoot and quite a learning experience. I ended up with a really cool unique guitar. A Strat w an ebony neck and plate mod pickups.


Setting pickup heights:
I take a piece of laminated card material and mark a 4mm and a 2mm position.
I so far tend to go lower than a lot of recommended "Fender" sights but my pickups are pretty high output. I keep thinking from my old brainwash I am too far down but every time I tweak up my tone starts to suffer. The plunky 2&4 on a Strat and the mod on an LP increases was you back off and I recommend (once again against the status quo websites) adjusting pickups at differing heights. I run my bridge just a touch higher much not much. My mid on my strat is just a little lower then the neck which also helps to increase the 2-4 position tones.

I really think you can get too close but I am not sure you can get too far away. Some have pondered that perhaps the fasination with the old 50s era pickups might be denatured and weaker pickups from age. Food for thought.

(hold the string down at the upper frets, I only worry about the 1st and 6th string)
I set my bass sides right at the 4mm mark with the string right on the mid line or sometimes a tiny bit closer with the mark aligned to string bottom.
I set my treble side about at a 3mm between the 2 and 4 mark. (I set my bridge just a touch more closer than the neck and my strat mid is a touch lower than my neck pickup.)

The resulting tones have been far better and if I need more push from the guitar it is far better to click on an OD or a clean boost than to increase signal strength from closer mag attraction.

Comments were well made here concerning active pickups like EMGs or even Fender Lace Sensors which can be placed much closer without string pull. Strat single coils do have more an issue with string pull that can mess with your intonation. Seems like I always have fits with the 6th string on my guitars, who ever sets the factory intonations is certainly not getting close. Strats in particular for me have terrible problems on the 6th string always being sharp at the 12th. I was never aware in the past that my pickups were adding to the issue.

My pickups are all passive but I do have a push/pull active clean preamp on one of my guitars but I never really use it. I also use plate mods on my std neck and middle pickups and that increases their output and punch so they can be lowered more away from the strings.
Old 29th June 2016
  #18
Gear Nut
Quote:
Originally Posted by darkhorse View Post
I had always been of the thought that getting that pickup close was for better power and output. And yes that is basically true BUT...

I just redid my board again and was tuning in my boxes and amp. I started to realize my tone was just not there and without that basic tone you just cannot play well. I could not get what the problem was.

I just changed string types and had reintonated for the new gauge (11-50) and I now play a full step detuned. As a goof trying to get my tone going again I took the pickups down away from the strings. That tubbiness and flubber went away and here came the wood and roundness of the strings and tone again. The Strat was more stratty with the cool off position sounds. My pickups ruled again. I also use some modifed base plates on my neck and mid pickups (bridge is already a full size HB). I can tell anyone about that mod if anyone cares. [I have a strat with Carvin AP-11s with base plates and a full size HB and another strat w dual rail single coils. Fender recommends a too close distance for the HB single coils. I think anyway.]

Sooooo..pickup height. Most recommended distances are too close for my tastes. You start getting string pull and the magnetic field actually working to inhibit the string vibrations. The bass gets flubby and flat and you cannot seem to get the intonation right. Ever have that strat where you cannot get the 6 string to intonate right? Keep pulling that saddle back, I have alays had that problem on strats. The heavier guage strings and detuned helped a lot. Some of it is caused by string pull from the pickup acting on the string.

Backing down, away fm the strings lowers your output, so metal heads using EMGs or whatever will still need to stay within shred distance. But a Strat, bring them down. I find a distance of 2mm on the treble side and 4mm on the bass works best on mine. Fender recommends in general like 1.6 and 3.6 but I like just a little more. You can go to a 1/8" and a 1/4" distance which also works quite well. I was trying to find the exact balance of close and distance to get the best of both effects.

Another trick also to increase the plunky tone positions is to not have the neck and mid pickups exactly the same distance, (as many on the net recommend, they were also saying to match the output of each pickup to be the same, for me, this what you do not want to do at all!!) a slightly lower mid pickup will increase the cool stratty position 2 and 4 effect.

