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Pickup height, working out what works for you.


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Since its come up in several posts, I figured I should relate how I came to my own configuration.

This was some time before getting my own.

My buddy had a CBS Lefty Strat, and he wanted to install a Dimarzio single-coil into the bridge position.

Well, he didn't have any tools, and I had enough on hand to improvise.

Hmm, no chisel, the wide flat screwdriver was crude but effective, barely.


At the time, the only examples for pickup height would be that of both at the same height.

I tried it and I didn't like it.

In a Strat, with only one volume knob, you end up having to adjust when you switch.

Its a matter of deciding on what you would rather do while playing.

So, I've always lowered my neck pickups for clarity.


In a Les Paul, having your pickups at equal heights will give you a certain magical tone in mid-position, especially when(in my case) you drop the volume to 8.

Trouble is, I almost never need the magic.


If you lower your 2 or3 pickups on a Fender, -that is, flush with the pickguard, no matter what you do, the neck pickup will outperform with less definition than the bridge pickup.

So, you can, if you only play rhythm. adjust the bridge pickup to where they are about equal.

You can see this in tracks starting in the late 60's where Clapton and Blackmore, emulating their blues heroes, have played lead some very smoky leads, specifically in Cream's live album, and Smoke on the water.


Being that I transferred from Classical Violin to lead guitar, having a clear rhythym and a strong lead sound would make more sense to me.


I've always been able to play ryhthym and switch to a higher volume for lead with just a flick of the switch.


When I bought my 85 Studio, its was a totally different experience.

It might have sounded great when I tried it at the store, yet, I have never run into a guitar that doesn't need something tweaked.

The 3d string nut slot was too high, a little wiggling with a swiss army knife's smaller, very sharp blade took care of that.

The fourth fret was just high enough to buzz at the first string, so I used a sharpening stone to take care of that.

The pickups just didn't sound clear enough, so for a while, I had them below their rings while I got used to the sound.

Playing Strats will do that, you never stop wanting a clear sound.

Playing Strats will also make you notice that the tonal range is greater when humbuckers are used.

Single-coils will give you highs, mids, and lows.

Humbuckers will extend farther down, making a seamless transition between lead and rythym a challenge.

It thoroughly ticked me off for years until I took my first step toward change by getting a PAF design, which is noticeable.


The next step, you guys are pretty good as far as seeking out options, I've seen posts that explore pot values and /or capacitors, their variants and values.

Strat drivers are proactive and have a lot more to tweak.

I'm glad to see that you guys are just as inventive.

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The pickup height is adjusted so that the volume of one pickup with that of another is about the same when you switch to the other pickup, right? That is how it was explained to me, that all pickups should sound just as loud, and a pickup height adjustment is the way to achieve this balance.


Having said that, I adjust the pickup to just about the max height before it hits the strings. I play at home for myself, so balance is not an issue for me, I just want it to be as loud as it can go.

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You've covered a lot of ground in that post. If you are specifically tweaking a pick-up for volume matching levels, then you will find some difficulty in doing so. Since each position has different tonal characteristics, and louder frequencies it will be hard to balance to get benefits of each, unless you move outside of the pick-ups best performing range. You would need a sound pressure meter to get it correct, and you would have to live with the tone you find - without adding pedals.


You could very easily change your controls to have two volumes on a strat style guitar, or add an eq or boost pedal, and you would reap the benefits of the guitar being set-up to be in a magical window for tone. Then you can click on or adjust volume knobs as required.


Most axe manufactures spec a height to the string when the string is depressed at the highest fret, usually in the range of 3 to 5/32 of an inch (2.5 to 4mm) from the pick-up pole. Do not measure from pick guards etc, the relationship between the string and the pick-up is what makes the sound, and is the one thing that is consistent on any guitar.


If were talking SG (strat) style 3 single coil guitars then there are many factors to setting the height. This can sometimes cause a magnetic node on the string and cause "strat-itis" where the note will not sustain, and sounds dead, or can even cause an unwanted harmonic. Too close can also cause bending notes to fade off quickly as it moves away or towards a pole.


