Guitar Set Up - Change Your Pickups

A New Axe in One Afternoon

Changing pickups in your plank is almost as good as a new guitar. That's a fact. But if you fail to exercise a little caution, that new sound from your old axe could stink.

Elven Lights by Tina Coggins at
"Elven Lights" by Tina Coggins at T.C. Design
Image used by permission.

Here's the scenario---Earl runs out and buys a trio of hot (your favorite brand) pickups for his Squier Strat because that's what his musical hero uses, and after sweating through the installation, and even a new set of gourmet strings, his tone has turned to mush. Next Earl reasons, "Well, it must be the amp. Next week I'll score that (your favorite amp) I've been looking at, then I'll smoke all the axe-dudes." The following week Earl's new tone is loud mush.

The story could go on and on. Earl should have invested a bit of time experimenting with his new pickups. This fact cannot be overstated.

If you picked out the axe you're now playing, then you probably already knew what sound you were looking for. New pickups offer a reasonably inexpensive way to either focus your sound or to blindly wander through the tone candy store.

There are so many variations possible that we won't even approach the subject of "which is best". Instead we'll just offer some helpful ideas to ease your journey through pickup madness.

One important matter: If your axe is very old, all original, rare, expensive or can be considered "vintage" in any sense, please think twice before changing anything. Almost any modification you make to a guitar will erase it's "vintage" qualification.

Focus Your Sound with New Pickups
If you are already happy with the sound of your current setup you should take a moment to reconsider. What if your favorite tones had a bit more volume and sustain? What if your meanest blues lick could suddenly break into those wonderful super high harmonics with no effort? What if you could get all sorts of new tone surprises and still have those old, comfortable, predictable tones to boot? New pickups can do this for you.

Each pickup manufacturer's catalog is the best place to begin looking for pickups that sound like your current ones, but offer something more. You most likely want to replace the pickups only once, so it will pay to do some serious research prior to the purchase.

Brand new, good quality pickups can often be found for less than fifty dollars, and it's o.k. to just replace one at a time... be open minded and willing to try different tone settings on your amp. Adjust, re adjust until you find out what works best for you.

Are You A Purist?

When it comes to single coil pickups (Strat style), many players feel that only magnetic pickups offer the pure, crisp tone they crave. If this is the case with you, don't even think about Lace Sensor pickups. I personally think lace pickups are a good idea, they offer more of what I prefer, but they are different. For more information on Lace Sensor Pickups and downloadable wiring diagrams check out these folks:
Lace Music Products
Another idea to consider is the stacked humbucker, many of which have a good single coil tone with the benefit of quiet operation. They fit in a standard single coil mounting. DiMarzio makes a variety of pickups for the Strat including the excellent HS2 stacked humbucker. Here's their website:
DiMarzio Pickups
For Strat style guitars with both humbuckers and single coil pickups we usually prefer the humbuckers with a softer, less intense sound. Hotter humbuckers cause a dramatic and sometimes inconvenient volume increase when switching back and forth between pickups during live performances.
Next Page
Pickup Shootout
Information on wiring, soldering and other technical aspects of guitar repair and maintenance.

GM Arts "Pickups"
Here's an excellent article about pickups by GM Arts, with wiring options and lots of good information.

"liquidlyric" by Paul Chase at Graphic Guitars
Image used by permission