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  • Lets talk about "stock" pickups

    I know this is an aftermarket pickup forum, but one thing I like about this place is that its brand agnostic and open to ideas.

    I have been swapping pickups since the beginning and only over the past five years have I gone back to stock pickups in some guitars, listened objectively, and realized they have just as much to offer as "upgrade" pickups. I view pickups as an EQ curve, the goal is to match the pickup to your playing, your guitar, and your amps.

    Most of my experience is with Ibanez guitars, and as such I have experience with Ibanez stock pickups. I still have guitars with Quantum and Infinity pickups installed. After trying nearly the whole Dimarzio catalog, I realized that the Quantum and Infinity pickups are very similar to my favorite Dimarzio models.

    My impression is that often with aftermarket pickups (at least Dimarzio), they are "trying to make a point", by giving the pickup some exaggerated characteristic that you wouldn't find in a middle of the road pickup. Good examples of this are the Evolution and the Tone Zone. You can't install either of those pickups in your guitar without hearing a noticeable change in attack or thickness (respectively.) These outliers have a quality that your ear can instantly pick out, but does that make them "better"?

    Regarding construction, there is nothing magic going on, the best pickups do not incorporate more expensive materials that make them "better". They are all made the same way. I used to think that a guitar company like Ibanez would "cripple" their low and mid price guitars with inferior pickups, but now I don't believe that. They put "name brand" pickups in their high end guitars, but its mostly a marketing move. High end guitars sound better because the guitar itself sounds better. I think that even with low price guitars, the company wants the player to have a good experience so they make the sale. That means the pickups are potted so they don't squeal, and they are designed to appeal to the target audience. (In the case of Ibanez pickups, they generally will work for hard rock, metal, and lead guitar.)

    And its not rocket science. While it may not be legal, its not difficult to disassemble a pickup to see exactly how it was made, and to copy that design. Its my belief that all of the cheap chinese pickups are just copies of well established models. Likewise the stock brand pickups are similar if not outright copies of name brand models.

    Its my belief that the value of aftermarket pickups is that you know exactly what they are. There is a chinese pickup out there that sounds exactly like a JB or a Super Distortion, but I don't know which model it is or how to get it, or even if it will be in production a year from now. ( A chinese pickup is like a packet of unknown seeds, you don't know what they are until you have planted them and grown them.)

    In the case of stock pickups, you also know exactly what they are. So IMO, they have as much value as aftermarket pickups. The Ibanez stock pickups are ubiquitous; at any given time there are 10+ used sets on ebay being sold dirt cheap. And I already know what they sound like.

    I'm curious if anyone else uses stock pickups as part of their "tone arsenal" or if the majority of people believe that there will always be a "better" aftermarket pickup? Also, if you are a fan of any particular stock pickup, let me know which models so I can get some from ebay to test out!




    Last edited by Top-L; 08-04-2020, 06:51 AM.

  • #2
    Gibson 500T / 496R
    Fender TexMex Telecaster set
    Fender Custom Jazz Bass pickups (the active ones in the Custom Jazz)
    Originally posted by Demanic
    Incompetence is widespread in a world that rewards mediocrity while punishing excellence.
    Originally posted by GuitarFanatic
    I am currently using Skullcandy headphones I found in the garbage.
    I did find the DS-1 in the garbage.
    I once found a guitar amp in the garbage, a Peavey Studio 110. It caught fire at the first gig I played it at.. But it was at the end of it, thank god.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Top-L View Post
      I'm curious if anyone else uses stock pickups as part of their "tone arsenal" or if the majority of people believe that there will always be a "better" aftermarket pickup? Also, if you are a fan of any particular stock pickup, let me know which models so I can get some from ebay to test out!
      I'm not sure how well this fits the spirit of your question, but I have several guitars that have remained stock, but . . . that's because they came from the factory with "aftermarket" pups, so to speak. My Strat with Duncan Designed Lipstick Tubes. Squier Jaguar with DD zebra JB/Jazz set. Daisy Rock with DD 59's. And a Johnson Strat with EMG Designed singles, that sound killer. Import BC Rich Warlock with EMG's.

      The one exception is my Gretsch Electromatic with Filtron clones. I bought Duncan Psyclones for it a few months ago and haven't installed them yet because the Gretsch's sound outstanding.
      Last edited by ArtieToo; 08-04-2020, 07:24 AM.

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      • #4
        I'll give this a shot...

        1) I can agree with your comment about some designs "trying to make a point". Of course, this largely depends on what you perceive as the starting point for what pickups should sound like. Designs like the Tone Zone and Evo were designed for a specific purpose, so their somewhat non-traditional sound and response is completely intentional and, if that works for what you need, they are tough designs to beat. I'd wager 80% of DiMarzio's pickups today are artist models, so they were obviously built to meet the needs of a specific person/guitar/rig and don't always have maximum versatility for all musical styles in mind. Personally, I think having access to different "flavors" is a good thing. Over the years, I've had some picky guitars that needed pickups with these odd characteristics to get things just right.

