Are you deliberating about upgrading your guitar with high end pickups? Maybe you’re not sure whether it will make any noticeable difference.
This article will address the topic of expensive guitar pickups. Let’s start with the question from the headline. Are expensive guitar pickups worth it?
Expensive guitar pickups are, more often than not, just not worth the money. In most cases, you can barely hear and feel the difference in sound between average, expensive or cheap pickups. There are expensive pickups that may sound better, but there are expensive pickups whose sound is nowhere near spectacular, too.
On top of that, you have plenty of cheap pickups that sound perfectly fine. Pickups are just, IMO, not the thing you should focus on.
There Are Bigger Factors That Shape Guitar Sound
The main factor that determines the sound of a guitar is a guitarist playing it. If you’re a crappy guitar player, no pickup can save you from sounding bad. However, if you’re really advanced guitarist, you may slightly benefit from pickup upgrading. But then again, it’s not worth mentioning.
After that, another big factor is guitar amp. If we talk about guitar tone, amps play much more significant role in shaping the overall guitar sound.
However, this doesn’t mean that every pickup upgrading is pointless. Guitar could sound a bit better, but only if you deliberately do some research about which pickups fit your guitar and your amp. + If you play good. Then it would make some sense to upgrade your guitar with a pickup.
So, to wrap this up: Expensive pickups can become noticeable factor only after two preconditions are met: You have to be a very good guitar player, the one that plays with high clarity and dexterity. Second, your amp has to be good quality amp with fine calibrated settings (knobs, gain, etc.)
P.S. Keep in mind that there’s no clear consensus about whether expensive pickups are worth it, and whether upgrading pickups is pointless or not. It’s just my opinion, and you can see from the whole internet – there’s a debate about this issue. However, I think the majority of guitarists think that expensive pickups aren’t that important in shaping the overall sound of a guitar.
In the article, I’ll do my best to elaborate further my take on expensive pickups.
Why Are Some Guitar Pickups So Expensive?
It’s usually because of a brand (+ PR). Some pickups are just branded as high end pickups. Also, hand made pickups are usually more expensive, since they’re not factory made in a mass production series.
If we think about materials that make a guitar pickup, there shouldn’t be any significant difference between cheap and expensive guitar pickups. You have the plastic, the magnet and the copper wire. A wire is a wire. A plastic is a plastic. It shouldn’t be the determining factor in the equation.
These materials are just the same, and that applies for most of the pickups on the market. Yes, some really expensive pickups can have, for example, silver wire instead of a copper wire. The reasoning behind this is that silver has a slightly less resistivity. It’s funny when you think about it. Silver wire? So what? What’s the big deal. Who cares?
Also, a lot of expensive pickups are mass produced, so basically, you got to ask yourself: What really makes these pickups that expensive?
The only logical answer is the brand, PR and marketing stuff. If you ever buy some expensive pickups (over 150 bucks up to 300 and higher), you’ll get a pamphlet paper with the product. In it you can read all sorts of PR mumbo jumbo about how these pickups are so great and unique, touch responsive, how they sound uniquely special, and so on.
That’s all great, until you do a blind test with cheap vs. expensive pickups. After that, you realize there’s no difference at all. It’s hilarious.
Do Expensive Pickups Sound Better?
Usually, expensive pickups don’t sound better so much that it justifies the price. Also, there are plenty of expensive pickups on the market that sound just average. There are expensive pickups that sound a bit better, but still, not THAT much better.
Think about it. What is a pickup? It’s basically a magnet around which a wire is wounded. It picks up the disturbance in the surroundings caused by string vibrations. In what way could expensive pickups make such a big difference in sound picking from an average priced pickup?
The role of a guitar pickup doesn’t have much to do with the TONE of the guitar. A good pickup is the one that picks up the sound from the guitar properly, in a way that it has a good dynamic sensitivity. Bad pickup picks up the sound from the guitar poorly.
But pickups are meant to work properly anyway. Do you get what I’m trying to say? Why wouldn’t an average priced or cheap priced pickup work properly in the first place? That’s the point of a pickup. It must work properly.
Is It Worth Upgrading Guitar Pickups?
Usually, it’s not. But then again, if you like to experiment, then why wouldn’t you experiment with pickup upgrading? After all, it can be interesting to do such thing. Still, don’t expect anything significant to happen. Most people don’t hear any significant difference between different pickups.
If you do plan to upgrade your guitar pickups, keep this in mind. Don’t upgrade pickups on a guitar you don’t play much. It’s pointless to upgrade your guitar, unless you spend time with it, regularly.
Is It Worth Changing Pickups On a Cheap Guitar?
It depends. Again, changing pickups won’t make your guitar sound any better. At least it won’t sound neither better nor worse for majority of people, because majority of people can’t tell the difference. It’s that subtle.
Secondly, don’t change pickups on a guitar that doesn’t have good playability in the first place.
And finally, the most justifiable reason to change a pickup is if the existing pickups go bad.
Take Good Care of Pickups And You’ll Be Good
This is the key thing to take from this topic. If you take a good care about your guitar pickups, your guitar should be just fine. I think that you should focus primarily on your guitar playing. And then on your guitar amp.
Guitar pickups usually don’t wear out and they usually don’t go bad if you take good care of them. You should primarily keep in mind that they don’t rust over time. Corrosion can affect guitar pickups. Also, make sure the action of guitar pickups is well adjusted.
For that matter, you can read more about it on this page:
Anyway, if you play good, you’ll sound good. There’s no pickup that will make you sound better if you don’t play good in the first place. As a guitarist, I can relate to the need of getting everything spiced up and optimized.
However, what I realized through the years of playing guitar is that what matters the most is not some fancy upgrade or some fancy guitar pedal, cable, pick, and so on. What matters, most of the time, is how you play. That’s it. If you think your guitar could sound better with expensive guitar pickups, think about the following:
What would happen if some great guitarist comes, takes your guitar and starts playing it? For example, if Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton come into your room, grab your guitar and play it?
Would you think the guitar sounds average, or would you look in awe at how beautiful it sounds? Of course, the latter would be the case. Also, there are a lot of examples of great rock recordings in which guitarists used cheap pickup. After all, at the time of recording an album, many of today’s rock guitarists were unknown, and therefore not rich to afford expensive gear, including pickups.
With that in mind, I hope you understand that expensive pickups are expensive primarily because they are branded as high end products which purpose is to sell more.
I hope you liked this article. If you enjoyed reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it, I’m more than happy about it.
Take a look at other interesting articles about guitar related topics and issues.
Cheers, and rock on!