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Thread: Pickups - A Subjective Guide

  1. #1
    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    Pickups - A Subjective Guide

    Something I've been thinking about lately is what do pickups sound like? I know, sounds like a weird thing to say, but if someone asked me "what does a PAF sound like" I honestly couldn't answer that question. People say "it's a little less PAF-ish than..." and I wonder what the hell they mean!

    One thing the PRS experience (excuse the pun, I'm talking the guitars, the company, the players, this forum) has opened my eyes and ears up to, is a deeper consideration of the guitar as an instrument. I now think of it as a (largely) hand-made thing, a sum of more than it's parts, the decades of development, the mistakes, the wins, each individual component and it's effect on what comes out of the output jack (yes, even steel blocks), and whole other bunch of stuff that I can't even formulate into words.

    There's been some great threads on here, and I think we're lucky to have members with good ears, and the time and generousity to share their thoughts/conclusions/ideas etc with the "rest of us." They have taught me a lot, and invoke inspiration to learn more.

    So what this thread is about, is, what do people think pickups sound like? What defines them? What about a pickup makes you instantly think "oh that's a...". It's something I'd like to know, as my search for "my tone" continues...

    I'm talking P-90s, PAFs, 50s Strat, 57/08s, #6s, T&Bs, HFS/VB, anything!

    Chris has already done a wonderful job demo'ing just about every PRS pickup under the sun, in clean and gain settings (thanks again!) but let's hear some words on them, and others (please)!

    How about we start with peoples favourite pickups and go from there... please remember there's no right or wrong, tone is in the ear of the axe-holder:

  2. #2
    Senior Member swede71's Avatar
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    How can the pickups hear the tremolosprings when u tighten them too much?Thats a question i have been thinking of lately

  3. #3
    Senior Member captdg's Avatar
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    I can remember when Dimarzio Humbuckers were the one all be all for rock guitarists..Now there are so many options..Versatility is one thing I really like, being able to bring a crisp clear sound like a Telecaster and then being able to do the Gibson LesPaul/Marshall sound with the same pickup.. Thats why I like my PRS BM with the 235's.. But I wonder what the USA 53/10's are like..Wish I had waited and gotten the new edition.

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    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by captdg View Post
    Wish I had waited and gotten the new edition.
    Welcome to GAS!

  5. #5
    chief Shawn@PRS's Avatar
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    Welcome to my world! When someone asks me to describe a pickup to them, I tell them I"ll do my best, but it's like asking "What the color red looks like"?

  6. #6
    Senior Member Audie's Avatar
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    Hey guys. This thread kind of puts me where I need to be to ask a question. The Archtop treble and bass Pups for the hollowbody 12. What are their specs? How do they sound? I am sure they sound good, (this request for describing their sound may just fit in here in this thread), but are they like Kent Armstrongs? Bennedettos? Where can I find some info on these. I should reasonably have my first two PRS's home by Spring. My 12 string private stock has to happen! I just bought a beatup SE24, grinded it up into a fine dust and mixed it with some ground chuck to make a hell of a meatloaf. I just finished dinner and now I feel one with PRS. Just need to get them home so I can be complete. Oh the pain... I am not trying to hijack the thread, I am really sorry if I am, I just want some feedback on the archtop PRS pickups and maybe that can further this thread. Than you guys for making fell welcome here. This is my first time participating in a forum. Dont know the ettiquette and feel a little uncomfortable.

  7. #7
    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn@PRS View Post
    Welcome to my world! When someone asks me to describe a pickup to them, I tell them I"ll do my best, but it's like asking "What the color red looks like"?
    What do uncovered 59/09s sound like? Like rainbow sherbert with sprinklings of poppin candy!

