Differences In Guitar Pickup Magnets

Posted on by Kat King

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There are a lot of components that go into shaping the character of a pickup’s sound. Everything from the gauge of the wire, the amount of turns, the pitch of the winding, whether it’s wax potted and one of the most important elements, the magnet. We recently teamed up with Alex Myla to produce these clips showing the same pickup with the same amp settings but with different magnet types to show you how the sound of the pickup changes with a different magnet type.

In these examples, Alex used the Pearly Gates/Custom Hybrid that he ordered from the Custom Shop. The Hybrid combines coils from the Pearly Gates – which is known for that sweet Texas rock blues sound – with the Duncan Custom which has a hot P.A.F. sound with a more distinct mid/high range attack.

All these examples are recorded with the same guitar and same amp settings. Pop on some headphones to get the most out of them as some of the differences are subtle.

Alnico II:

Alnico V:

Alnico VIII:

Ceramic:

The difference becomes even more pronounced when playing clean.

Alnico V:

Ceramic:

So what can you expect from these magnets?

Alnico II is a lower output magnet that is smooth and usually has just a bit of warmth.

Alnico V has more scooped mids and tighter in the low end. Provides some bite and sparkle.

Alnico VIII is generally between Ceramic and Alnico V, with quite a bit of magnetic pull, punchy with upper mids but a little more warmth than ceramic.

Ceramic is quite strong and gives a very bright tone. It retains articulation and clarity even with heavy distortion which makes it suited for heavy distorted styles.

Which of these magnets do you think sounded best?

Written on June 26, 2013, by Kat King

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  • tonelabequa

    Alnico II for Crunch, Ceramic for Clean. The Alnico II does not come as a surprise, as this was the Pearly Gates’ original design. For cleans, the ceramic have a bit more punch due to higher output

  • Moltisanti

    for me the alnico II sounded best, raunchiest and with the most clarity

    • sirus1987

      Absolutely agree, Im wondering if the only differences in the tracks were the magnets of if they EQ’ed things differently or used any different components.

  • D.B

    Really? Why not do a track that’s not so saturated and irritating sounding. The amp sounded terrible, very harsh & brittle on all examples. I can’t believe anyone wants to sound that bad.. And yes, I can hear the difference between magnets, but I think you @ Duncan could do alot to make a better example. I’ve been playing for 48 years (41 of those professionally) and that doesn’t make me wanna jump up and go buy your pickups. quiet the contrary.. I’ll stick with the old vintage pickups or Throbaks in my guitars thank you.

    • CloudStrife

      Hey thanks for taking the time to listen to the clips. While I appreciate your candor, I do believe you’ve missed the point of this article entirely. The purpose of these clips is to show customers how the magnet can affect the tone of a pickup and how the custom shop can help with that, not simply another marketing gimmick. This is surely something you can understand.

      As for the music, this just happens to be what I like to play and the way I record. Personally I think it sounds great and so do others. This show’s people that changes can be audible regardless of the context of their style. I know it is the Internet and you are entitled to your own opinion of course but perhaps try to find a more constructive way of offering criticism in the future. Everyone started out small, I’m sure someone of your caliber can relate to that.

      -Alex Myla

  • Steven Wegener

    i liked th ceramic but not sure about the clean sound coulda been beter demo on that

  • vlada729

    I’d go for ceramic…better clean definition to my ears…

  • Cigaro

    Alnico II sounded best overdriven and had mor warmth and depth than the others.

  • kprochas

    Reading these comparisons and other people’s comments on the Alnico II magnets I feel that much better about keeping the Seth Lovers on my Eastman T186MX.

  • Yang Henry

    Ceramic sounds deep and alnico sounds clear with more details

  • Kenny D

    The Alnico II sounded louder than the other samples; was it recorded at the same level?

    • Eric

      More mids with the a2. More mids puts more of the tone in the strongest frequencies we mere humans hear, which gives the impression of more volume..

  • With Full DIstortion

    I liked the ceramic and alnico II. i would like to hear the alnico 3 AND 4 In this comparison. Q: )

  • With Full DIstortion

    PLUS, where do i get the exactly same magnets as used in the custom series pickups by seymour duncan? i have a duncan custom that i want to experiment with alnico II, III, IV and neodymium magnets. Thanks in advance.

  • Brent Phelps

    It’s one thing to listen and compare, and another thing to play and compare. The difference between magnet types can be felt when playing hard, soft, clean, and/or distorted. In my humble opinion.

