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Pickup For Low Tune Guitars

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if I make my own pickup...

the body is alder and will be tuned BEADF#B. to avoid muddiness, I'll probably have to make the pickup as bright as possible, right?

should I make it low-output or high-output? what's best to retain chord definition?

also, is it possible to make the pickup bright on the low string side and a little darker on the high side?


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I recently wound a soapbar style pickup for a baritone 7, tuned EAD-ADGB.

I made a wide, short coil(p90 style), with 40.5AWG (I was given 9 pounds of it by my transformer guy, and its now my favourite wire) wound to the most irregular pattern I could manage to 4.3kohm. Resulting in a low impedance, mid output(about the same as a 7k strat pickup I use in my test guitar) pickup with a ridiculously wide frequency response. I used far more turns than I had ever done before, and the treble end was much darker than previous pickups I'd done in this style. The bass has a touch of dirt to it. Definately not muddy at all. But I think that has more to do with the woods I used in the guitar, the scale lengths, and the stainless strings.

The biggest problem with winding your own pickup, is the limitless variations to the coil design you can use. I came up with a design I like for extended range instruments, I have a variation I use for regular guitars and steels. I have another design like a strat pickup, but its like no strat pickup I've ever heard before.

While this doesn't really help you, I'm just doing a rubbish job at pointing out, there are many factors in pickups, and designing a pickup to do specific things, can be surprisingly diffucult.

If you want to make the pickup for this guitar, I'd recommend a heavier than "normal" guage of wire. But depending on many other factors, you may then need a small preamp to get the output levels you are probably wanting.

You'll have no trouble winding a pickup that works first time, but whether it has the sound you are wanting, is another story. I think it was my fourth pickup that was even remotely what I wanted. Now I seem to get it right every time, but I did a lot of research into low impedance stuff to get there.

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The things that affect the sound in a pickup

1. Shape of coil

2. Shape of magnetic field

3. number of windings

4. magnetic field strength

There are a number of other factors but this is the main ones. Let’s dissect them. The shape of the coil is crucial. Compare a tele pickup and a strat pickup. The strat is tall and thin and the tele is fatter and shorter. Most of the other factors are the same. Compare the sound. The strat sound is thinner and more brilliant. Now compare the sound of a tele (medium tall, medium fat coil) with a P90 (even taller and shorter). Add to that a magnetic field that isn’t made up from cylindrical magnets, but two bar magnets placed under the coil. This magnet setup focus the magnetic field to the lower part of the coil (slightly away from the strings)*. Now the sound of the P90 is really middy. But that is not only because the short, squat coil and the different shaped magnetic field. The P90 has loads of more turns of wire, up to 10 000. The more wire you put on the coil the more mid it will have. At the same time you will start to loose treble. That is because the treble has a harder time travel down (or around) a long wire (higher resistance = less treble). The most common thing to do to counter this is to increase the magnetic field strength. Higher magnetic field strength will produce more treble (or from a psycho acoustic point of view, with higher sound pressure you will experience that the sound like has more treble). There are a load of more factors that affect the sound of pickups, but these are IMO the most important.

*Also try this: Make a P90 coil around magnetic rods like on a tele/strat. The sound will be clearer, more focused.

OK, NOW on to your question: How to make a bright pickup? First of all: Do you have an idea about the tupe of pickup you need/want (ie single coil/humbucker/P90/…). Without that information anything else is useless. Also: Do you need a truckload of output from this pickup (think metal guitar) or do you need something tamer?

Alternative 1 (metal HB) Go for a Humbucker with THINNER wire (AWG43), not thicker. The thinner wire WILL mean that you loose some more treble but you will also get a skinnier coil with more treble. Wind the coil slightly overwound (>5000 turns/coil) for higher output. The loss of treble in the thinner wire and more turns can easily be countered with a stronger ceramic magnet. It is actually possible to even add two extra, thinner magnets on the outside of the poleslugs/polescrews to add even more magnetic field strength -> adding treble. Gibson did that with their Super Humbucker in the 80’s.

Alternative 2 (low output HB) Have a look at the Filtertron design from Gretsch. A thicker (1/4” compared to the standard 1/8”) ALNICO 5 magnet will produce a strong magnetic field. Add to that high skinny coils with very few turns (2000/coil) of (thin AWG43) wire producing a DC resistance of “only” about 2 Kohms per coil and you will have twang-o-rama style treble.

Alternative 3 (Single coil) Wind a normal strat-style SC with as few turns as you like (maybe 6000 turns) with a DC resistance as low as maybe 5 Kohms. If you would like to add even more treble you can try the tele-trick: add a magnetic reflector under the pickup a la the tele bridge pickup. If you want that sound but with the humbucking you can always make it with two split coils like the P-bass

Experimenting with pickups is a great way of altering the sound of your guitar. It is relatively easy to make a cheap-o winder from anything that spin and the parts are cheap, even if you buy relatively expensive, all included kits from StewMac. By all means; try it.

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Especialy if he is going to wind them himself, like in the question he asked :D

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  • 3 weeks later...

"is it possible to make the pickup bright on the low string side and a little darker on the high side?"

You can:

-position the pickup in a tilted manner (closer to the bridge at the lower strings)

-get a peizo bridge and plop a tone control to each peizo transducer

-make a pickup that has a coil for each string, then use a tone control for each string's output.

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