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  • Testing pickups?

    Ok, so how do you guys test your pickups? I.e. real listen test, not measurements.

    Do you use a test guitar modified to easily swap pickups? Any ideas for a solution/design?
    http://guitarfix.dk

  • #2
    I like to run test leads out of the guitar to see which lead I prefer as hot or ground and how the pups play together. I also took an old bakealite antenna rotor box and set it up as an inline 500k pot with switchable caps for testing potential tone circuits.

    For the shop I took a 2x6 and screwed a cheapo salvage neck to it with a block on the other end for a cheapo bridge. With a salvaged nut raising bar I have a lapsteel (benchsteel?) I can slide pups under the strings of and test. An old guitar cord with alligator clips on one end fastened to the board completes the world's ugliest test rig....not a show piece, but it works.
    Last edited by ric; 07-02-2019, 03:39 PM.

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    • #3
      I'm designing a PAF at the moment to nail a certain tone and the process is pretty much entirely empirical..
      You can go nuts and get in to metallurgy and obsess with vintage or period correct appointments and detail, but if the goal is commercial there is little ROI in that.
      My method has always been pretty much the same: identify what you want to achieve. Identify the closest thing to it that you can afford to obtain.
      Pull it to pieces..

      Since I am largely just trying to make vintage sounding PAFs I haven't had to do any real hard work or destructive testing thanks to the excellent wealth of modern repros to experiment with.

      Unlike the old timers who had to resort to destructive testing, I have always had the benefit of being able to just use my eyes and ears. I have to use poly wire in my repros and I have to use a UK magnet company, so I'm always having to juggle the relative characteristics of the vintage or the US repros with what I can get my hands on. Its made a lot easier by the fact all the hard work has largely been done by the US pioneers in PAF reproduction already and if you have half a brain and a scientific approach, its relatively straight forward to clone the bits you like and compensate with the bits you actually have access too commercially.

      If I had a pickup I like, I'll strip it down and use it as a platform for my own coils and magnet tweaks. When its time to go to production with a finished new variant, I get the best value on-spec parts I can find in my geographical region and swap them out incrementally for the ones on the prototype until I am happy that its 'close enough'. All my current PAF offerings have been born this way: and every single one has been a case of me changing something like gauss or offset or tpl a little because I HAD too and then discovering something completely new in the process that became its own thing entirely. Its always a thrill when you have say a low wind PAF and change a few things and suddenly it sounds *completely* different. I really get a buzz out of that bit.
      Then I go to the wholesaler and get the specific parts in bulk..

      Test guitar is just a Les Paul studio model. Obviously, I always use the same one! Its a middle of the line tonewood affair: not too hot, not too cold, just right. I have it wired 50's with OEM components ie. what most people will be using not some fancy pants stuff that sound amazing but aren't going to be in 90% of guitars (I recommend those to customers but I don't design for them in mind). I also always use 9-46 strings as not only do the majority of guitarists (yes, really) but they also sound far better with PAFs as they offer way more harmonic content than even 10-46 do. The magic is all in the unwound strings! I should also point out that I don't get too carried away with this bit. I don't voice my pickups for specific models of guitar. My pickups will have the same fundamental tone in whatever you put them in, just coloured by the instrument. I used to worry a lot about that but the reality is, if your pickups have their own 'thing' going on (and mine do - they are not just simply copies of other people's offerings) its just as awesome for marketing and just as beneficial from a consistency pov for that to be the case. Wizz (as a random example) sounds like Wizz in whatever guitar they are in. I've heard Wizz PAFs in an Epi dot and a 64 vintage SG. Same core fundamental tone. I hear it and I know its instantly Wizz. That has always been my goal too. Its also imho counter productive to offer 500 different models of PAF for this application or that application as my market research has shown TMI is a real thing. People aren't certain they want your repros to begin with.. so making it easy for them to decide why and what they want is the key.

      Its super easy to in-and-out pickups from a Les Paul without removing the strings: just slacken them off, put a capo on the 5-6th fret and unscrew the tailpiece studs. No need to go nuts. If I am anticipating a lot of pickup swaps rather than tweaking a specific pickup with magnet and hardware changes, I do rig up the wiring harness to be solderless using molex plugs. That's because I use leaded solder (it is infinitely suprior to modern junk!!!) and I could do without breathing the fumes all day long..
      I have a really good ear for subtleties in tone which is helped a lot by having used the same amp and cables etc. for many years now. However, I do also mic up my test rig in to a Focusrite and from there in to Pro Tools etc. I record the same sample licks and riffs without pedals or effects and have built up a pretty comprehensive library of what this wind pattern, that magnet, this gauss, that offset etc. sounds like. I'd strongly recommend doing that as it is really useful being able to analyze the waveforms and frequency response etc. Helps prevent duplicating work over the years or falling in to the trap of cognitive bias. Also when things change outside of my control such as batches of wire or magnets having subtle inconsistencies I have a benchmark to refer back to when adjusting variables..
      Last edited by 22uf; 07-27-2019, 10:27 PM.

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      • #4
        I recently joined the Forum and found your post interesting, and what you do very well thought out. I have never had reason to rewind pickups but I do repair amps and the odd guitar now and then.

        I'm currently working on a Fender amp and had trouble removing the chassis from the cabinet and found a thread on this forum discussing how to remove it. Now I'm just waiting for my account to be fully activated so that I can post a reply and photos there to help others looking for information.

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