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Ultimate Pickup Mods List

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  • Ultimate Pickup Mods List

    Here they are - and what they do! If you have one I missed, list it. If you disagree or I get it wrong, comment.

    #1 MOST import mod of ALL, and the first you should do; LIVE with the pickup for a while!!!! I see too many threads where guys are asking what pickups before they even get the guitar. I know some of you are experienced enough to "know" your sound or the guitar, but that isn't most. Even I will live with the pups for a while. The problem you might be having is that it is simply a "different" sound than you are used to!

    #2 The next most import mod: ADJUST THE PICKUP!!!!! Not as high as it will go, not so it is even and flat and the screw slots match direction. I mean REALLY adjust it; height, string arc, etc….there are numerous threads on this topic.

    #3 Finally - consider ADJUSTING THE AMP SETTINGS. You just changed the entire EQ of the guitar by changing pups. What makes you think you won't need to adjust the treble a touch at the amp?!?!?!?

    Fine. Now that all of that is out of the way….

    #4 Changing mags; Probably the cheapest mod you can make. This can have really drastic or really extreme results. There is a ton of wealth here on that topic. Two things to remember:

    a) You are NOT going to turn a Pearly Gates into a Distortion. And you are not going to turn a Distortion into a Pearly Gates. (Although we can debate turning a JB into a Distortion, etc…). Sometimes it really really helps to get into the ballpark to begin with.

    b) Know your mags. Again, there are a number of posts here on how they all work. And contrary to what you may read, an A8 is NOT the cure for everything. I like the way it keeps the power, tightens up and increases the bass, cuts the mids, and softens the highs in a JB. It's a moderately tight, bassy, solid mids, and good but not harsh highs magnet. An A2 on the other hand, is a soft but substantial bass usually, lots of miss, and very round highs - IN GENERALLY. Never forget that the wind and other mojo play into it!!!!
    A2 Bass, Mids, soft, maybe mushy
    A5 Bass, highs, tight, maybe boomy
    Ceramic Mids, highs, ultra tight, maybe sterile
    See posts for A8, UOA5, A3, A4, etc….

    #4 Chopping/swapping poles. Swapping the standard screws to hex screws, or those massive Invader things does stuff to how a pup hears the strings. And in general, clipping the bottoms short tightens things up. I'll mention this here; Occasionally raising the poles a lot while lowering the body of the pickup can air out a pup, and reduce the power in a good way. Often down in the neck, but also the bridge.

    #5 Wax on, Wax off! Potting or unpitying does stuff. Opens up a bit and airs it out without the wax, but it may squeal like a stuck pig under a cover. Consider waxing or unwaxing. Unwax with a hair dryer.

    #6 And I just mentioned covers. My ears are shot and I don't notice the impact of covers. You may. Think about removing them, or adding them, or changing the material. I defer to experts here.

    #7 Adding an active preamp. Sometimes you just need more power - ooh ooh ooh!!!!! CAn be done internally or on the floor

    #8 Splits, phase, parallel, and tap….Wire surgery is never fun, nor all that soldering and adding switches etc. but these can really mod the sound and give super flexibility to a pup.
    - Tapping a humbucker gets great single coil sound, yet is quieter than a regular single. Works best on high outputs.
    - Parallel; Highly under-rated mod. However, a DiMArzio X2N is a helluva rhythm pup in this mode for all styles. Try it.
    - Phase; I don't dig it, but many do
    - Taps; This is for experienced pros ONLY!!!!! But you can change the sound of single coil, and mismatch hum buckers doing this…..
    Originally posted by Bad City
    He's got the crowd on his side and the blue jean lights in his eyes...

  • #2
    Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

    Great post. This should be a sticky.


    • #3
      Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

      Great tips!!
      "The world is full of kings and queens
      Who blind your eyes and steal your dreams
      It's heaven and hell"


      • #4
        Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

        Nice info , +1 on the in/out phase mods. Live with it for awhile is by far the best advice you can take from this kids. Buying a guitar with plans for modding or upgrades is one thing , getting a new guitar and making a connection is another.
        Originally posted by Oinkus
        I had Big Flannel over here the other night , cleaned up his Tele and did some setup on it , took out the camera and set it down on the desk. I am easily distrac


        • #5
          Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

          Someone throw down a nice description of things I left out….Like Phase tones….etc.

          Or mag descriptions, whatever.
          Originally posted by Bad City
          He's got the crowd on his side and the blue jean lights in his eyes...


          • #6
            Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

            Very useful. Now I know how to spend my holidays in a proper way: Trying each mode. I think I will start by leaving the desk and finding the jack hole in my axe..


