The criticality of pickup heights

Utkarsh

A Les Paul guy who loves PRSs
Joined
Apr 13, 2017
Messages
351
Location
Singapore
So something had been bothering me about my PRS Core Holcomb. I didn't dig the sound of its pickups.
It had always been on the back of my mind since I had bought it, but last week, it came to the fore when I made the collection video and played a bunch of guitars back to back, with identical amp settings.

I was surprised by how relatively low output it sounded despite the ratings and it had none of the thump/chunk/insert your own sound here, you expect from djenty pickups.

I first suspected it was a loose connection so I got the multimeter out which verified the factory stated resistances. No issue there.

Then it struck me that the answer was staring me in the face. The pickups were depressed almost all the way to the top. Standard PRS guidances are 3/32 on the bass side and 5/64 on the treble and these were almost 3 times that.

2 minutes with the screwdriver and ruler later, the issue was fixed. And I could swear I had a brand new guitar. I go through the process in the video below..



Point is, so many of us are often going the last mile for tone. Thinking about that perfect guitar, that perfect pickup. Judging we like the sound of this, don't like the sound of that. My realization is that if you don't particularly like the sound of a guitar and are contemplating a pickup change, first check the pickup heights (are they too high or low, particularly on a used guitar) and secondly play around a little. Feel the bridge pickup is too hot. Lower the pickup a little and see how it goes. The neck too anemic (We have all seen these descriptions on forums). Perhaps try raising that pup.

Anyway I'm sure this has been said before, by folks much more adept than me, but I thought I'll put it out here anyway. And yes, I am really enjoying the Holcomb now.
 

Toolmaster Of Brainerd

I finally own a PRS!
Joined
Sep 14, 2020
Messages
179
Rock on! I went the other direction recently. I just got a custom 24. I didn't like the neck pickup clean as much as I wanted to. I lowered it a fair bit (the top of the pickup is a little below the top of the pickup ring now) and it sounds SO much better for my playing.
 

SinSir

Mad Scientist
Joined
Sep 7, 2020
Messages
1,932
I can be a little over obsessive about pickup height, including pole pieces. It amazes me how a quarter or half turn can make all the difference.

I don't use pick up height guides from makers. I lower the pickup all the way flush with ring/guard and start going up from there until it's perfect. Then usually check it with fresh ears a couple times days/weeks afterwards.
 

Tom Bradovich

New Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2021
Messages
248
Don't know why I've never adjusted them, but thanks to this thread, I will try out various heights and hope these old frequency-challenged ears can discern the differences. As usual, so much great info from this forum.
 

SinSir

Mad Scientist
Joined
Sep 7, 2020
Messages
1,932
Don't know why I've never adjusted them, but thanks to this thread, I will try out various heights and hope these old frequency-challenged ears can discern the differences. As usual, so much great info from this forum.

Best advice I have is to use a screw driver with a mark on one side, or make one. This will allow you to easily know at a glance if it was a 1/4, half, or full turn. I get that mark to line up with an even quarter of the circle, top, bottom, left, or right.

Also, count your turns from your starting point if you are going from where the pickup is at now. That way you can go back to where you were if needed. I found this very helpful in the begining.
 
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AaeCee

New Member
Joined
Apr 27, 2012
Messages
776
Location
MD.
I once had a new bridge pickup installed in a tele by my local go-to luthier. When I picked the guitar up I didn't bother to road test it in his shop as he's one of the top guys anywhere and has done his share of stellar work on some of my other guitars.

I got home, excitedly plugged in, and instant disappointment! That bridge sounded anemic, and the in-between sound was highly uninspiring. So the tinkerer that I am, I took a hard look at everything and realized that the new p/up looked a bit low. One full turn on the height screws and it sounded better. Two more and it sounded good. Three more and it killed! Seriously a night and day difference!

I always tinker anyway, but this particular incident caught me by surprise in the range of difference that can be easily achieved when messing with pickup heights, especially when you move them by several turns of the screws.
 
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