The penny's dropped. Lower output pickups are better, even for high gain.
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Thread: The penny's dropped. Lower output pickups are better, even for high gain.

  1. #1


    Join Date: Oct 2008
    Location: Cambridgeshire, UK
    ME: Charvel So Cal
    Rig: Triple Rec

    iTrader: 3 (100%)

    The penny's dropped. Lower output pickups are better, even for high gain.

    This might be a bit of a rambling waffle but bear with me...

    I know a few of you have been crowing about this for years And it's not like I didn't believe you, I just thought I was more comfortable in high-output territory.

    I've recently started to build up a rig again. As a result of this massive amp testing day me, Mr S, and 7DT had a couple of weeks back, that put to bed what I like about amps. Tried all sorts of shit, and I ended up bringing home my old 8100 that I'd sold to 7DT, and have been absolutely loving it (like seriously loving it, preferring it over my love for Rectos even).

    As a result I've been playing lots of guitar, literally any spare 5 minutes I have I'll fire it up. Playing for the sake of playing, the pure love of it. Nice and loud, with my pedalboard set up, 4 cable method, so I can really dive in with a smorgasbord of textures at my disposal. Boosts on and off, FX on and off etc.

    But not just my guitar. My customer's guitars too.

    After I've completed a set up I'll plug it in and play it for a while to get a feel for the set up, see what needs a tweak.

    That often promps me to A/B it against my own of course. Especially if my ears are pricked up by a certain something.

    But absolutely across the board I've massively preferred the tone, feel, and general response of the more medium-output stuff.

    For example, there's a Gibson LP Studio I've got in my workshop at the moment which is just crushing it with the stock pickups.

    I mean, I remember when I had that black Epi LPC (now owned again by Mr S) I took it to rehearsal with a Duncan 59 in the bridge, and it sounded phenomenal. So I don't know why I'm surprised by any of this...

    I've clung on to the Duncan Distortion (and pups of that nature) for so long, but every few months (as if you hadn't noticed with all the pickup threads I start) I'll feel dissatisfied and swap it out. But I always end up swapping it out for something comparable. Same sort of output. JB's, Evo's, Aldrich, L500XL, D'Activator... Whilst they've all got their individual character, they're all practically identical in output and feel. Same "family" of pickups.

    It's funny really but I guess this was inevitable; The reason I had that "amp day" was to shake free of the 5150/Recto trap, wanting to get away from *that* style of amp, that type of tone. It naturally follows that pickups were next I guess, as they're also a by-product of yesteryear when I was playing heavier music.

    When I get some time towards the end of this month I'm going to try some of the more medium-to-high output stuff. Namely the Custom. Just the bog-standard Custom. I've tried the Custom 5 in other guitars and really dug it but the Custom sounds better to me on paper, and I think it will suit my Charvel more. That guitar is pretty much all mids. And with my use of 16k+ mid-heavy high output humbuckers, it's just mids on mids and it results in that fat wall of sound that gets kinda spongy, even with relatively low gain settings.

    So my findings lately are that, whilst with a high output humbucker you don't as often need a boost, a lower output pup + a boost sounds so much thicker, grindier, tighter, more defined, more controlled, and better note separation than a high output pup straight in the front (or with a boost, for that matter). With use of the gain knob you can obviously get them to a similar level of saturation, but the character and feel of the tone is different.

    Let's say you set up a good crunchy high gain tone with a moderate output pickup. You plug in afterwards with a high output pickup. Doesn't matter how you dial it in, the medium output pup just sounds more toneful. Has more body to it. The fact that you're having to dial in a touch more gain just makes the amp work harder, and the guitar still retains its inherent character, because you're not clipping the tone at the source.

    And let's not forget about the treble attenuation that has to happen... The hotter the wind, the darker the pickup, so the tone has to be shaped by other factors to bring the brightness back up again. I think this is why a lot of hot pickups have such an undefined high end and don't get that separation you get with others.

    Just for shits and giggles, check out the tone I was capable of getting from this customer's partscaster Tele

    https://www.instagram.com/p/B1TJiowHPUZ/

    I mean that's just some no-name single coil for fucks sake

    That's an extreme example... But you get the point.
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  4. #2


    Join Date: Feb 2015
    Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
    ME: RGIT27FE / Carvin DC
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    I've had x2n's in my Carvin and Stealth for 10+ years now, but I've been really tempted for a while now to try swapping them out with something. I would have tried it by now but I always have better things to spend money on. On paper the pro/cons always seem like getting something lower output would be awesome...but then I'm so happy & comfortable with the x2n's that I'm not sure it would be a worthwhile endeavor. Granted, I also still play pretty much exclusively high-gain stuff, when I need a clean or a crunch I do just fine with what I have so I just don't really feel like I'm lacking anywhere. Also combine that with using an axe-fx where I can already pump the gain up and then reduce the input-gain which (in a way) has a similar net-effect as using lower output pickups.

