12 String Pickups - Classic vs Supertron


I have a 2015 Electromatic 12 string with blacktop pickups. I’m very happy with the guitar, the tone is lovely. It looks and sounds like this:

It is only played at home for fun, always clean, and not really loud. If I had any sense at all, I would leave it alone, (Ha) but I believe that a set of TV Jones pickups could take it to the next level. Not looking to change the tone (much), but mostly more refinement. I recently saw these two clips –

12 string with two TV Jones Classics - Gretsch Chet Atkins 12 string. I love the chime!

12 string with two TV Jones Supertrons - Gretsch Custom Shop Country Gentleman (Mike Nesmith…) I love the sweet sound!

The problem is I can’t decide between the two, they both sound equally good to me. I could just force myself to pick one, or – compromise and try to have it all – (Best of both worlds, or not so much? I do like the middle position).

Supertron neck, Classic bridge? – but would the bridge be too weak?

Supertron neck, Setzer Sig Bridge? – SS lands between Classic and Plus, but better? – Maybe a good compromise?

Supertron Neck, Classic Plus bridge – Maybe not as clean and crystal clear as the others? Popular combination on 6 strings.

I don’t see much discussion anywhere about 12 string pickups, so any thoughts would be most appreciated!


I have one of the 5422-12s and like it a lot. I have never really considered changing the pickups in it and like it just as it is (I did reverse the courses, Ric-style, with the fundamental string struck first on a down stroke).

The demos that you posted are going to be impacted by the differences in the amplification and reproduction systems that each used. The one of the 5422 seemed unduly harsh to me. The one of the Custom Shop 6122-12 seemed too dark. I liked the tone of the 6122-12 put out by Gretsch but it was too short to really hear anything.

The one of the 5422 did not sound like the tones that I get from mine. My tones seem brighter and clearer than what I hear on the recording. I usually play it through a Fender Deluxe Reverb or Gretsch Executive, both of which are bright amps.

Is it that you don't like the sound of the blacktop pickups on the 5422 or are you on that elusive hunt (believe me we've all been there) for just that little extra tone. Do you know the sound that you are looking for, that is, will you know it when you hear it or are you just looking to see what you can get.

If I might suggest a different direction to you. I have found that all Gretsch pickups benefit greatly from going through one of Tavo Vega's preamp pedals such as the Dynobrain. Originally, Tavo was chasing Brian Setzer's tone and designed one called the Brain Seltzer that worked best with Filter'Trons to replicate the preamp of the delay pedal Brian used. Then he adapted it to the Dynobrain so that other pickups such as the Dynasonic would benefit from it. I use one and it is always on regardless of the guitar or pickup going through it. Tavo is on this board and should see this. I would suggest reaching out to him.


Don - Thanks for the detailed reply! Yes, I'm on the elusive hunt for "better". I actually really like the the tone of the guitar as is, but if a pickup swap takes it to a more refined level, I would be happy. I also have an addiction to modifying stuff.

My son agrees with you that the custom shop guitar with the Supertrons seems a bit dark, and he prefers the 6122 with the TV classic pickups.

I'll do some research on the pedals.


The SuperTrons sound as cool as they look in my Astro-12


The SuperTrons sound as cool as they look in my Astro-12

– crowbone

This is the way I would go.


The Supertron neck and Classic Plus combo works great on the 6122-1959 and I’m a big fan, but if I owned a 12 string,I would like two SuperTrons as well. It seems to me that it would be a better balanced situation.


The SuperTrons sound as cool as they look in my Astro-12

– crowbone

I do like that look. Does your guitar sound like the Supertron clip I posted, or can it do 60's chime tones like the clip with the classic pickups?


Audept & Baba Joe, any reason you prefer a pair of Supertrons over Classics? From my research, I do get the sense that they are a bit special, a "hidden gem". On the other hand, i read that the Classics are TV Jones most popular pickup...


I do like that look. Does your guitar sound like the Supertron clip I posted, or can it do 60's chime tones like the clip with the classic pickups?

– FZBob

I found it to be quite the chime machine in the neck and middle pickup without being "brittle" if that makes any sense to you.

