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The Convert

Choosing Replacement Pickups

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I recently got a nice deal on a well-maintained 2012 Epiphone Les Paul Standard. As a longtime Fender player, I was surprised at how much I really love playing this guitar. While there are a lot of things I like about this instrument, there is one gigantic shortcoming: the factory pups (“Alnico Classic Humbuckers” I believe) sound like rubbish.

 

I’m determined to swap out the pickups (and caps) and I have narrowed the choice down to either a set of Epi “ProBuckers” (for around $80US for a like-new pull) or a set of Gibson ’57 Classic Plus Set (IM57R-NH/IM57P-NH) (for around $200US).

 

If I’m to believe the hype, the ProBuckers are a great improvement, but you simply can’t go wrong with the Gibsons. Clearly, as I purchased a used Epiphone, I’m not made of money, so I am wondering if this community can tell me if the Gibsons are worth paying close to what I paid for the guitar, and over twice that of the ProBuckers. Or stated differently, as the Gibsons are over twice as expensive as the Epi ProBuckers, are they twice the upgrade as the ProBuckers would be from my entry-level Epi "Classic" Alnico's?

 

Thanks in advance for any guidance here!

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Hello, and welcome to this nice place in the web. [thumbup]

 

First, I think it would be nice to see some pics of your Epiphone [love] :)

 

As next I have to say I find Epiphone pickups not bad at all. I know Epi pickups from checking out the related guitars only, but they worked well and also caused no problems through microphonics. Anyway, my only Epiphone guitar, a Les Paul 1960 Tribute Plus, came with a Gibson '57 Classic/'57 Classic Plus combo stock, and this guitar sounds very nice with them. She also features series/parallel switching through two push/pull pots and thus is very versatile.

 

On the other hand, lots of sonic difference is in the woods I think. This becomes apparent when I compare the Epi Tribute LP to my Gibson LPs which have '57s, '57/'57+, BurstBucker Pros, BB 1 & 2, and 496R/498T. Apart from the fact that only the latest one allows for parallel coil operation, the '57 and '57+ pickups of the Gibsons have braided wire which cuts treble and emphasizes mids. Having said all that, I found out that the Epi with '57/'57+ is closest to the Gibson with BB Pros! The biggest difference seems to be that the Gibsons are more sensitive to attack and develop more dynamic reaction this way. The Epi starts to compress at lower attack levels.

 

In my opinion this is caused mainly by the timbers. American mahogany as used by Gibson seems to support a chunky tone with lots of bite better. The African and Asian mahogany species used for Epiphones seem to be a bit softer and clearly sound softer. Interestingly, the overall tone and sustain are about the same when played with soft to medium attack. An Epi LP seems to have the basically same qualities when pushed not that hard.

 

You said the stock PUs sound like rubbish. What exactly do you want to express tone-wise using such a hard word? What do you miss, and what do you think is too much? Compared to Fender single-coil tones - I play some Teles and Strats, too - humbucker sounds are far different on principal. They offer more lows, lots more of fat midrange, and significantly less highs.

 

Perhaps I should add that strings and amp play important roles, and also the capacitance of the guitar cable. Furthermore, I prefer very bright sounding strings on all guitars, and except flatwounds on basses, too. All of my evaluations mentioned above are based on playing the same sort of bright strings on all these guitars.

 

When about capacitors, I recommend to save the money. They don't do anything to the sound when the tone control is fully open, and differences are very small when it's fully closed. Seriously. Lots of snake oil sellers are out there.

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The starting point of disliking the pups is puzzling. Like capmaster, I think these are actually pretty good. I also like the 57 Classic pups, but wonder if this is really going to give you the sound you want.

 

What kit are you using?

 

Also, any chance of posting a sound clip of your LP Std? I'm curious to hear it.

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If I may suggest changing the harness before you go for the pickup replacement.

 

I have recently got an ES-335 Pro and I can tell that the harness is the weak link in this guitar. I am not saying that I wouldn't change the pickups but I would not do that without replacing the harness first.

 

For my Strat shaped guitar I bought one of the pre-fabbed kits and it made a huge difference. I am quite capable of wiring a new harness but these people that can be found on the 'net have some great kits that fit right in and just plain work.