  • Emile Dalkey

    Alnico V sounded the best

  • Crankcase08

    I strongly suspect the Alnico V and Alnico II samples have been mixed up here. Also, could have at least put up a clean sample of Alnico ll. There’s always to much obsession with distortion, after all, there’s more to guitar playing than just bloody heavy rock.

    I made the mistake of going for P94 type ceramics, and found them way too harsh, especially in the bridge position.

    • eric

      Yeah, they messed it up. Lol..

      The a2 has more mids, which is exactly what the clip represents. A5 slightly reduces mids, which also drives the amp less. This clip also demonstrates the a5 clip to have a slightly less distorted tone.. You are referring to how the a5 sounds darker than a2. But that’s what less mids does. The midrange isnt as pronounced which can sound darker in the mids. But if listen closely you’ll hear it has a little extended high end compared tothe a2 clip..

  • Martin Lind

    i bought an Eastman 185MX and I need to replace the Kent Armstrong pickups. When distorted they sound as if I’ve blown my cabinet. Anyone got any ideas for a good blues/jazz pickup replacement?

  • Guest

    I bought a pair of the Warman humbucker-sized P90 pickups with ceramic pickups, and I find them too harsh in both neck and bridge positions. I have an authentic old P90, cream coloured, with a fabric-covered cable. It’s a neck pickup, but I once fitted it into an old Shaftesbury Les Paul at the neck position and it sounded nice. It had a thin clear sound with little bass presence, just right for the neck position. If I knew what type of magnet it was I’d try one on the Warman.

  • Addis Solis

    all this discussion makes me think pick up/magnet selection shoud be based more on the wiring diagram used in the guitar than body/neck wood.

  • Mark Makely

    I like the raw intensity from ceramic magnets in the Invaders, yet I also like the sweet warmth of Alnico II in the Pearly Gates as well… Lot of variety in tones to choose from in between, Maybe I’ll have to try pups with Alnico VII’s.

  • Mark Makely

    I like the raw high-output intensity of the ceramic magnets in the Invader, yet I also like the sweet warmth of the alnico II’s in the Pearly Gates… A lot of variety in tone to choose from in between, Maybe I’ll have to try alnico VIII’s

  • Eddie

    I prefer the Alnico V, it picks up more dynamics in my playing, though I do favor Alnico II in one of my guitars. Ceramics have always been hit or miss for me, guitar will sound great through one amp with them and dull or too overpowering in another.

  • Steve Leitner

    ya, the guy in the front row was screaming “i hate the sound of your alnico V magnets!! you need ceramic!!” said nobody ever…. its like tone woods or vintage ts9 vs new ts9….nobody except guitar players can hear or tell the difference. spend time honing your song writing skills instead of worrying about things that wont change how you write and play….

    krippleguy ;P

    • Dan

      finding the right gear, the gear you like to play and listen to, is inspirational in itself.

      • Steve Leitner

        i used to think so till i got sick with a degenerative nerve disease and lost the ability to play conventionally and had to find different ways to play. (not easy in a wheelchair with fingers that dont move like you tell them). now its a challenge to play at all yet i still record (at the kitchen table on the laptop, a squier guitar, line 6 toneport gx and riffworkks free software) inspire yourself…..

        http://www.reverbnation.com/krippleguy/song/20689695-thats-the-way

        aside from the terrible flat note in the solo (kept it in for a sentemental reason) this is what you can do with 1 finger that works if you try

        • xlhr8r

          Hi steve, have you heard of drumpants? My brother has ms, and i bought it for him,he hasn’t started using it yet( just realeased ), but i’m planning to get one for myself too. Just sesrch drumpants. Let me know what you think. Oky. By the by, i came across you when i searched for a5 pickups. Cherrs! Rsvp