        2) I think it's important to define what you mean by "stock pickups". It seems you are referring to budget-oriented models that typically bear a house brand, rather than "big name" models that come stock in MANY guitars.

        Anyways, what you are calling "stock" pickups are not always made to the construction standards of Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, etc. Ibanez has had a wide range of quality "stock" pickups over the years, from [email protected] to gold. But so have many other guitar companies, which makes the term "stock" a bit vague. Sticking with Ibanez, many of their highly regarded designs have been made by DiMarzio or Seymour Duncan in the U.S. or by Gotoh in Japan. Very few of their other "stock" pickups have found favor with the majority of players. That said, there was a huge quality jump in the early-00s when Ibanez started using Korean-made pickups for their lower-end models. These were better constructed and more reliable in service and tended to mimic the sound of popular designs (especially DiMarzios) more closely. They've since moved their pickup production to China, but the manufacturing processes are much improved from what it meant to be "Made in China" in the '80s and '90s.

        As for internal components, there are also wide grades of quality when it comes to magnet wire, magnets, manufacturing tolerances, etc. Regardless of where something is made, better quality almost always comes at a cost. When it comes to the "big names", you're generally getting the best quality materials and getting them consistently, which also has "value", as you suggested.

        3) There is indeed value in knowing what you get, but that's not the only "value" of a product. Naturally, you are welcome to use whatever pickups suit you and your needs. Often, there is no need to buy aftermarket pickups and many players fall down the rabbit hole of aftermarket designs, only to end up back at stock at some later date. Personally, I have had guitars with a Seymour Duncan in the bridge and a stock Ibanez Infinity pickup in the neck because that's what sounded best to me. It is definitely easy to fall under the belief that aftermarket are always "better". Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't.

        4) You and I both kind of focused on Ibanez' designs here, so I'll give you some to check out...If you haven't tried them yet, the V1/V2 pickups are great, as are the first-gen Quantum pickups (QM1/QM2). The DiMarzio/IBZ set is great and you can often grab a set for half the price of similar DiMarzio-branded pickups (though there are a bunch of fake DiMarzio/IBZ pickups on the market now that look like the real thing, so be careful...thanks China!).

        Jackson pickups from the '80s and '90s are generally pretty good, as are the newer-gen Quantum pickups from Ibanez if you're truly on a budget and want a more modern sound. One of the best Van Halen covers I've ever come across was done with stock V7/V8 pickups, so clearly they don't completely "suck", LOL! The newer pickups in Chapman guitars are made by the same company as Ibanez and are pretty good for stockers. The "Rockfield" branded pickups now found in some B.C. Rich guitars are solid, as well.

        And let's not dismiss Fender pickups. Their "stock" models tend to be pretty dang good from the get-go.

        Lots of options.
        Last edited by Masta' C; 08-04-2020, 07:51 AM.

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        • #5
          Masta' C reminded me of the Super 58's that came in my Ibby Jetking. Killer open, airy, PAF-ish pups that sold on eBay in an instant. I regret selling them. Look for them.

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          • #6
            Oh yeah, the Super 58's were solid! I had a couple Talmans with those and they were great! The later "Super 58 Custom" models weren't bad, either

            An honorable mention should also go out to the G&B pickups in PRS SE & S2 models...really solid pickups for "stock", as well!

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Masta' C View Post
              Oh yeah, the Super 58's were solid! I had a couple Talmans with those and they were great! The later "Super 58 Custom" models weren't bad, either

              An honorable mention should also go out to the G&B pickups in PRS SE & S2 models...really solid pickups for "stock", as well!
              You've named alot of good/great Ibanez pickups.

              I had an old RG565 that came with some great pickups. I dont remember the designation. The old and new Quantums are both good. (They have different readings but sound almost the same, I have both.) The Infinities 1/2, especially the neck are great pickups. The V-series apparently are great too. The Super 58s. Of course the old F series-IBZ were great as they were Dimarzio special designs. And there are many Dimarzio built custom stock pickups as you mentioned that aren't labeled Dimarzio.

              I think with regards to Ibanez, the only pickups that have never got a shout out are the Powersound pickups. The vast majority of Ibanez brand are good to great. The trend I am seeing is that more often than not, unless you are talking about a $100-150 guitar, the pickups are solid.

              I dont have the same experience with other brands, but I would assume that the same is roughly true. Especially these days.

              I am of the belief that "wire is wire" and "magnets are magnets". Its all made in the same place (china). Does Dimarzio use a higher quality wire in their pickups? Will it affect the sound? My guess is no and no.



              Last edited by Top-L; 08-04-2020, 08:59 AM.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Top-L View Post
                And there are many Dimarzio built custom stock pickups as you mentioned that aren't labeled Dimarzio.
                Common misconception. If it was made by DiMarzio, it will say "DiMarzio" on it.

                A couple people on the Ibanez forums started circling rumors years ago that DiMarzio had made a bunch of the other Ibanez stock models and the idea took off. DiMarzio didn't make any of the V-series pickups, Infinity, Quantums, etc. You can confirm this directly with DiMarzio.

