In this day and age of the electric guitar, we’ve pretty much seen it all. AlNiCo 2-8, Ceramic, Samarium Cobalt – guitarists and innovators are always trying new things to get different tones – but, what’s the difference between them? How do you choose?
We’ve decided to make a little magnet “Cheat Sheet” for your reference, and experimentation. Let’s start with the basics:
A Magnet is any type of material that produces a magnetic field. Elements like Iron, Nickel, and Cobalt are what is known as Ferromagnetic – an alloy or material containing some iron that can be charged and magnetized to produce a field.
In guitar pickups, we use Permanent Magnets. These are magnets that produce a persistent magnetic field – a field that will keep pulling and pushing, all the time. This can be an alloy (a mixture of metals) – like AlNiCo (Hey! You’ve heard of that!), or, Rare-Earth magnets like Samarium-Cobalt and Neodymium magnets.
We don’t expect you to be an electromagnetic engineer – but what’s the difference tonally? What do they do to your tone?
ALL ABOUT ALNICO:
Alnico is a type of alloy consisting of Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt – all mixed with Iron. I’m sure you’ve heard of people using alloys because they make stronger and more efficient metals – well, for our purposes, Alnico is relatively hard to de-magnetize. Alnico comes in different strengths as well, and they all have an important impact on your tone. Here’s some that we use pretty frequently in our pickups:
Alnico 2 is the second weakest of the Alnico strengths, thus it pulls the strings less. It also has what’s referred to as the most “vintage” tone. It has more mids, and more tapered and softer highs than Alnico 3. The lows are loose and bouncy, instead of tight. Some might refer to it as “vintage” or “smooth”. We use Alnico 2 in our Pure P.A.F.’s to give them the classic vintage tone we all know.
Alnico 3 is the weakest of the Alnico magnets and has the lowest amount of string pull in a bar magnet. It’s lows are soft and bouncy, mids are generally warm and full, and highs are glassy. We use Alnico 3 magnets in our Real 54’s to give them a bright, glassy tone. Curiously, Alnico 3 is weaker than Alnico 2 in a Bar Magnet form, but stronger than Alnico 2 in a Rod Magnet form.
Alnico 4 is stronger than both Alnico 2 and 3, but weaker than Alnico 5. It has the most balanced and “even” EQ out of all of the Alnico strengths. The bass and highs are tighter and stronger than Alnico 2, and the midrange is more balanced. We use this pickup in our Standard Humbucker and P90’s, and it helps to balance out the overwound properties of them. Alnico 4 has softer highs than Alnico 5.
Alnico 5 is our most widely used Alnico magnet. In it’s rod form, Alnico 5 gives the traditional Fender tone. We use Alnico 5 in all of our Strat, Tele, and Bass pickups. In Fender-style pickups, it has the best balance of extended lows, mids, and highs. Alnico 5 gives that open, airy top-end sparkle that we’re so used to. In Humbuckers, it gives our pickups a brighter tone, which is why we use them in our High Output Humbuckers.
Well, that’s a basic run-down of Alnico. We use Alnico all the time, and we love the tone that it produces. We’ve basically just skimmed the surface, so, stay tuned for Part 2 which we will get into the Rare-Earth magnets and Ceramics.