Replacing Your Guitar Pickups? Here's What To Look Out For

Let's start out by saying that what is thought to be a good guitar pickup by one guitarist might not be considered great by another. This is all about the search for the best tone and everyone has a completely different opinion of what great tone is.
A well made pickup is just like a fine meal. It's the mixture of several different ingredients merged together to complete the magic recipe. A little too much garlic or not enough heat and your meal can be poor, sloppy coil windings or the wrong magnets (to name just two ingredients) and bang goes your pickup's tone. There are many aspects that need to come together and the various guitar pickup suppliers seem to have their unique take on it.
It's not easy to get that incredibly elusive 'special' tone. Even the much sort after Gibson PAF (Patent Applied For) humbucker pickups of the late 1950's were not all great sounding. The good examples from that era are probably the best sounding pickups you'll ever hear, but there were definitely some duds from the same period. This contrast was mostly due to the hand built nature of these products, with stories of some workers in the Gibson factory going off for a coffee and leaving the winder on for just a bit too long.
Listed below are some of the elements that will play an important part in the overall result of a guitar pickup build:
1. The build quality in general. The taping, soldering and general putting together of all the components.
2. The coil windings. The pattern, tension, number of turns, whether it is scatter wound (some prefer this to the more even machine winding) and the type of wire.
3. The general quality of the materials used including the screws, magnets, bobbins etc.
4. Whether or not the pickups are wax potted. This is the process of sealing a pickup in a wax and paraffin mix to stop any microphonic feedback through the amp. Some say that a really great pickup doesn't need wax potting, in fact the old 1950's humbuckers weren't potted, but in reality most need it.
5. The balancing act between all the different components. For example the varying alnico and ceramic magnets balanced with the total number of coil winds is a major juggling act.
The other aspect to consider is of course your style of playing. For example a jazz guitarist might prefer a more rounded mellow sound with less output and maybe an Alnico 4 magnet. On the other hand a rocker could well be looking for much higher output based around a ceramic magnet.
There are some wonderful established pickup makers out there such as Di Marzio and Seymour Duncan and also some great new boutique pickup builders like Tub Guitar Pickups. If you want to give your axe a shot in the arm you might like to check them out.

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