On the 'tube

Myth busting: alnico vs. ceramic pickups

2

Personally I think the whole magnet composition thing is generally a modern marketing point, in speakers and pickups. You don't find references to 'the sound' of magnets in old marketing literature, just like you don't find references to the 'the sound' of tubes, capacitors or other components. The marketing is more geared towards durability, longevity and consistency. Marketing is usually a good reference because if they could make money out of a characteristic, they certainly would be.

Many longtime speaker professionals will tell you that Gauss is Gauss and it's more about the strength of the magnetism rather than the material the magnet is composed of.

However these things are selling points and it pays to give people what they want. Kind of like selling gold plated audio connectors or 'monster cables' Trying to do otherwise is bad for business and spoils the customers 'fun'

it is much the same with musical gear

With pickups I believe the differences one hears are more a result of different construction techniques rather than materials.

3

Well, there's no denying the 2 materials definitely sound different in this video, and consistently so. The AlNiCo sounds a tad brighter and somewhat scooped to my ears, whereas the ceramic is thicker, but with less clarity.

I think you have to remember that back in the day there was only one way to do many things so comparisons couldn't be made. Take the household light bulb as an example. For most of my life I've only ever known incandescent filament bulbs. They worked until they blew then you bought a new one. You may have a preference for a particular manufacturer, but other than that a bulb is a bulb - you never question whether there is a better one because there's nothing to compare it to. Then about 15-20 years ago someone invented these crappy mini-fluorescent eco bulbs that take forever to get up to the correct brightness. The look different, behave different and are altogether different. So now we can lament the old style filament bulbs for how superior they were, and search out small cottage industries that are still producing them.

4

It seems to me that the person who created the video does not disagree that there are tonal differences between the two magnet types. Instead, he is heard to complain that the terms being used to describe those different properties are being used incorrectly. That may be, but the differences are audible and cannot be disputed to exist.

I disagree with him when he suggests that "less treble" is not an accurate description of the ceramic magnet pickups. That is probably the chief property that I observe with the ceramic magnet pickups. The AlNiCo magnet pickups are crisper, sharper, and more cutting, as he notes. That sounds to me like descriptors that are saying that the ceramic magnet pickups are darker and have less treble.

5

Sure I just don't buy into this sort of thing I'd rather play guitar and write music than listen to magnets But that's just me.

6

Sure I just don't buy into this sort of thing I'd rather play guitar and write music than listen to magnets But that's just me.

– Toxophilite

Oh, I agree. However, things like losing the higher frequencies and overtones can be significant issues of playability for those of us who have suffered some diminished hearing acuity as we have aged.

7

Sure I just don't buy into this sort of thing I'd rather play guitar and write music than listen to magnets But that's just me.

– Toxophilite

I was replying to Dekes post not yours , probably we were replying at the same time. I wonder if all these pickups are the exact same strength. Hotter pickups tend to be less bright and generally thicker sounding. I didn't watch the whole thing. He also seemed to be playing different guitars with different fretboards etc. Small factors but not exactly a precision comparison. Lot's of home science out there on the audio and music front.

8

The love for AlniCos must have a reason...

9

I think the discussion needs to go beyond "Gauss".

More so, I think it is the response time, the hysteresis, how applied, etc.

All types of magnets can sound good in pickups and speakers...

10

Well, there's no denying the 2 materials definitely sound different in this video, and consistently so. The AlNiCo sounds a tad brighter and somewhat scooped to my ears, whereas the ceramic is thicker, but with less clarity.

I think you have to remember that back in the day there was only one way to do many things so comparisons couldn't be made. Take the household light bulb as an example. For most of my life I've only ever known incandescent filament bulbs. They worked until they blew then you bought a new one. You may have a preference for a particular manufacturer, but other than that a bulb is a bulb - you never question whether there is a better one because there's nothing to compare it to. Then about 15-20 years ago someone invented these crappy mini-fluorescent eco bulbs that take forever to get up to the correct brightness. The look different, behave different and are altogether different. So now we can lament the old style filament bulbs for how superior they were, and search out small cottage industries that are still producing them.

