Pickups: Are They Important for the Sound?
Does it matter what pickups you use? I was kind of just planning to do this video where I would follow along with the process of changing pickups in this guitar, my Epiphone Sheraton. But then along the way, I managed to get super surprised, not once, but twice.
And now that it has been a few weeks I can also add a bit more perspective since I shot the video, which I will at the end of the article.
The Epiphone Sheraton
You might know this guitar already. It’s my Epiphone Sheraton that was sort of an experiment to figure out if semi-hollow guitars were what I wanted to play. It’s actually a fairly, well, it’s a very cheap instrument, but it’s also a very good guitar.
When I got it, I quite quickly decided that the stock pickups were just not up to scratch. They were quite muddy. So I changed those out for a pair of these Bare Knuckle The Mule pickups.
And that was really a massive upgrade so that I could actually play jazz chords with extensions and alterations, and you could still hear what’s going on.
But I still always kind of had the feeling that maybe you could get more out of the guitar with some different pickups, that they were maybe a bit too dark. Of course, they still do the job for the type of sound that I use most of the time, but I have thought about changing them. But I just never really got around to testing that idea.
An Email From Ron Ellis
Then I got an email from the nice guys over at Ron Ellis Pickups,
and they suggested that I try out some of their pickups. And that was, of course, a nice opportunity to figure out if I was right about the fact that you could get more out of this guitar.
So I had a phone call with Ron. We talked about what would fit a guitar like this. And I ended up going with these, which are a pair of his signature humbuckers.
And full disclosure, they sent me those pickups for free. I didn’t pay for them, but they don’t get to see this video or have any influence on what I’m saying in it. That’s just my opinion.
Changing Pickups – The Debate?
In the last few years, there have been quite a few videos talking about whether the pickups make any difference in the sound of the instrument. I think I used to assume that there would be a massive difference.
From my experience with changing the pickups in this guitar from the stock pickups to the bare knuckles, the Glenn Fricker videos were probably the most entertaining.
And I thought it was interesting to see that he concluded that there wasn’t really any real difference when it came to what pickups you used for Metal. But of course, I think there are a lot of things that don’t make a lot of difference when it comes to metal….. 😁
And of course, Jim Lill has made several videos figuring out what makes the biggest difference, the wood, the strings, or the pickups.
So this is something that has been debated a little bit. But of course, I also play jazz. So I wanted to see what makes a difference when you’re playing jazz.
I wasn’t expecting a massive difference going from the bare knuckles to the Ronellis pickups because it’s just one boutique brand to another. And I’m sure they both make really solid products and the pickups are really good. So I was quite surprised that I felt a massive difference in the workshop.
Now, unfortunately, the way we recorded stuff in the workshop was just using the mic that I have on my camera.
You can’t really use that to compare in the YouTube videos. I have other recordings that I will compare later in this video. But you can at least judge from how I talk about it.
Talking To Richard Heeres At His Workshop
Jens: “So I’m here with Richard to help me change the pickups, or he didn’t help me. He did it. That’s a better description. So now you heard both before and after. I wasn’t really expecting much of a difference, but I was actually pretty blown away by it. There was a lot of difference in terms of how clear the chords are. And yeah, it really makes a massive difference, in my opinion. What did you think?”
Richard: “Both are still excellent pickups that are, these new ones, the Ellis are just more of everything. I had the feeling that the chords are really nice because you hear the trebles so well. And the bass is really there as a fundament, not to…”
Jens: “Yeah, yeah, not taking over the spectrum. Yeah, okay, so sure. Yeah, like I only played for a minute or something, but yeah, the difference is pretty massive actually. I’m quite surprised that it was this much of a difference. Cool, but hey, thank you for the help.”
Richard: “Thank you.”
Jens: “And I also have some videos coming, there’s probably gonna be some YouTube shots with one of his guitars, and in the future, probably more. Thanks.”
Trying The Ron Ellis Pickups
So I went home and it felt like the guitar was completely reborn. It had opened it up completely, but then I started to make some recordings to compare them.
I decided to compare the two sets by having single note lines in one example, and also compare how they sound when I’m playing chords. So for the single note lines, I’m using Straight Note Chaser because it’s a simple blues theme, I can just go back and forth. And then I also recorded two takes on Body and Soul using either set just to listen to how it sounds with when you’re playing chords, if it’s clear.
And I think chord melody is really good for this because there you kind of have sort of the full range of the instrument, you’re not just playing a few notes in the chord, you have like a bass note, and both high and low and mid in there to just tell if it’s really transparent, if it’s really clear. So first, just the single notes.
So there’s not a massive difference here, I think. You can hear that it’s not exactly the same, but it’s almost to the point that if you were listening to this with a band and I was changing back and forth between the takes, it would be difficult to tell that I’m actually changing anything because of course, it’s still the same guitar and it’s also still, unfortunately, the same guitar player.
And all I can think is really, do you really think it makes that big of a difference? But maybe it’s different with chords.
I think there’s more of a difference of sound in the chord melody and it kind of fits with what I talked to Richard about. So the Bare Knuckle pickups are much more mid-focused. The Ron Ellis pickups have this thing that they’re not really boomy in the low end and there’s a lot more high end in there. And I guess the Bare Knuckle, it’s almost as if you kind of have like a tube screamer built into it. So it cuts the highs and it boosts the mids a bit. And that can be a good thing as well. That’s really gonna be a question of taste.
If I think about like how I reacted to the instrument because the instrument when I played it in the workshop really felt different. There was a massive difference for me and it really felt like it had opened up. And when I’m listening to the recordings also from the workshop, then I don’t really hear that back in the same way.
Conclusion (sort off..)
There can of course also be some factors when it comes to pickups in terms of how they react and how they feel to play. And that’s stuff that I can’t really describe. And another thing that’s most likely also a factor is that I’m human. So I’m also just reacting to it. And in this situation, there’s some psychology in there as well. And that will make the difference.
The only thing with that is that I was kind of expecting there not to be a difference. And then when I felt the difference, I was completely blown away by it. So it was actually a massive difference compared to what I was expecting. And that doesn’t really make sense to me.
So now that I’m finishing the video and editing it, then I thought I would just add a little bit of perspective to what’s going on because it’s been a few weeks. It’s been two weeks since I got the pickups changed. And this is still my main instrument. This is what I’ve been playing. You probably already saw it in YouTube videos, on Instagram, maybe on Patreon.
So I think that actually says something, even if it isn’t scientific evidence, of course.
Testing Guitars For Jazz
I’m curious what you guys think. So let me know about that in the comment section. It’s a very surprising result for me actually, but it’s not the first time that I’ve had really surprising results when I’m comparing gear. And if you want another surprise, then you want to check out this video where I’m playing a lot of very different guitars and they kind of all sound the same.
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