            • #7
              Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

              very useful. would also be nice to see detailed mag descriptions, including "new" additions like unorientated ceramic and ect...


              • #8
                Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

                To me, the ultimate PU mod is swapping coils. You can come up with some nice hybrids. For neck hybrids, I use a coil from a bridge PAF and combine it with a coil from a neck PAF (same model or different model, i.e. '59B + '59N, and '59N + Seth B). A simple way to get unbalanced coils is thru spin-a-split. For bridge hybrids, I take two different bridge coils and shoot for a combined resistance of 9-10K. In all of these, the unmatched part adds single coil sounds to the tone, so I use warm magnets with them that have a lot of texture (usually A2 and UOA5).
                "Completely Conceded Glowing Expert."
                "And Blueman, I am pretty sure you've pissed off a lot of people."
                "Wait, I know! Blueman and Lew can arm wrestle, and the winner gets to decide if 250K pots sound good or not."


                • #9
                  Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

                  Hybrids - great example of a "deep" mod!!!!

                  And someone describe Phase and Parallel nicely. I don't feel like it.
                  Originally posted by Bad City
                  He's got the crowd on his side and the blue jean lights in his eyes...


                  • #10
                    Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

                    A4 magnets: nice flat eq. great for neck pickups.
                    Parallel accentuates the highs a bit more, cuts the mids just a bit. Not quite a full humbucker sound, closer to a single coil but without the hum.
                    Phase: in phase reinforces frequencies held in common; bolder, thicker, louder. Out of phase leaves only frequencies not held in common; thinner, weaker, think 70's style "chica chica' funk tone.


                    • #11
                      Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

                      A2 has a very vocal quality to the high notes - it's a combination of smoothness and give that kind of lends itself to more 'touch' kind of playing. Think Santana or Derek Trucks
                      A3 is similar but has more clarity and tighter bass. It's 'sqwaky' almost - not as thick/full as A2 but brighter and definitely some of the same singing quality in the upper registers. When split a humbucker with A3 will sound very close to a true single coil.
                      A4 is smooth like butter. It is also less dynamic than either A2 or A3 - when going to A4 it feels almost like you have a compressor on. For flying leads, there's nothing better - it really lends itself to that kind of playing. The bass isn't as tight as A3 or A5 but it isn't flubby either. Because A4 feels less dynamic (or "hard" for lack of a better word) it works much better in the neck IME than in the bridge.
                      UOA5 - This is kind of like degaussed A5 but with more give, like an A2 or A3 magnet. It has a lot of low mids and works well in guitars that don't - I didn't like it in a 59/custom in the bridge of my les paul. It's great in my Kramer Focus though.
                      A5 - If you've installed an aftermarket pickup, you've probably played an A5 magnet. Very fast response, and lots of low mids and tight bass. Works better in the bridge than in the neck.
                      A8 - Like turning everything to 11 then adding a cocked wah. Huge, huge emphasis on the upper mids. Feels like you're playing an AR-15 with an itchy trigger finger and and a personal vendetta.

                      Roughcast magnets generally have a weaker magnetic field than their polished counterparts and sound more "vintage" - that is, softer with more rounded treble.

                      You can degauss your own magnets but that seems to have fallen out of vogue recently. Degaussed A5 is particularly excellent - the treble is nearly as sweet as A2 but without the corresponding loose bass. One of my favorites, especially in the neck p-rails. I really think the p-rails neck should come with a degaussed A5 magnet because of how much better it is with one.

                      FWIW, the thin rod magnets in single coil pickups are the same diameter (.187") as humbucker slugs - allstar magnetics will cut them to whatever length you want, you can experiment with different magnet combinations. A2 bar/A3 rods is what I had in what was essentially a hybrid Seth Lover neck (7.3k, mismatched coils to the tune of .7k and flipped a la peter green) and in series it was like having an A2 humbucker in the upper register but with A3 bass and the A2 fullness - and split the best of any humbucker I've ever had.

                      Let's see...

                      Tapped humbuckers can actually be really nice... Being able to switch from a 7.0k humbucker to a 6.1k single coil is really useful when you don't use a compressor. Additionally having a spin-a-tap when you're in parallel can take you from tele neck pickup all the way to a pseudo wide-range humbucker sound. In series you can go from humbucker to massive p-90-esque sound, back down to single coil. What I'm referencing is a setup I use that's push-pull coil tap with a dual ganged spin-a-split/spin-a-tap that lets you roll in the tap as you roll out the slug coil (in the neck position). Having a big volume jump in the middle of the "tone" pot is difficult until you get adjusted to it... But it gives you a lot of range, so to speak.

