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Best Tone at a Reasonable Price with Today's Technology...

Discussion in 'Pickup Forum' started by skypeace, Jun 15, 2017.

  1. skypeace

    skypeace Sky Pilot Strat-Talk Supporter

    Mar 10, 2017
    Wow, I may have originally asked the wrong question, but I indeed got plenty of the right answers. I think I am having an Eureka moment in acknowledging that I will not find tone so much in the technology, but in the technique.

    Thus the onus is on me to develop(practice) in the language of musical expression. I don't think I can thank you guys enough for how deeply you have impressed this upon me. Deep has called unto deep, and deep has spoken, again thank you all.

    I am excited to learn even more.

  2. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Senior Stratmaster

    May 26, 2006
    Jacksonville, FL
    If you take any guitar... it has it's characteristic voice... it is extremely difficult to alter that.... but busy little hands will try... so if you record a before then an after .. while there may be some variance... that basic original "voice" still rings through... it's easily recognizable..

    Just like you.. you can record your voice.. then do about anything short of using electronics to manipulate it.. shoot, you can stuff your mouth full of crackers... and you're not gonna fool a forensic audio scientist...

    Were you to produce a acoustic spectral trace of both, the before and after, you would see a surprising number of matching points... much like comparing DNA results on family members... different, but the same...

    as for tone as being a product of skill... One Saturday afternoon, standing in front of Ryman's with Bill Lawrence, we were discussing tone... he simply said a talented guitarist can elicit about any sound out of his guitar he chooses... one needs only be a master of the machine, not the other way around... That was Bill Lawrence, you can take it, or not...

    the point being, the amateur is at the mercy of his gear.. it makes whatever clinical sound that ascends from it's baseline voice. the amateur can only change it by adding more "stuff"...... the skilled professional has mastered the machine... it "speaks" in the voice he so chooses.. that only happens with practice, a hellova lot of practice..

    Years ago I did a guitar for one of the guys in George Benson's group... he said George practices 6 hours a day... hell.. if it was 2 it would be astounding, particularly for someone many within the Jazz genera consider the "best"... 6 hours?? How 'bout you?

    a few weeks back someone posted a video of a well known guitarist... i forget who.. playing a Strat if I recall.. part of his "schtick" was playing in the style and sound of many different guitarists.. without stopping, without flipping switches, just controlling the sound with his talent... he didn't learn that on

    To me it was a defining moment in the tone controversy... it went unnoticed by those hopelessly lost in the tone quest... they are like Deer in headlights... frozen, unable to think...

    Ron Kirn
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017

  3. skypeace

    skypeace Sky Pilot Strat-Talk Supporter

    Mar 10, 2017
    This is the kind of music theory I appreciate, even beyond the mathematical and scientific, but here is the philosophy of tone, and that I want as a foundation to build my musical expression upon. I have a ball just strumming away aimlessly or maybe not so aimlessly, but I would like to become skillful and a master of the instrument. Thank you again.

  4. QMTstrat

    QMTstrat Strat-O-Master

    You're right... modeling amps and multieffects have come a long way. My Tonelab ST sounds killer through just about anything really.
    skypeace likes this.

  5. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Senior Stratmaster

    May 26, 2006
    Jacksonville, FL
    For those that don't know who Bill Lawrence was.. and it has now been approaching 4 years since he departed...

    there is a anecdote circulating....

    Chet Atkins concluded a performance at Rymans... this was in the 70's. At the time Bill was head of R&D for Gibson.... He and Chet were very good friends...

    Chet walks off stage. He and Bill are standing there chatting... a "youngster" stage hand walks over to pay Chet a compliment (bad timing or bad choice of wording)... he says, "That guitar sounds great.".. it just "hit Chet wrong and he points to it, still on stage on a guitar stand, and retorts, "How's it sound now?"

    True story and Bill would share it to illustrate that the guitar is only a tool... it's "You" that must learn to become the craftsman wielding the tool, and about any "tool" will do, if you're good enough, assuming the guitar is functioning correctly, it's tone, the voice, is only a fashion statement.... and to be sure, some have NO sense of fashion...


  6. skypeace

    skypeace Sky Pilot Strat-Talk Supporter

    Mar 10, 2017
    @Ronkirn I am a bit familiar with Bill Lawrence's work on some of the noiseless pickups. That is a great anecdotal story that drives the point home. Thanks!

    Yesterday I chased down some of his comments in old posts on noiseless pickups. He explained the tech behind them and the pros and cons of their performance.

  7. moullineaux

    moullineaux Senior Stratmaster

    Jul 11, 2009
    Well said and I could not agree with you more.
    skypeace likes this.

  8. heltershelton

    heltershelton ASKED TO LEAVE THE STAGE Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jun 5, 2013
    Not Florida
    I dont know why really, it just does. Just think about the sound a beginning violinist produces compared the sound a violin master produces. Night and day.
    mad axe man, skypeace and Chont like this.

  9. Bluestrat83

    Bluestrat83 Strat-O-Master

    Jan 17, 2016
    Hey man, just do the research and get the pickups you want. You can't argue with anything being said here but I have swapped pickups in almost all my guitars and I usually go for Lollar. I'm not suggesting that brand because I know you might be going for something different.
    Aftermarket pickups won't change the instrument voice and won't replace hours of practice but will give you a different color, different response with the amp and make your overall playing experience more satisfactory. To me that's worth the money. Just my 2 cents.

  10. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

    Feb 28, 2014
    in between
    Violins are similar to guitars in that a lot of the effect is in what the violinist does with their hands. Contrast that with an instrument you hit with a mallet, or that has keys or buttons you press. Harmonicas are another one, good tone seems to be skill dependent.
    heltershelton and skypeace like this.

