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"Tuning" your pole pieces...

Zhangliqun

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Jul 16, 2001
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Shortening/cutting pole pieces on humbucker pickups to change the tone of the pu (by changing the shape/position of the magnetic field) is hardly a new idea. But I've never heard it discussed in any application other than cutting them all at once and to the exact same length.

From my little experiments over the weekend, you can really "tune" each pole piece to get the exact tone you want from each string. The rule seems to be that the shorter the pole is, the beefier the midrange, and obviously vice versa. (Within reason of course -- I imagine that if you cut it so short that it no longer is in contact with the bar magnet, the output might drop, but I'm not sure.) I like a fat, sensitive high E-string on my neck pu's so I tried this. I ground 1/4" off the high E pole with a big file and found it to be a little TOO beefy. I grabbed another Gibson pole from my box o' parts and ground only an 1/8" off this time. Voila! Just right...

The rest of the strings sounded fine so I left the other 5 poles as is.

Anyway, it's a free and easy mod to consider BEFORE blowing $75 to $150 on a new pickup for want of mids.
 

Unmensch

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Jul 19, 2001
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Interesting! I also noticed that staggering the heights if adjacent poles can give a snarky nasal sound to the mids overall.
 

jkmcgrath

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Jan 17, 2004
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good info bro!

So you filed the bottom correct? And then set it the same height from the string?

If so then it is the amount of screw protruding from the bottom of the magnet that makes the change?

OR is it the mass of material?

hmMM good project!

I wonder if they make a screw with a hex head that is the same size as the threads so there is no material loss with the screw slot AND then you can have pre-sized ground pole peiecs and just change them out until you get your sound. I know they have allen socket headed but then you have the loss of the socket head.
 

Matt3

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Jan 13, 2003
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Could you clear up a few things for those of us off of the short bus? Is this the slugs that you are shortening? If so, is the top of the slug now recessed into the bobbin? Sounds ineresting and I have way too many fully functional pickups that I'll never use lying around.;) I too like a fat high-E. How Eric Johnson gets a high-E string on a Strat (using the bridge pickup no less!) to sound so fat is beyond me.
 

rmconner80

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Jun 9, 2002
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The adjustable screw/slug/pole whateveryouwannacall'em portrude through the bottom of the base plate of a humbucker or P90. This is the part that you'd shorten.

I knew it changed the tone but didn't know the effect. More mids, eh? That's cool, it might be worth a shot to try on the high E and B for example (like was pointed out).

I wouldn't file them though - pickups are magnetic and you don't want all that metal debris getting into the winding and magnet (which is inevitable). You should probably use some heavy wire cutters to snip 'em.
 

Dwell

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Jul 18, 2001
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Matt,
Johnson uses brass saddles on his high E and B strings, at least on some of his Strats.
 

Matt3

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Thanks Dwell, I had heard/read this in a few places. But it still seems fatter than a brass saddle would or could make it. What do you think, do you think a brass saddle makes that much of a difference? I've also heard/read that he does something to the high-E (perhaps B as well) saddles on his TOM bridges but I can't remember exactly what it was.

Ooops , getting off track. Back to customizing your own polepieces.
 

Dwell

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Well, the 335 I saw him playing had nylon saddles.

Also, he uses the Dunlop Jazz III picks, which sound darker than most Fender type mediums or heavies, and he picks at an angle, with the leading edge of the pick, which also is a smoother sound.

Go get a Fender Medium, a Jazz III, and a 1mm Clayton pick. Play each of them. Now thank me for the money you've saved in EQs and pickups. <g>
 

Matt3

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Nylon saddles, that's it Dwell.

In his Hotlicks instructional video, he talks about that pick. So I went out and bought a red (gotta be red) Dunlop Jazz III about 5-6 years ago and have exclusively used those picks since. You are 100% correct about the tone! Notes jump out of the guitar, much less pick noise/click, and the notes are ROUND!

Only downside for me is that you can't do pick scrapes very well, not that I do them much but when a song calls for it...like some EVH tunes.

Unfortunately, this STILL didn't save me much money on gear.

Sounds like you know you're EJ Dwell. He's one of my favorites since the early '90s. Only seen him twice though.
 

Zhangliqun

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Jul 16, 2001
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I'm not on a computer much lately (suddenly out of work and no computer at home) so forgive the delay in responding.

I'll field a few of the questions now:

1) So you filed the bottom correct? And then set it the same height from the string?

