Saturday, January 5, 2013

SINGLE COIL PICKUPS! PART 1/2 (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
Today we're going to talk about guitar and bass single coil pickups!
Let's start off by saying what a pickup is: a pickup is a magnet (with a core of material such as Alnico or Ceramic), wrapped with a coil of thousands of turns of copper wire, that electromagnetically converts the vibration of the strings to an electric signal; this signal is fed to an amplifier and then sent to a speaker, which makes it audible.

The first pickups to be mounted on a guitar were created by George Beauchamp in the early '20s, and consisted of two large "U" shaped magnets and one coil, known as the "horseshoe pickup".
The pickup was mounted for some Rickenbacker lap steel guitar, these devices started to appear  on a regular guitar more than 10 years later.
The pickup (and therefore the concept of electric guitar) became popular around 1936, with a Jazz player called Charlie Christian, which featured a pickup on his hollow body guitar, a Gibson Es150, and his endorsement made this device finally famous.

The single coil Pickups were the first to be created, and consisted as we said in one coil for each pickup, that granted a certain output according to the power of the magnet and the amount of copper wrapped around it: the more the power, the more the input level from the guitar to the amplifier, therefore a fuller tone, richer, more suited for distortion.
The lesser the output, instead, the more the tone tends to be similiar to an acoustic guitar and acquires the vintage character typical of the '50s and '60s guitars.

A known issue of single coil pickups is Noise: for some reason this kind of pickup is prone to catch a hum known as "the 50/60hz hum", caused by magnetic disturbances, and this problem can become pretty annoying when turning up the amplifier gain, therefore through time many manufacturers started to research their own way to solve this problem, and the two most effective results has been the Humbucker (Click here for a dedicated article), and the active pickups (created by Emg), which can be both Humbucker or Single Coil and consists on a low output pickup passing through a battery powered internal preamp that raises the output level keeping it clean and crisp.
Other producers (such as Lace Sensor, Kinman and Fender itself with the Vintage Noiseless Pickup serie, produced around the year 2000) succeeded in creating Single Coil pickups that produced no hum, by using innovative materials and trying different winding techniques.

Hum problem is a minor problem for Bass, since this instrument is usually less distorted and less hi-frequencies oriented, yet for some music genre it's suggested anyway to use active pickups, since even bass can reach high levels of distortion.
Another interesting feature is the fact that the magnet polepieces can be set in the pickup following different criteria: one for each string as it happens most of the times, two for each string (as in the case of some Fender Precision and Jazz bass), or "lipstick" / "Rail" type, with a single pole taking the vibrations of all the strings, or just a group of them.


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