With that said, the recommended manufacturer settings are a good starting point. From there, you adjust a little closer to get more volume, and strength behind your tone, and further away for less power and more clarity - up to a point. As with anything there is a mechanical balance, and personal preference that needs to be compared.


For double humbucker guitars the magnetic field effect is not as focused, and thus doesn't play a major role. Again start with the nominal values, and balance for what you want. Making the puck-up to string gap rather large can "sweeten" up a sound a bit, but generally it makes it quite weak, and hard to drive an amp into saturation without sounding compressed, and a little short on dynamics. Further to that, every pick-up is different, so what works for one will not work for another.


My personal preference is to run as close to the string as possible, without any residual effects created. This gives me a powerful, and full sound that uses the pick-up's full potential in that guitar. Everything else is playing dynamics.


You can do things like change pots to a different value, 250k for single coil, and 500k for humbucker is the norm, 1 meg on single coils sounds sterile and harsh, and on a humbucker it pushes that too. If your axe is too dark sounding, try moving the pot value up to the next level. This however will not control volume levels, and neither will caps, you simply change the focus of the EQ range, and thus your tone.


Good balanced pick-ups always make a difference. Also what you play makes a difference, distortion and clean are two totally different animals when it comes to pick-up height, and what setting is best. Generally I find what sounds good for both is where a versatile axe should be set-up. A dedicated axe would be different.

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I lower all of my pups except my Lace Sensors deep into the rings. Look at pictures of old LPs and you'll see that the pups are almost always low, far away from the strings. This lets you get all of the goodness out of the interaction of the pups and strings. I do not like the sound that you get with the pups close to the strings, the magnets in the pups can interfere with the full motion of your strings. Try it sometime and see if you notice any difference.


Too each his own...

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I'm still intent on replacing all of the pots because of the humidity that surrounds the mountain I live on, dust turns green, the green patina of copper,...Motherboards that short out, you get the idea.

It has a nasty way of locking up the pot shafts, - dropping alchohol, hydroxide, wwd40, olive oil, etc,...isn't enough.

Thats why my rythym tone pot is shot.


Those Lace sensors, there's no way I would cough up cash for a pickup I can't adjust.

According to Dimarzio, there is no real demand for adjustable poles.

Unfortunately, I can hear the difference, which drives me crazy.


Thanks to your collective input, I now have more options.

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Short summary' date=' anyone? Please?[/quote']


Adjust the height of the pickup you use for your primary tone so that it sounds good to you when used by itself. Next, do the same with the other pickup when used by itself. Then, if needed, tweak the second one some more until it sounds good when used with both pickups on and by itself (you might have to compromise a little). Conversely, if your secondary (or even primary) tone happens to be both pickups, optimize the least used pickup to sound best when both are active instead of when it is used alone. Your ears will tell you what is right for YOU.

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I like 'em lower - less drag on the strings and I like the way it sounds better - "better" to me being fuller and more balanced. If you're going for a sharper, more aggressive sound, having the pups higher up will give you more of that but the trade off will be a little less sustain when playing clean and a stiffer feel from the strings.


Here's my pups:





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After Rich's first post about lowering pups' date=' I tried it and I have to say I've been really pleased. There was a noticeable increase in sustain and it did seem to make the tone a bit smoother. [/quote']


I'm glad that worked out for you; how low you go really depends on what you're into though.


Just because I'm so full of myself (or maybe I'm just full of crapeusa_dance.gif), here's a link to that old thread you were referring to:



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One thing I want to emphasize is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to pickup height. Some guys come here asking about what Gibson sets them at at the factory and want to break out a micrometer to get the exact measurement. Well, if Gibson never intended for pickups to be adjusted, they never would have put the adjustment screws there in the first place.


I like my pickups pretty low, AXE likes his a bit high and rdclmn7 has a setup that he likes for what he does. None of us has a "better" setup, just what works for each of us to get the sounds that we want. Experimentation and using your ears as the final judge is where it's at.

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