What an attractive bunch. From left to right: a sand-cast 1960s alnico 5 from Gibson, a modern Fender alnico 5 bar, and a rubberized ferrite for gold-foil pickups. Top right is an alnico 5 rod like you’d find in a Strat or Tele pickup, and at the bottom right is a threaded cunife rod.

Photos courtesy of Fender

How do different magnet mixes help us find sonic bliss? Fender pickup guru Tim Shaw explains the laws of attraction behind our favorite guitar sounds.

Close your eyes for a second and imagine your favorite electric guitar sound. What do you hear? Whether it’s a crystalline clean, a bulldog-growl crunch, or a hurricane of distortion, what do you envision?

Maybe you’re seeing the contours and finish of your guitar, the different pieces of wood that comprise the whole; a certain brand of strings ricocheting in microscopic variances; the woven grille in front of your amp’s speaker vibrating in a sonic windstorm; or perhaps your hands, both working in harmony to create exactly the right sound. It’s unlikely that when you think of your specific sonic nirvana, you picture the little bits of metal compounds that we call magnets.

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