Rail or polepieces?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by henryson, Apr 7, 2012.

  1. Pros/cons of pickups with rail (blade) on the one hand, and polepieces on the other?

    Other than looks/trends, which is a non-issue to me.
  2. drumnbassman


    Mar 19, 2010
    ive always found i get more clarity and top end from pole pieces and a growly bump from a bar style.

    but this could have a lot to do with the kind of magnet used.

    each has its place. slap style seems to really cut with a pole piece pick up and ive always loved the growly fingerstyle of the bar magnet.
  3. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties

    Apr 1, 2004
    New York, NY
    Rails give you one continuous magnetic field in which to play, from one end of the pickup to the other. Very useful in case you're the type of player who engages in extreme string stretching: there's no roll-off of signal, in case you happen to stretch the string entirely out of the magnetic field of the pole piece... :meh:

  4. lug

    lug Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2005
    League City, Tx
    Look at it in terms of Dance. The only time you see a rail used in dance is in a Ballet studeo where the use the rail in training. So if you want a refined, practiced, more elegant sound, use rails. Now Pole dancing on the other hand is a bit more aggressive and edgy. If you are looking for a raw, aggressive sound....poles.

    Glad I could help.
    Nev375 likes this.
  5. PDGood


    Sep 19, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Rails are helpful if you're swapping out pickups and not sure if the string spacing will work.
  6. wooodhead


    Jul 16, 2011
    Hungary EU
    The distance between strings is more useful because of the blade, the tone of the sound is not just depend on this.
    Rather, the magnet and the inner race of their design.
  7. onda'bass

    onda'bass Supporting Member

    Sep 5, 2010
    Buffalo Ny
    pole pieces generally have more pull on the strings vs blade so the pickups can't be set as close. This makes a bigger deal to me.... ymmv
  8. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products

    Here's the thing; there is a lot of misconceptions about rails vs. poles.

    Poles are not more aggressive and do not have cleaner highs, unless that's the way the pickup is designed.

    So most of the time pickups with poles are using magnets for the pole pieces. They have a lot of string pull. An average Jazz pickup reads 700-900 Gauss at poles. This is one of the reasons that Leo did not place the magnet directly under the string on Jazz pickups.

    Most pickups that have blades use steel blades. This raises the inductance of the pickup compared to alnico. Unless you wind the pickup differently, this can make it sound darker. Some pickups with blades, such as the EMG DC use ceramic magnets for blades. Ceramic magnets have the same inductance as air. So you will get a bright cutting tone.

    Blades also generally exert less pull on the strings because the field is more evenly distributed. I use very strong neodymium magnets in my blade pickups. The magnets will read about 1500 Gauss, but at the blades only about 400.

    You can get a great airy top end and a ton of aggressive bite with blades. The other benefit of blades is no dependance on a fixed string spacing, and if you bend a string you are not bending it away from a pole piece.
  9. David/SGD Lutherie, thank you for clearing up!
    So it seems that you recommend blade pickups for my custom bass?
  10. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    I prefer blades, and that's what I mostly make. If you read some of the posts here on TB you will often see complaints about string volumes being uneven with poles, or people wanting to cover them with tape or nail enamel because of noise or cutting their fingers on them.

    Exposed poles have a certain classic look, but it's also an old design that doesn't really have any benefits. And back then there were chrome covers over the pickups on Fender basses so you couldn't even see or touch the pickups (unless you removed the covers).
  11. cassius987

    cassius987 Inactive

    Apr 20, 2007
    Denver, CO
    I've got one of David's blade pickups and it is indeed bright and clear-cutting tonally.
  12. takeout

    takeout Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2002
    Kansas City area
    Informative posts, David. Any insights on blade radius vs. fingerboard radius?
  13. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    This last question gets to a point I wanted to make: blades/rails cannot be adjusted for string to string variability (other than by raising/lowering either top or bottom of the whole pickup, thus affecting more than one string). I've grown to appreciate adjustable poles to help get a nicely balanced output from string to string.
  14. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    I don't radius my blades, but the magnetic field is slightly stronger in the middle to compensate for the middle strings being farther away from the front of the pickup. You can do some of that at the bottom of the pickup instead of the top.

    But you can radius the blades. One way I look at it is that if you radius a blade that is being charged by a magnet, the blade has a more uniform distance from the strings, but the top-center of the blade is now farther from the magnet. What is important is the strength of the field, and not so much the distance of the pole from the string, although with magnetic poles that works out as the same thing. I find that because you have a nice uniform field with blades, the radius is not as important. I get a very even response from string to string.

    With adjustable poles, you often have the same situation; adjusting the pole higher brings it closer to the strings, but farther from the magnet, and with some pickups, such as a G&L, you have less pole in the core of the coil as you raise it. But since they also have the steel threaded insert, it probably doesn't matter too much.

    Also, there are not a lot of adjustable pole bass pickups on the market. My multi-coil (Wal clone) pickup will have adjustable poles similar to G&L pickups. I'm not sure if it's needed, but the original has adjustable poles, so I followed suit.
  15. takeout

    takeout Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2002
    Kansas City area
    Angled/shimmed magnets?
  16. I'm planning to have a flat fingerboard (no radius) on my future bass. With a blade pickup, do you think that the middle strings will be louder than the outer strings then?
  17. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    No. I use very flat fingerboards (20" radius), and the levels are even across the strings.

    Part of the thing is with round poles you have an uneven field over the pickup with humps. So even if you adjust a pole up, you have a dip in the field between them.

    With blades you have a nice even field that's more sensitive all the way across.
  18. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    That must be why Nordstrand uses "twisted" poles.
  19. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    I believe they said that was to widen the aperture. It's like using a larger diameter magnet, or a thicker blade.
  20. sprocket123

    sprocket123 Guest

    Feb 15, 2012
    That s true , much more easier , when ordering custom pickups .