Getting the best amplified sound from your guitar can be tricky sometimes especially if you are unaware of some of the finer things happening under the surface regarding the magnetic field of your pickup and how it relates to the strings of your guitar.
Hand Made Floating Pickups & Placement
All of the pickups that I use for my archtop guitars are custom made for each of my guitars. They are hand wound to achieve different effects and to match each instruments’ voice. Typically I make a handmade ebony case for my pickups to be fit into. I use a special technique for building cases too in which I bend and laminate at least two layers of ebony around the sides to give it incredible strength, whereas most wood pickup cases are routed from a single block leaving fragile and less beautiful end grain on the thin side walls. I will describe this in more detail in an upcoming article.
I noticed several years ago as I was looking at the bottom of a custom made pick-up that the pickup itself was positioned in the wooden case slightly to one side more than the other. It got me thinking about how this affects the magnetic field and it’s position relative to the strings of the guitar. Since I couldn’t see the magnetic field and I didn’t want to make a mess with metal shavings to visualize its shape and position, I came up with the system that I still use today which is demonstrated in the video and that I will outline below
Magnetic Mapping – How it is done:
- Before the pickup is installed on the guitar, I place a piece of tape over the face of the pickup to protect it and to give me a surface to write on.
- Next I use some alligator clips to connect the leads of the pickup directly to a patch cord that is plugged into my amp.
- With the amp turned on, I lightly tap the pickup with something metal (like a screwdriver or ruler) and listen to the response. I move slowly, tapping as I go, starting from the center and moving toward each end of the pickup. When I hear the strength and quality of the tone drop off, I make a mark on the tape at that point.
- Now I know where the ends of the magnetic field are. Sometimes the field will pick-up the string outside of this area, but there is a noticeable loss of fullness and quality in the tone even as I listen to it by tapping with my screwdriver or steel ruler so I want to be sure that my strings are inside of my marks to ensure the best possible tone and evenness from string to string.
- When I’m fitting my floating pickup onto the guitar I make sure that the marks on my tape are positioned outside of the two E strings regardless of how the actual case is lined up in relation to the end of the fingerboard.
Tone Always Comes First
I am a firm believer that the tone always comes first, if my pickup has to be off center by 1/16″ that’s OK, but I must without compromise ensure that my high E string and low E strings are strong and balanced when amplified above all else.
With this simple exercise, I can know for sure that every guitar I make will have the magnetic field perfectly positioned for optimum tone and evenness on every string. And this concept can come in handy also when troubleshooting a guitar that comes in for a repair that just doesn’t sound right. If the guitar has a strong high E acoustically, but sounds week through the amp, this might be the solution and it’s easy to test too.