Lindy Fralin on how to set pickup height

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Issue 208 January 16, 2014

Lindy Fralin, of Lindy Fralin Pickups, shows how he sets pickup heights. Lindy shows it's not about measuring, it's about listening. Recorded at last summer's Northwoods Seminar in Michigan.

About the guitar in this video: Lindy's Strat is outfitted with his Split-Blade pickups, fully humbucking replacements for traditional single-coils.

In this Trade Secrets video:
  • Good starting points for bass and treble side
  • Start with the pickup you use most
  • Balancing bridge/neck/middle pickups
  • Warning: Keep magnets away from your pickups!

Extra video: StewMac went to the Northwoods Seminar, an intense week of workshops at Galloup Guitars in Michigan. Over a dozen great luthiers gave workshops, and also gave us great Trade Secrets. This short video gives a feel of the 2013 Northwoods Seminar.

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Video Transcription

[on-screen text reads: How to set pickup height - Trade Secrets!]

Lindy Fralin: I'm often asked, when someone buys a new set of pickups, how to set them up. What's the proper string height? The pole pieces of many pickups are strong enough to pull the strings out of tune. So you don't want to just raise them up close as you can. You have to consider several things. The person's style, how hard they play. I often ask them what's their favorite pickup, because that might be where we start.

It's not about measuring, it's about listening

And on a Strat, it's a neck pickup for me. So I push the strings down at the highest fret and I kind of eyeball around a 16th on this treble side, and about an eighth on the wound side. And then the next thing you have to do is listen, because if you've ever gotten a Strat pickup and a neck too close to the strings, it will pull the string out of tune. It will interfere with its vibration and you'll hear two notes at once, or a warbling sound.

Now this guitar can be a lot closer because it's not the [inaudible 00:00:58] rods. And then you start listening. And if we're going to turn this amp on, the closer a pickup is the louder, but it might have a harsher treble and the lower you make it, the weaker it is, but it's a little sweeter sounding. So this is why I say you just can't measure. You have to have a sense of what you want from the pickup. You have to listen, and just use your ears. And as long as you're not hearing that out-of-tune from this pickup being too close, then it's right for you. And of course it's an adjustment. You can do it again next time you feel like it.

So we'll lower this a little bit and hear what it does. It's a little weaker, a little less bright. And now it's of course louder on the treble side. So we'll illustrate going down there, what that does. We've gotten a little weaker. I definitely do this by ear, and play it a little bit and do it again. I'm just listening now to both tone and balance. See, I've got my brightness back. I like this. So I think that's right. And if I was looking at it on this pickup, I'm around a 16th on both sides.

When you think you're done with your favorite pickup, just go to the one you use the next, which for me is a bridge. This is adjusted right, it seems to me. Because when I go back and forth, I hear the right volume. We can lower this and hear what it would do. Got a little softer, a little more acoustic. And some people might like that tone better. But I want them bright, so I'm going to raise this back up a little bit.

I don't think I'm quite close enough. And when I think I'm done, you would have to hand it to your customer and make sure it's not too high for him because he may play harder than I am right now. Some of them finger pick, and the pole pieces get in their way and they'll want you to lower it. But for purely tone, I've got these two set the way I want them. And I'll balance the middle in with them.

Don't use magnets on your pickups

It's in the right place for this guitar. I want to remind people too, sometimes people send pickups back to me that aren't performing correctly. And I find that the magnets have been demagnetized. It took a little figuring out, but I think it's coming from people taking the strong, rare earth magnets you can purchase now almost anywhere, and trying to get steel wool filings off of these pickups. You might be dressing frets or they may be just on your desk. If you have to remove filings from a pickup, either use tape or a screwdriver. Don't ever use a magnet, because if you touch the pole pieces with a screwdriver lightly, the filings will stick and just tap them into a trash can. You don't want to ever take magnets to your pickups, because you could easily Demagnetize them, which will change the tone.

[on-screen text reads: Another tip from Lindy: "Don't use a soldering gun. Their heavy magnetic field can de-mag pickups, too."]



Lindy Fralin

Guitar Builder and Tech

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