    Quote Originally Posted by Audie View Post
    Hey guys. This thread kind of puts me where I need to be to ask a question. The Archtop treble and bass Pups for the hollowbody 12. What are their specs? How do they sound? I am sure they sound good, (this request for describing their sound may just fit in here in this thread), but are they like Kent Armstrongs? Bennedettos? Where can I find some info on these. I should reasonably have my first two PRS's home by Spring. My 12 string private stock has to happen! I just bought a beatup SE24, grinded it up into a fine dust and mixed it with some ground chuck to make a hell of a meatloaf. I just finished dinner and now I feel one with PRS. Just need to get them home so I can be complete. Oh the pain... I am not trying to hijack the thread, I am really sorry if I am, I just want some feedback on the archtop PRS pickups and maybe that can further this thread. Than you guys for making fell welcome here. This is my first time participating in a forum. Dont know the ettiquette and feel a little uncomfortable.
    All good mate, threads get derailed ALL the time. As long as it comes back to the OP's question/point at some stage I think it's fair game. There's no need to feel uncomfortable, we're all nice people here. It's a well moderated forum so as long as you follow the forum rules, you'll be fine. No question is too n00b or obscure, you'll be surprised how much some of the guys on here know!

    Your question is most certainly on-topic! I hope someone here can help you out.

    Your PRS journey certainly sounds like an interesting one, keep us informed and as always, show us some pics!

  8. #8
    Senior Member captdg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Audie View Post
    Hey guys. This thread kind of puts me where I need to be to ask a question. The Archtop treble and bass Pups for the hollowbody 12. What are their specs? How do they sound? I am sure they sound good, (this request for describing their sound may just fit in here in this thread), but are they like Kent Armstrongs? Bennedettos? Where can I find some info on these. I should reasonably have my first two PRS's home by Spring. My 12 string private stock has to happen! I just bought a beatup SE24, grinded it up into a fine dust and mixed it with some ground chuck to make a hell of a meatloaf. I just finished dinner and now I feel one with PRS. Just need to get them home so I can be complete. Oh the pain... I am not trying to hijack the thread, I am really sorry if I am, I just want some feedback on the archtop PRS pickups and maybe that can further this thread. Than you guys for making fell welcome here. This is my first time participating in a forum. Dont know the ettiquette and feel a little uncomfortable.

    WELCOME...I love it here..Lot of knowledge and cheaper than therapy.

  9. #9
    While obviously not specific to PRS, Seymour Duncan has a very useful and fairly general guide to the various humbucker and single coil pickup types (not just what he offers), with clear and concise explanations:

    http://www.seymourduncan.com/support...ne/the_basics/

    One problem with describing these things is that you can take one pickup, and put it into three different guitars, and it will sound like three different guitars, since it's a transducer picking up the vibrations of each instrument, and each instrument will be different.

    So it becomes analogous to describing the sound of a microphone; while a mic has its own characteristics, it's going to sound different if you put a different singer in front of it. You kind of have to separate what the mic is doing from what the singer's voice is doing - not always an easy task!

    So rather than categorize and compare PRS pickups to some general style of pickup like a PAF, I'm just gonna dive in and talk about the ones I like best. I've had the HFS, original McCarty, Vintage Bass, Artist Treble and Bass, Dragon, Mira, #6, #7, P-90, 57/08, 53/10, Artist V, and just recently, 408 pickups. That's a decent cross-section, though not all of what PRS offered.

    I'll also say this: My favorite pickups PRS makes are all recent models. I know that lots of players prefer the "classic" models, and I have no beef with that, I've had plenty of them. I just like the new ones better. With the older pickups I always wanted to experiment with finding different ones; with the newer PRS pickups, I'm 100% happy with what comes on the guitars. So that tells me something!

    For my descriptions, the reference standard as a general-purpose traditional humbucking pickup are 57/08s. I like their clarity and open quality, the output is enough to drive an amp into distortion, but they are also capable of cleaning up well. They have a biting attack (not clucky), yet they're not screechy. They're warm, and work well with just about any amp (I played them through Vox, Marshall, Fender and Dumble style amps). They have a solid frequency response, aren't too bright, or too dark. So there's my baseline for comparison. I think they're a good baseline, but right now I don't have a PRS with these pickups. However when I had a Stripped 58 with them, I thought, "These are the best pickups I've ever played." I didn't plan to sell that guitar, but something came up in the studio and so...

