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What makes a pickup "growly"?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by sleevey, Jan 15, 2011.

  1. sleevey


    Dec 23, 2007
    Billings Montana
    Was just wondering what truly makes a pickups sound different than any others? They are all magnets/ceramic and i believe they all use copper wire, so why is it they can have so many out there that sound so different? I guess I need a little "pickups 101".
  2. 'Growly' is mostly from phasing I do believe. Well, that and lots of MIDs.

    P'ups voice however is a different tale.

    There's number of turns (windings) gauge of wire, direction of the windings, the type/size of capacitor in the signal lineup, position of the p'ups with relation to the fundamental of the strings's vibrations and how much of a sound-sucker the bridge and 'tone wood' does to dampen the signal to the p'ups.

    I don't fall for the wood-theory, but I know that if the strings are too far away from or close to the magnetic poles, that too can make a substantial difference.
  3. pickups aren't growly...basses are...
    it's a contributory thing: bass, strings, pickup, pickup placement, amplifier...
    growl has to do a lot with the upper midrange structure of the tone and everything I mentioned above plays into that.

    and, dude, looking at your equipment list in your signature...if you can't get growl, NOBODY can :)
  4. Not totally so, guy

    You said:
    First - 'basses' are NOT growly. They are passive creatures and I've never heard wood growl.

    'Contributory' things don't produce growl - distortion, perhaps, but the growl comes from the p'up-source(s).

    Let The WIKI enlighten us all:

    There's that 'phasing' thing about which I spoke.

    Amplifiers can only 'amplify' (hence their logical name) electrical impulses that arrive at their front door (the 'pre-amp') and then process the sound and pass it out to the audible device (speaker(s)/driver(s)).

    What amplifiers CAN do is distort, but then again, that ain't growl.
  5. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Everyone has a different definition for "growl". I think it's from a combination of mids and low end. Sometimes a little overdrive helps.

    Pickups sound different because of the shapes of the coils, if they are single or dual coil, how much, and what gauge wire and the types of magnets. There are different grades of alnico, ceramic and sometimes rare earth magnets like neodymium and samarium cobalt. There are a lot of variables to change the tone of pickups.
  6. Growl mainly is a form of timbre, which in a bass guitar doesnt have much to do with the pickups.

    Electric Bass guitars are in fact acoustic machines in the sense that the pickups only really act as microphones to the actual sound of the guitar itself.

    You can put any nordys or barts on a piece of card board, but dont expect to hear anything good!
  7. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Humans have to use words to describe things like timbre. We also say basses "bark" and "burp", as well as saying they sound "organic", "warm", "buttery" and "thick", but none of those terms are literal.

    Miller's bass does not growl. Slap basses do not growl. That's the wrong word. Jaco's bass growls. Don't pay too much attention to Wikipedia, because anyone can write whatever they want.

    The out-of-phase stuff causes cancelations. I think the bridge pickup is growlier, since it has more harmonic content.
  8. darkstorm


    Oct 13, 2009
    Its part the pups voicing, it has to be a crunchy rather then smooth voiced pup and has to have the right little accents in the mids apart from the crunch factor though that adds to it. Woods like basswood, agathis, and bubinga also help accent growl imo. As do dark toned woods like mahogany. Dont want no high pitched scrieky growl, just nice deep throaty robust dark growl. Lol. Lastly it requires roundwound strings imo unless you want dull growl rather then robust rounded one. Lol.
  9. I don't follow THAT part at all: And back to The WIKI we go:::

    Not even so, unless it's by accident. Pickups are purely electro-mechanical and are only excited by the string passing through the field of the magnet(s). If YOUR p'ups are acting acoustically, then they have become microphonic and that's not their original setting.

    That's just plain voodoo. It matters not what the p'ups are mounted upon as long as the string(s) move (vibrate) and travel through the magnetic field of the poles and induce electron flow to (finally) the amp and out to the drivers to the ears of the beholder.

    Cutting those magnetic fields is the only way an electrical signal is generated and I don't care if the p'ups are on concrete, Jello or Bobinga wood from Noah's Ark, as long as they stand still and let the strings do their thing.
  10. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    The EMG guys talk about coil geometry. A narrow, long coil like a J-pickup will have more inductance relative to resistance, and have an accentuated resonance in the spectrum we call growl. Conversely, a P-pickup coil is squat, and has less inductance (per coil, not the entire pickup) relative to resistance, and therefore has less of a resonant peak to the coil, therefore less growl.
  11. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Words like "bassy" or "clangy" are describing timbre.
  12. I prefer to deal with the Wikipedia since there's less histrionics on it and there doesn't seen to have much of an axe to grind in the posted material. If it is wrong, then it will die from being edited, but frankly, it is a neat way to find a less hostile (not in an argumentative sense) set of definitions.

    Humans as a rule don't have a working vocabulary of many things - and musical appreciation is pretty far down their 'best perceived' list of accomplishments - true.

    But anyone who proffers to say that one thing is this and another is something else should be ready for an education into the correct terminology, at least on a cursory basis and not just sling words about.

    We all like to BS from time to time, and I am not an exception to that rule of thumb. I love a good 'This drunk enters a bar...' type story too, so I am not intolerant to jokes, humor and generally a good knee slapper.

    But when we are on sacred ground as here, speaking about sacred cows and counterpoised Voodoo logic, we should speak with a sense of appropriately useful and the more techo-elegant touchstones that a group can find decipherable and useful in a discussion.
  13. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    Pilbara is correct.
  14. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    Maryland, USA
    You can make any pickup growl by boosting 600-800Hz.
  15. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    The shape of the coil matters. Not so much the resistance. The number of turns and wire gauge matters more than resistance.

