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Postby David Martin » Mon Sep 28, 2009 11:32 am

This is a real minefield, but I'll start at the real basics, then jump in the "mire" later on...

Strat style pickups can be made in a number of different ways:

1) With steel slugs: check the way the pole pieces in your pickups look. If they have a very polished smooth looking top - or may even be plated chrome or screw heads - then, likely as not, if you lifted the scratchplate next time you change the strings, you will see either a single bar magnet stuck onto the bottom of the pickup, or maybe two magnets either side of a row of steel slugs or screws. The body of the pickup will be moulded plastic and it may or may not be impregnated with wax. I have seen pickups like this on the original Burns Marquee, various Squiers and S type copies.

Generally speaking, it's unlikely that these pickups will give you the "holy grail" sound you are looking for though with careful eq on your amp they can be made to sound respectable if not authentic.

2) Noise cancelling: this is the structure used in Kinmans, Fender noiseless, and various pickups where one coil is stacked over the top of another... they are generally taller than standard single coils but will fit without problems into a standard rout.

I have personally used Kinmans (of two types), Fender Noiseless and Hot Noiseless pickups. Clearly, Hank likes his signature Kinman set, and they will certainly give you his modern tone (you can hear my use of them in the Sound Files section with Janine). But they won't give you the old classic "bark" and twang (and neither will the now discontinued Hank CV set) or the in-between sounds of two pickups combined. The Fenders are OK for general use fitted to Clapton and Beck Strats respectively, but when compared A to B with traditionally made pickups they just don;t have the authentic basic tone for Shads music...

3) Traditional structure: The old Fender standard with a base and top punched out of fibreboard with six holes, each occupied by a magnetised rod of some magnetic material, wound round with very fine lacquered copper wire, and saturated in wax to prevent squealing...

There's all sorts of opinion about the best magnets to use, and most folks seem to plump for alnico (aluminium, nickel, cobalt) which itself comes in various forms and magnetic strengths, though there are some made with samarium cobalt, neodymium, and ceramic magnets... Alnico for Shads in my view...

You can also find a halfway house structure with the plastic chassis of 1) above but the magnets of 3)... makes for cheaper manufacture.

So which ones then? Over the last few years, people have had success with Tonerider Pure Vintage (http://www.tonerider.com/pickups/stratpickups.html), Fender 57/62s (http://www.fender.com/products//search.php?partno=0992117000) and Fender Custom Shop 54s.. (http://www.fender.com/products//search.php?partno=0992112000)... and the price? About £70, £130, and £150 respectively... not counting Apache from Bare Knuckle, and good 'ole Seymour Duncan...

But if you really are starting from scratch and are considering a guitar to set out with, check out these two http://www.squierguitars.com/products/search.php?partno=0303010500 and http://www.squierguitars.com/products/search.php?partno=0303000505. Priced at around £230 you get the Fender pedigree and alnico pickups...

As always, if you know something I left out, or if you want to disagree and suggest alternative ways to get "that sound" then, by all means, dive in... the water's fine!!
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Re: Pickups...

Postby OLDEREK » Mon Sep 28, 2009 12:23 pm

Hi David..........Very helpful thread thanks...........But do you think that if you had two sets of the same type pups , would both sound the same? the reason I ask back in 2004 our local music shop had two Fender Mexican 50s Classic, both in Daphne Blue, but one sounded fantastic the other rubbish, I know maybe the wood came into it also. but do you think the pups also were different.

I bought and still have the fantastic sounding one,still as it came from Fender, I am often asked what pick ups I have on it , because it sounds so good, so do all pick ups of the same make and kind sound identical..... :D
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Re: Pickups...

Postby BarryH » Mon Sep 28, 2009 1:37 pm

Hi David,

I'll go along with you on the quality of Tonerider pickups.

At a fraction of the cost of some others, they are excellent value for their money and anyone looking to make an improvement on a basic guitar setup would do well with the Pure Vintage set.

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Re: Pickups...

Postby David Martin » Mon Sep 28, 2009 2:05 pm

Thanks for your contributions, men...

Derek there are so many variables when comparing pickups mounted in guitars that I'd have to say that this is the best reason for visiting a music shop and trying a guitar... they don't all feel the same and they don't all sound the same either, so when you buy over the internet you really are gambling... as to why your guitar sounds better than the other, it could just be a happy coincidence of more resonant wood with good pickups... but whatever it is, don't change it!

