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Why do vintage Pickups need to be set low?

Discussion in 'Pickup Forum' started by spyglass, Oct 28, 2013.

  1. spyglass

    spyglass Strat-O-Master

    Feb 6, 2011
    I've noticed some people mention that they like to set their vintage type of pickup almost flush with the pickguard and was wondering why?? It almost seems that the higher output pups should be lower and the weaker should be closer to strings.
    abnormaltoy likes this.
  2. mw13068

    mw13068 Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jul 29, 2009
    Ithaca, NY
    It's not a matter of how hot the pickups are (which translates to the amount of wire) -- it's a matter of the strength of the magnetic force that the magnets exert on the strings.

    For example, I had a 2008 American Standard with low/medium output pickups made with Alnico V magnets. Alnico V has a very strong magnetic pull, so I always kept them low, so that they had a great sound, but didn't kill the strings vibration with overly strong magnetic string pull.

    The weaker the magnet, the closer you can (and should) put the pickup to the strings.
  3. Alan0354

    Alan0354 Most Honored Senior Member

    Feb 2, 2011
    It is the strength of the magnet that interfere with the string if it's too close. Also is the vintage stagger that make the D and G pole way too high. If you raise the pup with vintage stagger a little, the D and G get very close to the strings and cause problem. You have to lower the pup way low because of the vintage stagger. If you push the D and G pole down to follow the curve of the neck, you can raise the pup a little more without problem.

    Yes, too low make the pup sound sterile. You will see improvement after pushing the D and G down and raise the pup a little. BUT the problem is you might ruin the pup pushing the pole if the pup use fiber fretwork. It is relatively safe to push the D and G, but you still taking a chance. You have to ask whether you are willing to take this chance and get the reward. For the Am Std pup with plastic bobbin, it is absolutely safe to push the poles.
  4. spyglass

    spyglass Strat-O-Master

    Feb 6, 2011
    Thanks Guys,Crazy how this didn't cross my mind with the higher poles,I thought it was a more of a tonal thing.Part of me wants to push the poles down but I don't think I can get up the nerve to do it,In my case though the raised poles are worthless especially with the clunk I get from the loud unwound G string.I think the Dean Markley Hendrix strings have certain gauges to help with this issue and its something Roger Mayer came up and suggested to jimi ,But not certain.
  5. Alan0354

    Alan0354 Most Honored Senior Member

    Feb 2, 2011
    People have had good luck pushing only the D and G. People did break the pup pushing the two E as the wires are wound on the two E poles only, not on the D and G.
  6. ripgtr

    ripgtr Most Honored Senior Member

    Feb 16, 2012
    I have played lots of vintage type and vintage pups. I have no reason to set them low. 40 years on a 60 strat, set by ear, I measured them recently and they are almost exactly what Fender recommends.
    Stratocaster® Setup Guide | Fender Support | Fender®

    I have tried them all sorts of heights, right down to the pickguard, but they always come back up.

    I like some umph out of my pickups. Setting them low does mellow them out a bit, but mellow is not my style, at least on a strat.

    Try it, it is a simple thing to change. If you like them low, cool. Not everyone does.
    Fender Phil likes this.
  7. amstratnut

    amstratnut Peace thru Music. Strat-Talk Supporter

    Dec 1, 2009
    My house.
    Ive tried down low too. I always end up raising to about eigth inch away from string depressed at last fret. Give or take.
  8. spyglass

    spyglass Strat-O-Master

    Feb 6, 2011
    Thanks guys, Good to hear, I don't like them low,And probably will set to fender specs.
  9. stratman323

    stratman323 Dr. Stratster Strat-Talk Supporter

    Apr 21, 2010
    London, UK
    I really wouldn't risk messing with the poles. Move them & you could switch the pickup into non-operative mode very easily. It's just not worth the risk for any slight perceived improvement. If you don't like the staggered poles, buy some flat pole pickups instead.

    As for pickup height, the correct height is the height that sounds best to you. It really is as simple as that.
    rafasounds likes this.
  10. ripgtr

    ripgtr Most Honored Senior Member

    Feb 16, 2012
    I have never really had an issue with the vintage stagger, and my strat has had 9-11s on it. But yea, if you hear an issue, flats may be better. I would NEVER push the magnets on a vintage style pup with the wire wrapped right around the magnets. You may get lucky but if not, you have a dead pup. Not worth it to me.