 

As far as the pickups go, I love my '57 classics in my Gibson 335. My other Epiphone Sheraton has Gibson mini humbuckers and they are 'da bomb' too. I wouldn't dream of changing them in either guitar!

There are many great pickups out there but Gibson IME make some of the very best. They are the benchmark for most other high quality pickups anyway.

 

Epiphone makes very good pickups too, so changing the harness may get you to a place that makes you happy. As I've said if I were to spend a 'copla Franklin's on pickups I would have everything up to the task.

 

Good Luck and let us know what you decide.

jv

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Thanks for the information, everyone! I really appreciate it.

 

 

You said the stock PUs sound like rubbish. What exactly do you want to express tone-wise using such a hard word? What do you miss, and what do you think is too much? Compared to Fender single-coil tones - I play some Teles and Strats, too - humbucker sounds are far different on principal. They offer more lows, lots more of fat midrange, and significantly less highs.

 

 

You are right, at least in part; my language was hyperbolic.

 

I'm not overjoyed with the tone of both pickups at the moment. The neck pickup is so muddy as to be (to my ears) honestly almost useless, unless in a mixed (middle switch) state through a clean channel. It's possible, I suppose that jazz players may be more pleased by this tone, but to my blues, pop, rock, (and rarely) metal ears, It's almost a total waste of a slot. I find the bridge pup to be much more workable, getting a range of tones in both clean and dirty channels that I like. Still, I find it sometimes oddly a little too shrill (which I can dial back a little, at minor loss of high register clarity).

 

 

Perhaps I should add that strings and amp play important roles, and also the capacitance of the guitar cable.

 

 

This is true, and while I work with some high quality components that I've collected over the years, and will pay out for strings, my amplifier is absolutely a weak, horrible, despicable...you get it...link...a small, modeling SS Fender. It'll be some time before I can replace my all-tube head (or play it in my apartment without getting run out of town). On the other hand, I compare the tones of the LP with my Fenders on the same equipment and, while I understand and expect the performance of the Epi humbuckers to be markedly different, my ability to create unpleasant (to my ears) tones with the LP with the same amplification equipment suggests to me (1) I am probably very aligned to the response and tones of Fender single coils (and even the bridge pup on my fat strat), but (2) that a neck PU that isn't so muddy and a bridge PU that's a little less bright and fuller would suit my ears better.

 

 

When about capacitors, I recommend to save the money...

 

 

The caps are more of a "while I'm there" part of my project (and I've years of electrical experience, so it's no big deal at all to me to do). Based on the tonal shift at low volumes, I suspect there's no treble bleed on the volume pots. From what I can tell from the web, this isn't uncommon for Epis. I may also swap out the tone caps, but not for 'immaculate tone' purposes, per se, but rather to exchange the tonal span breadth for more nuanced selectivity in a narrower range that I actually use if I can work that out. If I can't do it with $20 of orange drops, I won't change a thing, and it's $3 and 15 minutes to swap it back if I'm unhappy.

 

I'll be documenting my project, so pics and maybe a video will be forthcoming. :)

 

So thanks again everyone for your thoughts. I still welcome more feedback on people's read of the two pickup packages I mentioned in the OP.

 

Thanks!

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One of my practice amps is a Fender Mustang I V.1 (old version) which I use occasionally. (Most of the time I blow my guitars through a Behringer V-Amp 2 and headphones, mainly since I use piezo'd hybrid solidbodies and use the bypass setting. However, I also use the bypass for magnetic pickup tones and love it.)

 

The majority of emulations from the Mustang amp seem designed to sound fat, and I have to thin them out when playing humbuckers. Of course, the 8" speaker tends to produce muddier lows than a bigger one when used with distorted sounds from neck pickups. Through experimenting I found settings I'm pleased with.

 

I love the tones from every pickup setting of every guitar of mine but have to say that I rarely use neck pickups with high gain settings for chording. In case of too much edge from a bridge pickup I typically use the amp tone controls in conjunction with the tone control of the guitar - not possible on Strats with traditional tone circuit wiring unless soldering a bridge to the pickup selector switch allowing the use of the middle PU tone control for the bridge PU, too.

 

I just remember a topic which might be helpful for you since it basically also applies to an Epiphone Les Paul: http://forum.gibson.com/index.php?/topic/109278-pickups-sounding-muddy-on-a-les-paul/

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(Most of the time I blow my guitars through a Behringer V-Amp 2 and headphones...

