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A second look at the considerations that go into combining pickups from different manufacturers in one guitar.

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. In last month’s column, I introduced the potential issues you’ll face when combining pickups from different manufacturers, which comes down to understanding polarity and phase. Start there if you haven’t, because we’re about to get into the details of how to assess and understand these important facets of every pickup.
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Talking about favorite pickups is equivalent to carrying on about beer. You’ve got domestic and imports, microbrewers and homebrews. Everybody has a favorite.

Talking about favorite pickups is equivalent to carrying on about beer. You’ve got domestic and imports, microbrewers and homebrews. Everybody has a favorite.

There are definite duds out there, but for the most part what’s good and bad can be subjective. I’ll drink a cool PBR on occasion! There are pickups that sound great to newer ears but that you move beyond as you become more attuned to what makes a great sounding pickup. Some are so cheap or retro that they have a cool character and are just as useful as the most dynamically sonic pickup out there. There are jewels in every corner and the supply is endless.

Over the years, I’ve used tons of great sounding pickups and established friendships with some of the finest makers out there, from well-known manufacturers to guys that handwind late at night after working their main day job and saying goodnight to their families. The Internet has blown the door open exposing the homebrew kind of guys. I find myself hesitant mentioning a couple of these brilliant winders, as the further exposure may cause them more grief than fortune … or push them to make a career out of winding pickups!

Here is a list of my road guitars and the pickups I’m currently using, as well as a few others in my permanent stash I’ve used over the years.

G&L F-100 “Fender Ferrari” (Seymour Duncan Seth Lover model) and Fender Jaguar HB (Seymour Duncan Jazz)
My ‘mock pedal steel’ guitars with Bigsby Palm Pedals. The G&L has a pair of Duncan Seth Lovers. Modeled after the first humbucker ever made, they give the guitar a pronounced, smooth, singing midrange that’s a little mellow on the highs.

My Fender Jaguar HB is a modern issue with two humbuckers. I had called my friend Evan Skopp at SD for his recommendation for going for that pedal steel sound. He suggested their Jazz model, lower powered with a nice clear tone, chimey when rolled back and broad tonal range. They worked out perfectly and instead of just serving as a backup Palm-pedal guitar, I use them both in the show for different tones.

Les Paul Goldtop (Tim White Humbuckers)
This LP Custom Shop beauty originally came with the BurstBuckers, which sounded fat with a bite. At the time I ordered this guitar, I was going for a low-powered PAF tone, ala Jimmy Page (or at least that’s how I relate it). A friend told me about a guy in Alabama who handwound great pickups and I was introduced via email to Tim White.

I described what I was looking for and he took the order. The first lasting impression of dealing with a homewinder – I checked in with Tim on his progress and he said, “Well, I have the pick-ups in my guitar right now, checking ‘em out. I’ll send them to you by the end of the week.” How’s that for homegrown! They were everything I had hoped for and more. I had never heard a humbucker sparkle with almost a single-coil quality.

Pickups with a broad dynamic range like this can actually drive an amp harder and quicker into distortion just by trying to reproduce the tonal range (like P-90s), but through a clean amp they sparkle. Tim is quite the hero on the Les Paul Forum discussion pages, and he currently has orders stretching out a year or further. Well worth the wait if you’re patient enough to get in line.

Gibson SG Standard (Jason Lollar)
This 2002 SG/Les Paul Reissue from the Nashville factory is an exceptional guitar and one of my favorites. I was perfectly happy with its stock pickups (’57 Classics) that were big and fat with singing sustain. Then I met Jason Lollar, another “homebrew” luthier/pickup winder from Vashon, WA.

Jason gave me a set of his humbuckers to try. I threw them in the SG, and they haven’t left since. A great example of a pickup that transcends being just a “PAF” clone. The sonic quality brings out every note and string with clarity, and turned out to be a perfect match for the guitar. Jason has expanded his business over the years with his products, now available through dealers. You can probably still get him on the phone personally if you try.

I have many more to blab about, but it’ll have to wait until next issue, as I’m out of space this time around. Hit the store and try a few different pickups, especially if you have a guitar that’s not quite “there.” It can create an entirely new inspiring instrument. Sometimes, it’s just matching the right pickup to the guitar’s acoustic tonal qualities. Cheers!

Peter Stroud, Sheryl Crow Band

You want to be heard when you play!

As a musician, you want to be heard when you play. How loud you need to be to “be heard” depends on your style of music, the size of your audience, and venue.We buy amplifiers by the number of available watts, and expect that to translate to loudness. And it does, but in unexpected ways.

Our ears and brains perceive sound on a logarithmic scale. Here’s a table of examples adapted from Wikipedia (“Sound power”*) The middle column is the power of the actual air moving against your eardrums.We sense a doubling of power, which is a 3dB change, as a just-perceptible change in loudness. A sound that seems “twice as loud” has to be ten times the power, a 10db increase. That’s why the middle column of the SPLs is in powers of ten. Humans perceive a jackhammer as about twice as loud as a chain saw and a machine gun as about twice as loud as a jackhammer. A full-blown rock concert might only seem twice as loud as a machine gun.

Tech Views

The sound power is not the amplifier power you’d need to be that loud. Most amplifier power is wasted as heat in moving the speaker cone around; little of that gets radiated away as sound. The following table shows some speaker sensitivities as quoted by the makers, in sound pressure level (SPL) at 1W of amplifier power as heard one meter away from the center of the speaker, as well as the maximum amplifier power before they burn out. I computed the estimated maximum SPL column.

Tech Views

[N.B. - These are not necessarily representative of all the speakers from the manufacturer. For instance, all Jensens are not always the quietest and all Fanes are not the loudest speakers. Due to overloading and other factors, these speakers may not sound exactly as loud as this projection shows.]

Remember that 3dB is just noticeable and it takes 10dB to be a factor of twice as loud. So at 1W, the most efficient Fane is not quite twice as loud as the lowest efficiency Jensen P12R, differing by +8dB SPL. If we wanted to make the Jensen sound as loud as the Fane is at 1W, we would need to drive the Jensen with +8db of power, which is 6.3 times the power, or 6.3W (trust me, that’s the way the math works out). The Jensen is loudest at its max of 25W: 109dB SPL. The Fane produces 109dB when driven with 4W. So if you replace a Jensen P12R in a cabinet with a Fane AX.12.150, the amp now sounds like it is now six times the power as it was before.

And that gets us down to watts and loudness.Watts don’t make loudness alone; the amplifier power and the speaker efficiency together make loudness. You can make an amplifier sound like it has more watts by using a more efficient speaker; or like it has fewer watts by using a less efficient speaker.

If you simply must have the tone of an inefficient speaker, be prepared to buy a bigger amp to keep your loudness the same, or to use multiple speakers and amps to get the loudness back. If you must have more loudness and don’t want to change your amp, consider more-efficient speakers. Greater efficiency doesn’t always mean better tone; it just gives you more volume.

Keep speaker efficiency in mind when you’re wondering about watts – you might make that 50W amp sound like it has 100W … or 25W.

*article found at:

R.G. Keen
Cheif Engineer
Visual Sound