How to Properly Set the Pole Piece Height on Humbuckers

guitardon

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This doesn’t make sense.

The treble side should be higher than the bass side by about 1/32". A good starting point is to set the bridge treble side to about 2/32" and the bass side to about 3/32".

You say the treble side should be higher by 1/32. But above you also say the opposite. Treb 2/32 and bass 3/32. In this example you have the opposite where the treble side is lower by 1/32.

can you please explain this for me. I assume the measurement is pole piece to string, right.
 

cooljuk

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This doesn’t make sense.

The treble side should be higher than the bass side by about 1/32". A good starting point is to set the bridge treble side to about 2/32" and the bass side to about 3/32".

You say the treble side should be higher by 1/32. But above you also say the opposite. Treb 2/32 and bass 3/32. In this example you have the opposite where the treble side is lower by 1/32.

can you please explain this for me. I assume the measurement is pole piece to string, right.

Don't measure sound with rulers. Just use your ears and adjust until it sounds best to you, in your guitar, in your rig, with your playing, through your ears. There is no "best" or "should" with this stuff.
 

Zylo

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Its kinda funny you say that setting up pole height by following the radius is wrong
By coincidence I was watching the yt video where slashs guitar went to Seymour Duncan for some pick up work, seems slash goes for the curve route
Just saying, don't bite me!

 

guitardon

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Don't measure sound with rulers. Just use your ears and adjust until it sounds best to you, in your guitar, in your rig, with your playing, through your ears. There is no "best" or "should" with this stuff.
I realize that, just wanted to know why the example didn’t follow the guideline. I just wanted to know. Not a big deal
 
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ErictheRed

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Its kinda funny you say that setting up pole height by following the radius is wrong
By coincidence I was watching the yt video where slashs guitar went to Seymour Duncan for some pick up work, seems slash goes for the curve route
Just saying, don't bite me!

Well clearly, Slash doesn't have an electrical engineering degree ;). They also could have been adjusted after the video was taken, strings are only put on at the very end.

But seriously it's music and there's no truly right or wrong way, which I acknowledged in my opening post. However this is not going to give balanced string-to-string volume. Most of the time it will end up sounding more like a Stratocaster, at least in the way that the string-to-string volume works out. There's nothing really wrong with that, and I bet many people grew up with that sound and like it that way. That's fine. They might even have become subconsciously used to striking certain strings harder than others when they solo, for instance. I saw a David Gilmour video where he mentioned something like that in passing once (can't find it now). He was talking about how he dug in much differently on the different strings of his Strats.

As an aside, I have noticed that some newer/boutique pickups don't need as exaggerated a pole piece stagger (I'm thinking of a few sets of Bare Knuckles that I've owned). They must design the pickups to compensate for this somehow, but I've never torn them apart to see.
 
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ehb

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Don't measure sound with rulers. Just use your ears and adjust until it sounds best to you, in your guitar, in your rig, with your playing, through your ears. There is no "best" or "should" with this stuff.
Mondo Troof. It’s like action. I always want to watch someone play their guitar if at all possible before setting up their guitar. I was taught to play the frets, not the board, by my late older bro (pro bassist for close to fifty years). Conservation of energy. Guitar or bass. What works for me does not work for some others because of how they play. A bud bassist from hell whose idea of fun is transposing jazz sax solos for bass loves and hates my basses and guitars. “They play way too damn easy.” He only lets me touch all his basses. “Set em up for you...then raise it until you just hit the point you start NOT liking it and that’s perfect for me.” Same for his bass pickups. I adjust for my touch, then adjust a bit lower because of HIS touch.
He bought another bass a while back and said set it up to Fender specs for that bass...Got the dial out and did what he asked... Played like dog shit to me. He played it and said ‘they’re full of shit. Do YOUR thing on it.’ He left happy when I was done.
Numbers are just a starting point. Ok for some, not worth a damn for others.
Amazing what a difference minute height and pole adjustments can make if one listens.
Amazing how that righteous sound on one type string can go out the window when changing to another too. I find myself talking ugly to the G skrang quite often....screwdriver time and adjust for the different strings. Different alloys different juju...especially within a set of cheap import skrangs... Had a bass come in with almost zero output on E skrang. He was convinced he needed new pickups. Grabbed my stainless dental pick and touched each pole. I told him “Don’t ever buy those cheap bulk Chinese skrangs. They’re junk.” E string ‘brand new’ was dead....as in flux ignored it. Other three fine. How is that even possible... Put a set of real skrangs on it and had close to twice output overall. Point is he was convinced it was the pickup....as many would be. If it ain’t broke....
Minor things can appear major. Minor adjustments can alleviate seemingly major issues... Simple stuff FIRST.
 