 

Off topic, but worth commenting: I should have given that a try. I'm aware of that device, but on the Pro Audio side of my house, Behringer is synonymous with cheap (and worse, bad sounding) garbage. I've tried some Behringer rack-mount compressors, equalizers, and such and they either create signal noise that isn't there, or alter the sound in ways unexpected and undesired (which better components don't). Some might think it's being particular, but when other people are relying on you and a piece of gear is a problem, you become the problem, which is a situation no sound engineer can afford. But I digress further still. Of course, that's a completely different context. I (sadly) bought a belt-clippable Marshall MS-2 to boost headphones for evening practice, and while I can find a couple of configurations that are passable, I bet your Behringer is much nicer.

 

I don't think the Alnico Classics are sub par.

 

I think that's fair. And I don't just mean that, insofar as taste is subjective. Granted, there are settings on my Mustang with my Epi LP that I quite enjoy. I just see that, when compared to my other guitars, my LP doesn't sound very good with a lot of the range that it seems like it should have. (And also when considering the great LP players and their sounds, I'm not expecting to duplicate them, but I should get in the ballpark is my thought.)

 

Maybe I should give a hint more background to explain where I'm going. I did a project maybe a year ago. I had a MIM Tele that I quite enjoyed. I thought it was a very good sounding instrument, BUT it was designed to be a modern, instrument to appeal to many players. With a modest investment of money and time, I changed the pups (ditching the super bright ceramic for a nocaster set) and some minor electronics changes, along with some really nice flatwound strings. Doing so took a guitar that I thought sounded really nice, and made it a guitar that sounds like a very good Telecaster. Or perhaps, sounds closest to MY ideal Telecaster at an extreme discount.

 

So, while I admit there are some good sounds I can get from my Epi LP (I can get quite close to the Rhodes LP sound, for example, and not quite so close to the Cream Clapton sound), I guess what I'm looking to do is get the sounds I like from it, and when I can't dial them in (and compare them with many sources), then I wonder if I can get closer to the vintage '50s sound that was the platform for so many classic rockers with better components.

 

I'm not expecting perfection at all. As much as playing, customizing instruments for my tastes is very fun for me. Taking inexpensive platforms and selectively shaping the characteristics such that, in some ways that matter to me, they are much closer to a much more expensive instrument is a fun challenge for me. I'm sorry if I offended anyone. I understand that we all love our axes.

 

I just remember a topic...

 

I hadn't thought of pickup height. I should look at this. I actually have the most tiny intonation problem with my 6th string, and was waiting to do the pickup work before I started to monkey with the bridge, etc. so I'm not just throwing away strings every day. I will look at PU height when I do that as well. Thanks to both of you who suggested it.

 

And as always, I appreciate the community, and more thoughts on this topic are always quite welcome.

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There are some 19" Behringer devices in my recording rack, too. No problems with them so far. The two of the three SRC 2496 in the recording signal path are hidden by front grids to protect them from accidental changes of sync settings. This would interrupt recording and make the previously recorded material possibly inaccessible. They are synced by an Apogee Big Ben which turned out to be the only digital master clock on the market meeting my profile of requirements. Admittedly, this unit is of a rather different class.

 

The pic is taken from this topic: http://forum.gibson.com/index.php?/topic/116109-recording-gear-pictured/

 

RackFront_zps58f4bf1b.jpg

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There are some 19" Behringer devices in my recording rack, too.

 

I'm genuinely glad you've had much better luck with them than I did. :) I have a stereo EQ that I still sometimes use, but will probably replace eventually.

 

I think this comes to two items core to this discussion and our shared interests: (1) It's all about the sound, brands & models & components are good predictors, but (2) even mass manufactured instruments and components will vary in their sound and quality, and it's very possible to get a low-price-point model that sounds quite nice.

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Congrats on this nice guitar! [thumbup] Looks very pretty to me [love]

 

And as a matter of fact, Epiphone Les Paul guitars are the only real Les Paul guitars beside Gibsons.

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I'm genuinely glad you've had much better luck with them than I did. :) I have a stereo EQ that I still sometimes use, but will probably replace eventually.

Sadly I had my share of trouble with rack gear of different origin, too. One of the Behringer and the PreSonus units each went bad during their warranty periods.

