What makes a pickup hot?

Pickups, magnets, microphones, amps, speakers, cabs, whatever...
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Christ Kacoyannakis
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What makes a pickup hot?

Post by Christ Kacoyannakis »

So, I see lots of pickups that say they are hot, or high output or great for metal, or whatever. Some have lower impedence (ohms) and some have higher. What is it that makes a pickup hotter? I am assuming what they mean is that the pickup is more sensitive to the movement of the strings, and puts out a louder sound than some "other" pickup. Is it the number of windings? Does more winding make more or less resistance, and does this make it hotter or not as hot? What does impedance have to do with the sound of the pickup? I am looking for some way to evaluate pickups when I am shopping for pickups, so I can figure out which pickup would be better for a target sound and tone for a prospective build. Thanks!

Brian Evans
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Re: What makes a pickup hot?

Post by Brian Evans »

This is a pretty good explanation of pickup resistance. https://wgsusa.com/blog/how-resistance- ... and-output

Bottom line, it's the total package that matters, and resistance is not that great an indicator of either outut or tone. But millions think it's all that matters... :) To some of your questions, resistance of a pickup depends on two things - the gauge of wire used, and the length of wire used. A thicker gauge will have less resistance per foot of wire compared to a thinner gauge, and more winds of wire will mean a greater length of wire (of the same gauge) so more resistance. But you need to take the package - physical size, magnet type and flux density, etc, into account.

Mark Wybierala
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Re: What makes a pickup hot?

Post by Mark Wybierala »

You are right to say that generally a hot pickup has more output. But Brian is totally correct. Hot does not always dictate that the resistance is going to be high. Major pickup manufacturers can label some of their pickups as hot and generally they will be hotter than others they manufacture. But on Ebay, "hot" means nothing at all. Hot is an opinion.

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Beate Ritzert
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Re: What makes a pickup hot?

Post by Beate Ritzert »

I own a pair of "humbucker for metal". These are wound to a DCR of 14k which means "many windings, pretty high output". They have fat ceramic magnets and thin blades of steel. Which should mean a relatively small inductance. Accordingly the treble resonance is pretty high, 4.5 kHz at 680 pF load.

That pickup has a really "loud" clean sound with plenty of bass, aggressive highs and some lack of mids. Because of the thin blades there don't seem to be too many idle current losses, i.e. less than usual. The attack appears to be pretty fast, again a hint for smal internal losses and a not too heavily damped treble resonance.

So You see some parameters that affect the sond of a pickup response, some of which are hard to quantify, notably the idle current losses. Aside from that of course inductance - which is frequency dependent bedause of the losses. Maybe also magnetic saturation effects. And of course the aperture in relation to the scale length.

David King
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Re: What makes a pickup hot?

Post by David King »

To add to the complexity in choosing pickups is the plain fact that some pickups just sound better, i.e.more musical than others. Of course this is subjective but I definitely find that there are successful formulas that combine a particular magnet type and Gauss strength with a particular wire insulation thickness and wire gauge and number of turns and wire tension and turns per layer count and core alloy and cover alloy with the right potting depth to get a really substantially better sounding pickup. It's really a lot of little things that if you get them all right will add up to some "mojo".

Mark Wybierala
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Re: What makes a pickup hot?

Post by Mark Wybierala »

Getting back to this. My #1 mantra is that "Tone Happens". I suck at evaluating tone and I hate it when a client asks me "how does it sound?".

I can however relate reported experiences. I have found that clients appreciate name brand pickups. Specifically, Gibson humbuckers and P90s and Fender vintage sets. They seem to do what they are advertised to do. If the player is a metal head, all bets are off and Dimarzio or Seymour Duncan is the way to go.

As a generality, hot pickups are great for noise. But as a guitar maker, I'd rather enable my instrument to achieve a beautiful rich harmonically diverse output and if I want noise, I can employ a pedal board or a processor. You can not reacquire rich full harmonics and frequency response if its not there in the first place.

Christ Kacoyannakis
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Re: What makes a pickup hot?

Post by Christ Kacoyannakis »

Thanks everyone for your responses. Clearly another area in which I have a lot to learn. It's bad enough we really don't know how a guitar works, and what the magic formula is to produce great "tone," however we may define that, but now I have to be puzzled about pickups and electronics (and I haven't even started to go down the rabbit hole of amplifiers and cabinets and, (OH GOD) pedals! Anyway, all good information, and I will check out some of those sources. I think the right way to go is what Mark said, try to build in a nice pleasing sound and tone, and if the player wants to dirty it up or make it really loud, there are ways to do that outside the guitar.

Veronica Merryfield
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Re: What makes a pickup hot?

Post by Veronica Merryfield »

Pickups are an interesting can of worms :)

To answer the question, a hotter pickup is one that has a higher output voltage. What makes this happen is either a strong magnetic field hence a great induction of voltage in the coil, and/or more turns on the coil. However, there is no panacea and there is is a trade off. A stronger magnet might mean a bigger one or a different material. This will affect the inductance (L) of the pickup as will more turns. More turns also increases the resistance (R) and capacitance (C) of the pickup. Changes to R, L and C change the tonal aspects of the pickup which is a very subjective subject. If you want to keep a lower C, R and L, with a higher output one has to look to active pickups but that's a new can of worms.

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