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Thread: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

  1. #1

    Default Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    This looks like the place for instuments with magnetic pickups.

    In this 12 minute video the guitarist does various tests to isolate
    the instrument features that contribute to electric guitar tone.
    It seems this might also apply for similar instruments with magnetic
    pickups. I found it interesting.

    Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?
    Thanks,
    sounds_good

  2. #2
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    The issue should be of interest to e-mando players, but this video misses the main points about pickups.

    We can agree it matters where, along the string, you pick. It also matters, where, along the strings, the pickups are set. Locations were mainly settled back in the 50s, but other details matter as well.

    A Tele has a fat bridge pickup and a small neck pickup. Also, the bridge pickup is angled. So Telecasters have a rich bottom even on the treble pickup.

    A Strat has three identical pickups, so the bridge pickup is not as rich in tone as the Tele, except Hendrix played upside down, which meant his bridge pickup angled the other way, for a richer high E string tone and sharply focused low E.

    A magnetic pickup cannot see the harmonic whose node lies at its location, because there is no string motion. Single coil pickups only lose the harmonics under the pole pieces. But a side-by-side humbucker will lose the adjacent harmonics as well, for less high end sparkle. This is not related to output strength, only the two coils closely set

    Given the long-settled pickup locations and type for the familiar guitars, it makes sense to talk about woods, like maple vs mahogany neck, ash vs maple bodies and so on, although those differences are very slight.

    You can't buy a production Tele with the bridge pickup a half-inch farther from the bridge, which is good, because it would sound weird.

    I have worked with pickup placement on my electric mandolins and that is a hugely dominant factor for tone. Once that is settled, like for guitars, playing with different pickups and woods is fun but not very significant.

    Electric mandolins with a single pickup somewhere between bridge and neck have tone somewhere in between anything pleasing. But care in location is needed, as too close the bridge is screechy. For the same reason folks like to scoop their "Florida" to pick farther from the bridge, at least one magnetic pickup should also be right up against the fingerboard. And the length of that matters, as well. Tiny Moore's electric had only 17 frets, so his neck pickup has a rich and pleasing tone, being far from the bridge.

    For my first electric I specified the treble pickup be located like a Strat, approximately 1.5" from the bridge. Given the 20-fret fingerboard on my Ryder and Almuse, the neck pickup can match the middle position of a Strat, a reasonably useful tone, even if Strat players rarely use it alone. The two together yield a typical double-pickup Strat tone, like when the selector switch is in the in-between position.
    Last edited by Tom Wright; May-26-2022 at 1:21pm.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    That is interesting, but the test is not about different kind or placement of pickups.
    This test controls the bridge pickup type, position, angle, and height to match the
    control production instrument. The point is about eliminating instrument variables
    which have no or very small effect on the tone. Maybe we can learn something
    from that.
    Thanks,
    sounds_good

  4. #4

    Default Re: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    Can't say I learned anything from the video.
    I have played electric guitars without the amp allot...good for technique, really have to listen. A semi hollow telecaster sounds much different from a solid one.
    I just replaced the neck on a strat with a wider, fatter neck and there's a big difference acoustically, I can hear the sound coming off the neck with my left ear.

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    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    I have my own pre-conceived notions and am completely oblivious to new information, thanks.

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    Registered User TonyEarth's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    I really liked this video (now a series) and my only critique was I wish he'd kept a clean tone throughout and used EQ to see some actual numbers vs. "how's this sound to you" (since placebo and expectations will affect that significantly), but he did end up using EQ later on (for his amp video) so, that was cool. I think it's a great thing for people to ask these questions and occasionally examine and question their knowledge/bias, even if they end up coming to the same conclusions.
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    Default Re: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    I have an associates degree in electronics, and spent 6 1/2 years working as an electronic technician. I've been working on instruments for over 20 years.
    In order of their significance:

    1. The design of a pickup and it's location, including how close the pole pieces are to the strings, are going to have the biggest effect on a solidbody electric guitar's sound.
    2. The value of any capacitors used in the circuit will also have a significant effect, since capacitors determine the range of high frequencies that can be rolled off.
    3. The pots will also have an effect, mostly depending on how well they are made and what their value is.
    4. Hardware and woods will also effect sound, mostly due to their density, which will determine how freely the string will vibrate.
    5. The gauge and alloy of the strings will have an effect.

    The bottom line is that if you were to take a Fender Stratocaster electronic assembly and stick it on 6 different Strat bodies with the same hardware, it's going to sound pretty much the same. If you change the bridge, it will have a minor effect. Ditto if you switch from nickel to stainless steel strings.
    If you put the same Strat electronics on a Gibson body and manage to get everything located in the same place, it's still going to sound more like a Strat than a Gibson.

    The variety of wire used will have no significant effect, as long as it's good quality wire. And although some will debate me on this, the type of finish will have no effect at all.

    A solidbody guitar does not care what kind of plating is used on the hardware, or whether the finish is nitrocellulose, polyurethane, varnish, or Rustoleum.

    It's primarily about the pickups, their location, and the capacitor value. The variety and density of the wood and metal parts will have much less of an effect, as long as they aren't cheap garbage. Change the string gauge and/or alloy, and it will also affect the sound.

    Strip it to bear wood and give it a psychedelic paint job, or seal it with Thompson's Water Seal, and it will still sound the same.
    If the player or listener consumes psychedelics, he might believe that it sounds different.

  9. #8
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    Bridge sitting on an otherwise acoustic instrument with a Magnetic Pickup .
    Ala an EM 150 Gibson?

    vs a bridge sitting on, say, a solid slab of a pretty figured hardwood?

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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tested: Where Does The Tone Come From In An Electric Guitar?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandroid View Post
    Bridge sitting on an otherwise acoustic instrument with a Magnetic Pickup .
    Ala an EM 150 Gibson?

    vs a bridge sitting on, say, a solid slab of a pretty figured hardwood?

    The instrument behaves much like its acoustic response in regards attack and sustain. I had this exact situation, using my favorite mag pickup on a Buchanan 10-string (my earlier acoustic-electric clips). The location had the expected tonal result, a neck-pickup tone in the main. But the attack was very acoustic, and the sustain short like the acoustic.

    The same pickups on my Almuse's sapele body have a somewhat hard tone, compared to on my maple-topped mahogany-bodied Ryder. Very slight difference, given their locations are identical. Expected attack and sustain of a solid body instrument.

    The guitars and mandolins that are hollow-body but optimized for mag pickups have an intermediate attack response, softer attack and less sustain.

    Location strongly affects the tonal color, pickup design some effect. Body design affects the dynamic response, attack and sustain. Not so much the tonal color.
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