Pickups come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, with so much tonal variety, it can be a daunting task for a novice to find out what pickup would suit his (or her) needs. It is imaginable that a player who plays predominantly jazz would rather have a pickup with a very clear and articulated tone, so his complex chords don’t turn in to a tonal mush. On the other hand, a jazz player would want his tone to be warm at the same time for his solo’s. A guitarist who plays metal would want something different. Aggression, tightness of the lows and lots of output is what many metal players want to cut through the band mix when playing with heavy gain.
Choosing the right pickup set can be a daunting task. Not only because there are so many wishes but also because there are so many pickups to choose from. To make things even worse, the field of pickups to choose from gets even more complicated because there are a lot of pickups that have a bridge and a neck version! In this blog I will try to explain my views on the neck and bridge versions of pickups in general: why they exist and how they differ from each other and how you can use bridge and neck pickups in another way you might not have thought about.
The differentiation of pickups in neck – and bridge categories is because it’s easy. Because the amplitude of the string is bigger near where the neck pickup is positioned you can use a pickup with less output near the neck than a pickup near the bridge in order to balance out the output differences between the pickups. The manufacturer will always list the best application for a pickup, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use a pickup in a spot of your choosing!
The JB is a classic pickup in the bridge position of many guitars. In the eighties it was used extensively in superstrats. Many records were recorded using the JB in the bridge of a superstrat, and to this day, the JB is still highly popular. Yet, the JB works great in the neck position of a strat with a hard ash or maple body too! It will result in a fat, singing lead with enough bite to cut through the mix like a hot knife through butter.
The Jazz comes in two flavors: the neck and bridge versions. The neck version (in the neck position) is a classical combination with the JB in the bridge position in a guitar with a carved maple top on a mahogany back with a mahogany neck. It will result in a very clear, warm tone with great articulation. Some players like the clarity but find that the jazz neck lacks some power, some creamyness to their tone. To negate that problem they can either choose to put in a different magnet (an alnico 8 is a great choice to boost the output of a pickup and get a warmer tone at the same time; ask the sales representatives to have a production floor custom mod on your pickup of choice!). Another option is to just buy the bridge-version of the pickup. Since the neck and bridge versions are wound to sound similar (but not the same of course!) the tone of the two will be close to each other, yet with subtle differences.
In essence, neck and bridge versions of a pickup are chosen because they fit together in terms of output, resonance frequency and general voicing, simply to make it easier on the user. There is something to be said to just name each pickup individually and ignore the neck/bridge differentiation. On the other hand, the way the pickups are being named by Seymour Duncan makes matching pickups that have a higher chance of working great together in neck and bridge positions easier. In the end there is no best way. Always keep in mind that if you are unsure on how to proceed with choosing your pickup, just take a step back and analyze in detail what problems you are experiencing. If you have (bought) a pickup that doesn’t work for you just drop the customer service an email for advice.