Setting P90 Pickup Height is an essential part of your tone. More than any other pickup they really do like being up close to the strings. In this blog post I’m going to give you some measurements and info on how to measure pickup height. And there’s help for you dogear P90 players too. I’m going to give you some free dogear P90 height spacers.
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How to measure P90 Pickup Height
The pickup height is measured from the top of the pickup pole (or cover) to the underside of the string when fretting the highest fret. Not easy to describe in words so here’s Roboguy demonstrating to clarify:
Here is the P90 Pickup Height I suggest but I’d like to emphasise these are not set in stone, just a guide. P 90’s do like to be close to the strings but if you prefer the sound of them further away that’s fine – up to you and your ears. The closer a pickup is to the strings the louder it is. More importantly, the more dynamic and touch sensitive it is. So with the pickup further away, your sound is more compressed and less dynamic. There is no right or wrong here but especially for lead playing a P90 close to the strings gives a great sensitivity.
There’s also the matter of sustain. If the pickup is too close the magnetic field it produces can inhibit the vibration of the strings and reduce sustain. So it really is all about finding that sweet spot for you and your sound.
So start with this measurement and then find your sweet spot. I think the other important factor is that when you find what works for you, stop fiddling. It’s all about playing guitar . It’s easy to spend all your practice time adjusting things instead of playing – I’m as guilty as anyone of this.
What about dogear P90’s?
Now, that’s all well and good for soapbar or humbucker size P90’s but if you have a Les Paul Junior or an SG Junior with dogear P90’s it’s not as easy. Dogears aren’t height adjustable but don’t worry I have a plan.
As you can see below I’ve drawn some height adjustment shims for 3D printing. They have a few different heights and the taller ones are angled at 3 degrees to match Gibson neck angles. That way your pickups are kept parallel to the strings. A set of these should be all you need for a 2 pickup guitar. So this set should have you covered.
We don’t all have 3D printers but here in New Zealand larger libraries have 3D printers or there are many businesses offering printing services. I’m not sure how it is where you are but in most places it’s pretty easy to get things printed out. And, of course, having a Mate with a printer is ideal. It’s very easy to get done and it’ a way I can help you out without the delivery costs. I’ve sent this file to players all over the World for all brands of Dogear P90’s.
Dogear P90 height shims for free
If you want the file just get in touch with me and I’ll send it to you, no charge. You don’t have to buy my pickups (though that would be nice), I’m just happy to help out. simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this short video – Pickup Phase Explained – I look at what phase is, what it isn’t and why you need to know.
I use a Strat to demonstrate the ‘out of phase’ sound and how it would sound if it really was out of phase. There’s no maths, no diagrams. Just a simple explanation with a guitar to demonstrate.
Pickup Phase Explained
Positions 2 and 4 on Strat switches are often referred to as ‘out of phase’ when they really aren’t. Those positions are the sound of 2 pickups in parallel (a humbucker is in series). Out of phase is quite different as you’ll hear in this video.
As part of my series on How Pickups Work here is How To Test Pickup Phase – The Easy Way.
There is, of course, a hard way and that’s putting pickups into a guitar and having a listen later. That’s fine if you get it right first time but a pain if you have to re-wire the pickup again later.
In this video I demonstrate how to use a cheap test meter to identify which phase your pickup is in out of the guitar.
Traditionally, Gibson style and Fender style pickups are in the opposite phase to each other. This is just how it is.
So it’s really useful to know how to wire your pickups especially if they have an unfamiliar colour code. In my line of work I often repair pickups. I need to send them back to the customer in the correct phase. This is the simple test I use.
The Fender Wide Range humbucker was the invention of Seth Lover. He’d previously worked at Gibson and is responsible for the PAF Humbucker
In 1967 he went to work for Fender and was asked to make an equivalent to the PAF to compete with Gibson. He was still obliged under the PAF copyright (even though it was under his own name) to make something completely different and that’s what he did.
So why CuNiFe ?
Fender guitars are known for their percussive treble. A bit part of which is achieved by having the magnet located inside the coil unlike Gibson style pickups with the magnet outside. He was clearly keen to have adjustable poles too so that left the question of – how do I make magnetic threaded bar? The answer is CuNiFe. Other magnetic material needs to be cast where as CuNiFe – an alloy of copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), iron (Fe) – can be machined.
