Ceramic vs. Alnico

Discussion in 'Pickups' started by tsuen, Feb 28, 2009.

  1. tsuen

    tsuen Member

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    Just out of curiosity... I noticed that some Gibson pickups are made out of Alnico magnets and some are of Ceramic magnets... If my memory serves me right, the 490/498 are Alnico and 496/500 are Ceramic. I bet they sound different, but in what way?

    Is the manufacturing cost of ceramic pickups more expensive or alnico?

    I wonder in the same price range if I should get SD or Gibson pickups for my Les Paul copy, if I ever decided to swap them out... Not that I'm not happy with the Rockfield's.... :hmm:
     
  2. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    Alnico's cost more to produce, but I've heard it said that a well-designed ceramic pickup often costs more in labor, design and production than an alnico one, (not sure if this is always the case though.)

    Most companies use ceramic for high-output "distortion" pickups.

    But most players who want more versatility, or like classic "vintage" sounds, prefer alnico.
    Alnico comes in different forms. II, and V are the most common with guitar pickups, though III and IV are being used by some companies. Alnico II is the softest and most compressed sounding, while Alnico V is the strongest and most bright and powerful of the group.

    Some new pickups are using Alnico IIX, which is even more powerful and bright. Many people feel that it offers the power of ceramic with some of the characteristics of Alnico.

    Neither Alnico or ceramic is best: it's just whichever is best for you and your guitar. There are great, (and terrible,) examples of both.



    The best advice I have is to replace your pots, caps and electronics with high-quality parts, and play as much as possible.

    After a while, (esp. if you play live,) you'll have a much better idea of what kind of pickups you'd like, should you need to upgrade.
     
  3. lp_junkie

    lp_junkie Senior Member

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    To my ears the Alnicos produce a smoother rounded sound and get nice and crunchy with overdrive, the Ceramics produce a more driven sound and punish the preamp stage of a good tube amp I get better harmonics with the ceramics.

    I use Gibson 500T and Dimarzio Super Distortion bridge humbuckers in most of my guitars, although I do have some Alnico PAF types in a couple of them.

    Almost all of my neck pickups are Alnicos.
     
  4. EEF13

    EEF13 Senior Member

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    there are some nice ceramic neck pickups that sound great clean
     
  5. tsuen

    tsuen Member

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    Thanks for all your advice!

    ...which leads to my next question:laugh2:

    How do I know if the pots I buy is "good enough"? I mean, from my local franchise store (Long & McQuade) I can find DiMazio parts and some unknown brand stuff. Will the quality beat my stock stuff??

    Come to think of it... What's the difference between different resistance rating pots.... like 250k or 500k, etc.?

    P.S. the guitar I'm thinking of "upgrading" is a Michael Kelly Patriot Limited.
     
  6. tsuen

    tsuen Member

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    That's close to what I'm thinking... I'm thinking of something like an Explorer would use... 496R+500T. I played an Gibson Faded Explorer in a Guitar Center before and I loved the hot output. But having an option of "vintage" sound @ neck is tempting too...:D
     
  7. klohiq

    klohiq Senior Member

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    The site below should give you an idea about pot/cap values. Most people using humbuckers use a 500k pot while people with single coils often use 250k pots.
    Pot values?

    As for pot brands, Alpha makes pots that are comparable to your original equipment on most low end guitars to midrange guitars ($200-600). CTS makes pots that are probably of a bit higher quality. You may need to sand/ream your pot holes slightly, as CTS pots are usually 3/8" (standard size) while most asian-built guitars use Alpha pots or other metric size pots. You can order CTS pots from a number of online vendors including Stewmac, all-parts, RS guitarworks, etc. If your local music store sells CTS pots then you're in luck...
     
  8. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    500k pots will let more high end though, which is what you want if you use humbuckers or hotter pickups, (which tend to have less treble.)

    250k pots don't let as much treble pass through, so they warm up the sound. They work great with most single-coils, but can make humbuckers and hot single-coils sound very muddy.

    Once you replace them, you'll be shocked at how much capacitors can affect the tone of your guitar, (i certainly was...) Paper in Oil (PIO) caps are great for a warmer, vintage type sound, but metal foil caps are generally brighter and crisper.

    As far as the quality of pots, jacks and switches, just make sure that there aren't any strange noises or crackling sounds coming from the guitar.

    And with the pots: how smoothly do they turn? Does the volume and tone turn down gradually, in chunks, or just go on/off? If so, you probably need a set of audio taper, or better yet, custom made pots.

    for capacitors, and especially for pots, wiring, etc, i can't recommend RS Guitar Works highly enough. Lot's of info about them on this forum. Their Super Pots are far and away the best I've ever used or heard.

