Fralin Pickups Sustain Article Cover Image

Do Guitar Pickups Affect Sustain?

Today, we’re tackling a question we often get asked: Which of your pickups has the most sustain

If you’re looking for the short answer, it’s this: pickups don’t really affect your instrument’s sustain. Your guitar’s components make up the bulk of the reason why your guitar has a good sustain – or doesn’t. But – there’s more to it than that, so let’s dig in and further explain what’s happening with your guitar’s sustain.

Where does your guitar’s sustain come from?

Your guitar’s sustain is not solely dependent on the pickups. The pickups are designed to capture the vibrations of the strings. If the string isn’t sustaining, it’s not your pickups’ fault (…or is it? We’ll explore this further in a moment).

“If your guitar isn’t sustaining acoustically, it’s not going to sustain electrically”.

Lindy Fralin

The sustain of an instrument comes from the sum of its parts:

  1. The guitar’s body – the shape, design, and tonewoods chosen
  2. The string’s “contact points” – think the Bridge, saddle, and nut
  3. The setup of your instrument

If your guitar is a solid-body instrument with a quality Bridge and Bone nut, its strings will sustain more than those of a guitar without these attributes.

Fralin'Trons in a Telecaster
Lindy’s custom-made Telecaster with a Tune-o-matic® bridge and Fralin Neck sustains for days!

How do pickups affect sustain?

Your guitar’s pickups only affect sustain if they are set too high. Setting pickups too high can affect the string’s oscillation pattern physically (your strings are bumping into the pickup) or magnetically (your strings are getting pulled by the pickup’s magnets).

Follow this guide to properly set your pickup’s height and get the most sustain out of your guitar.

How do I increase my guitar’s sustain?

While changing your guitar’s body or tonewood selection is only feasible by buying a new guitar or body, you can increase your guitar’s sustain by performing a few simple upgrades and tweaks. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Get a proper setup. If your action is too low, your string will not oscillate as long as it should. Set your action a little higher, and your tone (and sustain) will thank you.
  2. Increase the quality of your Bridge. Your Bridge and Saddles are generally the first “point of contact” for your guitar’s string. A solid, quality point that the string can rest on can help increase your sustain. Check out Callaham bridges and saddles for Stratocasters or Telecasters—they can make an enormous difference. For example, I replaced my Strat’s tremolo block and saddles with Callaham parts, and it was almost too much sustain—it’s a total game changer!
  3. Check your nut! While this sounds a bit goofy, it’s true. A properly cut nut made of dense material will allow your strings to sustain longer than a soft plastic nut.
  4. Check your pickup height (read this article here). As mentioned above, if your pickups are set too high, they can affect the oscillation pattern of your strings.
  5. Increase your string gauge. If you’re one of those players using 8s on your guitar and suffering from sustain problems, try increasing your string gauge to at least 10s (if you can). You’ll need another setup, but you’ll notice improvements in your sustain!

If you take the time to improve the acoustic qualities of your instrument, you’ll only benefit when you plug your beloved guitar into your amp. Got any sustain tips? Drop them below!

Written By:

Tyler Delsack

👋 I'm Tyler Delsack, the Manager of Fralin Pickups. I've been a guitarist for 26 years, and along with managing the shop and working on this Website, I love tinkering with things!

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