The Middle Pickup
I have an s-series Ibanez with passive humbuckers in the bridge and neck and a single-coil middle pickup. I rarely used to use the middle pickup until I started playing a few stratocasters, and loving the tone when trying all the different single-coil pickup positions.
I got a few questions: how often do guitarists use the middle pickup by itself as opposed to the positions that mix neck/middle and bridge/middle; can you get similar tones using humbuckers/middle as you can with single-coil/middle; and how would it sound to use active pickups instead of passive pickups when playing in the various pickup-positions?
this is all very subjective â€¦
I've never been a big fan of the center pup all by itself -- especially if playing relatively clean setup. I like the mellowness of the neck pup, and if I need to cut through with a more searing tone, the bridge pup is there. the middle pup always seemed a little so-so. but recently, I thought about it and then tried a couple experiments to see if the center pup would actually do a better job than the others in certain situations. the first case I was able to confirm is that using the center pup when playing dirty will usually produce more definition as compared to the neck pup -- not as thick as the neck, and with tighter attack and note clarity. of course the bridge pup does this as well, but there is a definite loss of fundamental note body. the middle is a good compromise. I might be able to get something like it by rolling off the tone and using the bridge pup, but it really is not the same. the second case tried and confirmed as good is the middle when playing cleaner, but high on the fret board. here, the middle pup can actually sound as nice and smooth and full bodied as the neck pup does when playing in the low frets. this makes sense, as it's all about placement of the pup relative to the fretted length of the string. when playing up high, I'd like the pup to still be sitting at about 25% the string distance from the bridge to the fretted note (or nut for open notes) to pick up a lot of the second harmonic energy. if I'm playing high, the neck pup actually sits closer to the 2nd harmonic null. in that case, the middle pup will be in a better position.
mixing pups: if you want the well-defined scooped tone that the neck-middle or middle-bridge get on a Strat (all single coils), but with a single center and a 'bucker in the neck or bridge, then consider using tapped 'buckers. a single + 'bucker will not produce as much of pristine, quacky timbre as two singles. but using the tapped setting on the 'bucker makes it a single coil.
active vs. passive: all depends upon the actives and passive you are comparing. the EMG actives popular with metal players are often characterized as powerful and sterile by those who are not so taken with them. but being clear and sterile may very well be the best signal to drive a heavy duty metal or nu-metal distortion setup. go to a store an play some guitars with EMG, various alnico "vintage" passive pups and modern passives and listen -- or better yet, get someone else to play while you listen.
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