Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 2: A different pickup?

I had been thinking of swapping out the Eastman pickup for some time. Before I made any decisions, I measured the impedance of my pickups with a new auto-ranging digital VOM I recently acquired. The analog meter I’ve been using for over 30 years still works just fine, but the auto-ranging feature, digital readout and a price of only about $20 was irresistible. I attached the VOM leads to a patch cord plugged into the guitar output jack. The volume and tone knobs were turned to full volume and full treble which I understand should be nothing is going through the pots.

The Kent Armstrong Humbucker on the Eastman AR371ce measured about 8.7K Ohms at the output jack. This is fairly hot for a jazz guitar. No wonder I didn’t like it. The Epiphone pickups measured 7.7K (neck) and 8.2K (bridge). This explains why I wasn’t as concerned with the Epiphone’s tone.

Kent Armstrong humbucker removed from Eastman guitar.

Of course pickup tone has a lot more to it than just the impedance. There is the wire gauge used, whether the pickups are potted or un-potted, what the magnet is made from, the pickup cover, the bobbin and other aspects I can’t remember or don’t understand. 

I wanted a vintage sounding PAF style pickup. Vintage sounding PAF is code for low output. But almost every pickup maker has produced multiple PAF style pickups yet have a range of outputs, magnets and other features. The originals made by Gibson, at different times, used Alnico 2, 3, 4 and 5 magnets. The number of windings were not carefully controlled which resulted in hot and low output PAFs. The modern recreations are each based on a specific original pickup that the makers tried to recreate.

Trying to choose another pickup seems hit or miss. Many of the online sound examples or youtube videos are of the pickups in solid body guitars playing rock or metal with heavy distortion. Pickups will sound different in different guitars as will the way you play and your equipment. I pretty much had to go on the specifications listed online which were output (Ohms) and the Alnico used in the magnets (2, 4 or 5 – I could find no pickups with Alnico 3). There were too few un-potted pickups to make it much of a factor.

Vintage humbucker recreations includes the Lollar Imperial Low wind humbucker with 7.0K Ohms and the Seymour Duncan Antiquity at 7.7K Ohms. Both are Alnico 2 neck pickups.

I had been leaning towards a Mojotone ‘59 Clone Low Output which, similar to the Lollar had 7.0K Ohms but with Alnico 4 magnets. However, no one had this in stock online, and Mojotone had a long lead time for one ordered directly. I felt as if I were throwing a dart against the wall. If so, the tip stuck at the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates humbucker. It has Alnico 2 magnets. The output is 7.3K Ohms. 

Pearly Gates Neck Pickup.

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Wiring the new pickup was easy because I used the trick of cutting the wiring from the Kent Armstrong near the pickup body and then splicing the new pickup into these wires. 

Another problem!

Everything seemed to be going fine until I tried to put the Pearly Gates pickup into the Eastman body. The Kent Armstrong pickup tabs were semi-circular. The guitar body had been cut to fit the pickup. But the tabs for adjusting the pickup height on the Seymour Duncan are rectangular and wouldn’t easily fit into the guitar. 

I enlarged the openings just enough to get the pickup into the body. But when reassembled, I could not adjust the pickup height close enough to the strings because the tabs were hung up beneath the guitars top. If I tried to put the pickup tabs above the surface of the guitar, the pickup was above the strings. Clearly the perfect height for the pickup was within the thickness of the top (between the topside and bottom side of the arched top).

I filed the pickup cutout at the position of the two side tabs until the new pickup would fit. Then I reassembled and adjusted the pickup height. Perfect. The pickup in the Eastman sounded good plugged in to any of my amps, even the Quilter through the Earcandy cab after insulating with polyfill.

Previous, Part I: Speaker. Next, Part 3: Strings.

In this series:

1 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 1: Bad speaker cab?

2 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 2: A different pickup?

3 … Improving my guitar’s tone. Part 3: Different strings?

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