 

Interestingly the expensive Apogee Big Ben has its idiosyncrasies. It has to be powered up for about ten days to obtain flawless varispeed operation. The Behringer, PreSonus or Korg units that have to besynchronized are not the problem, it's the Apogee. I may power up all the rest for some minutes only to work nicely. This is definitely about varispeed only. Fixed frequencies from the Big Ben are fine immediately after a cold start.

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I'm not much of fan of Epiphone pickups although I have not tried the Epi Burstbuckers. The pickups on my Epi SG are okish but I still intend to replace them. The pickups I had on my Epiphone ES345 were ill defined for me (mushy) and I replaced them with Seymour Duncan PAFS before ending up selling the guitar. My Epi 1956 Les Paul's P90 pickups have been replaced with Kinman noiseless.

 

The best after market humbucker pickups I have come across are the ones I have on my Yamaha SG2000 - Bare Knuckle (four conductor) "Mules" with the guitar wired Jimmy Page style.

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Sadly I had my share of trouble with rack gear of different origin, too. One of the Behringer and the PreSonus units each went bad during their warranty periods.

 

Interestingly the expensive Apogee Big Ben has its idiosyncrasies. It has to be powered up for about ten days to obtain flawless varispeed operation. The Behringer, PreSonus or Korg units that have to besynchronized are not the problem, it's the Apogee. I may power up all the rest for some minutes only to work nicely. This is definitely about varispeed only. Fixed frequencies from the Big Ben are fine immediately after a cold start.

 

I know it is no longer current capmaster (and it is more made for midi) but have you tried the Motu AV timepiece? It has wordclock in and out.

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I know it is no longer current capmaster (and it is more made for midi) but have you tried the Motu AV timepiece? It has wordclock in and out.

I need four BNC clock outputs, one optical configurable between S/PDIF and ADAT, and varispeed override providing at least +/- 200 cent. Among all the master clocks on the market only the Apogee Big Ben offers these features in one unit. (Note: It has six BNC outs and provides +/- 999 cent varispeed, not usable with my Korg recorders.)

 

Furthermore, for varispeed application the effective resolution and display can be simultaneously selected between absolute frequency, shift in percent, and shift in cent. The latter is also a Big Ben exclusive, an invaluable advantage for a musician's purposes. No need to mention I always use the cent option.

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One of the Behringer and the PreSonus units each went bad during their warranty periods.

 

Early in my experiences with rack gear, I'd picked up a second-hand 4-channel Behringer compressor at one point, and after some promising trials discovered that the unit appeared to have some kind of intermittent internal grounding problem; periodically there would be a second or two of 60Hz hum creeping into the signal. Very disappointing. Of course no warranty for me there. My research at that time revealed that, while some units can be quite good, the company has a surprisingly lacking QA division, which lets too many sub-standard units get through. But if you're lucky, you can come away with something serviceable, as I understand.

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I need four BNC clock outputs, one optical configurable between S/PDIF and ADAT, and varispeed override providing at least +/- 200 cent. Among all the master clocks on the market only the Apogee Big Ben offers these features in one unit. (Note: It has six BNC outs and provides +/- 999 cent varispeed, not usable with my Korg recorders.)

 

Furthermore, for varispeed application the effective resolution and display can be simultaneously selected between absolute frequency, shift in percent, and shift in cent. The latter is also a Big Ben exclusive, an invaluable advantage for a musician's purposes. No need to mention I always use the cent option.

 

Ah, I didn't know you were so greedy for BNC! [biggrin] Explains the Apogee. I must admit I could do with more than my Motu provides but those Apogee things are mighty expensive.

 

Sorry about the diversion Convert! [unsure]

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Thanks for posting pics The Convert, gloss black is timeless and classy. The top pic looks like a patient waiting anxiously on the operating table. :)

 

My take exactly. I still think the ebony finish as being the 'real' LP colour. Probably because those were the first ones I saw. [thumbup]

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Thanks for the information, everyone! I really appreciate it.

