5 lesser known things about Pickups (the more you Know)
We all know about pickups right? The little magnet filled bars lurking beneath your strings that transmit string vibration to your amp. You've probably been through a few different sets in your guitar life, but they are full of little surprises. So without further ado here's 5 things you may not know about pickups.
Pickups can become Microphonic:
Ever plugged in your old faithful riff stick and found it strangely noisy? Then realised that tapping on your guitar comes out loudly through the amp? I've been there.
Now there can be more than one offender to this annoying phenomenon. If you have checked your ground connections and shielding inside the guitar are functional you should next. Lift your guitar to head height with your hands dulling the strings, then talk into the pickup like it's a microphone. If your voice comes through the amp speakers loudly and you can tap the pickup case with your finger and it thuds through the speaker it's a fair bet your pickups have gone microphonic.
Now don't get confused, some pickups can pick up your voice minimally in normal function but that's not on the level I'm talking about. If you are unsure about the situation i will always recommend to go see your trusted tech before throwing your pickups in the trash. Even if your worst fears are confirmed there are some tricks that can be utilized that with a little luck can rectify the situation. The problem is normally caused by loose coil windings and sometimes a re potting (wax) can fix it.
P.A.F means Patent Applied For:
P.A.F is a term in the pickup world that is used in a broadly descriptive way to indicate a humbucking style pickup wound in a way that is similar to the first humbuckers. Designed by Seth Lover who applied for his patent in 1955. Gibson would put them into production the following year and stamp them "Patent applied for" and so the P.A.F or paf pickup description was born. In modern examples the description usually denotes a humbucker with typically Alnico 4 poles and a low to mid output.
Almost all split coil enabled pickups have different wiring colour codes:
In a perfect standardized world there would be one regulation wiring colour code for all pickups but alas that is not the world we live in so beware those of you playing at home. If you have successfully wired a split coil before and you decide to try another company's pickup be sure to consult the internet as to the wiring configuration or the instructions in the box. Because most likely if you dont you will experience all sorts of mis-wiring issues.
Sometimes Pickups when combined can sound weak orrrrr.... NOISY AS HELL:
So you have wired in your pickup perfectly observing the correct colour codes and made nicely flowed connections. You've plugged in to test your handy work and by itself the pickup sounds great then you try to run it with another pickup and it suddenly drops in volume and sounds thin and nasty. Or alternatively you have engaged two humbuckers in the split coil mode and suddenly it is noisy in the worst way. Alone everything normal operation, together total bollocks.
The thin sound is a problem known as being "out of phase". Phase refers to the direction of current through the pickup, easily visualized as coil direction. The other noise issue is down to polarity, as in the "north" and "south" pull of the magnetic pole pieces.
Let's think about the Humbucker. The humbucker operates by bringing together two single coil pickups that are the exact opposite of each other. Opposite coil directions, opposite magnetic polarities. It is that combination that achieves hum cancellation in phase. When you combine another pickup the magnets or coil direction may be the same as the other pickup rather than opposite, and so one of the pickups will need to be connected differently to work harmoniously with the other pickup. Unless you like the out of phase sound which is something that has been utilized by players as an effect for a long time.
Guitar Pickups as we know them have been with us since the 1930s:
The idea was worked on in the late 1920s by George Beauchamp who in 1931 made the first successfully operating pickup. Originally for his lap steel design dubbed the "Fryingpan" the horse shoe style magnetic pickup was brought to the public at large by Rickenbacker electro who put Beauchamps invention into production the same year. Unfortunately for Beauchamp his invention did not receive patent till 1937 allowing competitors to clone his work and capitalize on the breakthrough.
Well put a fork in me i'm done! I hope you got some helpful info, or at least enjoyably killed some time reading my guitar nerd rant. You'll be exceptionally good at a very specifically themed trivia night that's for sure.
Don't forget that dropping in new pickups is a great time to get your axe sharpened while it's already unstrung. You have any pickup drop ins or setups to be done give me a yell, i love a good solder sesh and polish.
Till next time Stay safe and riff hard
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