On the more vexed question of are all examples of the "same" pickup, the "same"? Nowadays I suspect that's more likely with computer control etc... but then, folks reckon (me included) that a pickup hand wound by someone who knows (like Abby http://www.seymourduncan.com/abigail/) generally sounds better. But Barry's right too... Toneriders can sound really good. So I guess the answer is no they don't Derek. I've had great results with Custom Shop '54s, but some folks reckon there was a bad batch... (But someone told me recently that Hank was considering using them to get a more vintage sound on some tunes for the current tour...)

I once had the privilege of visiting a collector of Fender Strats in Manchester... a huge collection of vintage guitars all round the walls worth many thousands of pounds. And guess what? Some, a very few, were glorious, most were OK and one or two were execrable... And one of the best Fenders I ever had was a black Korean Strat which played like a dream, and stupidly I sold it because a) it wasn't pink and b) it wasn't American. What a twerp!

I guess that what I'm hoping this series of postings will do is help people move closer to their ideal so that, for example, if you have a really comfy guitar which plays well but doesn't have quite the right sound, you'll keep it, but change the pickups... Or if you're just setting out, you'll save some cash and frustration by choosing something useful at the outset ...
Last edited by David Martin on Mon Sep 28, 2009 2:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Small addition...
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Re: Pickups...

Postby roger bayliss » Mon Sep 28, 2009 10:20 pm

Then there is the pickup height which too affects the tone of thiings ... theres the text book way of setting a pickup as documented at manufacturers sites such as Fender and theres the lowered sweet spot idea as well which tends to take some of the bite / edge out of the sound. Plus how they are wound and is middle PU reverse wound/polarity. 5 way switching or 3 way. :geek:
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Re: Pickups...

Postby fenderplucker » Tue Sep 29, 2009 1:10 am

Hi David,

Hank has CS54's in both of the signature Strats that he is using on the tour. He settled on these after testing a number of pickups in order to get closer to his vintage sound.


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Re: Pickups...

Postby David Martin » Tue Sep 29, 2009 7:35 am

Thanks both... Never really "bottomed" the pickup height thing except with Kinmans. Would you care to develop that idea for us Roger? (and/or anyone else who knows about that stuff...)
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Re: Pickups...

Postby ernie1958 » Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:57 pm

:) This has always been a very debatable subject for lots of players including myself.Mind you I have also been up and down this road zillions of times
in search of what would be the best choice if I had to replace pickups.In most cases the pickups basically all tend to sound the same in the distinct areas
that we want to sound like our distinguished Hank sounds.Furthermore imho I think it also comes down to "taste" apart from technical aspects.
Some crave for that vintage Shads sound and others for the modern Shads sound.So this even makes it harder to decide on exactly which pups
would be the most suitable for ones specific type of Shads tunes they want to play.I myself have tried loads of pups on different Strats I've owned in
the past until I was fortunate enough( :!: )to purchase an original 1963 L-series Stratocaster!After that I was hooked for life coz for me the pups in
this guitar are not replaceable as far as "that sound" goes!!
I've been trying out some MiM Fender Strats recently and mind you,these guitars come awfully close to what I think is the "real deal"!
Even the so-called "Road Worn" Strats are quite good if you ask my opnion.The pups in these guitars are quite vintage correct if my ears aren't fooling
me,and believe me,in my experience with trying out loads of Strats throughout the years,they don't! :lol:
Anyway,to cut a long story short,it all comes down to ones own personal preference.I can speak for myself and share with others but everyone should
decide for themselves what's best for them!

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Re: Pickups...

Postby John Boulden » Mon Oct 05, 2009 3:06 pm

Having a bad time. I own a MIJ 57 re-issue strat which I have been very happy with. Then the other night had a chance to compare directly with a US standard strat about ten years old. It blew mine out of the water. We're talking early vintage tone here. The US strat seemed to have so much more bite and brightness and when played aggressively, al a HBM it produced a most wonderful tone. Plugged mine into the same amp socket, no changes anywhere and my MIJ sounded lame in comparison. I am devastated!

So, any point in asking my local shop to fit US standard PUs (from approx ten years ago) onto my guitar. Anyone know what these PUs might be? Am I going to waste my money. Could it be the wood etc etc? Should `i just go and buy an American Strat. If so which one?

Help! Going potty here...

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Re: Pickups...

Postby Amanda » Mon Oct 05, 2009 4:05 pm

The Toneriders are hand wound as well, by I suppose,
the Chinese equivalent of Abigail Ybarra! ;)

They sound great on my sunburst strat!

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