pickups vs. amp
I have an Epiphone LP Standard and a Roland Cube30 amp and am unsatisfied. I've seen great reviews for both of these items, but this combination isn't working for me.
I assumed that I wanted a new amp, but after giving it some thought and doing some reading, I'm thinking that maybe I should upgrade the pickups on the guitar. I've read a lot of reviews that said the stock pickups are terrible and that after upgrading, the guitar sounded a lot better.
So, my question is this: What plays the larger role, the pickups or the amp? Put another way, if you could do only one thing to improve tone, would you upgrade the pickups or upgrade the amp?
I'm not really on a quest for the perfect tone, but I'd like to approximate AC/DC. I will probably upgrade to a combo amp at some point, but I don't want to sink $500 - $600 into a new amp if the pickups are still going to sound bad.
There are a couple of things to try at a local guitar store.
1 Try some distortion pedals with your guitar and the Roland cube.
2 Try a few different $500 and up amps.
I like the cube 30, but I bought a Blues Jr.
3 Try a couple of other Epis and a Gibson or two. Preferably a selection of models with various pickups. If you see a Godin LG with humbuckers, you might want to try that too. Make sure you still like your guitar, listen to what a Custom model with it's hotter pickups does, etc.
You may still want to change the pickups, but I think you'll be better off making sure you have the right amp-pedal-guitar combination first. Withou hearing what it sounds like, that the best advice I can give. New pick-ups may give and extra bit of clarity, more kick, but your better off making sure the other components are right first.
"Things may get a whole lot worse/ Before suddenly falling apart"
"Look at me coyote, don't let a little road dust put you off" Knopfler
Stock Pickups are terrible? Angus Young uses stock pickups (according to some interview I read), think about that one.
Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with buying new pickups but i personally believe that an amp has more to do with tone then pickups, try playing your guitar through many amps and see if you notice a tone you like. However, I think some guitars (especially cheaper ones) might have cheaper pickups, I have two guitars that i'm thinking of getting new pickups for, but I think i'm going to get a better amp first and then go from there.
Nobody makes terrible pickups. A pickup's nothing but a coil of wire wound around a magnet or magnetized pole pieces. There are several variables involved in their construction that affect their sound. Price is not one of them. Every pickup acts as a bandpass filter, the bandwidth and peak response height of which vary with the coil's inductance, distributed capacitance, and resistance (which affects the coil's "Q.") The strength of the magnetic field affects the output sensitivity, and the presence or absence of conductive elements like metal baseplates and metallic magnets (like Alnico) in close proximity to the coil affect the capacitance and inductance of the coil so it's not quite the same as it would be in isolation. But beyond these physical factors, there's no "mojo" to a pickup. Just coils and magnets. They're all compromises. If you increase the coil's inductance to increase the output (a "hotter" pickup,) you move the peak response of the bandpass filter to a lower frequency, for example. Don't waste your time and money changing pickups just because some bozo on an Internet board says "The stock pickups are terrible." Play the guitar till you become familiar with it. If you can then name a characteristic of its pickups that you'd like to change, then you can intelligently pick out pickups whose compromised characteristics have been shifted more in that direction.
"A cheerful heart is good medicine."
I would try an EQ pedal first. You can pick up a Danelectro Fish & Chips EQ for $30.
I am only recommending this pedal because I own one and know it to be very good and effective (read the reviews), and also because it is very inexpensive. But others may recommend other brands to you.
An EQ pedal allows you to fine tune your tone far better than you can with either your guitar's or amp's EQ controls. You can dial in very precise amounts of bass, middle, and highs. Also very simple and easy to use. Just push the sliders and listen to the tone. :D
I would try this first. You will like the EQ pedal anyway, and can be used with other guitars and amps in the future.
If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis
Ditto what Wes just said!
I noticed that my guitars low end "boomed" a bit. It muddied up the sound. Everytime I used the amps "Low" EQ control I took away too much of the mids as well. I got the Danelectro pedal for Christmas and have been able to really fine tune the guitar's signal. It was a dramatic improvement!
Man, this is a great site. I appreciate all the responses. I've learned a lot and you guys have given me some things to think about.
Man I also have the Cube 30 and i have to be honest i think it's pretty cool. I'm running a goth explorer with EMG Pickups through it and it sounds great. More than one person has commented on the sound from that little amp.
When i got my explorer it had the stock pickups which weren't bad but i certainly noticed an improvement when i replaced them.
It's def a bit thin when it comes to volume when playing with drums and the guy next to you has a freakin huge bass amp -youre gonna be struggling.
Try using the rectifier mode turn down the level of distortion till it fits, you might also try adding some delay - just a little though.
And all the things you said to me
I need your arms to welcome me
But a cold stone's all I see
Let my heart go
Pickups don't determine your volume. The amp does. A "hotter" pickup can make your volume greater at a particular setting of the amp knob, but a simple tweak of the knob will make up for that. Pickups' output level can certainly effect the gain control setting where distortion starts, or the total amount of preamp distortion you can get with it cranked, but you ought to be able to get full volume out of an amp with a clean signal.
Pickups have very little effect on your tone if you're running through heavily distorted effects or heavily overdriving your amp.
Pickups get way too much credit for tone, good or bad. They're one small link in a chain. You hear their contribution best when playing very clean. They're equivalent to microphones. How many singers have you heard lately obsessing about their mics? (Some do.)
"A cheerful heart is good medicine."