Neck Vs Bridge Pickups

Posted on by Orpheo

Pickups come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and with so much tonal variety that it can be a daunting task for a novice to find out what pickup would suit their needs. It is imaginable that a player who plays predominantly jazz would rather have a pickup with a very clear and articulated tone, so their complex chords don’t turn in to a tonal mush. On the other hand, a jazz player would want their tone to be warm at the same time for his solos. A guitarist who plays metal would want something different. Aggression, tightness of the lows and lots of output are 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 80s 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.

Written on July 17, 2012, by Orpheo

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Comments (6)

  • Orpheo 8 years ago

    The article says,””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.””And this is not entirely incorrect – it is correct that metal players prefer these types of pickups, but it is incorrect studio practice.I am a 6-year professional audio engineer who has studied under grammy-winning engineers of Slipknot, Guns N Roses, and Led Zeppelin, so let me give you a few short tips.Aggression and lots of output is great for metal players, but into a studio situation, high gain is best substituted for proper equalization. Now what that means is use lots of gain… but back it down just a touch from where you would normally put it. On solos it is different – the gain acts as a leveler and smoother. But on rhythm parts, the rhythm only gets lost with high gain. Aggression can be created by EQ’ing the frequency bands of 4kHz-5kHz and 200Hz-300Hz. EQ is not a total substitute for gain – your guitar needs some distortion! But back it down a bit and leave the aggression part to the professional mixing engineer. They are professionals for a reason.With that being said, output volume and tightness of the lows are two things that should only be controlled by the engineer when in the studio. Dynamics are the single most touchy and difficult part of a mix, so let the professionals handle it. This is done through limiting, compression, and multi-band processing using tools that do the job far better than cranking up the pickups on a guitar. Don’t worry about cutting through the mix. The engineer will take care of that. Your job is to play, and keep yourself at a steady volume. Cheers,–John

    • Orpheo 8 years ago

      Hi John, i found what you wrote interesting as i have become a tone-freak and am attempting to record at home (for-now). I pretty much always have my gain cranked (coupled with an overdrive pedal in-front through a noise supressor’s loop) and get a nice live distortion tone this way… However, when i put a mic in front of the cab to try to capture what my ears are hearing it doesn’t turn-out the same! I am using pro gear and use Adam Dutkiewicz production philosophy of KISS (keep it simple stupid!) – i have an sm57 straight into mbox2 to pro tools le8.0 i think it is… Would messing around with the EQ like you say get me the tone i am hearing in real-time?

      • Orpheo 8 years ago

        Have a look at Ola Englud’s channel on Youtube, he has some great tips as to how to record metal guitars with some basic EQing and filtering. Might help. 

        Cheers

      • Orpheo 8 years ago

        I find this pdf very usefull when eq’en instrument:

        http://emusictips.com/downloads/Frequency_ranges.pdf 

      • Orpheo 8 years ago

        Aah, well I can certainly answer that. 

        You have to understand that when you listen to your amp in your room, you are hearing not only every part of the amp – the front, back, cone, edge – but also the room and physical guitar as well! What I mean to say is that in any recording situation you can imagine, it is impossible to capture that sound without an impossible amount of microphones. 

        However, it’s very possible to get a good tone by using the microphone as an EQ;)

        Different mics have different frequency responses, meaning some may boost guitar presence, some may cut it, some may remove bass drum paper-like sound, some may add string resonance… it’s all relative. Check out recordinghacks.com ‘s microphone database to see the response graphs of hundreds of microphones. 

        But aside from the mic itself, the preamp you chose and the actual microphone placement have major roles in tone. Generally, moving the microphone very close to the cabinet (0-2inches) results in the deepest sound. Distances of 3-6+ are brighter, and in the case of certain microphones and bass cabinets, distance means a lower, deeper sound. The reason for that is because bass frequencies are very large wavelengths and take much time to develop – the distance of even 12 feet. At the same time, certain microphones (condensors and ribbons) have something known as proximity effect. Proximity effect is when there is a large low-frequency boost created by a microphone very close to the source. 

        A few things about the setup – first of all, that engineer is 100% right. Keep it as simple as possible!!! The more gear you add on, the more unwanted distortion, noise, and phase shift you add, which significantly reduces recording quality, and can prevent a mix from ever sounding good. Remember that your BEST mix and master are only as good as the initial recording! That means you need top quality, and top performance.

        Noise suppressors are great, but they are just gates. They cut off noise during silence – but while the guitar is playing, the noise is loud and clear. I have a suggestion that is, unfortunately, a little difficult. It will take much research and practice – if you chose to follow it. But I would recommend learning the art of audio restoration. It has brought my noisy guitar tracks to pristine perfection. It also has made my perfect tracks the perfection of perfection. Tools like iZotope RX are great for this. Same with DiamondCut DC8 and a few others. 

        There is much more I have to say, but this is getting to be a long message. I’ll DM you on facebook.

    • Orpheo 8 years ago

      I have a Schecter 7 string blackjack and I use it to create densely layered instrumental metal and I have to agree.

      Distortion piles up FAST and next thing you know your song sounds like headbanging to the sound of a wide open kitchen tap.

      I’ve dialed down my distortion on layers to a point where the tracks sound almost clean on their own but when added to the song, they sound dirty by association.

      I’ve also experimented with the 5 way switch a LOT and I’m slowly turning into a neck pickup kind of guy. EQ the bass guitar gets a little trickier down the line but the overall sound is so round and warm.

      And it also eliminates guesswork when you’re looking to cut through the mix, you just go to the bridge pickup for that layer and boom here it is. No more head splitting dilemmas on panning, stereo field, volume, compression, EQ. You can now use those to artistic effect instead of having to struggle with them just to hear what’s going on.

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