Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech - Jemsite
Tech: Setup, Repairs and Mods Guitar workbench discussion such as setup, repairs, mods, installing new parts and more.

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post #1 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-18-2019, 04:37 PM Thread Starter
 
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Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

Just passing this on, and can't see a reference here.

In 2017 I took my JEM555BK to a local guitar tech Neal Ad****s who'd just retired from 20 years touring with Iron maiden mostly, but who had also worked for Elton John, Queen, and others.

When I got my guitar back from him it sounded and played better. One of the tone tweaks he pointed out to me was that he'd lowered the pickups so they were further away from the strings, allowing them to vibrate more freely by being less damped by the magnetic fields of the pickups - it gave them a subtly better tone with more dynamics. He told me it was a common error to set pickups high for volume, and that guitars often came out of the factory like this. I was very happy with what he'd done.

I recently bought a limited spot-run Ibanez S670QM made for the 2018 NAMM show. Gorgeous looking guitar with same HSH as the JEM, but these are Ibanez Quantums rather than the Evolutions I had in my JEM. The guitar sounded brighter and louder, partly due to the mahogany body and maple top. But the pickups sounded more compressed than on my JEM, especially the neck pickup. I could live with that, it was a different guitar with lower spec pickups. But just out of interest I got a ruler and lowered the pickups to how Neal had setup my JEM and immediately had more tone and dynamic response!

Sorry if this is old hat for some of you, but it was new to me and I've been playing over 30 years!

Sadly he passed away last year, but I'm grateful he passed on some basics to me
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post #2 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 10:25 AM
 
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

Quote:
Originally Posted by greenman View Post
Just passing this on, and can't see a reference here.

In 2017 I took my JEM555BK to a local guitar tech Neal Ad****s who'd just retired from 20 years touring with Iron maiden mostly, but who had also worked for Elton John, Queen, and others.

When I got my guitar back from him it sounded and played better. One of the tone tweaks he pointed out to me was that he'd lowered the pickups so they were further away from the strings, allowing them to vibrate more freely by being less damped by the magnetic fields of the pickups - it gave them a subtly better tone with more dynamics. He told me it was a common error to set pickups high for volume, and that guitars often came out of the factory like this. I was very happy with what he'd done.

I recently bought a limited spot-run Ibanez S670QM made for the 2018 NAMM show. Gorgeous looking guitar with same HSH as the JEM, but these are Ibanez Quantums rather than the Evolutions I had in my JEM. The guitar sounded brighter and louder, partly due to the mahogany body and maple top. But the pickups sounded more compressed than on my JEM, especially the neck pickup. I could live with that, it was a different guitar with lower spec pickups. But just out of interest I got a ruler and lowered the pickups to how Neal had setup my JEM and immediately had more tone and dynamic response!

Sorry if this is old hat for some of you, but it was new to me and I've been playing over 30 years!

Sadly he passed away last year, but I'm grateful he passed on some basics to me

I'd be curious just how low you set them... Could you measure or post a pic? I've played around with pickup height quite a bit and seem to lose the sensitivity when lowered under the high E string. I usually end up lowering the pickup a bit more under the low e string to get rid of the boomy sound when palm muting the low E. I just can't seem to find a the happy place and thought about buying an EQ pedal to put in front of my processor or in the fx loop to boost and cut where needed.


Smith and Murray always had great sound, by the way... Grew up listening to them and still do. One of my all time favorite metal bands!
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post #3 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 12:18 PM
 
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

For Floyd equipped guitars a good starting point is to do a full trem rise-up; that is how the strings get closer to the pole pieces of the bridge pick up. Then lower the bridge pick up to get around 1-1.5 mm of clearance from the top of the pole pieces to the botton of the string. Release the trem to neutral position and adjust the neck pick up by ear until you get the same volume from both pick ups. Usually the neck pick up ends positioned down into the cavity just arising a little bit.
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post #4 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 03:32 PM Thread Starter
 
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

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Originally Posted by FireEagle View Post
I'd be curious just how low you set them... Could you measure or post a pic?
Hi FireEagle

OK here's how Neal set up my JEM (low E then high E) in mm

Neck pickup: 5.5, 4
Middle: 5.5, 3
Bridge: 6.5, 4

Hope that helps as a starting point
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post #5 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-19-2019, 07:18 PM
 
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

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Originally Posted by greenman View Post
Hi FireEagle

OK here's how Neal set up my JEM (low E then high E) in mm

Neck pickup: 5.5, 4
Middle: 5.5, 3
Bridge: 6.5, 4

Hope that helps as a starting point

Yes... I'll experiment in that range a bit. Thank you!
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post #6 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-20-2019, 04:34 AM
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

Quote:
Originally Posted by greenman View Post
Hi FireEagle

OK here's how Neal set up my JEM (low E then high E) in mm

Neck pickup: 5.5, 4
Middle: 5.5, 3
Bridge: 6.5, 4

Hope that helps as a starting point

Awesome! Thanks greenman



Time to get the screwdriver out and do some tweaking, I've been setting my humbuckers at around 2mm and dropping my single almost flush with the scratchplate, just out of habit really.
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post #7 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-20-2019, 06:11 PM Thread Starter
 
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

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Originally Posted by pteropid View Post
Awesome! Thanks greenman

Time to get the screwdriver out and do some tweaking, I've been setting my humbuckers at around 2mm and dropping my single almost flush with the scratchplate, just out of habit really.
How did it go pteropid?