    All that said, this really makes me want to revisit the idea of grabbing something lower output. I have a paf-pro laying around but I think its a neck model so I'm not sure that would work too well in the bridge. I'm also probably leaning more towards grabbing another beater guitar instead and doing low-output in that rather than messing with what's been good for me for the past decade. Whenever I read about what people don't like about high-output pickups, I just don't really relate. Might be because I've given the alternative a serious go, but I just don't hear it. I want a 7 with passives anyways...should probably just grab one of those and stick something in there when I get the chance.

  5. #3


    Join Date: Sep 2008
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    In my experience, say there's 12 general sounds you get out of a guitar, 2 of them are better with a high output pickup, 5 or 6 of them are better with a low/moderate output pickup and the rest are pretty much even. My desert island pickup would be somewhere between a PAF 36th or '59 for exactly that reason, but that's because of the sorta stuff I'm into. If you live off of like, Killswitch Engage or something, I'd imagine you can rock an 18k ceramic mag pickup for the rest of your life with no regrets.
    Argbadh - RHLC©

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  7. #4


    Join Date: Oct 2008
    Location: Helsinki, Finland
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  8. #5


    Join Date: Feb 2015
    Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
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    Quote Originally Posted by Randy View Post
    In my experience, say there's 12 general sounds you get out of a guitar, 2 of them are better with a high output pickup, 5 or 6 of them are better with a low/moderate output pickup and the rest are pretty much even. My desert island pickup would be somewhere between a PAF 36th or '59 for exactly that reason, but that's because of the sorta stuff I'm into. If you live off of like, Killswitch Engage or something, I'd imagine you can rock an 18k ceramic mag pickup for the rest of your life with no regrets.

    Less kse and more death, morbid angel, decapitated, etc.... so yea that sounds about right for me haha

    Still tempting though....

  9. #6


    Join Date: Sep 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChainOfThought View Post
    death, morbid angel, decapitated, etc...
    With the potential exception of Decapitated (their newer stuff had a tighter metal mix), I think you can do all of that sorta thing with a moderate output pickup.

    I mentioned KSE because the whole metalcore scene was "high output overwound pickup into a slammed 5150/Recto type with stacks and stacks of compression in post". I mean, you can make any pickup sound like any pickup with enough gain staging and EQing but that was definitely "THAT" sound. Fastest path between two points is a straight line, so if someone wanted "THAT" sound, a high output pickup into a modern high gain amp gets you there.

    I think a lot of those more old school death metal sounds you can get with a moderate output pickup into either a modern-ish high gain amp or even an older amp with DS/HM/MT infront of it.

  10. #7


    Join Date: Sep 2008
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mattayus View Post
    For example, there's a Gibson LP Studio I've got in my workshop at the moment which is just crushing it with the stock pickups.
    Imagine how much better it would sound with a set of pickups in that output range that are not Gibsons. I'm a big fan of Wolfe's stuff in Les Pauls; the Dr Vintage (Alnico II ~7.5-7.8K) and Marshallhead (Alnico V ~9-9.5K) stuff sounds absolutely amazing. You don't have to spend that sort of scratch, though, since the Duncan Slash set is probably their best kept secret. While the A2 pickups tend to not have the compression and "oomph" I'm looking for for metal, they sound better with everything else. Big, open, and toneful.

    So my findings lately are that, whilst with a high output humbucker you don't as often need a boost, a lower output pup + a boost sounds so much thicker, grindier, tighter, more defined, more controlled, and better note separation than a high output pup straight in the front (or with a boost, for that matter). With use of the gain knob you can obviously get them to a similar level of saturation, but the character and feel of the tone is different.
    I've found a boost is more about tailoring the tone than getting enough gain. I ALWAYS like Rectos with boosts, since the bass cut helps tame the boomy low end. You're really getting more perceived gain, since it tightens everything up.
    Noodles

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  11. #8


    Join Date: Mar 2010
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    Quote Originally Posted by noodles View Post
    You don't have to spend that sort of scratch, though, since the Duncan Slash set is probably their best kept secret. While the A2 pickups tend to not have the compression and "oomph" I'm looking for for metal, they sound better with everything else. Big, open, and toneful.
    When I got my Jerry Horton signature Tempest it had already had the original pickups replaced with SD Alnico 2 Pros (the Slash set is a modified set of A2Pros). I was expecting to rip them straight out and put a JB/Jazz set or something higher gain in but they're still there, however many years later...I'd say if you're going for AIC/Mastodon levels of distortion they're pretty much perfect. IIRC the Slash signatures are slightly higher output than the A2Pros.

    Two thoughts from me: If you like the Custom/Custom5 then you should check out the Alternative8 as well. I know a lot of people hate it but it's the same ballpark in terms of tone, and seems to be more responsive to volume knob changes (or at least it does to me). Plus I find the treble from the A8 to be a lot less harsh than the ceramics.
    Also, give Oil City Pickups' stuff a check sometime. They have a load of low/medium gain options, and if their humbuckers are anything like their Telecaster pickups they'll be awesome - IIRC they made the pickups for Blackmachine. Also helped that they were cheaper than SDs back when I was still in the UK.

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