Sunday, October 4, 2009

Le Electric Guitar: Pickups

I am starting a series on instruments, because I know many people who play instruments well, but don't understand the instrument itself. Here I'll offer brief explanations on how to fine tune it, whether that be electrical or physical adjustments.

I'll start on the electric guitar, since many many many people play. Also, you pianists don't have to adjust your instruments much, and drummers, you have bigger worries. (Though I wish I had the privilege of parking in handicapped spaces...) I'll get to you guys later, don't worry!

Alright, let's start with all the general parts of the guitar. I'm going to refer to the Fender Telecaster, since I have more experience with those than any, but these general rules apply to all electric guitars. From top to bottom we have:
  • Headstock - includes tuning pegs and usually access to truss rod adjustment
  • Neck - includes frets which are more important than you think
  • Body - composed of roughly 3 parts: Bridge, Electronics, and Pickups.
I feel like that covers the basics. Part 1 will cover the first question you'll encounter when telling someone about your guitar. What kind of pickups do you have?

How do pickups work? Well, pickups are just magnets that vibrate when the string is played. A guitar string doesn't move back and forth, per se, but rather in a circular motion. However many times the string completes a full circular rotation in a second determines the pitch. If the string is completing 440 rotations a second, that is called 440Hz (Hertz) or in musical terms, Concert A. The magnets will "pick up" (can't get that out of my head) on these vibrations. There is a separate magnet for each string. A coil is wrapped around the magnets to pick up their vibrations. A magnet moving back and forth through a coil creates electric current. This electric current is what is amplified.

There are two different types of pickups. There are single coil and double coil (or humbucker). The single coil is a standard pickup, found in most Fender guitars. For instance, the Stratocaster guitar has three single coil pickups. The original. They gave that thing steroids, and it's got like, ten arms now.

The humbucker is more common in rock or heavy metal. Basically instead of a single coil, it has another one right next to it. The whole ideology of the heavy metal genre. (So if you're not playing an Ibanez or a Jackson, get out, n00b.) There are way more possibilities with humbuckers when you wire them up. You can actually wire the toggle switch to switch between single and double coil in just one pickup! (Insert nerdy excitement.) I won't get to that until the electronics section.

What makes a pickup "hot" is the magnet type. The stronger the magnets in the pickup, the better it will be able to read the vibrations of the string.

A common misconception is that any metal (or anything for that matter) touching the pickups at all will hurt the guitar. Nope. You can touch those things with metal all day. Just don't have the amp turned on. That's really what you're ruining.

Ok, I think I've talked enough about pickups. Next in this series will be about how to put the pickups in and the electronics behind all those knobs! (One of my better segues.)

No comments:

Post a Comment