The article from the site I’ve posted below was something I ran across when researching pickups and what’s right for specific guitars. I’m a firm believer that the pickups in a guitar should be matched to the resonance of the wood. In other words, if you have a guitar that rings for days unplugged and almost has an acoustic quality to it, you’ve got one with darn good wood! Why do the guitars from the 50’s and 60’s sound so good? Because the wood is old and dry. The dryer the wood, the more resonant it is. Not to mention, the old nitrocellulose lacquer finishes help to contribute to the tone because that finish doesn’t “choke” the wood like the thick, poly finishes do.
I had a luthier custom make me an exact replica of a 1963 Stratocaster years ago and he used a one piece maple body that he stuck in a kiln and dried it to 3% moisture, which replicates old wood. Needless to say, it’s probably the best sounding guitar I own! It’s so resonant that you can feel it vibrate your rib cage when you play it. On that note, relative to the pickups, I wanted a set that were low output to compliment the resonance of the guitar. A set of higher output pickups that are overly compressed would simply mask the true resonance of the guitar. I wanted to hear the guitar sing, not the pickups! The pickups were custom wound at a very low output and “wow”, do they ever make that guitar sing! When I want my tone overdriven I use my amp for ‘cryin out loud’ as that’s what a set of great tubes is for!
So now, I’ve ventured into modifying my Les Paul Traditional because I absolutely hate the 57 Classics it came with. I probably played 100 Les Paul’s before I bought the one I own and I “auditioned” all of them unplugged! The darn thing rings like a church bell in a concert hall! Yes, even mahogany can ring out even though it tends to be a darker sounding tone wood. This guitar probably has a really good piece of maple on top as well. I was stoked to know I could still find a good sounding Les Paul by searching hard enough without having to spend 5K for an R9! To me, the 57 Classics on this particular guitar sounded like using a pillow as a speaker grill in front of a $5,000 dollar Bang and Olufsen! So, I had a set of humbuckers custom wound to my specifications, both in the 6k range for the neck and bridge. Since OMG is the abbreviation used so commonly today when trying to describe something that blows the socks right off your feet, I’ll use it here as that’s the difference these low output pickups made on my ridiculously resonant Les Paul!
A guy name Nathan Sanford custom wound them for me and he’s got a little shop way up in New Brunswick Canada of all places! Super guy and super passionate about building pickups! He only does humbuckers and he does them really well! Check out his site at www.sanfordmagnetics.com. He even built his own website and knew nothing about it when he started! You gotta a love a guy who does what he does out of pure passion and it shows in his work!
Anyhow, enough rambling so enjoy the article I’ve attached as it has some great information about how to match pickups to the type of guitar you have!
The importance of choosing the right pickups for your guitar, is an often overlooked part of the whole tone search. We spend most of our budget on expensive pedals but a tone starts with the guitar and its pickups. In this feature we’ll look at different single coil models with David Gilmour’s tone in mind as well as a few tips and tricks.
Simply put, a single coil pickup consists of a given length of coil, six magnet poles and mounting plates. The tone characteristics of a pickup is a combination of different types of ALNICO magnets and coil, number of wounds and the technique used during the winding process. Less turns of the coil creates a cleaner, more transparent tone with less output. The more turns, the more output with more mid range and less highs.
When you pick a string, the vibration resonates between the wood (body and neck) and the strings. The vibration is picked up by the pickup magnets that pushes the magnetic field through a stationary coil. The signal is induced and in turn amplified. The type of wood, lacquer, string gauge, pick etc will colour the resonance.
Why new pickups?
Like pedals, the pickups in your guitar are a part of your tone but perhaps more importantly, they pick up and transfer all the nuances in your playing. You could very well just use whatever pickups you want or even make a pickup yourself but choosing a model that fits and enhances the timbre of your guitar, the tone of your amp and your technique, is important to get the tones you want.
In the listings below, I’ve focused on the familiar and easily available models from Fender but I recommend that you check out similar models from different brands. Everyone has their special way of winding a pickup and it’s the small nuances that makes a difference.
Choosing the right pickups
Obviously, which pickups you should choose depends on your taste and purpose of use. Depending on what tones you want, a dark sounding guitar, will perhaps need brighter, low output pickups (Fender CS 54, 69), while a bright, thin sounding guitar, can be improved with a set of higher output pickups with more bass and mids (Fender Tex/Mex, Duncan SSL5, EMG DG20).
The same principles applies to combining pickups and amps. The hotter the pickup, the more you push the amp towards breakup. This can cause some difficulty in choosing the right pickup if you’re mostly playing at home. A hotter pickup will compensate for some of the tone loss caused by low volume but it can also make a smaller amp distort sooner. My best tip is to check to try out a couple of models or at least have some idea of how the models will work with your rig.