Pickup height adjustments are one of the easiest ways for musicians to improve their guitar’s tone.
Everyone spends countless hours chasing the perfect sound, and some are willing to pay a small fortune to achieve results.
When you start changing the pickup height of your Seymour Duncans, you can get more clarity, warmth, balance, and output.
It only takes a few turns of a screwdriver to achieve this result, but you’ll need to be cognizant of how close or far your strings are from them.
If you’ve never thought about changing pickup height, the following information will dissect what to expect when using this method to create different guitar sounds.
Seymour Duncan Pickup Height
Adjusting the height of Seymour Duncan pickups is a quick, easy, and free way to modify a guitar’s tone. The best place to start is at 3/32 of an inch (2.38 mm) to see how the notes, chords, and techniques sound. From there, you can raise or lower them based on your personal preferences.
If you don’t have a measuring tool at home to use to measure your pickup height, you can use U.S. half dollars to provide a reasonable approximation. Each 50-cent piece is 2.15 mm, offering a visual check on your setup.
Some guitars might sound better at 1/8 of an inch, which means you can stack them between the pickups and the strings to see where you’re at with your height. In that situation, you’d stack four half dollar coins to check your measurement.
Why Does It Matter if My Pickups Are Off a Little?
Everyone chooses pickup height at some point during a playing career. Whether you’ve purchased an instrument with an unknown past or you’re replacing worn-out stock units with Seymour Duncans, you’ll need to think about raising or lowering the new part.
Although a brand-new guitar comes at factory specs, that doesn’t mean the pickups are automatically dialed into your playing style.
General handling and vibration cause them to move as time passes, which is why an instrument has a slow, downward curve in its tone and quality.
If you’ve noticed issues with tuning stability, overall performance, or tone quality, your pickups have likely shifted to the point where an adjustment is necessary.
Making Adjustments with Low Pickup Height
Guitars can have their pickups end up too far down the body for several reasons.
- Natural movement occurs while handling the guitar, playing it frequently, or having the screws loosen as time passes.
- Dropping them out of the way of your hands when you prefer a fingerpicking style.
- Output reduction when the instrument has more aggression and attack in its tone quality than desired.
The problem that you run into when making a Seymour Duncan pickup height adjustment in those circumstances is that you’ll create new issues to manage.
Weaker audio output is the most obvious concern you’ll need to counter. You can lower a humbucker for a cleaner tone with more jazz or blues tones to it, but that adjustment creates a thinner sound.
Lower pickups also create tonal mismatches when switching between different pickup positions.
That’s why it might be better to replace a pickup with too much power or noise than to make it sound weaker with an adjustment.
Making Adjustments with High Pickup Height
Many musicians choose to raise their pickup height to attain results that the equipment was never designed to produce. If they get too high, the outcome makes most guitars unusable until the issue gets corrected.
When the magnets found in the pickups get too close to the instrument’s strings, their magnetic fields inhibit the natural motion from the vibration. You’ll end up with less sustain and definition as you keep pushing the height higher.
If you’ve topped out the neck pickups to improve tone, you can end up with enough pull where the only thing your guitar does is buzz out.
Pushing the barrier too much here creates the unwanted Wolf Tone. This issue happens when your overloaded interactions take over your sound with extra overtones and harmonics in harmful ways.
You end up with a “beating” effect that is more reminiscent of brainwave entrainment products than music played from the stage.
Should you get a Wolf Tone with your guitar after making a pickup height adjustment, you can fix the problem by lowering them some.
Magnets, Gaussing, and Pickup Height
Gaussing is the process of magnetizing the pickups. If a lower ferromagnetic strength is needed, degaussing might be part of the process.
Different magnet types, including ceramic and alnico, react to this process differently. That’s how they produce the unique tone and characteristics when equipped with a guitar.
Although several examples are available that go against the “average” trends, a ceramic magnet produces a higher output with more tightness in the tonality than alnicos.
If you enjoy something vintage, that’s when you’d want to roll with something equipped with the latter.
When you consider the Seymour Duncan pickup height for your instrument, the type and strength of the magnets helped to determine the best set point.
Since no two magnets are exactly alike, it’s up to you to experiment with placement to achieve the best results with your guitar.
How to Adjust the Height of a Guitar Pickup
The best way to adjust a guitar pickup height depends on the design in question. Seymour Duncan is like many manufacturers, producing options that create several different sounds on multiple instruments.
