Simple Guitar Repairs 6: Adjusting Pickup Poles

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Measure pickup poles at the bridge

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Adjusting Pickup Poles

Adjusting the pole pieces on your pickups is crucial to good sound and can be the clincher to that tone you’ve been searching for. Once again, there isn’t a hard and fast rule to this adjustment. In fact, Gibson actually says to adjust the pickups to taste and don’t even give you a place to start.

Radius Guitar Bridge

The key is to set the pole pieces to follow the fretboard radius at the bridge but, you also need to stay away from the strings enough so the magnets in the pickup don’t pull the string out of tune. Yeah, I know… another of those numberless adjustments.

Adjust Pickup Poles

Adjust the poles with a small screwdriver or an Allen wrench, whichever pits your pickups.

I start with 1/16″ from the top of the pole to the string, both on the treble and bass sides. Fender recommends 4/64ths for humbuckers, which is 1/16″.

Measuring pickup poles

To measure that, depress the string at the last fret and measure at the pole piece as in figure 3. You could also set the poles to the radius (12″ in this case) and move the whole pickup up and down to get the 1/16th. I prefer to leave the pickup coil covers exposed by about 3/16ths and adjust the poles themselves.

Measure pickup poles at the bridge

Figure 4 shows the bridge pickup being adjusted for the same measurement. Accomplish this the same way as the neck pickup, fret the string at the last fret and adjust for clearance.

The number I gave you is just a starting point. Now you can adjust for the sound you want from your guitar. You can even tune your tone by boosting the lows or boosting the highs by how close the poles are to the strings. If you get too close, the magnetic field from the pickups will pull the strings sharp. I suggest you put the poles to 1/16″ and lower the poles you want to de-emphasize, rather that raise any higher.

Even though all of these adjustments, neck relief, action and pickup height, are subjective, they serve to make the guitar your own. It’s your guitar, make it play the way you like it, not the way some tech head says it should be. Once you get it right, measure and write down all the measurements so you can repeat it. Don’t rely on your memory.

Tools:

I have been remiss. I should have talked about this in Simple Guitar Repairs Number 1 but, better late than never!

Guitar Toolbox Essentials

The “Guitar Toolbox Essentials” shown has some of the tools in my toolbox, which is separate from the toolboxes I have out in my garage. In the top row, l to r are, pliers, #1 Phillips, #1 flat blade, Allen wrenches, 6″ ruler and long nose pliers.

In the second row, miniature diagonal cutters, feeler gauges, #0 Phillips, #0 flat blade and medium sized Crescent wrench.

I keep all this, and more, in a $6.00 Plano tackle box from Walmart.

Guitar Toolbox

CruzTOOLS makes a very nice guitar player’s tool set but it runs about $60.00. My set is mostly stuff from Harbor Freight or the hardware store (mixed and matched) and I doubt I’ve got $40.00 in it. Just go collect a few tools from the sale bin at the home center and you’ll be good to go.

The ruler I use, shown in figures 3 and 4, is from Craftsmen, and is probably one of the most expensive things in my box. It measures right from the end and down to 64ths. You need one like that for string height, neck relief and pickup height. You’ll find another 10,000 uses for it once you have one, guaranteed. If you bought a new guitar, the necessary Allen wrenches may have come with it (truss rod, pickup and bridge adjustments). Not all guitar manufacturers do this, though, so a good set of ball end Allen wrenches is pretty handy.

Pick up the tools you need for your guitar(s) and don’t buy stuff you don’t need. You can also gather them as you need them, too.
See y’all in Number 7…

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Doug Knight

Our “Man on the Street” reporter, with his “What’s New in Music Stores?” series, resides in Coos Bay, OR. You can find him on Friday nights at The Small Events Center at OrCoast Music in Coos Bay.

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