1. Welcome to TalkBass, the Premier Bass Player Community and Information Source. We've been uniting the Low End Since 1998!

    We're glad you've found us. Register a 100% Free Account to post and unlock tons of features.

What is the point of pickup covers?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Misterwogan, Dec 1, 2012.


  1. Misterwogan

    Misterwogan

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2012
    Location:
    London, United Kingdom
    Simple question really.

    is it, to look cool or to provide a thumb rest? And why would you want to shield the pickup area, why would you not want to be able to pluck the strings there?
     
  2. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2008
    Location:
    Colorado
    The first pickup for electric guitar was the horseshoe pickup. The covers or shoes were actually magnitized steel.

    From Wikipedia

    ----------------------------------------------------

    In the mid 1920s George Beauchamp, a Los Angeles, California guitarist, began experimentation with electric amplification of the guitar. Originally using a phonograph pickup assembly, Beauchamp began testing many different combinations of coils and magnets hoping to create the first electromagnetic guitar pickup. He wound his earliest coils using a motor out of a washing machine, later on switching to a sewing machine motor, and eventually using single coiled magnets.

    Beauchamp was backed in his efforts by Adolph Rickenbacker, an engineer and wealthy owner of a successful tool and die business. Beauchamp eventually produced the first successful single coil pickup. The pickup consisted of two massive "U" shaped magnets and one coil and was known as the "horseshoe pickup". The two horseshoe-shaped magnets surrounded the strings that passed over a single core plate (or blade) in the center of the coil.

    Beauchamp outfitted the pickup in a custom built lap slide guitar. The production model based on this prototype became the Hawaiian Electro lap steel guitar, nicknamed the "Frying Pan" for its round, flat body.

    In 1931 Beauchamp founded the Ro-Pat-In Company with Rickenbacker and his associates. Ro-Pat-In eventually became The Electro String Instrument Corporation and subsequently the Rickenbacker International Corporation. The company introduced its first "Electro-String Instruments" to the public in 1932.

    [​IMG]
     
  3. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2008
    Location:
    Colorado
    pickup covers are a throwback to the old horseshoe pickup.

    Modern pickup and modern bass design does not include pickup covers.
     
  4. Misterwogan

    Misterwogan

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2012
    Location:
    London, United Kingdom
    I'm not talking about the covers that may be attached to a pickup, but the covers that are attached to the bass and cover the strings in the area of the pickup.
     
  5. Register to disable this ad
  6. mambo4

    mambo4

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2006
    Location:
    Seattle
    I could be wrong, but I always thought that back in the day, they were to reduce RF noise in old single coil pickups. today it's only cosmetic vintage vibeyness.
     
  7. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2008
    Location:
    Colorado
    The horseshoe pickup was the origin of the pickup cover. The current covers on the Rickenbacker 4003 bass is a throw back to that.

    Supposedly the Fender covers were there to shield the pickups. But again without the horseshoe pickup coming first would Fender have used a pickup cover?
     
  8. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 29, 2008
    Location:
    Colorado
    The pickup cover today is an anachronism.

    Basically their main function is to give a bass a retro look, and restrict access to your strings.

    Some pick players like Squire and Lemmy use the cover as a hand rest to anchor their hand while pick playing.
     
  9. line6man

    line6man

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2008
    Location:
    Close to Los Angeles, CA
    The pickup covers were to protect delicate single coil P pickups. No shielding benefits or anything silly like that. An incomplete Faraday cage is useless.

    The bridge covers on Jazzes hide the foam mutes.
     
  10. Misterwogan

    Misterwogan

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2012
    Location:
    London, United Kingdom
    As I suspected, many thanks.
     
  11. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2008
    Location:
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Disclosures:
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    One reason is that Leo Fender intended the Precision Bass to be used by guitarists doubling on bass (this is why it has frets), much as it was done with the 6 string Tic-Tack basses. So you would rest your palm on the pickup cover so you could play with a pick. You can see old photos of Joe Osborn (who was a guitarist) playing like that on his Jazz. He left the neck pickup cover on and removed the bridge cover.

    Gibson used covers in a very similar manner.

    When players started playing them with their fingers, they usually removed the covers. But then some didn't, like James Jamerson. You also have to realize that the electric bass was intended to sound like an upright. So people plucked closer to the neck, used flats, and had the string mute at the bridge.

    The bridges were also covered, I think mostly because they didn't look so great! Even on guitars. The Strat and Tele and even Vox guitars had covers over the bridges. Most people removed them so they could palm mute.

    Another reason for the covers over the pickup might be shielding, as you see them covering the Jazz bridge pickup too, but I don't think the covers were grounded.

