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!
This guide helped me a lot setting up my guitar, but still I’m pretty sure the pickup wasn’t installed correctly
Bought Fender Acoustsonic 40 amp that claimed worked ok for electric.Have a fake strat with China knockoff pick-ups and controls in S-S-H format with5-way switch. Used Stew Mac instructions exact to set pickup height. When plugged in the bridge humbucker is three times as loud as neck and middle pick-ups. Tone control on guitar seems unresponsive! Took measurement of pickups unplugged with multimeter on 20K setting and got ball-park readings of 16K- for bridge humbucker,7K for middle and 6K for neck pick-up. How can I most important fix volume even on switch positions and second get some response from the dead sounding tone control. A luthier did the wiring for me about a year back? huge thanks -Rob
Happy Holidays!! Amazing- thanks so much for this helpful post – my Les Paul was playing nice but something just not 100% – warblers on the Low E, just adjusted my bridge pickup height (BB2 and 3) by less than a mm (sorry! Metric!) and raised my neck by2mm and woah!!!! instant improvements 🙂
So I’m the proud owner of Fender’s 75th Anniversary Commemorative Stratocaster-
my very first Strat. Reading how they check it over before shipping, and then seeing those initials of those who did on the tag hanging from the timing knob, I wonder how a U.S.-made guitar of this nature can be sent out having the neck pickup seemingly be defective/shorted out? There was simply no sound from it with the selector in the top/5th position-
until I cranked All three volumes to the max.Then I could hear it under extreme circumstances.
So it does work! I thought perhaps this great instructional article could remedy it if the height was off enough, and if so I could carefully fix it rather than sending it in the shop. (under warranty of course) But after tooling around ever so carefully (I’m still somewhat a novice at all of this btw) with no changes, I realize that no height adjustment will never fix it.
What may be wrong with my U.S. factory fresh Fender?
Hey Michael, it could be a few different things. For one, it could be an improper soldering joint where the Neck pickup is soldered to the switch. You could remedy this by touching up the soldering joints at the Switch. It could also be a defective switch – does wiggling the switch perpendicular to its normal switch direction cause it to make contact? If so, that’s your problem. Lastly, it could be a defective pickup as well. It could be corroded and barely getting a reading. The best way to tell if your pickup is going bad is to follow this article here. Most Strat Pickups (single coil, not hum-canceling or noiseless) should read in the 6-7K range. If you’re getting something like 30K, you know you have a corrosion problem.
You never say whether you’re talking about basses or guitars! 🙁
Hey Shawna, sorry about that! The height is about the same for both guitars and basses, although you might need a bit more clearance on the Bass due to the oscillation pattern of a Bass’s string. That said, the measurements in this article are just starting points.
I have one amazing set of vintage Hot!
for a good setup can I have the right value in mm
pick up high ,
pole to the top of the strings
Pressing the last fret.
Which best capacitor for this pickup recommended?
Hello Michele, The bass side should be 3.1mm from the top of the pole piece to the string. The treble side should be 1.6mm. We recommend 0.2mfd Caps with your set up!
I learned over the Years to use my Eyes and Ears when setting just about anything on a Guitar…
I bought a Les Paul Traditional, last edition in 2019. Same exact guitar as the new original 50s. Anyways, Burstbucker 1 neck and BB2 for bridge. Play in a punk rock band, other guitarist plays a lot of 5 chord power chords but I like to play different 4-6 string chord voicings in a higher octave of select chords during a progression. I really wanted those treble strings to shine, but I just couldn’t with these humbuckers – so I thought. For over 18 months straight, I’ve been borderline crackhead adjusting my pole piece heights and pickup heights. I do that more than I’ve actually played the damn thing. Anyways, so today I finally realized, when I actually lowered my treble side on my bridge pickup, the muddiness I was experiencing earlier from jacking the shit out of the poles/p/u height totally went away. Long story short, the dynamic and tonal range of just one pair of humbuckers is incredible. You can get any output level and any tone you want with whatever pickups you have. My buddy swapped out his 57 Classics for some whack ass shit without ever once testing different p/u and pole piece heights. I felt like smacking him. Anyways, yeah. I also notice how there sort of is a sweet spot, and it comes out of nowhere but doesn’t stay for long if you keep tweakin’ the screws. Once I’d overtweak I’d get so pissed because I knew it would take a week to find that sweet spot again.
Great starting point for pickup height. It’s helped minimize a warbling sound in the bass strings of my Stratocaster. It never really goes away though, and it gets worse when I deviate from these guidelines, even when I drop the pickups all the way DOWN to the pickguard. I’m starting to think it’s just a facet of Strats at this point. Won’t go away no matter what amount of relief or action I put on it. Still helped significantly though.
After adding Fralin shims, this has literally transformed several p90 equipped guitars, and one with humbuckers. Anemic bridge pickups woke up with the snappy and potent voice that was missing. The mid positions on all axes suddenly offered up new sounds. Check your bridge pickups first. This appears to be where the bogeys start taking the whoop and snap out of your sound. The neck response was also better – after balancing things out across the strings! Getting this stuff right will make you love your old guitar again!