    RSGuitarworks - RS Guitarworks Online Store


    But Dimarzio makes a very nice pot as well. The ones I've used turned very smoothly, and had a great taper. They're very well made and not expensive at all.



    I'm not that familiar with Michael Kelly stuff, but it seems to be fairly well-spec'd for guitars in their price range. Good pickups, design and construction.

    I wouldn't be surprised if they saved money by using cheap pots and caps though: most imports, (and even Gibson USA,) does this.


    You very well might upgrade the pots and caps, and find that the guitar just sounds so good, you don't need any pickup swaps. And even if not, you'll know you'll have the best electronics in it, and they'll last a lifetime of great tone.
     
  9. MrRhoads

    MrRhoads Senior Member

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    Listen to gmacdonell.
    My favourite so far is the Alnico 2 magnet.
    But still it´s all about personal taste
     
  10. lineboss58

    lineboss58 Senior Member

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    I find ceramics more aggresive and in your face but alnicos have softer more organic tone, im lucky i have both and i dont favour one over the other. It really comes down to what you want the guitar to do.:dude:
     
  11. MrRhoads

    MrRhoads Senior Member

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    Exactly:) Taste and purpose:)
     
  12. 5F6-A

    5F6-A Senior Member

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    for the music I play alnico is beeter suited than ceramic but some ceramics do sounds very good.
     
  13. uOpt

    uOpt Senior Member

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    The main difference has nothing to do with EQ. It is dynamics.

    As you play an Alnico magnet harder and harder, and add coil wind and reduce wire thickness the Alnico magnet just gets louder and louder.

    A ceramic magnet pickup will compress, and it doesn't compress evenly over the frequency range.

    This leads to all kinds of contradictory reports. the same comparison of Alnico and Ceramic in the same pickup can have the Ceramic sound "much colder" (when played lightly) and have the Alnico (Alnico 5 in particular) be overly bright and flubby.

    If you ever heard Michael Schenker live (studio doesn't cut it) you know that a medium-wind ceramic pickup can give you the softest but powerful sound you can imagine. You just need to feed it right and have the right rig.

    The compression on hard play from ceramic affects treble more than mids and bass. The result is that the sound gets rounded off when but the bass stays accurate and doesn't make a mess.

    The Duncan Custom (medium-wind, small ceramic magnet) is one of the most flexible bridge magnets and it is or comes close to what M. Schenker is using.

    The point here is: in most guitars you have an Alnico pickup in the neck for light play anyway. So why not put something into the bridge that might be cold at fingerpicking (duh) but can tile the bear when you ask it to.
     
  14. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    These are very good reads, from one of the best experts on pickups in the world:
    Magnets and Tone
    Bill Lawrence Website

    Magnetic Pickups
    Bill Lawrence Website


    Part of the difficulty generalizing too much is that the pickups themselves are often very different, (and should be to cater to the different magnet's characteristics.)

    And there are many different flavors of Alnico, and even several Ceramic types being used today.

    Alnico II compresses a lot compared to Alnico V. Alnico VIII has many of the same characteristics as Ceramic, etc.

    Anyway, those articles explain a lot in scientific terms.
     
  15. tsuen

    tsuen Member

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    Sorry for the very very late reply... Thanks for all your advices!

    I'm working on a ship so it is totally random when I can check my threads...
     
  16. 5F6-A

    5F6-A Senior Member

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    cool
     
  17. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    Very cool. A old friend of mine just left on a voyage to the Indian ocean. He misses playing a "real" guitar onboard so we got him a lovely little 000 acoustic for a birthday present. Music and the sea just go well together...
     
  18. Shai`tan

    Shai`tan Senior Member

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    "And with the pots: how smoothly do they turn? "

    I am getting the RS Modern Longshaft kit installed in my `89 Les Paul BB Custom atm. When I tested the shafts to see how smooth they turned after I opened the package when it arrived in the mail, it took some armstrong to turn the pot shafts. I really hope they get a tad looser with use. They should get easier to turn with some usage eh? Thx.
     
  19. gmacdonnell

    gmacdonnell V.I.P. Member

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    Yeah, they'll loosen up. They shouldn't be too easy to turn when new, or else they'll end up being way, way too loose. I love the resistance on all my RS pots...
     
  20. tsuen

    tsuen Member

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    I actually bought my Gibby last contract when our ship stopped by Boston.... I think working on cruise ship could be a great thing for exotic guitar shopping!:dude:
     

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