The primary use for CuNiFe at the time was in speedometers where this threaded magnet was used in calibration. But when the automotive industry moved on to better methods of measuring speed CuNiFe stopped being produced. So the traditional Wide Range ceased production in 1979. The re-introduced Wide Range humbuckers of the 1980’s have a Gibson PAF style bar magnet underneath the coils. They might look like Wide Ranges but they really aren’t.
Why is the Fender Wide Range humbucker so big?
CuNiFe does not make strong magnets and has quite a trebly tone. To offset this Seth needed to design powerful coils. The more windings on a bobbin the more power but also the more bass and less treble. The whole eq is shifted to the bass side. Compered to a PAF the Wide Range coils are very overwound. So much so the bobbins had to be made bigger to accommodate them and therefore the whole pickup is bigger. Wide Ranges are wound to around 10.6KOhms where as a traditional humbucker is closer to 8KOhms.
Then there’s the much ignored steel plate under the coils. Putting a steel plate under a magnet will help push the magnetic field up towards the strings creating a bit more power and a bit more bass. This works in the same way as in my Tui pickup – here’s more on that.
The result of all this is a clear, full sounding pickup loved by many.
Repairing a Wide Range
A while ago I had a faulty Fender Wide Range humbucker sent to me for repair and took the chance to take some pictures. This one is from 1975 as you can see from the last 2 digits of the serial number. From the underneath you can also see the sneaky way he used the threaded magnets fitting half of the upside-down.
With the cover off we get a good look at these unique bobbins. There’s a small metal tab at each end of them to help with connecting the winding wire with the hookup wire.
With one bobbin removed there’s that steel plate underneath directing the magnetic field and adding inductance to the coils. The black wire connects the 2 coils together in series and it’s tucked away between the coils when the pickup is together.
You can see that even though this is an oversized bobbin it’s full up with wire.
Here’s a really interesting blog post on a Wide Range copy by Tym Guitars in Australia. You can see the difference between an original Fender Wide Range humbucker and what looks like an exact replica.
The height of your pickups is crucial to your tone. I find that the better the quality of the pickup the more sensitive they are to changes in height. Pickup Height Adjustment is an essential part of your sound, it’s worth finding out a bit about it.
I give measurements at the end of this post but they are just suggestions. The point of writing this is to help you understand the mechanics of what’s happening and to be able to make your own informed choice as to what suits you best. It’s like choosing picks or strings, not everyone likes the same thing and there’s no right or wrong.
Pickup Height Adjustment – what you need to know and some stuff you don’t
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What I mean by pickup height adjustmentt is setting the distance from the top of the pickup to the bottom of the string. It’s like how close to the microphone you’re singing. But it doesn’t just change how loud your guitar is – there’s a lot more to it.
There is, of course, no correct distance from the string so the measurements I’ll give you are a guide and a great place to start. I recommend you set your MrGlyn’s Pickups to these heights when you install them but feel free to tweak them to your own taste after.
In this article I’d like to arm you with a start point, some information and the confidence to find your own correct pickup height.
The principle of Pickup Height Adjustment is, the closer to the strings the pickups are the louder and more dynamic the sound, further away is more compressed and quieter.
So what does that mean?
Imagine someone whispering in your ear. This is like a pickup close to the strings. It not only sounds loud and clear, you can hear every detail of the sound. You are very sensitive to and variation in volume, its very dynamic. Then imagine if the voice is the other side of a room. The voice is less dynamic, you aren’e as sensitive to slight changes in volume, it’s more compressed. Keep that in mind when setting your pickups.
Shall I set the pickup as high as possible?
But there’s another factor. Pickups work by magnetism, if a pickup is too close to the string the magnet will attract the string and cause a strange wobbly sound called a wolf tone. This is much more pronounced with single coil pickups and on the bass strings on the higher frets. These ‘wolf tones’ are sometimes called ‘Stratitis’.
The pickup height is measured from the top of the pickup pole (or cover) to the underside of the string when fretting the highest fret.
