Improve Your Guitar Tone With Careful Electric Guitar Pickup Placement by Steven Van Ness

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A properly set up guitar will enable you to play more easily, sound better, and enjoy your guitar experience more. Improving your guitar tone does not have to be complicated or expensive. One of the fastest and easiest way to improve your sound is with careful electric guitar pickup placement.

Electric Guitar Pickup Placement Basics

Guitar pickups are mounted on the front of the body (usually in a fixed position) or under the strings (as a floating device). They are used to convert the vibrations of the strings into an electrical signal that can be amplified. The basic types of pickups used in electric guitars are: single coil, humbuckers and active pickups. There are many variations on these basic styles.

The location of a pickup on the guitar will have an impact on the sound it produces. The most common pickup locations are: bridge, neck and middle (also called split-coil). Some guitars may also have a pickup near where the neck meets the body (called a neck-to-body junction).

Typically, bridge position pickups produce brighter tones with increased sustain and output. Neck position pickups tend to be warmer with less output and sustain. Middle position pickups fall between these extremes in terms of tone and output but may include some sustain characteristics associated with either

Electric guitar pickup placement is very important in determining your tone.

In fact, it can be one of the most significant ways to improve your tone. This is because there are many factors that affect your electric guitar’s sound besides the actual pickups. In this article I am going to give you some tips and tricks for using pickup positioning to help create a better tone for your playing style.

This is an introductory article, so I am going to limit my discussion to the basics of pickup placement. For more advanced information on pickup placement, please see my books.

The first factor you should know about when considering your electric guitar pickup placement is that the pickups are actually magnets that create electrical current from movement of a string’s magnetic field across them. This means that where you place the pickups affects how much signal they are able to produce. The closer the magnetic field is to an electrical source, the stronger the signal will be. So if you place a pickup closer to a string, it will create a stronger signal than if you placed it further away from the string.

It is important to note that this effect only works if there is movement of the magnet through a stationary magnetic field (i.e., when moving an electric

Welcome to the first installment of Pickup Placement 101. I am a self-taught guitarist who learned to play by trial and error and lots of practice. When it came to picking up the guitar I had no idea how or where to place my pickups, but after experimenting with different pickup heights I was able to achieve what would be considered a typical Stratocaster sound, with a little twang.

Like many guitarists, my quest for tone has been an ongoing journey and when I decided to build my own guitar, I wanted to get it right. The difference between my first build and this one was that I did the research and understood what each pickup does and how its placement affects the tone.

The basics about your electric guitar pickups

Guitar pickup placement is one of the most important factors in getting great tone from your guitar. Pickup placement can effect how the guitar sounds, how well it will stay in tune and also how it looks on your instrument.

Every guitar is different. Some guitars have very even sound across all 6 strings, some have a warmer tone, some have a brighter tone, etc. And every guitar player has their own preference for what they like to hear from their instrument. But in spite of all this, there are some general rules that you can use to get started in finding the best pickup position for your electric guitar.

The 2 most common pickup styles are single coil pickups (like Fender Stratocaster pickups) and humbucker pickups (like Gibson PAF pickups). Single coil pickups are generally lower output than humbuckers and often have a brighter tone with a little more high end frequencies. Humbuckers tend to be higher output and are usually warmer sounding with more low or mid range frequencies.

The difference between these two types of pickups is not limited to output or tonal differences though. These differences affect how you should position your electric guitar’s pickups as well. Here’s a quick guide to follow:

1/4″ from strings – Bright

Most guitar and bass players have no idea how keeping their instrument in great shape can drastically improve their tone. And a lot of times, that’s just fine because most players don’t want to spend the time or money it takes to get that unbelievable tone we all hear from our favorite musicians. But if you’re anything like me, you’re probably always trying to get your sound a little bit better.

By far the best way to improve your tone is by taking proper care of your guitar or bass. A well maintained guitar will sound great and be easier to play than a poorly maintained one. Pickups are an integral part of what makes your guitar sound so good, but bad pickups will not make a bad guitar sound good. However, even if you have the best sounding pickups in the world installed on a guitar that is in poor condition, it won’t sound good.

Electronic Pickup Placement

When I refer to placement I am referring to where the pickup sits in relation to strings and the bridge. Placement has a huge effect on the tone produced by each pickup, so much so that with just 3 pickups on a typical electric guitar you can produce thousands upon thousands of different tones!

Here are some things to consider before moving your pickups:


The most important thing to understand about electric guitar pickups is that they are all different. They may look similar, but they will sound very different. Even pickups made by the same manufacturer can have differences between them, based on things like the wire used and the magnets’ strength.

Guitar Pickups are Transducers

Similar to a microphone, a guitar pickup is a transducer, which means it’s a device that converts energy from one form to another. In this case it’s converting string vibrations into an electrical signal. The type of pickup you use will help determine your tone.

There are many different types of pickups, including single coil and humbuckers. There are also variations within those types, including P90 style single coils and mini humbuckers. The type of pickup you choose will help determine your tone, so be sure to do some research before making any final decisions!

You’ve spent the time and money to get a good guitar and you want that tone to come through in your recordings. That’s why it’s important to take the time to set up your guitar for recording.

Place your microphone in front of the amp (not on top), about 1-2′ away from the center of the speaker cone. It’s best to place it off center so as not to point directly at the dust cap. If you’re using a condenser microphone, set it up in front of the amp pointing toward the center of the speaker cone, but not directly on axis with that center point. If you’re using a dynamic mic, put it right on axis with the center of the speaker cone.

Connect your guitar into your amplifier and play a few notes while adjusting this knob until you hear a nice clean tone without distortion or crackling. This is where you want to be as far as gain goes because increasing or decreasing gain can affect your tone in other ways. You can also adjust your volume knob now if needed.

Adjust your bass control or knob if you have one on your guitar or amplifier so that you hear a nice warm bass tone without too much muddiness but still with some depth and richness to it. Again, adjust this

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