How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Humbucker for ULTIMATE TONE!
Okie dokie gang, this is kinda part three in this series which started with How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Stratocaster for ULTIMATE STRAT TONE! And then came How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Telecaster for ULTIMATE TELE TONE! So, what about setting the height on humbucker equipped guitars like Les Pauls? Well, let’s get into it!
Once again, I need to make it clear that these are my personal recommendations. You may be going for something totally different, and as such may want to totally disregard my suggestions; if so, I fully understand, and rest assured, my feelings will not be hurt in the least bit.
Okay, now this is important,
as far as pickup height is concerned, humbuckers are a whole different animal from single-coils. Because the magnetic field, or the part of the string being sensed by the pickup, is soooo much smaller and more focused with a single-coil, even microscopic changes in pickup height make a perceivable sonic difference; humbuckers are different. Humbuckers are sensing a much larger portion of the strings movement, and as such are a little more lenient on pickup to string height adjustment. From nearly as close as the pickup can get without touching the strings to as far away as it can be adjusted, decent tones can be had.
I prefer to use a digital caliper to take measurements, but a quality luthier’s ruler will do fine if you have excellent vision! Okay, so with no further ado, here are my suggestions and reasons why.
Alnico II or III humbuckers:
Low E: 3mm / 0.125"
Hi E : 2.5mm / 0.1"
Low E: 3.5mm / 0.14"
Hi E : 2.3mm / 0.09"
(Measurements from the bottom of the string to the top of the magnetic pole piece screws)
Yep … that’s CLOSE! But here’s why: The old PAF design using Alnico III or II magnets has a single small bar magnet in the base providing the magnetic charge for both the steel pole-piece screws and slugs in both bobbins of a humbucker. The measured magnetism (gauss) at the actual pole screw in these humbuckers is only about 200-300gauss, compare that to the 1000+ gauss of a typical Strat or Tele style pickup … there’s a HUGE difference here, buddy! As you raise the pickup closer to the strings the tone gets brighter and more focused … now with a super bright single coil, that’s usually a bad thing, especially on the bridge pickup. However, with the relatively warm tone, wide detection area, and inherently low magnetic pull of these original humbucker designs, that’s EXACTLY what makes them come alive
Alnico V humbuckers:
Since the Alnico 5 humbuckers have an increased gauss (about 350-500 at the poles), I generally won’t smack them up against the strings quite so close, as they would tend to get a bit “bitey” as close as what I just outlined for Alnico 2 or 3. However, they DO tend to still sound their best fairly close, as compared to single coils. Here are my general starting point settings:
Low E: 3.5mm / 0.14"
Hi E : 3.1mm / 0.12"
Low E: 4.0mm / 0.16"
Hi E : 2.8mm / 0.11"
I don’t like (and I don’t make) any humbuckers with ceramic (Ferric) magnets;
I find their tone to be terribly sterile and uninspiring, as such I’m not going to give any recommended settings here, other than my usual suggestion of properly tossing them in the waste basket, don’t worry … there’s nothing in them that will hurt the environment.
A final note on humbucker height setting:
As stated earlier, quality humbuckers with AlNiCo magnets are quite forgiving of height adjustments compared to Fender style single-coils. The truth is that you might find the tone you are looking for anywhere from the closest you can get those puppies to the strings all the way to as far as you can get them away from the strings (about 6-7mm is as far as you can go on a Les Paul style guitar). Just remember this:
The closer you get to the strings the brighter, louder, and more focused the tone will get.
The further you move the pickup away from the strings the warmer, quieter, and less focused the tone will get.
There ya have it, see y’all next time.