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pickup height vs tone?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by sonicnuance, Jan 9, 2012.

  1. sonicnuance

    sonicnuance Commercial User

    Aug 30, 2003
    California, USA
    Engineer & Owner, Sonic Nuance Electronics
    Ignoring the effect of volume when increasing the pickup height, can someone describe what should happen to the tone?

    I have tried it many times but can't seem to come to a conclusion. It seems that the closer the pickups are to the strings, the more body there is to the tone. The further away the pickups are from the strings, the more clarity there is to the tone.

    Any thoughts?

  2. That's typical. Lowering the pickups will reduce the output and give you a more open sound raising them gives more volume and fullness. I have mine set fairly high on my Jazz Bass. I'd suggest you try them at different levels to find your "sweet spot".
  3. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    When someone gets a really good technical explanation of this in hard terms, I want to read it.

    I've been confused about the exact field dynamics for decades.
  4. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    I won't try to explain it, I just set 'em where I like 'em.
  5. Jefenator

    Jefenator Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2008
    I like how some makers actually provide a suggestion with their product. (In the case of Aeros with Alnico 5 magnets, 5/32" with the string depressed at the 12th fret.)

    One is of course free to try other things, but it's nice to have an educated starting point!
  6. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    Yes thats the most common when just adjusting whole pickup height. When you have individually adjustable pole peices. Like most dimarzio's etc have and a lot of guitar humbucker pups have. You'll ussually get a little more bite and less muddyness by raising the pole peices above the top of pup housing. And when you lower the pole peices flush with or just below pup housing top, you ussually get a little bit less treble top and if the pups are prone to muddyness, more of that. Got muddy sounding pups? Try raising the pole peices a bit.

    My observation of most soapbar, P and J pups with no exposed pole peices and of course non adjustable pole peices. Flat top pups, Is that their tonal balance ussually is about that of pole peices just barely above pup houseing. With dimarzio P's for example. Raising desired pole peices a little more then that. A good full turn higher. results in more treble top and grind. I do not know why raising the pole peices or lowering them has this sound effect. I just know it does from decades of experience. Probably something to do with where pole peice magnet is relative to the coil wiring around them?

    After I adjust each pup for best sound solo. I use that as start point. I'll either lower one a little or raise the other a little for better tone balance when using both pups. Since thats 99 percent of the time. Its either both pups full on or shifted some toward either neck or bridge. With individual pole peices adjustments you can tweak the tone balance a bit for each pup independent of the other. With non adjustable pole peice pups your limited to adjusting tone balance via the pups relative to each other.

    Need a little bit tighter B string sound? Raise just that side of bridge pup a little, or lower just that side of neck pup a little. If you want a little more of the trad position P pup string to string tone balance. Then either raise the bridge pup on treble side or lower that side of neck pup a little. If you want a little more of the reversed from traditional P pup placement. Then you want the D&G strings a little darker sounding while the E&A strings are a little bit brighter relative to the D&G strings.

    Ok so your lucky dog and got individually adjustable pole peices and they sound better with pole peices raised above pup housing. Yes you geaussed it, your going to lower the overall pup height a little to equal fullest sound of the pups that you had when pole peices where flush with the top of pup housing.

    This all done and ready fior any string to string volume balanceing. To slightly lower for example D string volume, lower the pole peices for that string on both pups half turn to one turn and the same amount for each pup.

    For passive bass. I go with tone pot dialed down just a little. Say maybe as far down as 8, with 10 being full on for numbered speed knob. This helps make passive tone control a little more useful. As you can raise it to full as strings loose their brand new sound a little. And you now also have a little bit of treble boost as well as the regular cut function of passive tone knob. It also gives a little more useful tone pot in the treble cut sense to. As your able to lower it a little more then you could before and still be musically satisfied. For active basses I set the tone pots flat while adjsuting the pups.
  7. Is impossible to have a general rule about pup height affecting tone...
    It will vary according with the pup magnet´s strengh and the amount of signal the pups create...
    I personally adjust the height just for avoiding undesirable effects like clipped signal, sustain killing by the magnets placed too close, unbalanced strings output.
    If al of that is ok, theres no reason to go lower...
  8. I'm also not sure what really happens there.I play J type basses and it seems that when the pickups are too close the sound gets kind of one dimensional, big and fat but not that interesting. Maybe some of the harmonic overtones get lost, I don't know.
    I've been wondering if by lowering the pickups a little, the pattern of how much of the string the pickup actually reads increases. Sort of like the beam of a flashlight gets wider as you move the light back from the object you are illuminating.
    Does that make any sense?
    Too far back on the pickup and you loose punch. I experiment a lot with pickup height but I usually end up at about 3/32" on the neck and 4/32" on the bridge with the E string depressed at the last fret and a little closer than that on the G string. That seems to be the sweet spot for my personal taste.
  9. sratas


    Dec 15, 2007
    Parma, Italy
    in my opinion it's all a matter of sweet spot between 3 things: maximum possible output, no undesirable "proximity effect" (lack of sustain caused by string magnet pulling, intonation problems), tone. Not in any order of importance.
    sweet spot= optimal subjective balance of the 3 things.
    IMO, IME of course
    try and find

  10. milo


    Jul 22, 2004
    How high would you set active EMG DC pups?
  11. Mook


    Jun 19, 2002
    Overall, I say it's best to adjust them on the "low side", especially when you have exposed pole pieces.....

    First, I think lower pickups sound "sweeter", but moreover.....

    Sometimes, during a gig, I get over-zealous and with finger-style, I tend to go pretty hard with my right hand.....and, sometimes the actual string comes in contact with the exposed pole piece and the bass cuts off for a split-second.

    This doesn't happen with covered pickups, which I tend to favor on bass for this very reason.....


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