    And yea, pup height is the easiest, reversible mod you could possibly do. There is a reason they have adjustment screws on them. ;)
  11. amstratnut

    amstratnut Peace thru Music. Strat-Talk Supporter

    Dec 1, 2009
    My house.
    Make sure strings follow fret board radius. This will clear up some uneven string response depending how flat radius you have.
  12. 68strat

    68strat Strat-Talk Member

    Jul 16, 2018
    Maple Grove, Minnesota
    Today I picked up the 68 for a change, I generally play one of my gibsons but today just felt inspired to go with the start, The problem I'm having is the higher frets seem to get the strings too close to the pickup so the tone seems to "warble", the issue is the pickup screws are too short to lower them any further than they are, and that leaves then almost touching the strings when played above the 15th fret. I'd like to find some longer screws that match this old guitar...
  13. Rich b in tempe

    Rich b in tempe Strat-Talker

    Jul 3, 2016
    Tempe az
    There this ongoing unanswered question: how CLOSE??!!
    Ive used for years a Conn ST-11 strobe & it a great tool. My take on pickup heighth is this: look at the strobe reading & raise each pickup UNTILL the strobe reading starts to “quiver”& become unreliable for an accurate reading- this means THE MAGNETS ARE STARTING TO NEGATIVELY INFLUINCE & INHIBIT THE ACTUAL STRINGS VIBRATION WHEN THE STRING IS DEPRESSED (fretted) AT THE LAST FRET!!
    Then you’ll have your pickups as close as to can get them & still have a clear tone!! Try it for each pickup position! Then, if you like, lower them just a bit more!!
    JustABluesGuy likes this.
  14. LtKojak

    LtKojak Strat-Talker

    Jun 29, 2013
    Here you've got the official Fender p'up recommended height starting points.

    Set too high, pickups can cause myriad inexplicable phenomena. Depress all the strings at the last fret. Using a 6" (150 mm) ruler, measure the distance from the bottom of the first and sixth strings to the top of the pole piece. A good rule of thumb is that the distance should be greatest at the sixth-string neck pickup position, and closest at the first-string bridge pickup position. Follow the measurement guidelines in the chart below as starting points. The distance will vary according to the amount of magnetic pull from the pickup.
    Bass Side Treble Side
    Texas Specials 8/64" (3.2 mm) 6/64" (2.4 mm)
    Vintage style 6/64" (2.4 mm) 5/64" (2 mm)
    Noiseless™ Series 8/64" (3.2 mm) 6/64" (2.4 mm)
    Standard Single-Coil 5/64" (2 mm) 4/64" (1.6 mm)

    EDIT: the forum software doesn't allow to properly format a table. Sorry about that.

    Enjoy! ;)
  15. Antigua

    Antigua Senior Stratmaster

    Feb 28, 2014
    in between
    I don't really understand why guitarists so often ask about pickup height. It's not as though the guitar doesn't work if the pickups are a little too high or a little too low. It's like asking someone else to choose your favorite color for you.
  16. gibsonsmu

    gibsonsmu Senior Stratmaster

    Oct 16, 2015
    Well to be fair I think a lot of people don't know the difference. Most people just play them where they are when they get them and don't think to adjust, they just buy new ones. I completely agree with you I just don't think, oddly, that it's common knowledge
  17. sjtalon

    sjtalon Senior Stratmaster

    Exactly, they think there is some set in stone spec they have to be at, like setting the gap on a set of points.

    Folks might just be missing something if they don't play around with heights. A screwdriver and YOUR ears can be time well spent.
  18. Jimi Lightning

    Jimi Lightning Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 21, 2016
    Ontario, Canada
    Interesting as I am not an expert but I have to disagree alittle.. :thumbd: I recently started recording in a DAW and through the headphones realized that high E & B string were way buried in the mix. A pickup height adjustment corrected that.
    So in reality it didnt work or Ill concede it did work....but very poorly.

    The sad part is that it was "Set up" by a shop, so now I am checking all my guitars.
  19. Thrup'ny Bit

    Thrup'ny Bit Grand Master Curmudgeon Strat-Talk Supporter

    May 21, 2010
    Sheffield, UK
    I would never alter the set up of my guitar based on what I hear through my headphones when I'm recording, thereby lies the certain road to ruin...

    A guitar set up by somebody else is set up to suit them, how ever hard they try or close they get, it always needs tweaking.
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2018
  20. Jimi Lightning

    Jimi Lightning Senior Stratmaster

    Dec 21, 2016
    Ontario, Canada
    Why not? It pointed out a fault that I had not heard as with the amp Im mostly chugging in the low strings and the headphones confirmed the lack of tonal volume. I was doing some high string finger picking which is why I finally noticed it. i also tweaked it as you mentioned above. The guitar sounds much better now.

    I do agree that it being set up by someone else is logically their ear...but.. There has to be a baseline for height and sound and this particular axe fell short.