Here are the best options for a variety of situations you might face when trying to update the sound of your instrument.
|Pickup Type to Adjust||How to Adjust the Pickup Height|
|Humbucker Pickups||Most humbuckers have a screw on either side of the pickup. If your guitar has a pickup ring, it’ll be suspended from it with those attachments. Raise it by turning clockwise, lower by going in the other direction. If you have a direct mount version, turn clockwise to lower the height.|
|Strat Single Coil Pickups||Most Seymour Duncan Strat-style pickups get adjusted the same way as a humbucker. Turn the mounting screws on each side to raise or lower them based on your preferences. Watch out about going too deep to avoid having them drop into the instrument cavity.|
|Telecaster Single Coil Pickups||It’s a bit tougher to adjust the pickup height on a Tele. The bridge pickup is suspended by three screws on a metal plate, which means you’ll need to tweak all three to ensure stability. If you have a direct-mounted option, you’ll need to remove the pickguard to make the adjustments.|
|Jazzmaster Single Coil Pickups||The pickup screws for this option are meant for mounting, not tone changes. They rely on foam strips in the cavity to create the correct height. That means you’ll need to add or subtract from the material underneath to have a successful experience.|
|Jaguar Single Coil Pickups||Fender offers a process like the Jazzmaster for pickup adjustment. One of the easiest ways to create a positive result is to place a pen spring around the mounting screws to get the precision you need.|
|P-90 Single Coil Pickups||If you have the soap bar design of this pickup, the mounting screws are down the middle of the pickup cover. You’ll need to adjust the springs or foam underneath to create changes. You’ll need to experiment with spacers to produce results with the dog-ear design. It might be easier to adjust the individual pole pieces under each string instead.|
Dial in the Preferences for Your Pickup Height
Once you’ve adjusted the pickups from your factory specs, it will start sounding and playing better eventually. It just depends on how you’re making the different adjustments to your Seymour Duncans.
After you’ve found the sweet spot for tonality and sustain, it’s time to dial everything in so that the guitar meets your personal preferences.
Here are the steps you’ll want to follow to have a successful experience while taking care of this work.
- Select the pickup setting where you typically spend the most time. Play the guitar for a few minutes, listening to the balance between the highs and lows. How hard is the Seymour Duncan pickup hitting the amp?
- Raise or lower both pickup sides to achieve the appropriate signal strength for your playing style.
- If the design allows, raise or lower each side of the pickup by itself until you get to the right blend of your lower and higher strings.
- Repeat this process for each of the pickups on your instrument. Always return to the output levels from the first adjustments to avoid drastic output changes when moving between the switch positions.
Do I Need to Adjust My Pickup Height?
Pickup height adjustments aren’t mandatory, but they are a fast and effective way to immediately improve a guitar’s tone. The most vital part of the process is to learn how to trust your playing style and listening skills while accounting for the product type equipped to the instrument.
I’ve found that the musicians who walk away disappointed from their pickup height adjustments are the ones that have unreasonable expectations for the changes made.
It’s impossible to make a humbucker sound like a Tele single coil, and you won’t have much success going in the opposite direction.
Even then, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many different tones are available in a Seymour Duncan pickup when you start making height adjustments.
I know it’s a little scary to modify a guitar for the first time. It’ll take a few tries to get the tone to accommodate your playing style.
The good news is that if you make an error, you won’t be needing to do soldering or hole patching to fix the problem.
Each guitar is unique. When you give this adjustment the time it needs to settle into your style, the rewards will eventually come.
I love using the hot-rodded humbucker set from Seymour Duncan to produce my signature sound. It’s a matched set for JB and Jazz neck models, making it possible to play anything from death metal to classic rock.
It uses Alnico V magnets to deliver a touch of vintage magic while delivering a diverse array of sounds when making height adjustments.
- Hot Rodded Humbucker Set
- An Absolute Must for Every Metal and Hard Rock Guitarist
- Extremely Versatile
- Matched Set of JB and Jazz Neck Models
- 4-Conductor Cable and Wax Potted
- Alnico V Magnets
- Easy Setup
You can make even the cheapest entry-level guitar sound fantastic when using these pickups. They’ll exceed whatever expectations you have for them right now, and in return, you’ll start hearing more tonality subtlety with each strum.