View Full Version : Question for guitar players - pickups (project related)

scott spencer
10-08-2006, 9:52 AM
Now that I've finished my first solid body electric, I'm eager to upgrade at least one of the pickups to get a more interesting and unique sound....prefer not to break the bank. The pickups we're currently using are two singles from a Squire Strat, and an OLP "John Petrucci" humbucker in the bridge...there's a second OLP humbucker available. I like the overall tonal character of the humbucker but the singles have their moments too. I'm looking for some diversity of sound... I tend to like the sound of most blues, ZZ Top, Dire Straights, SRV, BB King, and Clapton ....not looking to get a death metal sound....more vintage tube with a little hoot and squawk to it when needed.

I have cheap easy access to a pair of Ibanez Affinity humbuckers, but a knowledgeable friend doesn't think I'll be gaining much by going this route. He suggested a Duncan ST59-1n "Little '59" for the neck instead. Another friend suggested a Dimarzio. The problem is that I don't know what these sound like and am looking for testimonials, comments, and other opinions. Thanks in advance for any guidance!

Also, we're currently running a Crate 30W solid state amp w/10" woofer, but am considering getting an Epiphone 5W class A tube amp and building a cabinet w/12" EV woofer. Which will make the most difference in sound.... new pickups or the amp change?


John Shuk
10-08-2006, 10:49 AM
I think this got moved a little too far down the forum page.

Ken Salisbury
10-08-2006, 11:30 AM
I think this got moved a little too far down the forum page.

Sorry guys. I was moving this thread from the General WW Forum to the Off Topic Forum and I guess my eyes were crossed this morning :) and it ended up in the classifieds. I have put it back in the Off Topic forum where I think it belongs.

A moderator mistake corrected :) :D

Curt Fuller
10-08-2006, 12:05 PM
Well, I can't give you any advice but I played guitar in my younger days in a garage band and still keep a couple around to entertain the grandkids. But I'd sure like to see a picture of this guitar you've made. Reading about the 'humbuckers' and all the other guitar lingo really got me reminiscing.

Doug Shepard
10-08-2006, 12:09 PM
Whatever you do to the neck and middle pickups, do them as a matched pair. I think you get much more consistent blues Strat-I-ness than monkeying around with that formula. Im a bit out of the loop on what's currently available, but know there are humbuckers available with the coils stacked instead of side by side. Not sure if one of the ones you mentioned is one of those or not, but these fit in the same space as the type you currently have. As far as the bridge HB goes, I've always liked the Seymour Duncan Jeff Beck pickup. Not metal, but lots of punch.
The switch to a tube amp is likely to really warm up the sound. And 5W is almost ideal for a practice amp. The lower power means you're likely to be pushing the amp hard enough to get some natural tube distortion and have it really singing.

Sorry. I probably just added to your choices and confusion.

john whittaker
10-08-2006, 12:18 PM
Hi Scott... I'm not qualified to discuss pickups but switching to the 5W tube will mellow out the sound quite a bit. I might also suggest looking at projectguitardotcom. That site has tons of info and a forum concentrating mostly on electric guitars.

Wonder if we can post sound files??? Wouldn't that be cool.

Russ Massery
10-08-2006, 12:22 PM
In my guitar playing days. Guys would argue pickups about as much as we do here about machinery brands. i.e. Delta vs Jet etc. My personal perference would to go with Duncan's for a Fender style sound. Which I think your looking for. One thought would to put a coil tap on the humbucker (if you can) . By doing so you should get more of single coil sound out of it. BTW I always felt Dimarzio made a better Gibson style humbucker pickup. My .02 (sorry Tod)

scott spencer
10-08-2006, 12:44 PM
Thanks for the replies gang....I'm looking forward to pursuing the tube amp. My home stereo has a tube preamp and two modified Dyna mono blocks.

Curt, you can see pics of the finished guitar here:


Sam Chambers
10-08-2006, 2:06 PM
Scott, I've been down the same road, trying to find one guitar and pickup combination that does it all. I've never found it. On my Strat, I have a set of Duncan Antiquities, with the reverse wound/reverse polarity in the middle. I just love them, especially through a nice Class A tube amp.