        • Jimbo

          well i commend you for what your doing and hopfuly its what you love.. not so crazy about the lyrics and some tracks were it feels like you were holding back… … what I mean is you have some awesome ability to throw notes together that just seem right… more so then most anyone Ive heard,… but those notes are not in front as much… maybe its your style but I feel like with a little evolution You could make some bitchen things…. I like more guitar music and long but simple solos played with feeling… what Im trying to say is during the parts of the songs were the guitar was front and center like during the often too short solos, I was taken to a new world…. do what you like as you do, Im happy for you but I am wondering if you have any tracks that are more instrumental or with a different writing style.. I find the song lyrics a bit repetitive (good voice tho its like Im happy to see you dont use too much voice effects except when actually needed for the enrichment of the part of the song, meaning you use it as a tool like it should be not as a crutch…) but the guitar is awesome what you can do and you did this with one finger? holy shit man…. Basically im highly impressed with you and I think you need to get out on youtube and experiment with differnt generas and styles but do what you did in your tracks and make them your own cause you truly have something…. I can hear it and I know it when i hear it…. cause you deserve to be someone living the good life… i can feel your passion and determination in your tracks and I donno how to eplain this but their is a layer of ture awesomeness to your gutiar parts even during a part or two were you mess up in a track with pitch…. its like I think you could make it all work for you and more experimentation with differnt little ways to get the most passion out of those sustains and vibrato the better… I think you could be big…. i hope you catch a brake man cause you deserve it…. and Id love to hear more of what you can do. expose your self all over the net.. not just on that site… but other places too… make a few accounts if you have too on places like YouTube but with much the same content… ask people to subscribe all that… the card are stacks against a new channel on youtube and they segregate their search lists but when people work the system and if someone or the right someone notices it… then it can start to spread like wild fire…. ,,, If your already on YT well okay… just keep putting your self out there and I mean really going for it….I mean more and more content whatever you heath and family-time allows… The last person I felt this way about after hearing them ended up on the radio and singed to a lable…. but it took getting out in front of the right crowds and sharing her story… good luck… whatever happens know taht I dont know you but I also believe in you.. someone you never meet and never will likly meet or hear from again but I believe in you and belive you deserve to make it and weather or not you do, you owe it to your self to keep experimenting with differnt ways to let the passion why from that one finger against string to your ears and hopfuly others…. You find the right combination of sound, timing, lyrics and all that… I know youll unlock it great.. I heard many hints of that greatness in your music sir…. okay Ill shut up now…your an inspiration tho.

    • Cody Frye

      Does a seasoned carpenter swing a 7 dollar hammer from Walmart? Does a starving artist use Crayola water colors to paint a masterpiece? Does a 5 star chef use a bargain bin starter cookware set to create culinary perfection? Your statement sounds more like a bitter rant than a sensible opinion to me. Don’t let your own personal struggles cloud your judgement so much. If you’re passionate about your craft, taking pride in the tools of your trade is not a sign of weakness, nor does it mean your priorities are out of whack. The “guy in the front row” isn’t here reading this forum because this forum was never intended to reach the “guy in the front row”. It was created for discerning guitarists who DO notice and DO care about all the subtle, and not so subtle differences in gear.

      • Norm

        Cody, assuming you are responding to Steve Leitner, you are way off the mark, and exposing yourself as gear geek, rather than as a serious guitarist. There are no $7 dollar hammers in this toolbox. This is just a simple exhibition of the difference that various magnets make in the sound of a pickup. All are professional grade. I relate very clearly to what Steve said. Although there are noticeable differences, any of the sounds will work fine. The nuanced differences will be noticed more by the guitarist than the general audience. Steve isn’t saying that a $7 dollar hammer will do as good a job as a $30 hammer. He’s saying that carpenters can argue over which $30 hammer is the best, but if you send a half dozen carpenters out to do a days work with 6 different $30 hammers, the best carpenter will do the best work, regardless of which of the hammers he is using. Likewise, if you give several different guitarists the same rig with the different magnets installed in the pickups, the best ‘sounds’ will be made by the best guitarists, regardless of which magnets they play with. It’s legitimate to explore the sonic differences produced by various magnets, for the guitarist to choose his favorite to match his own taste and playing style, but there is plenty of affordable, professional qualify gear out there. It’s musical skill and talent that makes the difference. Steve wasn’t ranting. He’s simply stating that, when making music with an electric guitar, what’s inside the pickup isn’t as important as what’s inside the guitarist.

        • Robert

          I’d say the tiniest little nuance, for a musician, could make the difference between a life-changing performance and a great show.

