How To Optimize Your Pickup’s String Balance
Today, we’re discussing a commonly-overlooked task of adjusting your guitar pickup’s pole pieces and fine-tuning your string balance. We know – you’re obsessed with experimenting with your guitar, pickups, and other gear to find the right tone for you. Luckily, fine-tuning your string balance is one of the most straightforward experiments you can do! But, of course, there’s always more to learn, so let’s dig in!
Why Fine-Tune Your String Balance?
Because it’s fun, that’s why! Guitar pickups with adjustable pole pieces can fine-tune your string-to-string balance to achieve the most balanced tone out of your guitar. Doing so optimizes your guitar’s pickups to your guitar electronics and gear.
I don’t have adjustable pole pieces. What can I do?
You might think if you have a Strat or Tele pickup with staggered magnets, you can adjust the magnet heights to balance your strings. Don’t. Magnets glued into fiberboard will almost certainly damage or even destroy your pickup if you push the magnets out. Instead, ensure you have the correct magnet stagger for your guitar’s fingerboard radius and set your pickup height correctly – that’s all you can do.
Things to consider before adjusting your pole pieces
There are a few “best practices” when adjusting your pole pieces.
- Make sure you set pickup height correctly first. If you don’t set pickup height correctly and start adjusting the pole pieces, you can throw the entire pickup and tone out of balance. It’s best to get your pickups set to the correct height, then play with the string balance.
- Adjust in small increments, carefully listening after each adjustment. A little bit goes a long way! Start by adjusting the pole pieces in 1/4-turn increments.
- It should be the last adjustment you make. See #1. Make sure everything else is sounding good before experimenting with your string balance.
How to adjust your string balance:
To adjust your string balance from your guitar pickups, follow these simple steps:
- First, make sure you have the height correctly on all pickups.
- Screw all pole pieces until flush with the top of the pickup (be careful not to overtighten)
- Plug your guitar into a clean amp on medium to low volume.
- Play a chord, plucking each note of the chord as evenly as possible. Listen intently for drops or increases in volume as you play.
- If you notice a drop in volume when moving to a new string, raise the string’s pole piece by turning it counter-clockwise by 1/4 turn.
- Repeat the previous step until you’re happy with the results.
At Fralin Pickups, we pre-set a stagger that looks something close to the image below. Notice how the pole piece screw heads are relatively close to the pickup (the closer, the better). Notice the D string pole piece is raised – this is because the core of the D string is the smallest core and thus needs the pole piece to be closer to the string. Also, notice the B pole piece is the farthest away from its corresponding string. This is because the B string tends to sound loudest on the guitar, and adjusting the pole piece away from the string tames the volume.
Also, you can transform your pickup’s tone by adjusting the overall pickup height further from the strings and raising the pole pieces closer to the strings. Doing so gives the guitar’s pickup a more transparent, quieter, and acoustic tone. Cool!
Well, there you have it. Fine-tuning your guitar’s string balance can have a subtle yet powerful effect on your overall tone. Don’t overlook this simple step, and as always, keep tinkering!