When I set up my Dragon with these measurements the single coil was closer in volume to the Humbuckers. When I played the JEM again the middle volume was lower so I raised it a quarter turn and now the pickup outputs on the JEM are more even like on the Dragon.

So I don't take Neal's measurements as set in stone but they've been a useful starting point. At the end of the day it's about how you want your sound. But the basic idea is that setting your pickups lower than factory defaults (and definitely lower than 2mm!) should give a little tweak to tone and dynamics without much loss of volume
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post #8 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-24-2019, 12:06 AM
 
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Hi,I second this. For unknown reason, most guitars that I bought new always came out from the factory with a pretty high PU height. Earlier this month, I bought the RG 550 genesis and the pickup (out from the box) were just set too high. Before I bought it, I asked the store manager to lower them a bit and it changed the sound drastically. Very good advice you throw in here 🙂
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post #9 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-24-2019, 04:11 AM
 
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

Quote:
Originally Posted by greenman View Post
Hi FireEagle

OK here's how Neal set up my JEM (low E then high E) in mm

Neck pickup: 5.5, 4
Middle: 5.5, 3
Bridge: 6.5, 4

Hope that helps as a starting point
Are that measurements pressing down the strings on the last fret or just with the string unpressed?
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post #10 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-26-2019, 04:15 PM Thread Starter
 
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

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Are that measurements pressing down the strings on the last fret or just with the string unpressed?
Hi vy100. Open strings, not fretted.
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post #11 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-26-2019, 04:28 PM Thread Starter
 
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

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Originally Posted by Joan View Post
Hi,I second this. For unknown reason, most guitars that I bought new always came out from the factory with a pretty high PU height. Earlier this month, I bought the RG 550 genesis and the pickup (out from the box) were just set too high. Before I bought it, I asked the store manager to lower them a bit and it changed the sound drastically. Very good advice you throw in here 🙂
Thanks Joan! I wonder if the default factory setups are to make the guitars sound loud and impressive in the shop? But lowering them certainly improves dynamics and articulation. What clued you to the idea your RG550 pickups were set too high? I'd never really come across this tweak before
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post #12 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-27-2019, 08:15 AM
 
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Hi,Greenman.
Simple, most of them ,including the RG 550 genesis I bought earlier this month, were almost touching the strings when I took it out of the box. I also had some experiences with setup, so that was certainly helpful too. But I think It was more obvious when I plugged it into the amplifier. It sounded horrible, I almost gave it up because of that and bad reps about the V7and 8, and wanted to just buy the RG 655. But I had listened their demos on Youtube before I went to the store and my finding was the opposite of what I heard. So, I asked the shop to lower it down and got much decent sound. To be honest, I really don't understand why this PU had got so bad reps, it is not great for modern metal but, It is very good for playing classic rock, and Metal 80s, which was actually how I remembered about Ibby!

I had done experiments about the pickup height before with my old guitars, so many that I can say that, IMHO, pickup which is set too high (or too low) will never give the right tone coming out from a guitar.

So, everytime I want to buy only one guitar but I have several choices, I will always see if the pickups are set too high first, which is quite often in my country, and ask the shop to lower them down. (of course, other things should be checked too)

I had several cheap guitars with pickups which has always been considered "bad pickups", and after several years of playing, I finally understood why people hated them. But, after I learned to setup my own guitar properly, I found that I stopped feeling I need to change the pickups anymore. That was actually an unexpected finding.
Some people said that changing pickup height will not make much difference, but, IMHO, that is not true, I would say that it will be like night and day.
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Last edited by Joan; 02-27-2019 at 08:39 AM.
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post #13 of 14 (permalink) Old 02-27-2019, 08:29 AM
 
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oh ,btw,Greenman. I think it is better if you measure the pickup height while you press down the string at the last fret. That is how we usually do the setup.
Take a look at this website: hazeguitars.com, search on their blog: "problems due to pickup height" . This Blog really spot on this topic
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post #14 of 14 (permalink) Old 03-11-2019, 01:49 AM
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Re: Pickup height mods from Iron Maiden's guitar tech

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Originally Posted by greenman View Post
How did it go pteropid?

When I set up my Dragon with these measurements the single coil was closer in volume to the Humbuckers. When I played the JEM again the middle volume was lower so I raised it a quarter turn and now the pickup outputs on the JEM are more even like on the Dragon.

So I don't take Neal's measurements as set in stone but they've been a useful starting point. At the end of the day it's about how you want your sound. But the basic idea is that setting your pickups lower than factory defaults (and definitely lower than 2mm!) should give a little tweak to tone and dynamics without much loss of volume

Sorry about that, got distracted with work stuff for a bit.


I measure heights with the strings depressed at the 24th and the trem pulled up full, so it turns out that my measurements are pretty much identical to what you listed (for the humbuckers anyway).


I usually drop the centre single to be flush with the scratch plate as it used to get in my way, but with the older JEMs they already have a weak output that just doesn't cut it at the lower height. I've gone back and raised them in the FP and the VBK using your measurements as I've been using the split neck/middle postion a lot more lately, I must be getting old or something. Sounds good



Cheers greenman.
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