        • Billy Vitale

          Great discussion.. after more than 40 years of playing.. building and continue to build and trying different nuances with my Luthier friend.. and much with pickups as well.. including making some… well.. I have to agree… in the end its all in the guitarist…. many of us are passionate about trying to understand what makes that magical sound that allowed and inspired us to get that tone that night for some solo that had a sound feel and momentum that was so special… and other times where the inspiration was there.. but the sound was so bad that it just could never happen… its that latter we want to avoid.. as the first thing happens I believe with a good sound not the perfect sound (which does not exist)… it is the result of the room, the folks you are playing with miking.. the audience.. and more.. just as much as it is the guitar and amp and effects.. we need to avoid the crappy sound.. and this kinda thing is part of that.. but of my 40 Plus guitars.. I know I can choose anyone and play well…. I tend to like ceramic.. but Alnico works great as well .. and I don’t know what Lace Sensors are.. but for soloing at any volume.. I think they have a incredible tone.. and for additional punch for clean sounds I really love to dial in a pinch of piezo .. .. but yeah.. it ultimately is the expression of what one has inside.. that really counts!

        • eric strong

          Very convincing argument and adept writing, sir!

        • TT335i

          I dig it, and agree with the spirit of what you say. I also agree with Cody as well.
          Gear, strings, pups, cables, tubes, etc…are all simply discussion for players to discuss, because in any field there are discussions about the tools used whether or not the customer or consumer is aware of the little nuanced differences between the tools of any trade.
          Does a diner care if the chef used a Japanese style blade on the vegetables he is now eating?
          Does the person sitting on a nice leather chair know or care that the carpenter choose to use a certain type of hammer or nail to make her chair?
          More than likely, no, the customer/consumer does not care.
          Still, the artist or tradesman cares because their craft is tied to the tools of their trade.
          And since human hand made things are made by humans, there will continue to be varied opinion regarding the tools used and which materials are best for certain things.
          The guy in the front row doesn’t care that I prefer 9 gauge strings instead of 10 on my Strat for the solo he is enjoying. He also could care less that I prefer Tung Sol 12ax7’s in the V1 position of my amp that is creating the sound he is liking.
          So who cares? I do, because I am human and have an opinion regarding the tools and materials I used to create the tones I like to create. Does the tool or material dictate the quality?
          In some cases it does, because there can be inspiration in the detail that the artist is picking up on. Yes, that is esoteric, but then most musicians are artists and esoteric goes with the territory
          What I don’t like is when one artist criticizes another for using different tools than he does and that that somehow means certain tools or materials thus make that guy better than the other guy, or that this girl will somehow be a better creator music because she uses these majority approved strings over the other girl who chose something else.

          It could be argued that the 6 carpenters with the same $30 hammer will still yield the best work from the best carpenter, but then not necessarily. It could very well come down to a certain carpenter being able to use that $30 hammer better than another carpenter who simply does not like that hammer and thus won’t do as well. Again, that’s an esoteric argument.
          I like to try different gear as most of us do, because we want to see/hear/feel what differences there are out there for us and what may inspire us to create. Also, I do not like to criticize another players choice of gear. There are players who change amps every 4 months and it seems the majority of their time is spent gear shopping and comparison than actually playing.
          But that’s cool too as that might be their thing. I can still learn something from those people as well as they want of change and comparison can help lead me towards something I may want to try when I don’t have all that time to try that many things.

          BTW, I am now looking to find a single coil sized, humbucker type pup, with alnico magnets for my ’91 Strat. Thanks to anyone who can offer up information on that. 🙂

          • kave

            You try a minibucker?

      • Greg

        I’m here looking for the right magnet for a cigar box guitar. That’s a
        far cry from the $2,500 and up guitars of the gear geeks, but the fact
        is some of the very best blues players that ever played learned on these
        things, and at least one (Bo Diddly) became famous playing one. That would be your $7 hammer, Steve.

        • SeymourDuncanBlog

          I’d go with an Alnico V which should balance the high amount of mids on those guitars. If you want to over-emphasize the mids, then an Alnico II.

      • Brent Millar

        “Does a 5 star chef use a bargain bin starter cookware set to create culinary perfection?”
        Um, your assumption that the money you spend has an effect on the outcome of the product is mere gibberish. That’s the difference between a real cook and and wanna-be. IT’s not the equipment, it’s the cook. A knife is just a tool. As long as it’s got an edge on it, it matters not what you paid for it. Step into any professional kitchen on the planet and what you’ll notice first is no one is using a $400 Henckel. It’s all plastic handled rental knives. Cheap knifes with good quality steel that will hold an edge.
        It’s the cook, not the equipment.
        I can still cook using low rent pots and pans, cheap-jack knifes and an electric stove.
        Does the right equipment help?
        Yes indeed, but it’s the knowledge, experience and skill that matter most.
        Same with being a musician, to which I’ve been for over 30 years.
        You’ll learn this someday, if you just shut up and listen to someone else long enough

  • Raphael Araújo Dos Santos

    Alnico V

  • Maddog

    Albino V sounds best to me as if I had to pic one but I use Alnico II pros in my les Paul gold top slash model and it sounds awesome and a ceramic mag picup in my Jackson custom shop like a super distortion pickup. It really depends for me on guitar woods and style. My long years as a tech tell what will work best in what guitar based on woods used and players style.