My Epiphone Les Paul Elite still has the stock pickups, but I've been thinking about a change. I have a spare Gibson 57 Classic that I might throw in there to see how it sounds.

Don't forget the role of the amp itself in your tone. A good tube amp will do wonders, but they typically have to be at high volumes to sound their best. Also, your Strat will behave very differently through, say, a Marshall than it will through a Fender. Generally, I like single coils through a Class A amp, and humbuckers through a Class AB. But that's me, and there are lots of other opinions out there. Having said that, I currently play through a Fender Cyber Deluxe, which is completely solid state. It's a wonderfully versatile amp, and it behaves more like a tube amp than any solid state unit I've ever played through.

Dan Oliphant
10-08-2006, 5:50 PM
This is Dan's son, I'm a guitar player in a local metal band... hands down the amp change will give you better tone over the pickup change. The Petrucci pickup is nice for the bridge application, and there's really nothing wrong with strat pickups, especially in the neck position. They're great for clean playing, and more bluesy soloing or rhythm playing. Switching to pretty much anything but a small solid state practice amp will improve your tone much more than anything you could possibly do to the guitar. You don't necessarily have to go the tube route, but the 30w and below "practice" amps (you know what I'm talking about, every company makes them and they're basically starter amps, whether you use them for practice or rehersal or whatever) are made for just sitting in a room by yourself where your tone is not all that important. Cutting through a live mix, or recording yourself is going to require a better amp. The guitar sounds like it has quite a range of tonal capabilities, I'd leave it how it is.

Andy Oliphant

Al Willits
10-08-2006, 10:53 PM
I'd have to say it was my experience that rewiring the pick ups did more to enhance the guitars I've had.
Been a bunch of years, but I enjoyed a pair of Dimarzio's on my 335 Gibson a lot, one was a Dual Sound and the other a PAF.
Also had the stock PU's on my Gretch solid body redone and that guitar went from pain to one sweet axe.

Check the guitar web sites for different wirings, series or parallel wired PU's will each have a different sound.
Plus its cheap....:)


Steven Wilson
10-09-2006, 1:27 AM
Amp change will make the most difference. As for pickups I would go with a couple of Fender Custom shop Texas special strat pickups for the neck and middle. You might include a variable boost circuit on the humbucker in the neck or a phase switch for the humbucker coils. Amp change will make a big change, so will speakers. My earlier life saw me playing Bass (all styles), some guitar (punk mostly), and a recording engineer (live Jazz - some for NPR, some studio). Speakers are often overlooked. In the last band I was in, our lead player had a very nice Messa Boogie head and a 4x12 cabinet combo that sounded fantastic if you cranked it up, the problem was that our band was then very hard to mix and the sound suffered. Our solution was to cut his power to 50 watts, add more baffleing to the cabinet, remove two speakers, and replace the other two 12's with speakers that cracked up with lower power (greenbacks if IIRC). The result was a great sounding amp, at lower volume levels that was mixer friendly for the 300-800 person venues we played out. Around the house I have a Marshall stack, a Hiwatt 50w head (my favorite), a couple of smaller Fenders, a Marshall Studio 15 (15watt, nice little amp), and then a rack with Digitech preamp, Marshall preamp, a custom handwired tube preamp (based on a early Fender design), Lexicon Studio 284 preamp, various effects, a 100W Marshall stereo poweramp, and a Marshall Powerbrake. The Lexicon preamp (has a small power section) is a great amp for the house and for recording. Except when I want to make noise, the Marshall stack just sits there. My normal setup is 2 1x10" cabs with greenbacks in them fed by the rack. Nice without getting too loud.

Al Willits
10-09-2006, 11:58 AM
Steven, just wondering how you figure a amp will make more difference?
Are you speaking of volume, speakers or addition effects the amp may have or ??

I'd agree on volume, speakers and effects, but an amp is just a amplifier and should color the inputed signal as little as possible.

Yes, my Pre CBS Fender Twin had a different sound then the SG head and that had a different sound than the Vox Super Beatle I used, and they had a different sound as most solid state amps I've had, but nothing as different as switching PU's or settings/wirings did.

