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Author Topic: High vs low output pickups for largely heavy but dynamic music  (Read 329 times)


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High vs low output pickups for largely heavy but dynamic music
« on: November 27, 2020, 12:25:53 AM »
Just was pondering the general question in the title, and wanted opinions from all you folks...

A lot (all?) of my bridge humbuckers are high, but not super high, output. I have a Diezel Hagen + Herbert I play through most of the time, so there's plenty of gain available for whatever really. But I tend to play a lot on a single coil neck for some of the more funk and blues stuff for the added clarity, zing and lack of compression. So one of my favourite combos is a Nailbomb (Alnico) bridge and a Mothers milk neck. Gives me all the heavy rock + the funk and blues I require. Think Tool/Clutch/Corrosion of Conformity/Limp Bizkit/Karnivool but with added SRV, RHCP, James Brown and more ambient chillout for want of a better description Or another has a Holy diver bridge + Mule neck. So again, often one pickup for heavy, one for less heavy/clean/rock. With the caveat I often use say the Mother's Milk neck for heavy as a rawer twangier full gain sound, and the bridge for clean or lower gain sounds too, sometimes just using amp channels for less gain, sometimes just with a slightly under full-gain sound and lots of volume knob action. And usually in drop Db, so lower and more meaty but not 7-string territory.

Anyway, to the point: some folks use pretty stock output pickups from Les Pauls or PRSes, and their amp does all the gain with great rich heavy tones and use those pickups for a lot of lovely clean bits. Also quite a lot of heavy players tend not to choose particularly high output pickups for certain low heavy progressive stuff. So my next bridge pickup I was pondering a bit less gain and something like a rebel yell or maybe VHII. I mean Steve Stevens has a great rocking fat lovely tone, and so this could be for me a quieter Nailbomb with more dynamics or clarity and any lack of gain than usual I just dial up on the amp. But then I watched Rabea Massad demoing the Silo pickup, and it equally does a beasting sound and his cleaner tones are fine, and the compression of the higher output pickup may seem to more just add smoothness. His band is closer to what more progressive stuff I'm normally playing than more classic Billy Idol, but I love a vintagy lower gain sound too thats not to 'clinical' and a bit more woody. So this has flipped my head somewhat. So next bridge pickup I go for I'm gonna try and avoid the usual "hot", and either go hotter, or weaker, but I have no idea!

So, pros and cons. Do you play heavy stuff/progressive/mixed stuff and have tried a variety of bridge pickup output levels? What's your take? Obvs I can still have a funky or lower gain neck to switch too if I go balls deep in super hot windings, but equally playing your main heavy sound on the bridge pickup, just rolling off volume into daydreamy chilled blues noodles and swelling back in to full gain seems like maybe it could be optimised better with a lower output bridge bucker? But I have no idea, you tell me... what's your experiences... the more varied opinions the better the discussion too! :)
Parker Fly Mojo: Holy Diver/Mule ::: Parker MIDIFly (Nitefly M): Abomb/Irish/Irish ::: Parker Nitefly M: Abomb/Supermassive/Mothers Milk ::: Parker Nitefly SA: Crawler/Mothers Milk/Mothers Milk


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Re: High vs low output pickups for largely heavy but dynamic music
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2020, 11:22:22 AM »
I think the best all-around approach is to be in the medium output area - the pickups in that range will have enough open top end to sound great for the less heavy stuff but also should have enough mid drive to get a nice chunky high gain tone.

There's quite a lot to parse when thinking about pickup output. If you compare a Rebel Yell to a Silo you're not talking about a big jump in output at all; in fact there's probably a very similar number of winds on both bridge pickups, just the Silo has a thinner gauge. That'll affect the voice of the pickup and the feel too, but not necessarily give you more or less actual "gain". Then a pickup like the Juggernaut has a lower wind but a double-height alnico mag AND flanking ceramics so it drives the hell out of an amp, with lots of low end and low mids that you don't get with either the Silo or Rebel Yell.
People refer to the Rebel Yell as a less hot Nailbomb, and they're right in a way, but there's a crucial difference in the coil offset that means the RY has broader midrange despite the higher resonant peak from the lower wind.
Complicating things further - if someone is using a set of 10s on a shorter scale guitar like a Gibson or PRS, they're going to be getting more signal out of the pickups due to the strings moving more than the same set on a 25.5" scale instrument.

Then there is pickup height too, if you're playing pickups in the 42AWG 8-9k range as per most stock pickups in PRSs and Gibsons, you can set those really close to the strings and get more than enough drive for heavy music, though if you're using really thick strings you may want to watch out the low end doesn't get too overloaded.

So to actually get to your question, I think you'd do well to stick to pickups in the range you are already in, not going above the Silo/Holy Diver or below the Black Dog really. By doing that you'll retain a nice open rolled back sound and great dynamics that won't be a compromise for your blues-y playing, but you'll have enough mids in there to be satisfying under high gain. I'd urge you to try raising your bridge pickup nice and close to the strings - try 3mm clearance between string and humbucker top when the strings are depressed at the highest fret.