  • Child

    Same

  • Ajay Marrott

    Will Alnico VIII magnets have more mids than an Alnico V.

    • scott

      The Alnico 8 will tend to have more scooped midrange.

  • JT Yeesipet

    hi all. questions on humbucker windings and frequency response. when a neck pickup is wound, are there certain techniques used so that the neck’s bass response is tighter and not muddy? reason being is that i swapped a hb neck pickup to a bridge position and it sounded pretty good. the neck pickup is 7.2k and 3.8hz alnico 5 mag.

    • SeymourDuncanBlog

      Windings are only part of the equation. The size of wire, size and type of magnet, and other components all add up to make up the sound of a pickup. BTW, many bridge pickups sound great in the neck! Trick is balancing it with the bridge pickup.

  • Nicky

    To me ceramic pickups are only good I some occasions ,mainly for bass and some rock stuff,but I mainly like Alnico pickups,they have more pronounced and individual clear sound,but that’s me.I like clear,don’t like muffled sound.

  • Above Dimension

    This is Alnico pickups https://soundcloud.com/thebadqueen/21a
    And this is ceramic https://soundcloud.com/thebadqueen/output
    I prefer the Alnico,soon I am gonna swap the ceramic on my mex Strat with Semour Duncan’s SSL1 50’s California set.I always like only Alnico sound !!!

    • Rocko

      Honestly that made the sound of guitar unrecognizable.

  • Brian Wozniak

    I just bought a Fender Strat HH with Blacktop pickups. I think they’re Alnico 2 by their compressed but pleasing cleans. IMO the Ibanez RG series. Oh I used to own an RG that had Infinity 1 in the neck, and Infinity 2 in the bridge. The Infinity 2 is Alnico 5, it had good clarity for pick attack, the neck Infinity one was ceramic. I noticed that you could play hard rock riffs single note attack like cleans and they worked.

    I’m switching my blacktops in my Standard HH Stratocaster out to Alinco V and Ceramic Neck. Probably JB, Screamin Demon, or Full Shred in the neck.

    I mean I really love the warmth the Alcino 2, and in my brand spankin new Strat the harmonics are sick. Theirs enough sparkle to create a rock rainbow with my power chords. Har.

  • Sam Roney

    not everyone is a metal player. would be nice to have some variety in the tone samples

  • steve

    cool,thanks

  • NoNuZ TheEgo

    Still waiting seymour duncan using neodymium magnet

  • Rolf-Arny SoreGuard

    Alnico V & Ceramic

  • TT335i

    Preference order: 2, 5, ceramic, 8. To my ears the 8 was muddiest. I am surprised that I preferred Alnico 2 the most, but then I like high gain with clarity and in this sample Alnico 2 delivered nicely. Alinico 8 was surprising in that I thought it would give a tighter distortion, and yet it sounded muddiest. I like the ceramic more than the alnico 8

  • H. Johnson

    I don’t know how you can tell with all the distortion it all sounds like a load of crap.

  • gattart

    Oh Yes, I agree with everybody… however, ya gotta admit, one man’s ‘warm’ is another man’s ‘muddy’.
    For the last 30 years I thought that the magnets in my T-Tops were alnico 2, yet only alnico 5 pups had the same sound in my backup guitars (mostly SGs, Gibsons or otherwise)… and it turns out that the T-Tops in my SG actually have alnico 5 magnets. In my ’63 SG any alnico 2 pups just sound muddy, ceramics are fine but then I lose the sound I’ve grown to expect and love from my old guitar. Once you find a sound you really like, then it all becomes ‘inspiring’. I went through most Gibson, Dimarzio and Duncan pups (almost stayed with the ‘59s, and I still keep an SH9 as an emergency spare that sounds great in any position), but the T-Tops are just the right mix of bite and warmth for me.
    Then again, you could probably play a ’50s Black Beauty into a Dumble, or a broomstick with strings mike’d with an old motorola phone and nobody in a crowd could possibly care less… as long you play what they like!
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d6130cab5836525c43fec35e1396921b01f471fa3b22d43a040331e5100661a3.jpg