Are all pickups the same?
This is where it gets really interesting and I’ll introduce you to a new word – ‘Stratitis’
In general humbuckers can be set closer to the strings than single coil pickups. By single coil pickups I’m thinking mainly of Strats.
A Strat pickup has rod magnets running vertically through them. They’re usually South up, North down. This creates a magnetic pull on the string (it actually makes the string into a temporary magnet but lets not over complicate it).
If the magnet is too close to the string it starts to change the way the string vibrates. There are various names for the sound of this but Stratitis is the common one.
At this point I realise I’m going to have to write hundreds of words unsucessfully trying to explain the sound of this so I’m going to make a video.
The aspect of pickup height I didn’t cover in this video is feel. The guitar reacts quite differently and feels like a different instrument with the pickups are set hight. The extra dynamics and sensitivity can steer you in a direction you might not go in with a pickup set low. Try it, it’s worth finding out which you prefer.
Humbuckers have one coil with North polarity and the other with South and to an extent they cancel each other out so as not to pull on the string in quite the same way. Humbuckers are way less susceptible to stratitis than single coils.
Tele neck pickups
Just a sidenote – Telecaster neck pickups are inside a cover. When adjusting the height just remenber you’re thinking of the distance from the magnet to the string and not from cover to string. The reality is you can usually set them as high as possible without the string hitting the cover. It can make a huge difference to how they perform.
Humbucker pole adjustment
With standard humbuckers there is usually a row of six pole screws that can be height adjusted. It isn’t usually necessary to change the height of these. If you do decide there is an inballance between your individual string volumes the first thing to do is put a fresh set of string on. In nearly every case it’s the strings that are at fault. Adjusting individual poles is a fiddly business and best left alone.
Strat pole height
I’ve come across quite a few Strat pickups where the poles have been pushed in because people have wanted to change the vintage stagger profile. Please don’t try this it will kill the pickup. There are a few lower quality Strat type pickups with plastic bobbins that you can do this on but you need to be 100% sure before trying it. I might save this one for another blog.
P90 height adjusting
For Soapbar P90’s just follow the basic idea of height adjusting. Dogears are a little different – to raise them you need shims – check out this blog post for more info:- P90 Pickup Height – it’s a pretty comprehensive look into P90 height. If you need shims I can supply you with free drawings for 3d printing (you don’t have to buy a pickup), just email and I’ll send it to you. P90’s generally like to be close to the strings.
P Bass Pickup height
Precision basses with the split pair of coils making up one pickup are slightly different to adjust. Treat the two coils as seperate pickups. So set the bass sise coil to be an even distance from the E and A strings and the treble side to be an even distance from the D and G strings. You’ll find the 2 coils wont end up looking flat across all of the strings but they will sound even.
Like with most Fender pickup types be aware of Stratitis (see above) when setting them, it isn’t just a Strat thing.
General principle of pickup height adjustment
There are plenty of pickups out there without recommended heights. The general principle of setting them is to get them as high as possible and listen to how they sound. Be aware of what Stratitis is and sounds like. If you hear stratitis lower them. By ear is the best way. Not all magnets are of the same strength, you’ll be able to get a lot closer to an alnico 3 than an alnico 5.
Once you’ve found your height have a good play of the guitar, do a bit of tweaking and fiddling and a lot of listening.
Pretty soon you’ll find the spot that sounds best for you. Then forget it. You can spend more time fiddling with guitars than playing them. If you’re really not sure about any of this stuff take your guitar to an experienced luthier and trust them.
It’s worth having a think about pickup balance. By that I mean the relative volume of each pickup.
Instinctively you might think that having pickups with the same volume but with different tone would be the best. That is true for a lot of situations but it’s worth thinking if that’s true for your situation and not just following the norm.
You may want a louder bridge pickup to push through in a band situation, for instance.
There are a lot of factors to consider whith pickup height adjustment. I think the point I’m trying to make is find what’s right for you by experimenting. It’s easy to adjust pickups so have fun mucking about with them.
Pickup height measurements
Here I have some ideas for pickup heights. Remember, these are not set in stone.