– Deke Martin

We were forced to give up incandescent lamps for fluorescent as they were "better" for the planet. Granted they use less energy, but as Deke stated, the color was off, and couldn't be easily dimmed. We couldn't use them at all in theater, and incandescent lamps are still used en masse. Now we've got even more efficient LEDs, and they can be dimmed, thankfully. They're appearing all over theaters and provide really rich colors on their own. Oddly, "designers" came up with these silly, so-called "Edison" bulbs that bear no real resemblance to the actual lamps TAE came up with over a century ago.

11

What these comparisons never take into consideration is what the guitarists goals are for tone and other aural needs. For instance, and this wasn't addressed in the video, you have a pre FMIC guitar (ceramic) and between your guitar's controls and amp settings you can't find that sound you want, perhaps the alnico will give it to you. Or perhaps going from single coil to double coil, or vice versa, will find you that sound.

He didn't discuss pup location for the test either and that has a huge influence on tone. IMO, pup location and amp settings have a larger share of the influence on tone/sound than magnet type.

Another area that greatly affects what you hear is type of sound you're producing. The cleaner and with he least competing instruments to contend with, the greater the chance you'll hear any difference between magnets. If you're playing with distorsion, then there isn't even a discussion to be had!

12

you dont find references in old literature because at one time all magnets used in pickups and speakers were alnico...up until early 60's..when price of alnico became cost prohibitive, so they looked for cheaper alternatives..enter ferrite/ceramic magnets...they are also more powerful..so the same exact size magnet of ferrite/ceramic has a a much higher magnetic gauss when fully charged, than the same sized alnico..of any number alnico II thru 8

so its a stronger magnet in the same footprint as an alnico

but even if you dont fully charge you ceramic magnet (a trick) so that it has a similar gauss to an alnico, it still wont match its tonal characteristics

goes back to classic charlie christian pickup..with 2 huge low gauss cobalt magnet bars beneath the archtop...they were so weak, they had to be huge..the various alnicos were a step up from that..stronger and smaller..then ferrite/ceramic..stronger still..and now there's neodymium...stronger than all of them!..but they don't have the same sound attributes..in pups or speakers

alnico for vintage sounding pups and speakers is still key!!!..why tv jones goes to extraordinary lengths to source vintage alnico magnets from source(that gretsch used) for his pups!!

it all makes a difference

cheers

13

If you're playing with distorsion, then there isn't even a discussion to be had!

Oh gosh Dave, ever so many au contraries. Higher gain and distortion magnify the differences among pickups - magnet contribution included - and can bring out characteristics you never hear when playing clean. Guys who routinely play with gain, from light crunch to full saturation, choose pickups (and guitars, and amps) to facilitate or enhance the tones they're after. Same as "clean" players do.

14

For me Tim, when a lot of distortion is present, the type of tone I'd like to hear just disappears and I hear noise. Again, for me, distortion rarely enhances anything. It ramps up the irritating quotient but that's about it.

Again, depending on one's tastes and goal for tone, it's a case of finding what will give that to you based on your ears, not what some spec sheet says. Some manufacturer might very well come along with incredible claims for a new pup magnet material made from fossilized dinosaur turds but it will still come down to what my ears hear.

15

If you're playing with distorsion, then there isn't even a discussion to be had!

Oh gosh Dave, ever so many au contraries. Higher gain and distortion magnify the differences among pickups - magnet contribution included - and can bring out characteristics you never hear when playing clean. Guys who routinely play with gain, from light crunch to full saturation, choose pickups (and guitars, and amps) to facilitate or enhance the tones they're after. Same as "clean" players do.

– Proteus

+1 higher gain, overdrive, distortion will amplify everything about a pickup tenfold. So yeah, au contraire.