Zylo

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Mondo Troof. It’s like action. I always want to watch someone play their guitar if at all possible before setting up their guitar. I was taught to play the frets, not the board, by my late older bro (pro bassist for close to fifty years). Conservation of energy. Guitar or bass. What works for me does not work for some others because of how they play. A bud bassist from hell whose idea of fun is transposing jazz sax solos for bass loves and hates my basses and guitars. “They play way too damn easy.” He only lets me touch all his basses. “Set em up for you...then raise it until you just hit the point you start NOT liking it and that’s perfect for me.” Same for his bass pickups. I adjust for my touch, then adjust a bit lower because of HIS touch.
He bought another bass a while back and said set it up to Fender specs for that bass...Got the dial out and did what he asked... Played like dog shit to me. He played it and said ‘they’re full of shit. Do YOUR thing on it.’ He left happy when I was done.
Numbers are just a starting point. Ok for some, not worth a damn for others.
Amazing what a difference minute height and pole adjustments can make if one listens.
Amazing how that righteous sound on one type string can go out the window when changing to another too. I find myself talking ugly to the G skrang quite often....screwdriver time and adjust for the different strings. Different alloys different juju...especially within a set of cheap import skrangs... Had a bass come in with almost zero output on E skrang. He was convinced he needed new pickups. Grabbed my stainless dental pick and touched each pole. I told him “Don’t ever buy those cheap bulk Chinese skrangs. They’re junk.” E string ‘brand new’ was dead....as in flux ignored it. Other three fine. How is that even possible... Put a set of real skrangs on it and had close to twice output overall. Point is he was convinced it was the pickup....as many would be. If it ain’t broke....
Minor things can appear major. Minor adjustments can alleviate seemingly major issues... Simple stuff FIRST.
Where does one order these skrangs? :)
 

kakerlak

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Just a note regarding the traditional strat stagger -- it's a reasonably good compensation for a wound G, where the G becomes the softest and the B the loudest. Some of those older string sets were like taking a set of eights or nines, tossing the high E and moving them over a slot, so it follows that the bridge saddle DVD and pole pieces staggers would shift over one, too. Why you see the the zig in bridge saddle between G and B on archtops (that still use wound G sets) instead of between D and G like anything with a plain G winds up adjusted.
 

jwinger

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You are 'right' in terms of levelling output. However, for me I prefer more of an even arc as that keeps the tone the same from string to string. One pole much higher or lower than the other can impact the relative tone quite a bit. The slight difference in output is balanced out completely by the compression of an amp at normal playing levels in my experience, such that each string is the same volume
 

Classicplayer

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The neck pickup Burstbucker I pole pieces on my ‘18 Trad, very loosely follow the diagram, and I do note slight volume imbalances between 1 or 2 strings, but I keep those imbalances in mind when I select chords or intervals to play. To me, it gives my guitar a personality or character - especially when it comes to the middle position. As a fan of Jimmy Page's sound, I hear a lot of imbalances in his tone; almost seems like his #1 needed some attention to either pickup height or pole piece adjusting.


Classicplayer
 

ErictheRed

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This doesn’t make sense.

The treble side should be higher than the bass side by about 1/32". A good starting point is to set the bridge treble side to about 2/32" and the bass side to about 3/32".

You say the treble side should be higher by 1/32. But above you also say the opposite. Treb 2/32 and bass 3/32. In this example you have the opposite where the treble side is lower by 1/32.

can you please explain this for me. I assume the measurement is pole piece to string, right.
If this was a question for me, I don't understand the question very well. When I wrote that the treble side should be higher, I meant closer to the strings. Therefore a distance of 2/32" from the high E-string and a distance of 3/32" from the low E-string makes the treble side higher, not lower.
 

ErictheRed

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I just added more info to the original post. It's getting very wordy, but I don't have lots of time to add clarifying images or anything these days. Here's the info that I added, based on some misconceptions I saw in other threads. Obviously what I wrote is a simplification, but it's essentially correct:

Raising and Lowering the Pickup vs Pole Pieces, and a Little on How This Works:
Based on some other threads around the forum, I've decided to add a little more info here.

Like many things (gravity, light) that have a source and propagate three dimensionally through space, magnetic fields and the strength of magnetic interaction varies according to the Inverse-Square Law with respect to distance. This means that if you double the distance between two objects, the magnetic force between them becomes 1/4 the original value (weaker by a factor of 4). If you cut the distance to a third (get three times closer), the force becomes nine times stronger! Quadruple the distance and you get a difference in magnetic force of sixteen times the original amount, etc. Clearly the magnetic field varies quite substantially with distance. If you have a pole piece set 4/32" away from a string for instance, and then raise it to 3/32" away, the string experiences a pretty significant increase in strength of the magnetic field.