    I don't really have a single favorite, nor are these in any particular pecking order, they're just the PRS pickups I like best, and I give them all an 11.

    The Artist V pickups are a little brighter, a little hotter, and have a little less bottom than the 57/08s, but temper this description by the fact that my A-V is a trem-equipped guitar, that's probably going to have less bottom by dint of having a chunk of wood removed for the trem cavity, and a slightly narrower neck with ebony board. In any event, I love this guitar because it sits in a mix really well, and is great for lots of different kinds of tones, without a lot of mud on the bottom. The split positions are truly useful. In the past I generally didn't care for split humbuckers all that much, but these are great. The pick attack is a little sharper than the 57/08 on this guitar, and slices nicely through a dense mix.

    The Mira pickups are also great general purpose pickups, and I felt that they covered a lot of bases when I had a Mira. Again, it's an all-mahogany guitar and it's thinner than a typical PRS, so that's part of it, but I found the pickups very articulate and sparkly, with a good midrange crunch and bite. Rolled off, they can sound very clear and clean, and more so split.

    The 53/10s are round, clear, open, slightly lower output pickups that I'm playing in an SC58. However, they sound very good with an overdriven amp, too. I love these pickups for bluesy-jazzy stuff or anything I want to sound warm and clear. The pick attack on these is rounded, but not clacky. IMHO the neck pickup is absolutely my favorite "bluesy-jazzy" pickup, and sounds wonderful with lots of amps. With the volume rolled off, you'd be amazed how crisp and clear these pickups can sound, and rolled high, there's plenty of grind and bite. Great pickups.

    I am already in love with the 408s. The coil splits are the best I've ever heard on a humbucker guitar. Period. I honestly haven't spent enough time with the pickups to be able to accurately describe everything they do. But so far, I haven't found anything they can't do well! They're pretty amazing, but I need to log more hours with them to be able to compare them fully to the others. For the past few days I've been recording single coil stuff for a client project, and they're just wonderful. I've only spent a few hours with them in bucker mode, though, so I'll hold my thoughts for later. They do sound wonderful.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 01-20-2013 at 07:56 PM.

  10. #10
    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    Thanks Les, this is exactly what I'm talking about!

    How about a "classic" P-90?

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by justmund View Post
    Thanks Les, this is exactly what I'm talking about!

    How about a "classic" P-90?
    I should have mentioned that. I forgot who made the PRS P-90s, and I've had McCarty and CU22 Soapies, but I still have a '65 SG Special with its original Gibby P-90s. They're pretty similar in tone.

    P-90s are clear, very crisp, and high output single coils. Like any single coil, they pick up EMI, RFI, dimmer noise, monitor noise, amp transformer noise, etc. And the noise is pretty loud because the pickups have a pretty high output. The PRS models have a very crisp low end tone, piano like, and a snappy high end. In comparison to the Gibsons, I've found that the PRS models are clearer on top.

    Then again, my Gibson pickups are 47 years old, so the magnets may be pooping out a little.

    You can avoid the noise usually by turning in place until you find a quiet spot; someone once referred to the process as "facing Mecca."

    I really like P-90s.

  12. #12
    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    SD makes the P-90s that PRS use, I can't remember which ones exactly, they have a few different models.

    I too dig P-90s, and love the fat, round, creaminess of them, but still bitey at the same time. An overdriven P-90 neck tone is one of my favourites.

    Funny you should mention the noise, I think my practice room is a little noisy to start off with (all my guitars will buzz) but plug the CU22 Soapy in and it's crazy. The bad thing is the guitar needs to be tilted in order to be "facing Mecca" (which makes sense since it's on the other side of the world...) and makes it difficult to play (as if playing wasn't hard enough as it is!)

  13. #13
    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    So who's going to take 59/09s? Uncovered or covered?

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