How To Properly Set Pickup Height
Learning how to set your pickup’s height correctly is probably the most overlooked step in purchasing a set of pickups. It would be like buying a new car and not inflating the tires. Pickup height is a critical element of your guitar’s tone. Set too low, and your pickup is inefficient and weak. Set too high, and your pickup will cause all sorts of problems for you. Let’s delve into why pickup height matters, and how to set it correctly!
Why Pickup Height Matters:
Set to the correct height, your pickup’s magnets create a strong magnetic field that gives your guitar the tone that you love. Set too high, and your pickups can push and pull your strings out of tune. The Magnetic Field is not optimized when the pickup is set too low.
This article focuses on pickups that feature Alnico Magnets – think Stratocaster or Telecaster. P90-Style pickups really benefit from the entire pickup raised to the optimized height, then fine-tuning the string balance with pole pieces. Split Blades are a different beast: check the video below to see Lindy adjust some Split Blades.
How To Measure:
- Start by pressing the Low E String (Bass Side) down at the highest fret, and hold it while you measure.
- Measure the distance from the bottom of the string to the top of the Low E Pole.
- Do the same thing on the High E String (Treble Side).
Let’s clear something up: there is no 100% accurate height. That said, here is a great starting point:
The reason why there is no “100% correct” height, is that every guitar, player, and playing style differs. One guitarist may play harder than another guitarist, and one guitar may have thicker and heavier gauge guitar strings than another!
1.) Setting Pickup Height Too High:
Setting your pickup height too high will cause your magnets to push and pull your strings out of tune. Here’s a quick way to tell if this is happening to you: play the Low E string at a high fret (15th fret is a good one to start at). You might hear a “warbling” sound. That sound is your magnet fighting your string. Back the pickup away until the “warbling” sound disappears!
2.) Setting Pickup Height Too Low:
Setting your pickup height too low would cause your pickup not to be optimized for your guitar. Your magnetic field “floats” above the pickup, and if your strings are out of the field, you won’t get a rich, full tone. That said, backing off on your pickup’s height will cause your bass to thin and your pickup to sound a bit “sweeter” – you might like it! Experiment!
3.) Wrong Orientation:
The correct pickup height orientation is lower on the bass side and closer on the treble side. Your Bass strings have more mass and will disturb the magnetic field more than treble strings. Reversing your pickup height orientation will provide you with “warbling” bass strings and thin treble strings – not good.
Lindy’s Take On it:
As Lindy likes to explain it, adjusting your pickup’s height is not all about measuring, it’s about listening as well!
Well, that about does it for this month. Stay tuned for future articles!
I want to thank you for the article it is super .I hade no idea what to do with a Disney guitar that I bought a couple of years ago when I played it without plugging it in it sounded ok but when I plugged it in it was unabled to play , after reading your article and a little adjustment it sounds great .so thank you very much..
Thanks for showing me that the six-string pup height starting point will work for a Bass. I’m setting up a Yamaha and cannot find the set-up specs for the pups, anywhere. Thanks, Lindy!
Hey Tyler, I enjoyed this informative article, but at the beginning under the paragraph; “WHY PICKUP HEIGHT MATTERS: the second sentence says; “Set too high, and your strings can push and pull your strings out of tune.”
Shouldn’t it say “Set too high, and your PICKUPS can push and pull your strings out of tune.”?
Why yes it should! Corrected. Thanks, Tom!
Yep – I firmly agree that using your ears as the final test of correct pickup heights is true! I carried a small screwdriver to gigs for years to fine tune my Stratocaster on stage, resulting in a great well balanced and clear sound, for blues and country rock styles. (no “stratitis”) Great. Experiment, always.
What’s the correct setting for a single coil lap steel?
Hi, Regarding pickup height. I have 2 P 90s on a Jazzmaster. Is the “correct” height for the Neck and Bridge pickups the same?
The first image showing the correct heights is incorrect. You have the lower bass side marked as 1/8″ (which is closer) and the higher treble side marked as 1/16″( which is further away). You then use the same measurements for an incorrect height later on. Just thought I’d point that out
I double-checked the image and it is correct. 1/8″ from the top of the pole to the bottom of the low E string is double the height of the 1/16″ on the treble side. Please let me know if I missed something, or try clearing your browser cache and reloading the page?
Is there an easy way to adjust the height and alignment on dogear P90 pickups? I have a Epiphone Riviera Custom and the spacers don’t seem to align exactly with the angle on the fretboard. Could someone please show a video on doing a setup on a Riviera? Thank you.
How about information on setting pickup height for basses? BTW, I’m already a satisfied split-coil J Bass pickup customer, currently eyeing a PJ set for my Fender American Vintage Reissue ’62 P Bass
Marc in Westlake Village, CA
The same pickup height starting point described in this article also works for bass. Remember, it’s just a starting point. Definitely put your bass through its paces and adjust as necessary.
Hello all at Fralin
I know Lindy doesn’t measure pickup height but could someone at Fralin please measure Lindy’s Strat with split blade vintage pickups and publish the stats as a starting point.Thank you kindly
Those Split Blades sound awesome.