YES.

2) If so then it is the amount of screw protruding from the bottom of the magnet that makes the change?

YES -- IT CHANGES THE SIZE AND SHAPE OF THE MAGNETIC FIELD, MORE SPECIFICALLY, CONCENTRATING MORE OF IT ON THE STRING INSTEAD OF EXTENDING IT BELOW THE PICKUP WHERE IT DOES YOU NO GOOD.

IT REALLY IS AMAZING HOW DRAMATIC THE DIFFERENCE IN TONE IS.

3) Could you clear up a few things for those of us off of the short bus? Is this the slugs that you are shortening?

NO. THE ADJUSTABLE SCREWS.

4) I wouldn't file them though - pickups are magnetic and you don't want all that metal debris getting into the winding and magnet (which is inevitable).

NOT A PROBLEM. YOU REMOVE THE SCREWS TO FILE THEM, THEN PUT THEM BACK IN. DO NOT FILE THEM WHILE THEY ARE STILL IN THE PICKUP!!!

You should probably use some heavy wire cutters to snip 'em.

FILING IS FAR MORE PRECISE -- IMPORTANT BECAUSE THE DIFFERENCE OF EVEN 1/16 OF AN INCH IS VERY NOTICEABLE TO GUITAR GEEKS LIKE US. SO YOU CAN IMAGINE THAT SHAVING OFF THE ENTIRE PROTRUDING 1/4" MAKES A DIFFERENCE EVEN A DRUNK IN A BAR COULD HEAR.

***

As for picks, I fell in love with Dunlop 2mm Stubbies about 2 years ago. It's shape and thickness gives me the ideal combination of fat tone and lightning speed.
 

stangamble

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Dec 27, 2003
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Just a warning note for the Strat types reading this thread. On Strat pups the slugs are the actual magnets and as such are very hard and will not file down very well. Also if you try tapping the slugs up or down you will almost certainly get shorted turns to the slugs as they will rub off the enamel from the windings. So this is a trick for humbuckers only.
The theory should however hold good for Single Coils its just that the mechanics of single coils makes it much more difficult to experiment.
I do have 2 Seymour Duncan Vintage Single Coils, one with staggered magnets and one with level magnets I think I will try them out to see if there is an audible difference.
Good thread.
 

Bluespower

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Feb 26, 2003
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Does someone like Stew Mac sell different length adjustable pole pieces?

If not, why not?
 

Zhangliqun

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Jul 16, 2001
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Stangamble is right -- in fact, I WARN STRAT OWNERS not to try this at ALL. I don't know how it would work with poles/slugs that are magnets themselves. A whole different ball of wax.

Bluespower - Don't bother with ordering "custom length" pole pieces, assuming they even exist. Filing the ones you have is so friggin' easy. Just get a big metal file and grind away manually. Order some REGULAR pole pieces so that if you don't like the sound of the shortened ones, you can go back to stock. Order a lot of them so you can experiment with different lengths.
 

stangamble

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Dec 27, 2003
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I guess you will have to go to the manufacturer of the pickup. I have never seen them for sale.
Has anyone else??
 

Sunburst79

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Oct 28, 2002
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I've flipped Strat polepieces with no problems, but as I recall it was on the plastic bobbins.

On the middle pickup....

Flip the magnet, reverse the leads and lose the hum.
 

Zhangliqun

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Jul 16, 2001
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I ordered a bunch of Gibson pole pieces and I forget where from. I want to say AllParts but I'm not sure. Do a Google search on pole pieces maybe? I think that's how I found out last time. I have so many right now that I haven't ordered any in a good while.

I have a bunch of Seymour Duncan poles I'll sell dirt cheap if anyone is interested. (I hate 'em because the heads are a lot smaller than the Gibson pole heads, meaning more drop-out range between the poles on string bends.)
 

Wallace

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Feb 23, 2003
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Zhangliqun,

I've heard of this being done before but not in the detail you describe.
Fascinating!

Do you have a pic of a finished pickup you could post?
 

ricker

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Jul 16, 2003
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Hey Zhangliqun

This is very interesting........I'd never heard of this.
I've always found the high E a bit ice picky on the bridge pup.
Doesn't matter what Pup I throw in..........
But tell me........mids is a very broad spectrum.
Is it upper mids, mid mids, or lower mids that is added.
Can you give us some idea on what sort of mids are boosted.

Thanks man
R
 
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