16

depending on one's tastes and goal for tone, it's a case of finding what will give that to you based on your ears, not what some spec sheet says.

Well, certainly.

I'm not arguing the conclusion that our own tastes and goals determine what we like - only the factual error that distortion masks the differences in gear. I realize you stop at the threshold of overdrive - but from that threshold to the outer limits of saturation there's a universe of colors, textures, and harmonic content just as rich, deep and expressive as on the clean side of the divide. You choose not to go there.

But for those who do go there, nuances of design, material, and construction of pickups - as of every component in the signal chain - make differences. They matter to the end result.

17

On an unrelated note the guy who did the video has a great youtube channel with lots of lessons but I mainly watch his product reviews and comparisons and how tos.

18

The early modern Gretsch Filtertrons (ceramic AFAIK) were way weaker than a TVJones classic in every respect. I have no idea what size/composition magnet was in the ceramics, but I got a whole new 6120 when I dropped the Classics in. It may be that the ceramics are distortion monsters if you dime the amp, but I was happy to ditch them.

19

depending on one's tastes and goal for tone, it's a case of finding what will give that to you based on your ears, not what some spec sheet says.

Well, certainly.

I'm not arguing the conclusion that our own tastes and goals determine what we like - only the factual error that distortion masks the differences in gear. I realize you stop at the threshold of overdrive - but from that threshold to the outer limits of saturation there's a universe of colors, textures, and harmonic content just as rich, deep and expressive as on the clean side of the divide. You choose not to go there.

But for those who do go there, nuances of design, material, and construction of pickups - as of every component in the signal chain - make differences. They matter to the end result.

– Proteus

I understand what you and others are saying but you're speaking another language I don't understand. Not having gone down the distortion 'rabbit hole', I don't hear the nuances you mention let alone seek them. With the occasional exception - ie, No Time, The Guess Who - distortion just doesn't capture my listening or playing interest.

20

The video makes a lot of sense. The differences in sound, given the controlled variables, could be attributed to pickup height. I bet if those the ceramic pickups were moved away from the strings, it would almost certainly sound like the Alnico version. An added upshot, the ceramic magnets allow one to move the pickups out of the 'playing field', which is a good thing for anyone who has problems pushing the strings into pickup poles. Of course some people might prefer the sound of ceramics dialed in up close.

Magnet type seems most important where pickup construction comes into play. A traditional Filtertron sounds best when adjusted close the the strings for 99 percent of folks out there. FTs are made of tall A5 bars. Perhaps a ceramic FT will get the same sound if simply lowered. In the same way, I think A2s in a Filtertron will sound a little thin, like the modern Electro Blacktops with their slimmer Alnico bars. I'm assuming Blacktops have less gauss at the poles than their full size counterparts.

21

What about the tonal difference between different Alnico types?

22

More important than the type of magnet, is the pairing of the magnet to the coil. Different windings require different gauss strengths. Even the guage of the copper wire makes a difference. The Chinese know that guitarist are keen on the resistance reading of pickups, and use a thicker guage wire, with less windings, to achieve a given resistance. They then slap on a cheap magnet, that does not match, and the pickup sounds brittle and crappie.

23

I understand what you and others are saying but you're speaking another language I don't understand. Not having gone down the distortion 'rabbit hole', I don't hear the nuances you mention let alone seek them. With the occasional exception - ie, No Time, The Guess Who - distortion just doesn't capture my listening or playing interest.

– Windsordave

I'm with you. I don't doubt that the differences are real, or even magnified. But I use distortion and overdrive so rarely and care so little about it that it all sounds kind of the same to me.

24

I prefer Alnico magnets from the late 40s when there was a drought which caused them to be a little sweeter. Also grown on the south slopes with a touch of frost is nice too. The kicker is the oak casks though. I find I get the real 'woman tone' from the drought starved alnico magnets grown on the south facing slopes annnd aged in oak casks.

25

Does any one make pick ups with rare earth magnets? Those things are mighty strong, maybe too strong for pickups.


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