The neck position was definitely warmer and the least chimey of the choices, but I find that useful for aping acoustic 12 tones.

I was more than pleasantly surprised at how jangly it was plugged directly into an amp with no compressor. Right into Rickenbacker territory!

Pull that tone down the slightest bit, though, and it's jumping deep into warmer tones, not a gradual fade from jangle and chime.

That might be my choice of cap(which, of course, now I can't remember the value of) that causes the tone drop off as well. Perhaps another value might give me something more graduated.


You can have a lot of fun for free by playing around with the pickup pole heights.

Raise one side of six, drop the poles on the opposite side; three high, three low on one pole side with opposite settings on the other side; take one row of poles out completely (congratulations, you've made a set of Super-Hilotrons now).

Lots of variations which chase a rather desirable objective- making the pickups weaker. You've got twice the number of strings of a regular electric guitar with a corresponding increase in inductance. The softer the pickup, the more you can attenuate the thump and bring out the twinkle instead.

If I was to advise on an upgrade it would be in the polescrew Filtertron direction- TV Classics or Butts offer more tonal adjustment with the screws over the blades. I would be tempted to avoid a hotter wind treble pickup and instead lower the poles/pickup body height on the neck pickup to balance the output of the individual units- the magnetic pull of the neck unit is minimised and the guitar rings forevverrrr.

All those Rickenbacker guys who take the Hi-Gains out of their 12 Strings and patiently chase down an elusive set of Toasters aren't completely daft.


I'd probably pick Powertrons personally.

A 12 string uses lots of light gauge strings and you want to balance that with increased output. Also on top of that the higher inductance would bring out the bass more. I would even consider asking TV Jones if he could make a pair of Supertrons and wind the coils hotter like a Powertron. I bet he would do it for you.


I have (3) 12 strings though all different. One is a Telecaster 12 with stock pickups. One is a Gibson doubleneck, strung like Rickenbacker. Love the sound and playability but it is too awkward to play for very long on stage. Last but not least is an Oscar Schmidt acoustic/electric with nice Barcus Berry preamp. This has become my most played 12 string. Love the sound and playability both plugged in and unplugged. Strings are Elixir lights, 10-47. 80/20 bronze.


Thanks for all the responses. I have a lot to think about!

No one has shown any love for mixing & matching different pickups on a 12 string, so unless someone "chimes in" for that, I'll drop it.

If I look at pickups with similar characteristics to the Classics -

Setzer Sigs? - just a touch hotter? A bit of special magic?

Ray Butts? - just a touch less hot? Even more special magic? - Pole Screw Alloy, no potting

Classics without potting? - can get them potted later if necessary - would this be close to the Ray Butts?

Please let me know any thoughts on these pickups. Keep in mind - Its a 12 string, always played clean, and at home. Not played super loud, so I don't think feedback should be an issue.


There's no reason not to mix and match- just be mindful of the Supertron's strength in the neck position. Note in the third clip (Musician's Friend) at 1:23 Brian switches from the bridge pickup to both pickups on. The guitar gets louder, noticeably louder, louder after Youtube has compressed it for absolute sonic blandness... and this guitar came out of the Custom Shop. Not cheap. Yet still not quite right.

The answer is wooden shims out, foam shims in, screw right down.

You seem to like a big rich sound from the way you're talking and the clips you've selected. Given good attention to the height of a neck Supertron, there's no reason not to match it with a Filtertron in the treble position.


I wouldn't think the Setzer sigs make sense in a 12-string.

The Buttseseses, yes - but to my knowledge, TV doesn't make them available in a screw-hangin' English/universal mount. Just screw-down Filter'Tron mount. So you'd have to improvise its installation.

I'm still doing OK with the blacktops in mine...but if I was thinking upgrade, I'd be having the same quandary. I LOVE SuperTrons, and they're just right in their native habitat - a thin line 6-string. They're arguably too much in a full deep hollowbody, and I think the same caveat applies to the 12-string, with all that extra vibrating mass (in the way of strings).

But, as Ade says, adjusted appropriately, why not?

