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DaveGrima

What makes expensive pickups better?

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I know most of the price difference comes from labor cost. US made vs. Overseas. Small handmade operations vs. mass produced. But in terms of the components used they all seem to be made out of the same stuff. I never see ads for pickups that use High quality plastic in their bobbins, or high grade copper coil wire. And even cheap pickups use ALnico. So why should I pay 2 or 3x as much for what seems to me to be a pretty simple device using cheap, easliy aquired materials? Taking production costs out of the equation, what makes a Dimarzio better than a GFS, What makes a Fralin better than a Seymour Duncan? What makes expensive pickups better? Why do some of these boutique shops charge that much for some plastic, magnets and copper wire? This isnt a rant. Its a serious question. :wave:

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Hand wired by dedicated, knowledgeable people like Bryan (bg) should cost way more but amazingly, he charges about the same as a very good factory made pick-ups. Not cheap but very decent price for what is literally boutique stuff.

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An expensive amp maybe?

 

Seriously, I find the difference between single coils and double coils a big part of the equation. Going from one to the other is a bother because of the differences and the amp knobs have to be retweaked for each.

 

What's just right for Humbuckers is too thin/trebl-y and not gain-y enough for singles. What's just right for singles is too muddy and dark for HB's.

 

Fender and VOX tube amps are bright and chime-y. Marshalls are less, so.

 

It's come to the point for me that I try to deal with the amp settings and the match between the guitar and the amp. And I like a fair bit of crunch when I dime the knobs. So an LP Deluxe and a non-master volume Fender amp is not my cup of tea either.

 

All of this changes when you're Pete Townshend on a huge stage stage in a giant garage.

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I know most of the price difference comes from labor cost. US made vs. Overseas. Small handmade operations vs. mass produced. But in terms of the components used they all seem to be made out of the same stuff. I never see ads for pickups that use High quality plastic in their bobbins, or high grade copper coil wire. And even cheap pickups use ALnico. So why should I pay 2 or 3x as much for what seems to me to be a pretty simple device using cheap, easliy aquired materials? Taking production costs out of the equation, what makes a Dimarzio better than a GFS, What makes a Fralin better than a Seymour Duncan? What makes expensive pickups better? Why do some of these boutique shops charge that much for some plastic, magnets and copper wire? This isnt a rant. Its a serious question.
:wave:

 

Interesting question, that I really don't have the answer for. I'd like to know what kind of Pixie dust Gibson uses cause after replacing the stock SD 59s in my Washburn P4 with some BB Pros, this guitar sounds so much more Gibsonesque.

 

It seems to me that so much of it now comes down to personal preference as the standard is so much higher today than years ago. Back in the early 70s cheap pickups squealed and generally sounded like crap; now there is no extraneous noise even in the cheapest of the cheap. I had some Duncan Designed pups in an import Hamer that in my mind were equal to the real SDs I had in other guitars. I recently got a second Strat, that is a Squier Series and has absolutely the most glorious sounding Bluesy Strat pickups I've heard.

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To a certain degree you get what you pay for. Higher-end pickups are mostly built to higher tolerances than their cheaper brethren and the person who's winding them has more skill and experience. You can find the bang-for-buck champions out there (BG, for instance) but claiming that GFS pickups are just as good as Lollars is wishful thinking.

 

Of course, there are always exceptions

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Hand wired by dedicated, knowledgeable people like Bryan (bg)
should
cost way more but amazingly, he charges about the same as a very good factory made pick-ups. Not cheap but very decent price for what is literally boutique stuff.

 

One important factor is that Bryan, Lindy Fralin, etc. make hybrid pickups that the the big players don't make, or don't do well: noiseless p90s, p90s in Tele and Strat form factors, under/overwound pickups, and so on. You'll pay a lot for Fralin noiseless p90s, but they sound enormously better than Gibson's attempt at them.

 

Bryan makes a Strat-type p90 that'll knock you the FUCK OUT.

 

On the other hand, as the OP observed, they're all made out of more or less the same stuff, and the big companies have a huge advantage in economy of scale. Burstbuckers and 57 Classics are wonderful PAF-type pickups. So are Duncan Antiquities and Seth Lovers. I'm sure that XXX boutique PAF is 0.003% PAF-ier than the Burstbucker, but there comes a point where your talent has to assume some responsibility for you not sounding exactly like Peter Green or whoever. Gibsons and Duncans won't get you there, but they'll damn sure get you within walking distance.