 

I'm not overjoyed with the tone of both pickups at the moment. The neck pickup is so muddy as to be (to my ears) honestly almost useless, unless in a mixed (middle switch) state through a clean channel. It's possible, I suppose that jazz players may be more pleased by this tone, but to my blues, pop, rock, (and rarely) metal ears, It's almost a total waste of a slot. I find the bridge pup to be much more workable, getting a range of tones in both clean and dirty channels that I like. Still, I find it sometimes oddly a little too shrill (which I can dial back a little, at minor loss of high register clarity).

 

This is true, and while I work with some high quality components that I've collected over the years, and will pay out for strings, my amplifier is absolutely a weak, horrible, despicable...you get it...link...a small, modeling SS Fender. It'll be some time before I can replace my all-tube head (or play it in my apartment without getting run out of town). On the other hand, I compare the tones of the LP with my Fenders on the same equipment and, while I understand and expect the performance of the Epi humbuckers to be markedly different, my ability to create unpleasant (to my ears) tones with the LP with the same amplification equipment suggests to me (1) I am probably very aligned to the response and tones of Fender single coils (and even the bridge pup on my fat strat), but (2) that a neck PU that isn't so muddy and a bridge PU that's a little less bright and fuller would suit my ears better.

 

The caps are more of a "while I'm there" part of my project (and I've years of electrical experience, so it's no big deal at all to me to do). Based on the tonal shift at low volumes, I suspect there's no treble bleed on the volume pots. From what I can tell from the web, this isn't uncommon for Epis. I may also swap out the tone caps, but not for 'immaculate tone' purposes, per se, but rather to exchange the tonal span breadth for more nuanced selectivity in a narrower range that I actually use if I can work that out. If I can't do it with $20 of orange drops, I won't change a thing, and it's $3 and 15 minutes to swap it back if I'm unhappy.

 

I'll be documenting my project, so pics and maybe a video will be forthcoming. :)

 

So thanks again everyone for your thoughts. I still welcome more feedback on people's read of the two pickup packages I mentioned in the OP.

 

 

Thanks!

 

>I have a couple of suggestions for you:

I am a fan of Gibson's '57 Classic pickups... I have a set in my SG and to me, these are the top of the line. I love the tone of both the '57 classic neck p'up

and especially the '57 Classic Plus bridge pickup. Great growly lows, firm tough mids with a lot of presence and jangly sparkly highs with no ice pick.

Hard to beat. But very expensive. I waited and watched until I saw them go onsale, and was able to get a set for $100 each. That was in like 2009, so

they might be more now. But I don't care, these are the best guitar p'ups I've ever played. There it is.

 

So while you're waiting and watching for someone to put these pickups on sale, or even for a M/F 20% coupon (which would help)

I suggest you replace your wiring harness with good quality components. That's a lot cheaper than new Gibson p'ups, and you might find

that your guitar sounds better with the stock p'ups. So many of us replace the pots, jack and switches on our Epi guitars that you can find components available for

metric holes. I believe that Epi pickups are actually not bad, especially with good pots and caps to run them through. This mod may be all you need.

 

It seems patronizing to say this (and I don't mean it that way), but how old are the strings? *grins Old dead strings may cause some of the problems you

mention. Inexperienced players read these posts, looking for help, much more often than the rest of us know, so sometimes I'll make a point that

seems obvious but hasn't been mentioned.

 

The other very obvious suggestion is to try a different amp and see if that doesn't make a world of difference. Play it through an amp with different speakers

and you'll notice that one guitar may sound great through one amp and not another. One other simple solution is to buy an EQ pedal. That way you can keep

the amp settings you prefer for your Fender guitar, and use the pedal to adjust the tone of the Epi through the same settings. When you pick up your Epi,

kick the pedal. Cheaper than new p'ups, cheaper than a new amp.

 

I recently bought an Orange Micro Terror and have been astounded by the great tones coming out of this little box. I've been playing it through a home made cab

with 1/10 and 1/12" Jensen MOD speakers. The little amp can be bought with its own cab with an 8" speaker, which is ok but looks like a toy.

THIS AMP IS NOT A TOY... it's got great sound (to me) and it will run any 8 Ohm cab. You could set this on top of a half stack, and you might think it looks ridiculous

until you plug your Epi in. At 20W it won't blow your ears off like a 100W Marshall, but mine will rattle the windows in my house at only half power, so it's plenty

of output for many of us. You might decide your Epi sounds fine after all. A simple pedal board with a Tuner, HOF Reverb and a Blues driver works great.

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