Archive for April, 2023

Pole Dance

Monday, April 17th, 2023
These babies are the beating heart of your guitar. Treat them right and they will treat you right.

“My neck pickup is muddy.”

“My bridge pickup is too bright.”

“My pickups are poorly balanced.”

All are legitimate complaints about the tone of your 335, 345 or 355. All have fairly easy solutions so before you start swapping out your pickups, there are some really simple things you can do to improve the tone of your guitar. I’ve written in some detail about saddles and the nut and how they are two of the most important elements in getting the best tone out of your guitar. After all, the vibration of the strings are the source of your tone. The pickups main job is to get that tone from the strings to the amp. Sustain is important and that’s a function of good strings, a well cut nut and properly notched saddles. The strings need to vibrate freely without interference. Too deep saddle notches will choke your sustain as will a poorly cut (to tight or too loose) nut. Uneven frets will also affect the string vibration. You’ll need a good luthier to get these aspects of your guitar optimally set up. Once this is done, your guitar should play beautifully unplugged up and down the fingerboard and on the open strings. Then it’s time to address the issues that led off this post.

It makes perfect sense that raising or lowering the pole screws is a great way to adjust the volume/output of each individual string. Except it doesn’t work very well. Seth Lover’s original design didn’t even have pole screws but the brass at Gibson thought that players would feel that they had lost some control over their tone, so pole screws were added. Unlike the poles in a lot of pickups, the poles in a Gibson humbucker aren’t magnets. They pick up a very small magnetic charge from being next to the magnet but they sure don’t do much when you raise them or lower them. That’s because the magnet is still in the same place no matter where the pole screws are and the amount of magnetic charge on the screws isn’t enough to affect the magnetic field very much. I’m no engineer but I have ears. Do you hear a difference? Good for you if you do…adjust away-I don’t hear it. That said, when you raise or lower the pickup itself, the difference can be massive. The best method for adjusting your pickup height is good old trial and error. I start off with the pickups as close to the strings as possible (without the strings hitting the pickup).

My next step is to listen to the neck pickup. If it’s muddy, I lower only the bass side until I’m happy with the low end frequency response. Then I switch between the pickups to get a sense of the balance. If the neck pickup is louder, I first lower the treble side. If it’s still louder than the bridge pickup I lower both sides until the balance is good. I generally leave the bridge pickup as high as I can get it because I want it to overdrive the amp-that’s a personal preference. If you want the bridge pickup to be a bit more “musical”, lower it equally on both sides. Once you like the tone, you can raise or lower either side to get the strings balanced with each other. Check the balance between the pickups again. If your adjustments of the bridge pickup have made the two pickups out of balance again, your next step should be to lower the neck pickup until they are balanced to your ears.

There is one other adjustment that can make a difference. Often, the neck pickup sits at an angle to the strings usually with the lower edge closer to the strings than the upper (closest to the neck) edge. In that situation, I reverse the pickup ring so the tall side is toward the neck rather than the lower side. That will usually flatten out the pickup. Once the pickup is sitting flat, it will often be a bit louder than it was before. Lower accordingly until the pickups are balanced.

And keep this in mind when choosing pickups…DCR is not a measure of output. It is related to output but the relationship between DCR and volume is not a direct one. a 6.9K pickup can be as loud as an 8.8K. There are too many factors other than DCR that affect loudness (including pickup height). So, don’t assume something is wrong when your 7.6K neck pickup is louder than your 8.8K bridge pickup. Start adjusting the heights and don’t quit until you are happy.

You can clearly see that the neck pickup is sitting at an angle to the strings. That may or may not affect the output or the tone of your pickup. The fix is to reverse the pickup ring so the tall side is toward the neck