Different strokes for different folks of course.

Also there's the fact that wiring is much cheaper than a amp, and with a bit of looking into, can be a DIY project.

Haven't played in over ten years and sold all but the acoustic so I probably am missing something here.
Just curious.


Steven Wilson
10-09-2006, 5:41 PM
By "amp", I mean preamplifier and amplifier. Leaving the effects aside, there are some small solid state amps with fairly crummy speakers that really don't sound very good regardless of what you plug in it and don't have much in the way of sculpting your sound. If you move from those up to a amp (pre amplifier, amplifier, speakers) with a bit of character then you have the tools to sculpt your sound and hopefully hear the differences between different guitars, pickup combinations, strings, etc. It can be hard to tell the difference between an L5, '65 strat, and an ES335 with a Pignose! As far as straight amplifiers go for guitar or bass work I don't subscribe to the notion that an amplifier should color the input signal as little as possible. The instrument, strings, preamp, amp, and speakers combine to define your sound. I use to use a couple of different preamps and a rack of Crown poweramps for my bass rig. It was loud, clean (or dirty depending on preamp setting), and could fill any venue bit it was missing a certain bite. I've since changed my mind and like my "clean" bass signal mudied up with a tube stage in my preamp and poweramps voiced to sound good on bass (twin SWR SM900's). Even goofing around on guitar I still prefer to have what ever pre-amp I use feed the Marshall 50wX50w power amp I have in the rack. I've A/B the amplifier with some PA amps I have lying around and the Marshall poweramp is just more musical than the Poweramps used for sound reproduction. For sound production anything is fair game, for sound reproduction I want clean.

Tyler Howell
10-09-2006, 6:47 PM
I say amp change!!:cool:
Try a tube pre amp and SS PA if you don't want to cough up the coins for all tubes. Higher power (30W+) puts you on a more linear part of your load line (Any body else have to graph amplifiers in school)
You can take the best of axes run them through a practice amp and get garbage.
Speakers are as important as any other component.
They add their on color to the mix. Guitar speakers aren't Hi Fi and often the characteristic of the speaker is what you don't hear.
I like 4 10s for drive and tone. (They move faster than 12" speakers)

scott spencer
10-28-2006, 2:49 PM
For those interested I thought I'd give an update on our upgrades....

The proposal to buy a new tube am just before Christmas has been vetoed by the CFO....:rolleyes: Never being one to give up easily once something gets stuck in my head, instead, we're going to build a tube head from a chassis and parts we got very reasonably priced on Ebay....should be a fun winter project while the shop is closed....could turn out to be a better choise than buying a new one. There are tons of schematics and information on line. We already snagged a 12" EV woofer and have built a crude pine box to test it out....very encouraging so far. Completion of the amp will make the entire rig "homegrown".

We also snagged two used pickups on Ebay fairly cheap...a Dimarzio DP-111 single for the neck, and a Duncan SL-59 "Lil 59" single sized humbucker for the mid. Both have been tremendous upgrades from the Squier singles. The Dimarzio has a much stronger bottom end as well as a hotter more aggressive "edgy" sound in general. The SL-59 is just a beautiful well balanced pickup with incredible overtones and diverse capabilities. We kept the OLP "John Petrucci" humbucker in the bridge. The combination of all three pickups has surpassed our wildest dreams for sounds we were hoping to achieve. We're getting alot of very cool distinctive sounds.

My son used to favor his acoustic guitar because he liked the way it sounded. He'd play his Behringer Strat clone a couple of times a week. He now plays the home made electric ("Betty") every day. It's an extremely satisfying feeling to see and hear him use it so often. So if any of you have been contemplating building a guitar, I'll heartily recommend you just do it. Easily the most rewarding project that's rolled out of my shop.

Here's a closeup of the new pickups installed:


Al Willits
10-29-2006, 11:24 AM
Nice to hear the PU's made so much difference.....:)

Try playing with the wiring, that will make even more difference.

Always good to hear a dad do things with his kids, something many kids lack.