Same on a LP with dual HBs, offset the heights to get more of that cool LP mid 2 pickup woody tone. Some players have noted they like to put the mid pickup all the way down flush to the guard, on a Strat, and noticed it really increased the position 2&4 plunky tone on a strat. I like using my mid PU so I do not take it down that extreme.

I took a piece of hard coated playing card material, I used for neck shim and marked a 2mm and 4mm, hold the strings to the body up high (around 20th fret) and measure the 1st string (to the magnet pole, rail or screw) I set treble sides at 2mm on my strats, 4mm on the bass side. I might slightly go closer but not more than a 1.6, more like a 1.8. Slight changes really make a difference when you get close to the optimum for your guitar. I would go with the 2 and 4mm and just tweak a little from there.

Try it and see if your tone does not come alive and more acoustical, especially on a strat. Also FYI, some metal performance type pickups or low impedence pickups are designed with a really low string pull and can get closer without flubber. Try the offset height difference on the LP to increase that cool Pagey mid position tone. (On my mark on the measurement card, I tend to set string height to the top or bottom of the mark, just a slight difference is all it takes. Set the LP bridge height so the top of the string is even with the mark and the neck pickup so the string is aligned on the bottom, that slight difference will make a more pronounced plunk).

Offset the neck and mid and your Strat will come alive with more funk, and acoustical vibe just lowering the pickups down. Don't worry about the output, adjust your gear accordingly. There is plenty there to drive anything. Try out the metal base plates on your average single coils, they really change the game. Most use them on the bridge to increase the lows , mids and output. My bridge was already a fullsize HB and my dual rail strat pickups already had a plate in their design. I am the first one I know of who has installed them on a neck and mid pickups. Major improvement.

Next time you have a high gain box going turn your guitar vol down a little, the sustain and dirt will still be there but your tone will be better. (Just as an option verse alays playing on 10 which is what I ahve done for years and years) I was always a vol on 10 and a tone on 10 player until recently. I have a StellarTone ToneStyler tone control on one of the strats which is a high pass cap tone control which only rolls off highs, really is major cool and gets you into using the tone control to change your sound without losing it. Neat little gadget really, 16 positions of high pass cut w position 1 being bypass without a tone control and position 2 is a normal tone on 10 setting. It is also wired to the bridge pickup which gives you the option of a tone control there as well or just click it on bypass.
Satriani has a special push pull pot on his guitars tone control that has a high pass filter installed.

Anyway, I was loving the pickup changes and thought I would pass it on.
I know this is an old post, but I had to chime in. In all these years (and I've played guitar for 15 years), I for some reason have never messed with the pickup height. I feel like a damn fool. I recently saw a Joe Walsh video and he was talking about it. Then I thought damn, of course the pickup height matters. It matters for the same reason that mic position and proximity to a source matters. I should know this! I guess I did know it deep inside, I just never applied the knowledge to the instrument components, but rather was obsessed with everything after the instrument in the signal chain..still important stuff, but I was ignoring the first component in the chain: THE DAMN INSTRUMENT...which is STUPID.

I play a lot of different types of music, but I have a couple of 7 string guitars that I like to play heavy stuff with. In previous recordings, I ALWAYS had a problem with the low end and low mids sounding muddy and flabby. Voila, I moved the pickups down on the low strings and it sounds great now.

I didn't just moved them arbitrarily and then call it a day, I moved them as I was hitting on the low B string until it sounded more clear. It DEFINITELY made a positive difference.

I'm just pissed at myself for never considering that particular detail when I am such a **** about other details.
Old 29th June 2016
  #19
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I do it by sound, not measurements. Action and setup are too personal for hard rules. On a Strat, I start with the bridge pickup and raise it until I start getting those warbly ghost notes (Stratitis) high up on the neck, then I back it up a bit. I do this separately for the bass and treble side. I then move on to the other 2 pickups, balancing them for the volume I like. Works every time, and sounds great.
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