6. Hi Larry. What’s your opinion on the main differences among alnico 2, 3 and 5 pickups, and what do you recommend? Thanks!
—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.

Next month
For next month’s “Go Ahead and Ask,” head to premierguitar.com/goaheadandask and let us know what questions you’d like to ask Fred Gretsch III.