6. Hi Larry. What’s your opinion on the
main differences among alnico 2, 3
and 5 pickups, and what do you recommend?
—Rogerio Bley, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This is a subject that can trigger a lot of discussion,
but we don’t recommend pickups
based on magnet choice alone because so
many other factors influence a pickup’s total
performance. All other things being equal,
alnico 2 and 3 generally create a warmer
sound than alnico 5 but produce a little less
power. However, there are a number of different
grades of all of these magnets, and they
have a pretty wide range of performance.
7. There is no better pickup for drop
C tuning than the D Sonic, in my
opinion. My band is starting to do
more stuff that’s much lower, even going
to A flat for a few chug tunes. The D Sonic
handles it all great, but I wonder if there’s
a set of pups you’d recommend for those
lower songs. I’ve got an Axis Super Sport
set aside just waiting to drop something in.
—Ken Moore, Clearwater, FL
A flat? Yikes! I’m old-school in my musical
tastes and I like warm sounds, but I think low
tunings can sound really muddy if you’re not
careful, so it makes sense to me to use pickups
that don’t have very powerful bass response.
I also think lower-output pickups would be
good to check out, because low tunings generally
call for heavier strings which won’t clean
up well with hot pickups. A pickup like the
EJ Custom works well because it’s clean and
bright and can “hear” the strings well.
8. I bought a ’66 ES-335 in 1977 that
came with two of your cream-colored
PAFs, and it is one of my favorite-sounding
electrics. What year did you introduce
those, and are they made the same
way today? Thank you!
—Will Mramor, Cleveland, OH
Our first PAF was introduced in 1976. They’re
not made the same way today. After a lot of
research, we altered the EQ so the highs are
fatter and the lows are more articulate, which
is closer to the sound of the humbuckers in my
’59 Les Paul.
9. Hi Larry. I am a long-time user
and fan of DiMarzio humbuckers.
Recently, I’ve been on a quest to
find the perfect single-coil. I haven’t found
any vintage-style models that I like from
any manufacturer. So far I’ve had the best
results with ’80s Fender USA single-coils
with non-staggered magnets. Could you
explain how magnet staggering affects
tone and what would warrant using staggered
versus non-staggered magnets?
—Dan Szaba, Rochester, NY
Another subject that can provoke arguments
in some circles. I don’t really feel
that different magnet staggers have a major
effect on tone, but they can have a real
impact on string balance. This is something
Fender was aware of in the 1950s, when
they created a magnet stagger designed
to balance with the most popular string
sets of the time. These sets had 4 wound
strings and 2 plain strings, so the B magnet
was the shortest and the G the tallest.
This stagger doesn’t function as well with
today’s standard 3 & 3 string sets, because
the G-string would be very loud if it had the
tallest magnet. I don’t think nonstaggered
magnets will produce as even a response
across all six strings as a good stagger will if
you’re playing chords, but bending a string
may be smoother-sounding as it crosses
over the individual magnets because the
field will be more even.
10. With all this fuss about players
changing out their magnets for
alnico 4s and 8s and whatnot,
don’t you think this is going overboard?
I mean, do you think most guitarists can
even hear the difference between alnico
and ceramic? Thanks for all the years of
great pickups and cables, Larry!
—Jean Spiegel, Redlands, CA
You’re very welcome. I think these are two
different questions. There are obviously
people who enjoy modding their equipment,
and changing magnets is one way to do it.
I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way to
create a specific sound, but most folks don’t
have the ability or equipment to design a
pickup from the ground up, which is naturally
the method I prefer.
Swapping an alnico for a ceramic magnet
in the same pickup should be pretty easy to
hear for most players (I hope). However, the
idea that every type of magnet has a specific
sound that’s always easy to identify is wrong,
as far as I’m concerned. I think even the most
experienced players with the most acute
ears may not be able to correctly identify a
magnet type if they’re playing an unfamiliar
guitar in a blindfold test. There are so many
things that go into pickup design that I’m
not convinced, at this point, that the type of
magnet is the most important factor in determining
tone or feel.
For next month’s “Go Ahead and Ask,” head to
and let us know
what questions you’d like to ask Fred Gretsch III.