Consider them maximum heights and remember that these are measured from the bottom of the string to the top of the magnet or pole piece when holding down the last fret. They may seem a bit close but the istances will be more when playing around the middle of the board.
With a few models of my pickups I give a treble bleed. It makes such a difference to how the volume control works. They aren’t for everyone but it’s worth experimenting and finding out if it works for you.
Here’s the diagram:
Pretty simple eh, it just straddles the ‘in’ and ‘out’ legs of the volume pot. Easy to fit, completely reversable and cheap – what’s not to like? Let’s take a deeper look.
A brief explanation of how a treble bleed circuit works and why you might need one
With some help from Sammy the dog
Here’s a more wordy explanation:
You may have noticed that when you turn the volume control down on an electric guitar it not only gets quieter but also more muddy, some of the high frequencies are lost.
As the volume goes down so does the clarity. This can, of course, be useful. Quite often you’ll want to be able to take some sparkle off the sound especially with single coil pickups. But with humbuckers for many of us they just get too wooly and undefined as the volume goes down. So here’s the solution, it’s cheap and simple, easy to fit and makes humbuckers so much more versatile without taking anything away from the full volume sound. I’m talking about treble bleed circuits.
What do capacitors do?
For our purposes all you need to know about capacitors (caps for short) is they allow treble frequencies to pass through them but block bass. The frequencies involved depend on the value of the cap. The details of how caps work can get very complicated but that’s all we need to know to understand what’s going on here. They’re more commonly used in tone circuits but that’s another story. The volume control (potentiometer or pot) on an electric guitar looks like this:
It’s a fairly simple device, As you turn the volume down the resistance between the ‘in’ and ‘out’ leg increases. This makes it increasingly harder for the signal from your pickups to get through. Less signal means quieter. That’s what happens when you turn your volume down. It’s very simple and works well except for that treble loss. On some guitars a bit less treble can be a useful (Strats for me) but not always. Here’s the same thing with our cunning little circuit added:
Where do you put a treble bleed?
This one has the ‘Orange Drop’ treble bleed which has a resistor added to it. This resistor softens the treble as you turn down making the effect more subtle.
What does it sound like?
So as you turn down the volume and the the resistance increases there’s an alternative path for the signal – through the cap. But, as we know, the cap will only let treble through. This means your sound not only gets quieter but also thinner from the treble sneaking through the treble bleed.
As you turn the volume down you’re also turning the bass down. As a result you have a usable single coil (ish) sound when the volume is low. If you’re overdriving an amp the result is cleaning your sound up. So with a high gain amp and your volume at about 1/4 you get a bluesy breaking up sound , crank the volume on the guitar and you’re rocking.
Capacitor and resistor values
It really is something worth playing around with. There are a few variations on the circuit but the idea is the same. If you want a less subtle effect just use a 0.001micro farad cap on it’s own. To soften the effect add a 150KOhm resistor in parallel. These values are just common values, play around with them, these are cheap components.
On most of my guitars I prefer a simple treble bleed, no coil taps or series parallel. Just the volume control. This isn’t a mod to just automatically use on every guitar, I find with Strats I welcome some tone roll off. With a 2 volume control set up it may be worth treating the neck and bridge pickups differently.
Then there’s the matter of the 50’s wiring circuit in Les Pauls. With this wiring a treble bleed does very little. As the difference between the 50’s wiring and modern wiring is just in how the tone control is wired to the volume control it is possible to use both systems on the same guitar. With a Les Paul type set up the neck pickup could be wired with the ‘modern’ circuit with the addition of a treble bleed and the bridge to 50’s wiring.
There really are a lot of options here and a lot of experimenting to be done. It’s always worth remembering there really is no right or wrong way to do this despite what you might read on the internet. If you come up with anythis fantastic be sure to let me know.
So with a most models of my pickups I give you a bleed circuit or two. If I think it works with that pickup I’ll pop one or two in the box. I know a lot of manufacturers give sticker or a guitar pick for free with their pickups but I thought I’d give a more practical little gift. It’s great if you use it, quite a few of my customers have tried one for the first time and liked it but even if it isn’t your thing maybe you have a Mate who’d be interested.
If you have any ideas os subject matter for blog articles on pickup related topics please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
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