Pickups

Pickups

Mike Tresham No Comment

I want to focus on pickups briefly because they have such an important influence on the tone and noise in your tone. My factory Strat pickups were unusable with any high gain amp or pedals because they let so much noise interference in, by picking up power from the lights, TV and even my amp. So I set about choosing replacements. Having scoured the internet for Strat pickups (pups), I settled for ‘active’ EMG pups. The active feature is the use of a tone potentiometer to boost the signal, which has the effect of intensifying the amp’s gain or acting as a clean boost, depending on the amp’s channel. The problem with internet research is that there are so many viewpoints you may end up going round in circles!

However, when I arrived at the shop, the manager challenged my thinking by his incredulity at the idea of me using any other type of pickup than the ones designed for the guitar. Why buy a strat to gut it and replace the pickups with a generic brand? His suggestion was for me to buy one pickup for the bridge position which could handle huge amounts of gain and recommended a Seymour Duncan Hotrail. I went with it initially and made the purchase but changed my mind for two reasons: 1) the remaining middle and neck pickup still let in too much noise and 2) the Strat bridge pup was my favourite and I couldn’t lose this tone.

I took his point, although I love active pups and would happily buy EMGs for another guitar, and decided to buy the mighty Fender Hot Noiseless pups, which retain the glorious Fender spank and shimmer, but reduce the noise. Also, I figured that pups made by Fender allow the tone to retain it’s intended characteristics. They are magnificent, just what I wanted. The Fender tone but hardly any noise, despite the use of high gain amps, a long chain and noisy pedals such as the mxr dynacomp compressor.

A mention must be made about humbuckers, of which I have very little experience. The differences can most notably be heard in the final solo of Hotel California by the Eagles. The creamy smooth tone of the guitar with humbucker pups duels with the raw, trebly attack of the strat pups. Kit and I were swapping today between his lovely vintage Greco Les Paul Custom (with humbuckers) and my strat and both are so distinctive. I would suggest that, when choosing your tone, the quality and type of your pickups has the greatest influence on the characteristics of the sound at the end of your chain.

I had the cash and spent the best part of £200 upgrading mine (including fitting) and don’t regret it for a moment. I would even be tempted in future to buy a cheaper guitar so that I could reserve some of the budget for pups with integrity, noise reduction and the characteristics of the intended sound of the guitar. Others may feel that this is like buying and modifying a Corsa, rather than just buying a BMW, and I accept their point. But I now have a guitar that is totally suited to my style of music and copes with the fairly large chain between guitar and amp. Most importantly, I absolutely love the tone.

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