  11. TheToneBoyar

    TheToneBoyar Strat-Talk Member

    Oct 11, 2017
    Different pick ups of the same type don't alter your sound as much as you might think they do. I've owned enough Strats, I think, to know that. The primary objective should be to have a set that is perfectly balanced in terms of EQ and output across the various positions of the selector switch. The pickups are more of a paintbrush than a color in and of itself, if that makes sense. You can only change so much about your sound with the guitar/pickups and you'll get a lot farther by switching up the rest of your gear.

    Find an amp and pedal setup that gives you a tone that truly inspires you. For me, the Kemper Profiler works perfect for this because it gives me endless possibilities. The only limit with the Kemper is how much time you want to spend going through different profiles and making your own. But YMMV, some people will not even consider modeling gear.

    The single biggest factor in your sound is your amp in combination with your cabinet, followed by pedals, followed by the guitar/pickups you're using. Guitars are more for fine-tuning the sound and getting the "feel" that you want... The majority of tone sculpting happens after the signal leaves your input jack.

    Ultimately, none of us can tell you what gear will please you. The only way you can really figure that out is to spend time trying out as many different things as you possibly can. You can, perhaps, take shortcuts by taking tricks out of the playbooks of guitar legends whose sound you like. But it is all up to you! One thing's for certain, to get where you want to be you've got to get to training those ears, and that's a journey that will never be over. Go to a music store and play a lot of different guitars with the same amps (or the same guitars with different amps) and get a feel for what goes well with what.

    At some point you'll start to get the bigger picture, and you'll know what style of amp sounds nice to you with what guitar/pickups. That's a great place to start getting more into the particulars of things like pedals and modifications to individual pieces of gear. Something that comes to mind is Eric Johnson's tendency to mismatch impedance from his Plexi head to its Cabinet. One's 8 ohms and the other is 4 if memory serves, and this is a big part of his distinct lead sound. Experiment in such a way that you figure out cool tricks like that naturally. And that there wall of text is the best advice I can give anybody as far as finding their ideal tone.

  12. gonzo

    gonzo Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 4, 2009
    "Best Tone at a Reasonable Price with Today's Technology..."

    without a doubt, any of the Wilde Pickups.
    Dick Blackmore likes this.

  13. Dick Blackmore

    Dick Blackmore Strat-O-Master

    Jan 10, 2017
    San Diego

  14. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Senior Stratmaster

    May 26, 2006
    Jacksonville, FL
    here's how I "feel" about noiseless pickups.... with the exception of Bill Lawrence's .. he does it right...

    Most Noiseless pups are analogous to a "street tuned" performance motor car.. still quite capable of being a beautiful looking and a well performing "ride".. but... the same car.. in full blown competition tune, is another "animal" all together...

    The street tuned "ride" is setup to soften the "rough edges" one finds in a race prepped car... but while the race prepped car can "blow the doors" off the street tuned version of the same thing... ya have to pay constant attention...

    Similarly with noiseless pups ya just don't get the "edge" ya find in the raw unadulterated sound from single coils... hard, clean, and fast.... and the grumble of a naturally aspirated 16 cylinder Ferrari engine screaming :p .... sigh...

    But.. as is always true.. If you can play well it doesn't matter... no one's gonna complain... on the other hand, if you cannot play, no one's gonna care, all they want you to do is stop making noise...

    Last edited: Oct 12, 2017
    banjaxed likes this.

  15. gonzo

    gonzo Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 4, 2009
    Wilde microcoils,
    will cure your ills.

  16. David Garner

    David Garner Senior Stratmaster

    Yes. Phrasing =/= tone. But I prefer the "tone" (i.e., sound) of a player with great phrasing over a player who ham fists his way through a piece.

    As a master ham fister, I can confirm that gear changes make me feel better, but ultimately improving as a player does more for my tone than gear does. I get gear these days to get something particular I'm after. I want a particular type of Strat tone, or I want my Les Paul to get this sound. I don't expect to install a set of pickups or buy a new pedal and totally transform my sound.

  17. David Garner

    David Garner Senior Stratmaster

    Also, I would suggest there is no "best" tone, whether we're talking modern equipment or vintage. I prefer vintage, but that's because the tones I prefer were made with vintage equipment. I also prefer simpler setups.

    But the Edge has great tone, and he takes a completely different approach than I do. That's one of the great things about guitar playing -- you decide what is "best."
    thomaswayne likes this.

  18. Zexcoil

    Zexcoil Strat-Talker Vendor Member

    Aug 3, 2011
    Tone is in the hands, tone is subjective, there is no good and bad tone in absolute terms, only different, blah, blah. All true on the face of it.

    Getting a great Strat tone with a hum canceling design is one of the last nuts that have not been fully cracked.

    It's a hard thing to do, because hum canceling inherently makes a pickup less efficient. I've approached the design from an entirely different angle with a one coil per string layout, hum canceling in two pairs of three with a unique (and patented) design that gets around drop-out issues while still fitting in a standard single coil slot.

    To enable this design, I've also had to divert from the standard AlNiCo magnets and develop a whole new family of pole piece materials and a quantitative model rooted in basic physics and electrical engineering to guide my tuning.

    The result of this is that my new vintage output Z-Core pickups are more efficient than any other noiseless pickup and even conventional pickups by some measures, and I can give them to you for about the same price as a set of Areas. I think that's a bargain, but you can be the judge yourself.

    Sometimes to take that step, you have to go out of the box.

    Personally, I think that great gear and talent are additive. Tone may be in the hands, but great gear in the hands of a great player is just that much better. It inspires and extends. The "shut up and play yer guitar" argument only goes so far. But yeah, get some good gear and then shut up and play yer guitar.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2017