Pickup Slant Test


Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster are some of the most iconic electric guitars out there. They can be heard on countless number of record of pretty much any genre of music. One design element they both feature is the single coil bridge pickup that is slightly slanted compared to the neck pickup. Because of this slant, the pole pieces of the pickup are closer to the bridge on the thinner strings and further away from the bridge on thicker strings. Take a look below at the original Strat patent from 1954.

As we all know, the further a pickup is from the bridge, the warmer it sounds. The neck pickup is closer to the “belly” of the string oscillation, so it will register more of the fundamental tone of the string. In contrast, the bridge pickup is further away from the “belly” and will catch more of the harmonics and less of the fundamental tone. That makes it brighter sounding compared to the neck (and the middle) pickup.

So what does that mean for our slanted bridge pickup? Since thicker strings are further away from the bridge, they will register more of the fundamental and less harmonics than the thinner strings. The result is that thicker strings will sound warmer and thinner strings will sound brighter. But is that a necessarily good thing? Thicker strings already produce lower notes, so why add more bass to them?

But what if we reversed the slant angle and made the bridge pickup closer to the bridge for the thicker strings instead? This happens when you flip a right-handed Strat and use it as a left-handed guitar and some say that it was one of the factors that contributed to the unique sound of Jimi Hendrix.

It sort of makes sense. Reversing the slant would make the bass strings sound tighter and add warmth to the thin strings that can sound too bright on a Strat. At the same time, it totally changes the look of the guitar. I am so used to the standard pickup slant, so this makes my eyes hurt 🙂 .

The Experiment

In order to confirm or deny this theory, I came up with a simple experiment. I installed two fresh low E strings on my Mini Headless Tele guitar – one as the 1st and one as the 6th string. I setup the pickup height so that it produces equal volume on both strings and then recorded a few one-string riffs on each of the two strings. If there is any truth to the story, there should be some audible difference between the two strings. Everything else is identical – it’s the same guitar, same wood, same wiring and the two strings are factory-fresh .042″ Elixir Nanoweb. The only real difference is that the bridge pickup is closer to the bridge for one of the two strings.

Below is the quick recording I made with this setup through my Tech21 Fly Rig RK5. I played a few phrases, first on the “regular” low E string and then on the “reversed” low E string. Some phrases are played on clean-ish sound, some are dirty and some are high gain.

Below is an MP3 version of the recording.

The results are pretty clear. On all the phrases you can hear how the bass is tighter on the “reversed” string. The difference is really night and day. I think that this would be beneficial for any style and any level of gain. Cleaner tones are more “twangy” and dirty tones are more focused and tight. And where it would probably make the biggest difference is the high gain tones where any excess bass makes the sound farty.

This was an eye-opening experience for me. If I’m ever to build a Strat or Tele guitar again, I would definitely reverse the bridge pickup slant, no matter how strange it looks.

One Response to “Pickup Slant Test”
  1. Rascal Houdi says:

    I did this with a Tobacco Sunburst Strat-copy I put together last year. I like it a lot, but the only problem is that people assume I must like and play a lot of Hendrix stuff. You know-“Can you play us some Hendrix, like right now Man?!

    I mean I play some but it is hardly the bulk of my repetoire. I did it JUST for the tone possibility. And I have 1 master vol., and 1 master tone, tried and removed a blend pot. It was a time-consumer, having to fiddle with to find the “right” tone at that particular moment, and a switch for straight out to the output, and a switch for 7 tones, a la Roger Gilmour. I must like and play lots of Floyd stuff too.

    Also. I got the latest DIYLC to run! I deleted everything DIYLC already installed on my laptop (program file folder, my Users:\”name”\ .diylc folder, EVERYTHING. Shut off the firewall, antimalware, and then downloaded the latest DIYLC 4.5.0, turned it on and !Voila!!! It gets past the intro splash png.!!!

    So far, so good!

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    The idea behind this site is to share my experience with Do It Yourself approach to guitars, amplifiers and pedals. Whether you want to save a couple of bucks by performing a mod or upgrade yourself instead of paying a tech, or want to build your own piece of gear from scratch, I'm sure you will find something interesting here. Also, this is the home of DIY Layout Creator, a free piece of software for drawing circuit layouts and schematics, written with DIY enthusiasts in mind.