I'm just thinking it's hard to beat Classics - which can also be adjusted appropriately. They're just the right-size sound in so many guitars.


Let me throw some other options into the mix. The single coil sound goes very well with a 12 string, particularly if you like the Rickenbacker chime, as apparently you do. TV-90s or T-Armonds might be just what you want. On the other hand, the Magna'Tron sounds single coil but is still humbucking so that you avoid most of the problems with single coil hum and feedback.

Call Tom (TV) Jones and get his opinion. He's a really nice guy and very easy to talk to.


Don, I also reckon the Magnatrons would be the perfect 12 String pickup set. A really precise neck pickup, a biting treble sting, a combined sound chock full of personality and detail. Plus fast, percussive response in all positions.

I'm just thinking that Bob seems to like a beefier sound. A super suggestion, nonetheless.

Proteus, excellent point on the Ray Butts not having different mount options.


The Maggie is indeed an intriguing suggestion - but man, they're pretty aggressive pickups. In my mind's ear I can hear it being really strident with 12 strings.

BUT, with attention to the tone pot, and possibly pickup height, its fundamental voice ought to work very well in this context.


Please don't rule out the Ray Butts just due to mounting. I have a small milling machine in the garage for just such emergencies. If they are really worthwhile, there is a good chance I could make them work.


Audept & Baba Joe, any reason you prefer a pair of Supertrons over Classics? From my research, I do get the sense that they are a bit special, a "hidden gem". On the other hand, i read that the Classics are TV Jones most popular pickup...

– FZBob

The Classics sound great. However, in listening to the above demos, the 2 Supertrons sound more distinctive imo. I even like with the Electromatic 12 string, but the Supers just stand out more to me.


The Magnatrons look very interesting, but very risky. I might like the detail and chime, but I would be worried that they might go over the edge into strident and brittle. I spent years as an audiophile trying to balance on that edge... If pickups were cheap and easy to swap, these would be near the top of my list to try!


Proteus, any reason you thought the Setzers didn't make sense in a 12 string? I'm not too familiar with them other than they are just a bit hotter wound than the Classics (but less hot than the supertrons?). I was wondering if they might be a good compromise between the Classics and the Supertrons, since I like both those sounds. Or are they kind of a different animal?


The Setzers have a punchier low midrange, and more presence than Classics. I don't think my 5422-12 needs either of those things.

I don't know that I'd think of them as a compromise between Classics and Supers - they really go in a different direction.

To me, Supers aren't vastly different than Classics - a bit warmer, maybe richer and kinda thicker in a way. I would think that, sitting a little further from the strings than a Classic, a Super would work nicely in the 12-string. (Though I wonder if any of the characteristic Superness of them would be retained.)

In general, to me a Super sounds smoother than a Classic. If you're a car guy (of a certain age), maybe this hackneyed analogy will work: Setzers are an Impala SS, Classics are a comfortable, crisp-performing Buick, and Supers are smooth and plush as a Cadillac.

Magnatrons are...well, not comparable to cars.

(Yes, comparing pickups to cars is dancing about architecture.)

I have a Maggie in the neck position of an Annie Jr (Classic Plus at the bridge), and it's a spectacular combination - but I do have to be aware of its bite and muscle.

Still, someone should try one in a 5422-12, and I nominate you!

(I think TV will still swap pickups till you get happy, though of course I don't speak for him. If you're able to talk with him via phone or email, you might ask if he still extends that privilege. As long as you don't cut the leads short or degrade the appearance of the pickup, I bet you could try it risk-free.)


Audept & Baba Joe, any reason you prefer a pair of Supertrons over Classics? From my research, I do get the sense that they are a bit special, a "hidden gem". On the other hand, i read that the Classics are TV Jones most popular pickup...

– FZBob

I just really like the sound of the Supertrons and the blades seem more appropriate to me than polepieces and having to align the string pairs exactly with the polepieces. To my ear Supertrons seem a little less twangy and have a fuller, more in-your-face tone than the Classics.


Any thoughts on unpotted Classics vs Ray Butts (assuming I can get them mounted)

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