                      I wouldn't say wiring is crazy difficult or anything - and it can give you a sneaky good array of sounds. For example, my #1 is a tele deluxe and with just one push-pull I can get the neck in any configuration (series, split, parallel, tapped, any combination thereof) in conjunction with the bridge. So with a HH guitar (like my les paul) you can get series/parallel/split without any additional switches (as long as you're okay with a master tone control)

                      As far as hybrids, I've tried a few (literally, I've tried not many). 59/custom was my first but I've made hybrids using SD pickups and JS Moore pickups... I have what's equivalent-ish to a 78/custom hybrid in my Kramer right now. I've played a G-spaced double creme VHPAF which was and continues to be (at the same time) the best sounding and worst looking pickup I have ever put in my green/white strat (maple necked). Close second is the p-rails bridge I have in there along with the strabro 90 neck and middle pickups in there now. I love my strat don't get me wrong but I'd like it more if it didn't look so goofy... I have HSS strat pickguard with a V-T setup but 3 holes so one is just covered with electrical tape. But I digress. And have been digressing.

                      First thing to keep in mind is that a good amp, will make everything sound good. You could play a build it yourself hubcap guitar amplified by a tin can and some string and through a nice amp it would sound great. So keep that in mind. But if you insist on experimenting with pickups IMO make sure it's after you've acquired at least a decent amp.
                      Originally posted by ImmortalSix
                      I wouldn't pay more than $300 for a BJ.


                      • #12
                        Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

                        Really great list, especially #1 - I recently picked up a PRS SE Singlecut, intending to swap out the stock pickups. I was blown away by how good they were (I think they're just "PRS Designed SE" humbuckers, not Dragon or anything with any special name) - no need to swap out, and I have an itchy trigger finger for swapping out pups. They were just right for that guitar. Sometimes (rarely?) what comes with a guitar is actually best for it.

                        Now that I think about it, Squier 51 (original version, I'm not sure about any subsequent reissues) has a *great* stock bridge pickup. Very musical and responsive to pick attack. I swapped in at least one pup in for it that didn't sound as good - should have left it alone.


                        • #13
                          Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

                          Well Ace, you've done it again. Great post. Great suggestions. practical. Useful.

                          I think there have already been some terrific posts on the effects of different magnets, but jimijames has added some good, very useful info.
                          Originally Posted by IanBallard
                          Rule of thumb... the more pot you have, the better your tone.


                          • #14
                            Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

                            PArellel gives a significant cut in power also. It's a great option for putting a mega-bucker in the neck position.

                            And - as always, I HIGHLY recommend taking anything STUPID hot (like a DiMarzio X2N, etc….) and wiring it for series/Parellel/split. It will really open up the tonal options in all kinds of ways.

                            Super hot buckers split yield tasty but sturdy single tones, unlike split low output buckers
                            Super hot pups in parallel becomes very chord friendly for clean rhythm work, but are still reasonle output.
                            Of course, there is always the full on option for solos!
                            Originally posted by Bad City
                            He's got the crowd on his side and the blue jean lights in his eyes...


                            • #15
                              Re: Ultimate Pickup Mods List

                              #3 should be #2. Amp selection and amp settings are at least 80% of tone – at least. Everything that we nitpick here accounts for just a small percentage of what makes up your tone. Unpopular P.O.V. on the forum of a pickup maker, but true nonetheless.

                              #3 should be to try professional-quality equalization if the amp tone controls don't cut it. One good e.q. box can save you thousands on aftermarket b.s. that you don't pickups.

                              #4 should be to be a good musician. You can do a lot of manipulation of your sound without any effects at all, just with your hands.

                              #5 should be what #2 is now. Along with my #1 and #2, pickup adjustment gets you almost anything you need a large part of the time.

                              This all boils down to my #1: You probably don't need new pickups in a majority of cases. As much as I love to talk shop here, only a small percentage of my guitars have been modded to carry aftermarket pickups. Most of my aftermarket pickup purchases are for brand new build projects. If you have a quality guitar that is roughly in the ballpark of your preferred styles of music, there isn't much that amp, e.q., technique, and setup can't take care of.
                              Last edited by ItsaBass; 08-07-2014, 08:49 PM.
                              Originally posted by LesStrat
                              Yogi Berra was correct.
                              Originally posted by JOLLY
                              I do a few chord things, some crappy lead stuff, and then some rhythm stuff.