 

So in short, the boutique makers really succeed when they're making stuff you can't get anywhere else.

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An expensive amp maybe?


Seriously, I find the difference between single coils and double coils a big part of the equation. Going from one to the other is a bother because of the differences and the amp knobs have to be retweaked for each.


What's just right for Humbuckers is too thin/trebl-y and not gain-y enough for singles. What's just right for singles is too muddy and dark for HB's.


Fender and VOX tube amps are bright and chime-y. Marshalls are less, so.


It's come to the point for me that I try to deal with the amp settings and the match between the guitar and the amp. And I like a fair bit of crunch when I dime the knobs. So an LP Deluxe and a non-master volume Fender amp is not my cup of tea either.


All of this changes when you're Pete Townshend on a huge stage stage in a giant garage.

 

You didnt read his post did you? You only read the thread title.:lol:

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A brass base plate is cheaper than a nickel base plate. Nickel is magnetic, where brass is not. That changes the sound. The purity of the copper wire, more consistent magnets, brass cover vs nickel cover, etc. They aren't made from the same stuff.

 

Then there's the advertising budget, player endorsements....

 

EG

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it's all in yer head. you think "i'm paying more, it's better quality", and while this may be true, you don't want to feel like you blew money on something so you force yourself to think your new pickup sounds like god's heavenly farts while your old ones, in reality, sounded pretty much the same.

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I'd say it's 5% superior materials and 95% marketing/endorsement payments/famous names involved... Sure, some pickups sound really good and other sound like crap, but with a little research, you can find a reasonably priced pickup for just about any application.

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I'm the most cynical guy when it comes to gear prices and sound, but I'm really surprized that something as low tech and simple like a quality guitar pickup can't seem to be mass produced in China. It's just a magnet and coils. Can't some pickup designer just go to China and tell them EXACTLY how many windings, the magnet type and strength, whether you wax pot or not, alloys etc. So why do "Duncan Designed" Asian made humbuckers sound all muddy and shitty? Is it some great scheme not to compete with his American made product?

Sooner or later you'd think some American pickup manufacturer would just sell out and break ranks and make an Asian pickup that really competes.

But in my experience, pickups have been the one area where it is true that the more expensive ones sound better...even though I can't wrap my head around why that would be (since making a shitty sounding pickup vs. a good sounding one would appear to cost the same in parts and labor) Jesus just figure out the formula and stamp them out. It's not like these pickups are "hand tuned" or something. I've heard $500 acoustic guitars that sounded better than a $5,000 Martin. I've played $200 Asian electrics that were built and played better than American guitars that cost over a grand. In those situations I can see how cutting corners on labor and materials might make an inferior product but it doesn't. But with pickups that doesn't seem to happen and a pickup's construction is way less complicated. I don't get it.

 

They're making computer components in China. Hi-tech plasma t.v.s...All that shit. But somehow they can't seem to nail that elusive decent sounding pickup (keeping all these guys in garages here in America in business)? It's just a bar magnet and a plastic spool with coils. It's not a nuclear warhead.

How is this so impossible?

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They're made with love

 

Haha, reminds me of those infomercials for the flavor wave convection oven, or that red waffle maker/fryer thing.

 

I can just picture getting on, say, the SD website and seeing a video that starts with black and white footage of some kid, really unhappily playing a strat with stock pickups.:mad: All frustrated and pugging his ears... He'd finally throw it down or break it or something. Then the music and technicolor would kick in...:love:

 

Can we just make this an infomercial thread?

 

[YOUTUBE]fYEEfjw2mHk[/YOUTUBE]

 

[YOUTUBE]5FvGahULkO4[/YOUTUBE]

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I can't wrap my head around why that would be (since making a shitty sounding pickup vs. a good sounding one would appear to cost the same in parts and labor

 

I'm not sure that's true. Besides the above mentioned differences between nickel and copper, there's also labor differences. There's a decent chance a pickup mass produced in China is going to pass through less quality control and testing than a pickup hand made by some guy who's been building pickups his whole life. Especially given I'd hazard a guess pickup design is pretty precise work.

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I know most of the price difference comes from labor cost. US made vs. Overseas. Small handmade operations vs. mass produced. But in terms of the components used they all seem to be made out of the same stuff. I never see ads for pickups that use High quality plastic in their bobbins, or high grade copper coil wire. And even cheap pickups use ALnico. So why should I pay 2 or 3x as much for what seems to me to be a pretty simple device using cheap, easliy aquired materials? Taking production costs out of the equation, what makes a Dimarzio better than a GFS, What makes a Fralin better than a Seymour Duncan? What makes expensive pickups better? Why do some of these boutique shops charge that much for some plastic, magnets and copper wire? This isnt a rant. Its a serious question.
:wave:

 

Your title is a bit suggestive, who says expensive is better?