    It might also be that they looked cool. :D
     
  12. megafiddle

    megafiddle

    Joined:
    May 25, 2011
    If the covers were steel, they would provide magnetic shielding. I believe they
    were steel, but I don't have one here to test.

    Copper foil is ineffecive against the 60 Hz magnetic fields from transformers.
    Iron or steel works, which is one of the reasons that transformers are covered
    with steel bells or cans.
     
  13. Batmensch

    Batmensch

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2010
    Location:
    Chester, Pa.,USA
    Nonetheless, the original Fender covers were meant to be at least partial shielding, on some '51 P-bsses you can still see ground wires that used to attach to the mounting holes for the pickup cover. They ended up discarding that practice when it turned out it didn't work as well as they thought it would.
     
  14. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2008
    Location:
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Disclosures:
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Well that makes sense then. I wasn't sure if they were even grounded.
     
  15. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2008
    Location:
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Disclosures:
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    I do think they were steel. Copper works for electrical field noise. Grounded steel would work for both electrical and magnetic field noise.

    Note that under the pickups the shields were brass, so I'm not sure the covers over the pickups were steel on purpose. That's just also what they made their bridge plates from.
     
  16. Batmensch

    Batmensch

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2010
    Location:
    Chester, Pa.,USA
    That, and Leo thought people would play it using their thumb, resting their palm on the cover and holding onto the tug bar (hence its placement below the G string on the earliest basses) with their fingers.
     
  17. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2008
    Location:
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Disclosures:
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    The finger rest is also convenient when playing with a pick. I've never seen too many people playing with their thumbs.
    Certainly upright players coming to the electric would not play that way, since they don't play that way on upright.

    I guess in any regard it was deemed useless there and moved to the top where it made more sense. I don't know how many people used it there either.
     
  18. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2008
    Location:
    Huntington WV
    You can see how Marcus Miller uses the pickup cover in this clip.
     
  19. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2011
    Location:
    Fillmore, CA
    Disclosures:
    Professional Luthier
    I think that David hit on the main reason for those pickup and bridge covers: Covering up ugly parts. It was less expensive to slap on a chromed cover, than it was to dress up the appearance of the pickups and bridges of that era.

    It had to do with the available technology of the times. Back in the 1950's and 1960's most of the hardware on musical instruments was made from sheet metal stock, by stamping or forming. The classic example is the Fender bridges, which are made from sheet stock, bent and drilled. The tooling to make the parts that way was fairly inexpensive and within the cost range of musical instrument companies. Remember, too, that the total production numbers (instruments per year) back then was a small fraction of what it is worldwide today.

    Die casting of the metal parts was usually too expensive for them in those days, because of the high initial tooling costs. Not much die cast hardware was used on '60's instruments. Gibson used a few simple parts; Fender didn't use any. Some of the earliest were Rickenbacker's cool bridge & tailpiece. That showed the way in how cast parts could be used to make sweeping 3-D shaped parts. Stylish hardware sells instruments, as it still does today. Another pioneer in die cast hardware was the original BadAss bridge. Regardless of its function, it just looked more solid and substantial than the sheet metal Fender bridge.

    From the '70's through the '90's, instrument companies started using much more die cast hardware, from tuners to bridges to neck plates. It allowed them to become much more creative with the design and shape. These days, many parts are CNC milled from solid bar stock, which is often cheaper than die casting. And CNC milling offers even more design possibilities. Technology marches on.

    A similar thing was going on with the pickups. Back in the '50's and '60's plastic injection molding was new technology and too expensive for guitars. A few companies used hand cast resin bobbins, but it was slow and labor intensive. Fender went with the stamped Forbon flanges to be cheap and fast. The basic pickups were pretty ugly and somewhat fragile. Fender may have been the first to introduce the injection molded plastic pickup covers (when was that?), which was a real breakthrough in beautifying pickups, inexpensively. Most mass-produced pickups today still use injection molded plastic covers.

    Anyway, my point is that the main purpose for those chromed bridge and pickup covers was looks. As the technology improved and allowed for better looking parts, they weren't needed any more.
     
  20. bassbenj

    bassbenj

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2009
    Yep. But covers are still cool for looks. That's why I've got ashtrays on some of my Jazz basses. I don't do pickups covers though because they seem to get in my way, even though I do love the look of them also.
     
  21. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2011
    Location:
    Fillmore, CA
    Disclosures:
    Professional Luthier
    I agree completely. I make and use classic-style chromed bridge covers on some of my model basses, purely for the classic vibe. One thing I do, though, is to make them real low profile for comfort. I keep them about 1/4" higher than the strings.
     

Share This Page