Anyhow, let's imagine a pickup whose pole pieces are set flush with the slugs. In this case, the slug and pole pieces have essentially the same influence on the strings, as they are the same distance away. If you raise and lower the entire pickup, you increase or decrease the magnetic interaction with the strings in both coils of the humbucker by essentially the same amount. Move the humbucker closer to the strings and you get more output, but often less clarity, and vice versa.

When you raise an individual pole piece, you are increasing the magnetic influence of that pole piece on the string, which makes that string more loud. However the cool thing is, the increase in volume comes primarily from the coil with the adjustable pole piece! This is the coil that surrounds that pole piece, and hence the coil that is affected most strongly by it.

If you raise the pole pieces, the extra output that you get comes mostly from the adjustable coil, and so your humbucker is slightly unbalanced now. Importantly, it is NOT out of phase with the other coil. It's just a little louder, so you don't get any phasing issues. Since you can make one coil interact more strongly with your strings than the other, you can use this to achieve a slight single coil sound. In other words, more clarity and "openness," with less compression. Conversely if you want more output and compression, you can level the pole pieces and raise the entire pickup.
 
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AcVox

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Whilst hight adjustments of the adjustable pole pieces help the fine tuning of volume balance in humbuckers it is rather less pronounced than you claim imho

I say this because you neglect to explain that the slug coil has a greater magnetic influence than the screw coil due to the considerably greater mass of the slugs over the screws, moderating the influence of screw hight adjustments considerably.

We need to understand "proximity effect" in relation to alnico magnet humbuckers, claiming that clarity increases with distance is a fundamental misunderstanding of this effect.
 

ErictheRed

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Whilst hight adjustments of the adjustable pole pieces help the fine tuning of volume balance in humbuckers it is rather less pronounced than you claim imho

I say this because you neglect to explain that the slug coil has a greater magnetic influence than the screw coil due to the considerably greater mass of the slugs over the screws, moderating the influence of screw hight adjustments considerably.

We need to understand "proximity effect" in relation to alnico magnet humbuckers, claiming that clarity increases with distance is a fundamental misunderstanding of this effect.
Feel free to elaborate so that we can all learn something. It's true that there are eddy currents produced within a pickup (which create the proximity effect), but I don't think that we need to delve deeply into that here. Given a particular humbucking pickup design, the output will decrease as distance from the strings increases while clarity generally increases.

As an aside, eddy currently in the covers are most likely, IMO, why covered and uncovered pickups sound different.

I admit that the overall effect is probably less pronounced than how my posts might come across. Still, it literally takes only a minute with a screwdriver to make these changes, so I'd encourage anyone to experiment by tweaking things and listening for themselves.
 
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AcVox

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Hi ErictheRed,
Had your post addressed the humbucker in totality, I may not have replied at all, but felt the slug coil was neglected to the detriment of a more rounded and accurate understanding of the whole humbucker.

I hope you receive my post in the spirit intended.. I address the post never the person behind it. And see the contribution you have made to this forum over the yrs, and God willing I hope to follow.
 

sonar1

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Its kinda funny you say that setting up pole height by following the radius is wrong
By coincidence I was watching the yt video where slashs guitar went to Seymour Duncan for some pick up work, seems slash goes for the curve route
Just saying, don't bite me!

Slash uses Earnie Ball Slinkies, which are nickel plated STEEL wound strings.
I find nickel wound to respond best just as Eric has exampled.

This is a rich an informative thread. Thank you, Eric!

For what it’s worth: I always ran nickel plated steel wound strings on Tele’s etc.
But with adjustable pole pieces I’d run nickel wound sometimes.

Lately I’m using nickel plated steel wound on everything. The pole pieces array winds up looking very similar to Eric’s example, especially on the neck pickup. Less so on the bridge.
I do tilt the pickups up a skoash on the treble side, as per his mention.
Except on Strats with vintage stagger: then I sink the bass side until the g-b-e are level.
 

PlainAllman

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This is great information about adjusting the poles. I just a got a Special Tribute a couple weeks ago. The Tribute is my first LP. I wasn’t impressed with the neck pickup tone at all and the bridge was just ok. I was starting to look at replacing both til I came across this thread in my pickup research. I’ve played around a bit with the pole and pickup heights and they’re dialed in great now. The 490s really have some fantastic bite in the treble and mid range now and even a clean crisp boom on the bass notes. Many thanks to the OP. It does make me regret even more selling my first Gibson many years ago. It was an SG that I liked the feel of but never really loved the tone. Had I known about adjusting the pickups back then I’m sure I would have kept it.
 

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