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What Are Guitar Pickups?


 Guitar pickups are simply microphones (transducers for you,”educated players”) that “pick up” or “sense” the vibrations of the strings of your electric guitar.  They convert the vibrations into sound that can be boosted with an amplifier. The “quality” of the sound produced depends on how well they are made.
The reason we have more than one guitar “Pickup Manufacturer” is because each one claims to be able to do it better. Some do and some don’t.
What are guitar pickups made of?  The original guitar pickup, most likely German made, was–and still is, made of magnetic steel poles on the inside all wound with thin copper wire on the outside.
image Haywire Custom Guitar Single Coil Pickup

Haywire Custom Guitar Single Coil Pickup


image Haywire Custom Guitar Humbucker or double coil Pickup

Haywire Custom Guitar Humbucker or double coil Pickup

What am I looking for as a guitar player? Simply this–a pickup with a good clean signal is all you need.

Your guitar pickups are similar to microphones…..

with subtle differences and some are made to be snugged right up to the strings where they will perform much better.  When we adjust and install your guitar pickups, we set them close, so they will hear better, and will also hear a great deal more. Your guitar pickups placed farther away will cause a volume drop.  Some of our customers/players use: Dimarzio, Duncans, Bareknuckle and others with their humbuckers bearing huge magnets. They are more powerful but in what way?

Heavy pickups need to stand off from the strings for magnetic and vibration resistance reasons. But the biggest reason is NOISE.  Big fat heavy pickups are noisy. Guitar strings get pulled out of tune when they sense too much magnetic force in their orbit. A big fat heavy magnetic humbuckers will exert a lot of downward pull.


Why? Simply because it hampers string sustain and bends the strings by pulling downward on the strings. A downward pull on an in tune string equals, “out of tune” strings.  Do you want to be in tune?  Would you like more sustain or less?  If you’d like more sustain then use  low windings in your guitar pickups or one with a weaker ceramic magnet rather than an Alnico-2, 3 4 or 5.

Just because the magnet is weak doesn’t mean you have a wimpy pickup. It just means you have to handle it differently. Simply raise your  guitar pickups all the way up (not so far that the strings bang the top of the pole piece) just below the strings where it can hear everything. You want an accurate reproduction of the sound.

Think Like A Singer

What I’m suggesting is akin to a singer standing close up to the microphone versus singing 2 feet away. You want to be heard Right?  Why sing so far away?  Same with a good, well made low power guitar pickups for your guitar.  Get them CLOSE!

The even pole piece pickups are generally preferable to the staggered pole.  Your guitar will be heard much better.

Staggered or Not

Many players select staggered guitar pickups simply for aesthetic reasons. This is great as long as you’re just doing photo sessions and not really playing the guitar. Do you know when to apply the use of a set of staggered pickups?  That is why you’re here!  The reason to use that kind of pole stagger is when the radius of the neck is especially deep. The necks in the 1940’s and 1950’s required these because the radius was really curved.

A well set up guitar has a string radius matching the radius of it’s particular fret board.  At an extreme 7.25 Radius the pole pieces on the D and G strings were are far away they can not be heard very well (have you heard this somewhere before?).  To solve the problem back then, a few of the poles were extended to be able to reach just under the strings to BE HEARD. Thus the staggered pole pickup was born. YAAAAY!

It doesn’t mean however that you need to run out and get a set. Most fret boards these days have a radius of 12″ and higher. Today, there is no need for the staggered profile set on newer guitars now otherwise-some of your strings will not be heard. Am I repeating myself? Good, you need to know this.

The important take away is get the right power for your guitar pickups. get the right pole piece setup and set your pickups at the proper height. Then get back with me and let me know how much better your guitar sounds.

Bottom line is that the pickup is the first in line for producing what comes out of your amp speaker. However–there is no substitute for being a great guitar player.

Ordering From Haywire Custom Guitars

If you would like to order this or any other custom guitar, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your guitar needs.

About the Author:

Mr. Rick Mariner Owner and Founder and CEO of Haywire Custom Guitars Inc. He is a member of The Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (A.S.I.A.) as well as a guitar player. Rick holds a bachelors degree from University of Md. and a Masters degree from George Washington University. Rick developed his exclusive 8 – Point “Gig- Ready” guitar process that allows for Custom Guitars that are “GIG-READY”. With Rick’s many years of development and guitar set-up experience, Haywire Guitar shop “Builds satisfied players… one Haywire guitar at a time”.

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