Tweak Your Pickup Height For Better Guitar Tone
There’s a lot of different ways to setup pickups for different tone. Let’s talk about the difference between humbuckers and single coil pickups. Humbuckers exert less force on the strings than a single coil and that force is spread over a larger area. This makes single coil pickups much less forgiving when it comes to how the setup impacts your tone.
The middle-ground for a standard stratocaster pickup is set at around 5-7mm away from the strings. This will allow the strings to move back and forth in the magnetic field without getting sucked down by the pickups.
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High Pickup Height
A lot of players will set pickups high in order to increase output from their guitar. However this comes at the expense of tone. When a string is plucked it rotates in a figure eight pattern and normally should have little influence from the pickup beneath it.
When the pickup is set too high, the magnet has greater force on the string and interrupts its natural movement. The result is a loss in sustain and sometimes a wavering sound.
Pickups set too high will also cause your signal to breakup as the strings move in a phasing pattern. What this causes is your clean signal to start to break up and sound like you have some mild overdrive running through your chain rather than an ultra clean sound.
Low Pickup Height
Setting pickups low is very popular with blues players and those who want to emulate the tone of guitarists like SRV. If you look at the pickups, they are sucked down very close to the body of the guitar to the point that they are almost flush with the pickguard. Dan Patlansky is another great guitarist who sets his pickups like this.
The result of this setup is very little interruption to the natural motion of the string, however the increased distance decreases the output the pickups are able to produce. To compensate for this, you need to crank you amplifier.
A lot of strats come from the factory with the pickups angled – the bass side low and the treble side higher. This allows the mids and highs to shine through a little bit more while not being overpowered by the bass.
Obviously, the opposite of this is to lower the treble side of the pickups and raise the bass side. Stratocasters and other guitars with single coil pickups can have a very shrill tone on the trebles, so a lot of guitarists want to bring the juicy fat tones of the bass up to make them more dominant, especially if they are playing a lot of chords and rhythm patterns. Take a look at Hendrix’s start from Woodstock.
Tone is all up to personal taste, but pickup height can make a bigger difference in tone that some people think. Play around with you pickup height until you find the sweet spot that works for you.