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but claiming that GFS pickups are just as good as Lollars is wishful thinking.


 

+1

 

I bought into the GFS hype here and bought a set of their P-90s - that they claim people prefer over Lollars.

 

Not only did they not fit (they don't make a short neck pickup) but they sounded terrible. My 60s ES-330 sounded like an Epiphone.

 

Just bright and way too much output.

 

Bought the Lollars and really liked them. Nice clean sound, lower/medium output that get the nice P-90 clean sound but break up when pushed.

 

The materials (leads, covers, etc...) were more authentic and the plastic and metal parts were higher quality.

 

I also have the Jazzmaster (which actually sound like Jazzmaster pickups), Strat (Blonde) and Imperials.

 

I really like them all.

 

I also have had Duncans and DiMarzios over the years, all good.

 

If I had a cheap guitar like an Epiphone, Agile, etc... I would be all for the lower cost stuff. Most of the lower end pickups aren't really any better then what comes in the lower end guitars - but they are different, so you may be able to get a sound you like for not a lot of money.

 

I think the boutique pickups are for people who know what the original pickups in their guitar actually sound like and want that sound.

 

The lower end stuff seems to be for people that think Jazzmaster pickups sound like P-90s and that P-90s are just loud distortion pickups.

 

Honestly, unless I build a guitar or get something that has the wrong pickups in it I never buy replacement pickups.

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I'm not sure that's true. Besides the above mentioned differences between nickel and copper, there's also labor differences. There's a decent chance a pickup mass produced in China is going to pass through less quality control and testing than a pickup hand made by some guy who's been building pickups his whole life. Especially given I'd hazard a guess pickup design is pretty precise work.

 

Seriously? The difference in price between nickel and copper when we are talking the AMOUNT of that metal in a pickup? Besides, it's not like both pickups aren't using copper wire. At any rate the amount of metal used to make a pickup is so small that I doubt a difference in the type of metal would be more than a penny per pickup. I doubt it would be a place to even consider cutting corners to make a cheaper pickup.

As for quality control, I don't see any "variances" in sound among cheap pickups (some sounding good and some sounding bad due to the randomness of poor quality control)

 

And as for the "precise work" argument, I just have to wonder why PAFs made by Gibson in the late 50's by old women on converted sewing machines winding wire with no regards to amount of windings or method made pickups that the world over hails as the ultimate in tone and design.

 

Seriously the "consistently bad" sound to cheap pickups amazes me. You'd think that would be even more difficult than having some sound good and some sound bad due to the randomness of everything and pure chance.

It's like they're trying to make them sound muddy on purpose or something.

 

As for GFS, I've actually had good luck with some of them, but you have to pick the right model. He has a lot of "crunchy", "overwound", "hot", "high output", "mean" stuff that just sounds muddy and cheap. I notice that those are the models he sells on Ebay more often (probably because those designs aren't ordered as much from customers on his website?) But his plain vintage PAFs are really great sounding. I'd compare them favorably to something like a Duncan 59 or Gibson Burstbucker.

Another Asian made/American design brand I've had good luck with is Tonerider. But finding these two was like finding a needle in a haystack.

Usually when I buy an Asian guitar it seems to go without saying that I'll have to swap out the pickups to make it sound good. And why this is consistantly the case when pickups are so relatively low tech escapes me.

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Capo, the manufacturers COULD spec the pickups however they want and have them made in China. Since they are taking advantage of all the lower costs (labor, waste disposal, environmental regs, worker safety, etc) they use that platform for saving everywhere they can.

 

I bought a MIK Kent Armstrong pup recently, however, and found it to be built of top quality components. It was also $60.

 

Materials costs do add up quite a bit and it's more than just a few pennies. Whne you put out your bid for materials, if you don't put out real specific requirements, you can get stuff cheap. When you call for very specific materials, however, the number of potential suppliers goes way down and prices go up. There's not a lot of difference in price between high carbon steel and stainless. Go buy stainless steel socket head cap screws, though, and watch the price go through the roof.