                If it was DiMarzio-made, you can bet that the "DiMarzio" name is on it somewhere.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Masta' C View Post

                  Common misconception. If it was made by DiMarzio, it will say "DiMarzio" on it.

                  A couple people on the Ibanez forums started circling rumors years ago that DiMarzio had made a bunch of the other Ibanez stock models and the idea took off. DiMarzio didn't make any of the V-series pickups, Infinity, Quantums, etc. You can confirm this directly with DiMarzio.

                  If it was DiMarzio-made, you can bet that the "DiMarzio" name is on it somewhere.
                  I read that on this forum the other day.

                  In one of the threads on the front page in either this or the guitar sub, someone said they had worked at Dimarzio and they were making pickups for Ibanez that weren't marked. I agree with you that they would mark all thier pickups, but OTH they could be contracted to make OEM pickups that we would never know about. For instance a "cheaper" version that they don't want their name on for whatever reason.

                  It doesnt matter to me. I just assumed the Ibanez pickups were "in the style of" Dimarzio, regardless of who built them.

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                  • #10
                    Most brands design to a price point, and may even know that pickups don't get as much as attention as a figured top or nice tuners. Most guitar players simply don't care about such things. Cheaper stock pickups can sound good in a guitar, but that is usually the exception. Most inexpensive guitars will absolutely sound better with upgraded pickups, although I am less inclined to pay a lot for an instrument that I feel I will have to mod to sound good.
                    Dave, Ambassador/Writer/Artist for Seymour Duncan
                    Gear pics and more on my Instagram.

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                    • #11
                      Companies tend to make more $$ by incorporating easy to make aspects into their production. Pickups, which can be an expensive item, are an easy target. In such a way, if you are making to pricepoint, then you can buy the cheapest components and

                      And its not true to say that all pickups are made with the same parts. The heirachy of quality is the one bit that is demonstrably true. More expensive parts do make for tonal change.....the insulation on the wire, the metals used for parts, covers, the magnets themselves. They all contribute in greater and lesser ways.

                      It is also false to say that all pickups are clones of each other, or can easily be wound to be with minimal information. There is more to laying on the wire on the bobbin than you are aware of. Anyone who has even the least experience of winding for themselves will confirm that there are infinite minor ways to lay down wire on a bobbin. And such variation can lead to vastly different pickups even if turn count and wire insulation type are identical. Boutique and aftermarket winders use such knowledge to make the vast variations on a theme.....where you have 5 different PAF type pickups with different sounds but very similar specs.

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                      • #12
                        I was turned off stock pickups (and onto Duncan) when my first experiences with pickups were:
                        -Ibanez RG40 stock
                        -mid 90’s Epiphone stock
                        -Fender MIM Jazz V
                        -Fender MIM Strat
                        -Lace Sensors in a Strat Plus

                        All were improved immensely with Duncan’s or Dimarzio’s and then my next batch either had upgraded CS Fenders, Duncan’s, Dimarzio’s or EMG as I received them and that cemented it.

                        ”Stock” Fender CS pickups are great (Texas Special, CS69, Fat 50s) and some Gibson’s are nice. It’s interesting that the upper mid level instruments like LTD and Schecter don’t need Duncan/DD anymore so they are all in house. I haven’t tried them yet.
                        Oh no.....


                        Oh Yeah!

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                        • #13
                          I liked the stock pickups in my 80's Carvin V220. Especially that they came wired to split with mini toggles. But I remember Duncan and DiMarzio from back then and so have always wound up swapping the stock pickups from most of the guitars that I purchased. The exceptions are my Schecter Blackjack that came with a 59n/JB and my Ibby V-Blade that came with Dimarzio D-Activators. But even at that I swapped the magnets in the Schecter and the bridge pickup in the V-Blade.

                          Sent from my Alcatel_5044C using Tapatalk

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Mincer View Post
                            Most brands design to a price point, and may even know that pickups don't get as much as attention as a figured top or nice tuners. Most guitar players simply don't care about such things. Cheaper stock pickups can sound good in a guitar, but that is usually the exception. Most inexpensive guitars will absolutely sound better with upgraded pickups, although I am less inclined to pay a lot for an instrument that I feel I will have to mod to sound good.
                            Eh, I don't know that price really equates to "sounds good" or quality. The old Carvin 22 pole piece pickups were way cheaper than DiMarzios or Duncans, but the M22SD was one of the best bridge pickups ever IMO. Meanwhile, I have yet to encounter the Bare Knuckle pickup that I like, even though they retail for far more than a DiMarzio or Duncan.

                            The Ibanez V2 and V1 are a similarly great "stock"/cheap set, and the bridge pickup that came in my PRS SE 277 was perfectly fine quality-wise, just not suited for what I wanted that guitar to do.

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                            • #15
                              My two cents would be that I'd rather have crap pickups that I can change than have a sh!tty construction and/or wood that I cannot fix.

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