How important is pickup height
Have you ever wondered why you cannot get that specific tone you long for, while other people seem to have no issues getting it? It gets increasingly frustrating if those people happen to have the exact same guitar as you, or even the same rig.
The explanation for this can often be tracked down to one very simple thing: Pickup height!
Pickup height (in relation to the strings) can have a huge influence on your tone and overall quality of your sound. Depending on which pickups you have, a different height may be required for them. Aside from the composition of the magnets inside your pickups, what you really need to pay attention to start with is the output power of each pickup.
The output of each pickup can influence many things on your guitar. For starters, it’s easy to understand that your sound will be very muddy or unclear if the pickup output is very high and the pickup itself is very close to the strings… this results in a mess of a sound that cannot be managed regardless of what effects are being used.
Also, you need to consider that if high output pickups are too close to the strings, their magnetic pull will actually prevent the strings from vibrating freely… thus, resulting in a very dull sound.
The plot thickens as every manufacturer has their own guidelines as how to setup your pickup height by default. The problem is that since not all pickups are created equal in terms of output power, the same measurements cannot be valid for all the different pickups.
As a rule of thumb, here’s what I use and works very well for me:
- Go on your Guitar/Pickup manufacturer site and check their pickup height recommendations
- Press the 6th string on the last fret and measure the distance from bottom of the string to the pickup poles. Adjust accordingly to recommended values on the bass side of each pickup
- Repeat step 2 for the 1st
- Now here’s the important part. You need to check what is the average output for pickups of that brand (check 3 or 4 models of pickups and do the average for neck pickup and bridge pickup)
- After that, check if your pickups are above or below that average.
- If your pickups are above average (more output), then you should slightly lower your pickup height from the recommended values. If your pickups have an output below the average, test the sound with the recommended settings and if you are not happy, you can raise their height slightly and test again.
In the end, it’s all about your personal taste… Having said that, if you don’t follow the steps above, it will likely take 10x more time to reach your ideal configuration. Hopefully, we have now dodged that bullet!
About the author
Based in Zurich Switzerland, Gonçalo Crespo is a professional guitar teacher and musician. He has taught guitar for over 8 years covering a variety of styles but focuses mainly on getting his students to guitar playing success in the most efficient way possible. Founder of Music&Co. guitar music school, Gonçalo also offers tuition for acoustic and electric guitar. Check out his website at Gitarrenunterricht Zurich.