 

EG

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... At any rate the amount of metal used to make a pickup is so small that I doubt a difference in the type of metal would be more than a penny per pickup. I doubt it would be a place to even consider cutting corners to make a cheaper pickup. ...

Unfortunately the bean counters will make cuts for the sake of even a fraction of a cent when dealing with high volume items. A penny saved on a million units is a nice bonus in someones pocket.

 

As for GFS, I've actually had good luck with some of them, but you have to pick the right model. He has a lot of "crunchy", "overwound", "hot", "high output", "mean" stuff that just sounds muddy and cheap.

All too often people new to pickups flock to the "hot, over wound, fat" stuff thinking more is better. There is such a thing as a good sounding over wound hot pickup, but it needs to be designed with that in mind from the start. Wire type, bobbin geometry, and magnet type and strength are critical to pulling off a good one. Too often the cheap stuff is just more wire till the bobbins full.

 

Another Asian made/American design brand I've had good luck with is Tonerider. But finding these two was like finding a needle in a haystack.

I recently tested out a Tonerider Alnico 4 Classic and was pleasantly surprised, bonus points for using a real nickle silver base plate.

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I don't have the budget to go on a pickup binge to compare everything out there.

 

However, I tried two Dimarzios (HS-2 and Bluesbucker) on my Strat and found them wanting. I decided to try custom-made pickups and after some research, settled on WCR Fillmores for my Sheraton. There were no ifs and buts about it, they sounded excellent out of the box.

 

I then tried, again after much research, Lollars on my Tele (Charlie Christian and Special T) and again, found the tone excellent. I tried Lollars again for another Tele (Alnico 3 and and 52 T) and liked them right away.

 

I feel I lucked out with these two manufacturers.

 

I plan to install a WCR Crossroads (bridge) in my Melody Maker and a Lollar P90 (neck) for my next project.

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I don't have the budget to go on a pickup binge to compare everything out there.


However, I tried two Dimarzios (HS-2 and Bluesbucker) on my Strat and found them wanting. I decided to try custom-made pickups and after some research, settled on WCR Fillmores for my Sheraton. There were no ifs and buts about it, they sounded excellent out of the box.


I then tried, again after much research, Lollars on my Tele (Charlie Christian and Special T) and again, found the tone excellent. I tried Lollars again for another Tele (Alnico 3 and and 52 T) and liked them right away.


I feel I lucked out with these two manufacturers.


I plan to install a WCR Crossroads (bridge) in my Melody Maker and a Lollar P90 (neck) for my next project.

 

I've had similar experiences. I tried DiMarzios. Hated them. Too harsh. Granted, they were the Hot type, don't recall the model. I am a PAF tone seeker. Had the Duncan JB and the Duncan Pearly Gates. Vibeless. Bought an Xaviere XV900. the GFS Fat Pats were interesting, but the honeymoon was over quickly, I got a pair of WCR's CrossRoads. Nirvana! Totally made an otherwise inferior guitar, very cool. Bought a PRS SE Soapbar. Pups were decent but again, vibeless. Bought Lollar P-90s. Nirvana! I think the boutique guys (Lollar, WCR, Fralin, Bare Knuckle etc.) have spent a LOT of time studying and refining their pickups. I don't think winding a pickup is as easy as some of you think, old ladies from the 50's notwithstanding. That being said, I wish boutique prices were a little more reasonable, but we live in a high priced era, from gasoline and milk to guitar pickups. As an aside, I'd like to believe the Bryan Gunsher hype that floats around here but after my Xaviere experience ( tons of praise around here), I'm afraid it's one man's ceiling COULD be another man's floor. The X is cool, but in a lo-fi way. It costs a lot of us picky guys a bit of dough to have a pro set up the neck, level the frets, etc. If I had to do it over again, I'd get an Epi Elitist.

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some of the best pups i have played are some of the more cheap ones..

for instance the Tex mex i think is every bit as tonefull and sweet spot as the any lollar or any Boo tech i chance to try at a music shop.. and i super happy with the rose pups i have... i think a lot has to do with how you set up the gain and presence on the amp.. just tweak the amp a bit and most any pickup will get there mho.. boo teak.. is mostly just about marketing.. and buzz wordy add copy...

 

its an opinion..

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The internet

 

:thu:

 

As far as Tele pickups $8 Chinese sound as good as $300 Boutique. Anecdotal but this is what Ive experienced.

 

when you get into pups that arent so easy to make like PAFs or filtertrons, noiseless etc; thats where spending some money can make a huge difference.

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