Best neck pickup location

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Best neck pickup location

Postby Greg Martin » Fri Jan 05, 2018 7:16 pm

Im wondering why Ibanez PM model archtops have the neck pickup located about 3/4" away from the end of the finger board. Is there a correct harmonic location? Im drawing my 2nd archtop, and ive always wondered about best tone placement,especially on a one pickup archtop? This archtop will have a p-90 or full size humbucker. Anyone ?
Greg Martin
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Re: Best neck pickup location

Postby Jim Hepler » Fri Jan 05, 2018 8:03 pm

Greg, I don't think there is one best position. The closer you move towards the bridge, the brighter/thinner the sound. You probably already know this.

I have heard people claim there's a magic spot for harmonics, but that never made sense to me since every time you fret a different note, all the harmonics are in a different place. Furthermore, we think there's an open string harmonic 2 octaves up at the theoretical 24th fret (1/4 the string length), but actually that's a mode at that point where the string doesn't move when you play that harmonic (or the one at the fifth fret - same thing) so if you had a pick-up that only caught the vibration at that point, when you played that harmonic you would actually get no sound. I know this to be true because I have a bass with the neck pick-up at the place where you get the same harmonic as at the fourth fret (1/5th the string length) , and when I'm only on that pick-up I am treated to silence when I play that harmonic.

I imagine, in part, the pick-up right at the end of the neck came about out of simplicity. Some of them attach to the neck, and for those that don't, it may be simpler in some cases to have a mortise there for a pickup that might even allow access to the neck joint.

As far as what pick-up to choose, that depends on what you like to play and what kind of sound you want. I think of the standard archtop jazz sound as being a humbucker, but Charlie Christian pickups are single coil as are P-90's and various others. Typically humbuckers are rich and fat (or possible boomy and muddy) and single coils are brighter and more articulate (or possible thin and harsh). For what it's worth, I like P-90s. I haven't found one that will float though, so you have to cut a hole for them and screw them to the top (dog-ear style) or to something inside the guitar (soapbar style).These days I'm liking the neck pick-up sound a lot when I'm playing by myself. Further towards the bridge the sound seems to me to be a little less full and more focused which often works better for me when I'm playing with more other instruments. Kind of a long way of saying it depends... Let us know what you decide, and why, and how you like it.
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Re: Best neck pickup location

Postby Beate Ritzert » Fri Jan 05, 2018 8:47 pm

Jim has already said almost everything. There are basically two things to consider: the excursion of the strings becomes larger toward the neck, which mostly affects the low frequencies. That's the reason of the tone becoming constantly darker when the pickup approaches the neck.

There is a 2nd effect: for each harmonic there exist dead spots on the string where there is simply not string motion at all (nodal points) and other spots where the amplitudes of that overtone are at maximum. If Your pickup position happens to match a nodal point it can not record the corresponding part of the string motion; it is simply unvisible.

Closer to the bridge that affects only higher harmonics. But for example the position of the pickup on a precision bass is really close to and sometimes exactly at the nodal point of the 3rd harmonic, i.e. the 2nd octave. To some large extent that makes the sound of that bass so peculiar. But it has the consequence that a precision bass in unsuitable for playing styles using flageolets. Such styles depend on pickups closer to the bridge, within, say, 10% of the scale length (the pickup position of the stingray bass).

So if Your playing style includes such techniques You need a pickup close to the bridge. If Your playing style depends on a fuller sound a neck pickup is really advisable. And please note that pickups have been originally attached to the neck mostly because that's the only hassle free way to electrify an acoustic archtops without cutting large holes into the top.

Something else: the "10%" position leads to a sound which is pretty well balanced between depths and highs - at least on bass guitars this actually IS kind of a sweet spot.
And on guitars with relatively thin roundwound strings a low impedance single coil in that position (which has a linear response over the full audible range) should be able to reproduce the acoustic sound of the guitar quite well.
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Re: Best neck pickup location

Postby Mike Conner » Sat Jan 06, 2018 9:36 am

In my first archtops I used neck mounted Vintage Vibe mini-humbuckers with adjustable pole pieces. All are 25" scale. The first was a 20 fret neck, resulting in the pole pieces at about the 21st fret position. The second was a 22 fret neck, so the poles closer to the bridge. In both cases I heard a nice warm and very "acoustic" tone, very pleasing if seeking that tone range. With the highs rolled down it can get some of that "jazz thunk" tone but still with an acoustic tone. By "acoustic" tone, I mean less of the mid-range thick sound expected with full humbuckers.

In my last build I wanted a thicker and punchier sound, and used my Ibanez AF95 neck pickup as a reference (24.75" scale). Using this, and other dual-humbucker guitars as a reference, I decided on a position that locates the adjustable pole pieces 6" from the middle of the bridge saddle using a full size Golden Age pickup. I am very happy with this tone, probably brighter and punchier than a jazz player would want, but effective in the worship setting I normally play in.
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Re: Best neck pickup location

Postby Greg Martin » Sat Jan 06, 2018 4:37 pm

Im no engeneer or math wiz and ill probably not in my life time make enough archtops to address any real test difference between many different pickup placements. I think some one mentioned playing style and maybe Pat Mathenys requirements were for a loud punchy clear tone for live playing, that by placing the pickup where they did ,got his tone dialed.
The best testing i could do is by building a test mule which would allow sliding placement and trying different brands of pickups .maybe with a quick disconnect.
And yes i do believe that the old school builders mounted the neck pickup to the neck because it was easier than mounting to the finger rest.
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Re: Best neck pickup location

Postby Brian Evans » Sun Jan 07, 2018 9:43 am

It would be simplicity itself to take any acoustic archtop, string it with nickle strings, and get a pickup designed for finger-rest mounting and stick it on in various places, or even hold it over the strings by hand and evaluate the tone change from placement. A very worthwhile experiment that I might even do! :) My 1946 Epiphone has it's single pickup in the bridge position, they moved it to the middle position for a year or so, then moved it to the neck. It has a single coil, gets a great, bright, quite acoustic sound. Not at all like the mellow, bass-midrange sound that we associate with a "jazz archtop". I had an ES-125T that had a single P90 in what would be the middle position, it was a great guitar. Anyway, my thought has been, for years, that the pickup location tone essentially duplicated the tone change from varying the picking location with your right hand. I usually pick near the end of the neck, so that is where I put my pickup. So far usually a Johnny Smith style, but this time I am planning a DeArmond 1100 single coil.
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Re: Best neck pickup location

Postby Greg Martin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:57 pm

If you want to listen to some sweet very vintage archtops ,i suggest Perry Beekmans yt channel. Its drool worthy, and tones are very different ,one guitar to another. His 51 epiphone zephyr is the real deal.
Greg Martin
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