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Pickup Height and Why You Should Experiment

Lucas Fowler November 21, 2018

As guitar players, we often think more is better. More gain, more volume, more output, more tone.

Recently I was experimenting with the pickup height on one of my guitars, and I was reminded just how big an impact a half-turn of the pickup screw can have.

I’m a big fan of Andy Timmon’s tone and he has historically used Dimarzio Cruisers in his guitar for many years now. Cruisers are single coil sized humbuckers that have a single coil-ish tone with no hum and a better string to string balance from their blade design. I installed a pair in the neck and middle position of my PRS SE EG guitar with 3 single coil spots and was having trouble getting that chimey, bell-like quality he gets, particularly in the 2 and 4 positions.

I didn’t want to turn up treble on the amp because I had a great sound from my bridge pickup that I didn’t want to sacrifice. After playing around with gain, compressors, EQ and the like, I went and watched a few videos of Andy talking about his guitar and realized that he had his pickups near flush with the pickguard.

Naturally, I tried lowering them way down in my guitar and behold, there it was! For the sake of testing this theory, I started lowering pickups in a couple other guitars and started to find that generally, lower pickups equal less output and compression, but didn’t necessarily make them darker. In the case of the Cruisers, it actually made them significantly brighter.

It seems to me that the best way to go about setting pickup height is by ear, not eyes. I would recommend lowering the pickups as low as they will go (not so low that they come off the screw!) and then bring them up by one turn or one half turn of the screw at a time, playing a little with the guitar between each adjustment. To get the maximum quack from 2 single coils together in parallel, you’ll want to make sure that the pickups are pretty similar in height, since the phase cancellation effect is what generates that nice clucky sound we all love about the 2 and 4 positions on a Strat. Try it out, you might be surprised at what you find you like and even find a new voice for a guitar you’ve had for a long time!

What’s your experience with pickup height?

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