    Flat squat coils are wider, but also have more wire father away from the core or magnets. Tall thin coils tend to sound brighter and clearer. Wider pickups tend to sound more mellow because of the upper harmonics being canceled out.
  16. Yes..... but what do you think the pickups bridge and strings are attatched to? Wood!!

    And by saying it doesnt matter what material a bass is made of... concrete!?

    Id like you to tell somebody who actually knows something about instruments your ideas.

    Roger Sadowsky should be comming out with a concrete/plastic/drywall/tempered glass design any day now!!!

    You lost all credibility with me pal

    BTW.... ever play a bass with no amp?? Could you still hear it?? Something tells me it wasnt the pickups doing their job....
  17. Ric5

    Ric5 SUSPENDED Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    I define growl as the way the bass outpus mids. Also how the bass breaks up from distortion.

    A pure sine wave is just the fundamental note. It has no growl. But the wood, the pickups, and the amp add noise and overtones. Some of this is growl.

    There is no exact scientific definition of growl. It is subjective.
  18. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    This is also not correct. To give an example, if you put humbuckers in a Strat, it does not sound like a Les Paul, and the same holes true if you put Strat pickups on a Les Paul. Just as putting a P bass pickup on a Rick wont make it sound like a P bass.

    The reason for this is that the pickups only sense what the strings sound like, and the instrument, even if it is a solid body, has an acoustic quality. The scale length and construction affect how the strings sound, and this in turn is picked up by the pickups.

    But they wont sound the same. Both the pickups and the bass affect the tone. That's kind of like saying using the same microphone on two different singers will make them sound the same. Does it? How is a mic different from a pickup? They are really very similar; coils and magnets. But the mic senses the moving diaphragm and the pickup senses the moving strings.
  19. Wood takith away, never adds to the sound. If the material on which the pickups are mounted is actually vibrating enough to re-energize into motion the strings so they can cut the magnetic fields again, then, yes you'd have a point.

    But they don't - it won't - it can't and it never will.

    Wood is dead and the energy that is 'input' through the bridge gateway goes into a sonic black hole.

    If you want to dismiss me - fine.--- but these guys think and are actually published in scientific journals along the same lines as I, and they have build their doctorates and physics degrees on this same subject::

    * Abbado, Adriano (1988). "Perceptual Correspondences: Animation and Sound". MS Thesis. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    * American Standards Association (1960). American Standard Acoustical Terminology. New York: American Standards Association.
    * Dixon Ward, W. (1965). "Psychoacoustics". In Audiometry: Principles and Practices, edited by Aram Glorig, 55. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins Co. Reprinted, Huntington, N.Y.: R. E. Krieger Pub. Co., 1977. ISBN 0882756044
    * Dixon Ward, W. (1970) "Musical Perception". In Foundations of Modern Auditory Theory vol. 1, edited by Jerry V. Tobias,[page needed]. New York: Academic Press. ISBN 0126919011.
    * Erickson, Robert (1975). Sound Structure in Music. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02376-5.
    * Grey, John M. (1977). "Multidimensional Perceptual Scaling of Musical Timbres". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 61(5):1270–77. doi:10.1121/1.381428
    * Lakatos, S. (2000). "A Common Perceptual Space for Harmonic and Percussive Timbres". Perception & Psychophysics 62(7):1426–39. Abstract
    * Luce, David A. (1963). "Physical Correlates of Nonpercussive Musical Instrument Tones", Ph.D. dissertation. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    * McAdams, Stephen, and Albert Bregman (1979). "Hearing Musical Streams". Computer Music Journal 3, no. 4 (December): 26–43.
    * Samson, Jim (1977). Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900-1920. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-02193-9.
    * Schouten, J. F. (1968). "The Perception of Timbre". In Reports of the 6th International Congress on Acoustics, Tokyo, GP-6-2, 6 vols., edited by Y. Kohasi,[Full citation needed]35–44, 90. Tokyo: Maruzen; Amsterdam: Elsevier.
    * Sethares, William (1998). Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale. Berlin, London, and New York: Springer. ISBN 3-540-76173-X.
    * Wessel, David (1979). "Low Dimensional Control of Musical Timbre". Computer Music Journal 3:45–52. Rewritten version, 1999, as "Timbre Space as a Musical Control Structure".
  20. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Banned Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    Joe, how many basses have you built? If you made a few you would know that the wood and construction do change the sound of the bass. You are also showing you do not understand how pickups function.

    It has NOTHING to do with putting energy back in the string. The wood, and the bass' modulus of elasticity absorb energy from the strings. They remove it. But this is not uniform, and is frequency dependent. It works like a comb filter. The pickups will only reproduce what the string is doing. The bass changes what the strings are doing. Even a solid body bass will absorb enough energy to alter the tone of the strings. You can hear this as acoustic output when the bass is unplugged.

    None of those citations have anything to do with the acoustics of a stringed instrument.

    Like I said, put the identical pickups on two differently constructed basses and tell me they sound the same. Don't read text books, do the experiment. Heck, I have identically built basses only differing in top woods, and they sound very different. The neck and body woods even came from the same board. On top of that, change out the bridges from a heavy zinc or brass to aluminum and see how the tone changes drastically.

    Do it, and stop reading stuff that has northing to do with lutherie. If you read lutherie related material, you will see they all say what I'm saying.