Could you really tell?


I've been agonizing and obsessing over which pickup to install in my telecaster project. (The bridge pickup is a Peter Florance te59.) I've listened to hours of clips, read up a bunch, had discussions with people. And I still can't decide. I really want a CAR, but can't quite justify the money at the moment. I have a hollowbody with TArmonds, so looking for something different. Considering, among others, a Lollar staple pickup. True, it's supposed to be nearly identical in design under the hood to a Dynasonic, but when I listen to clips I hear, or at least I think I hear a distinction. But that got me thinking about how well my ears discern different pickups. I'm wondering how confident people are in their ability to pass a blind test.

How many of you think you could tell the difference between say, a P90, a FilterTron, a vintage wound PAF, a Dynasonic, a lipstick, a vintage wound strat pickup, and a HiLoTron played in the same guitar with the same amp all with the same settings?

To make it tougher, how many of you think you could tell the tone of all TVJ's filters (Classic, Classic plus, Setzer sig, Full Fidelity, SuperTron, and DuoTron) in the same guitar, amp, and settings?


You should be able to pick out the difference between single coil and humbuckers. A P90 has a very distinct sound and so does a Dynasonic. It would be difficult to hear the difference between a Classic and Classic Plus. HiLo's are very distinct too.

With that said an amp should be able to compensate for some of the differences.


I find that people get caught up in pickups, but if that's their thing, power to them. I've realized that I predominantly like single coils over humbuckers, and of those single coils, I predominantly like P90s. When you start getting into the TVJ filters, I definitely don't hear the distinction, as Curt said, the amp, the pick attack, etc, can bring subtle differences closer together.


Unless you're Billy Light who hears grass grow...


It'd be difficult for anyone not well versed in a variety of pickups. To the casual listener, in a noisy bar, it'd be nearly impossible.


I'd say don't get hook on too much on the differerences, crowd doesn't care-it's either you're too piercing, too loud, out of time, too distorted or over playing the song.

One thing I noticed through the years-they appreciate a clean tone with a bit of a breakup, a singing tone and gooooood music.


As a tone chaser, I believe that different pickups influence how I play. Sometimes it is because the sound inspires me, and other times I changing what I play trying to make up for something I'm not getting (so I'll pick on a different length of string, dig in or lighten up, play with the edge of the pick, etc.).

I agree with the folks above who say the audience can't tell the difference in tone - unless something is wrong. But, I think just about everyone on this board can tell a difference between the pickups listed above (P-90, PAF, Filtertron, Strat, and so on) even though they might not be able to identify which pickup it was with 100% accuracy.

If those different pickups were crayons, they would be different colors: the various TV Jones and other Filtertrons (or the various P-90s or whatever) are different shades of that color...which is great. A brighter pickup might be a better match for a darker guitar, and so on. But it is harder to identify Midnight Blue, Navy Blue, Dark Indigo or Royal Blue, without real good lighting...and even then, we might see the colors differently.

And the guitar matters, and the amp, too.

The tester guitar TV Jones brings to the trade shows that allows pickups to be quickly changed is just about the only thing that I have seen or heard that allows the pickups to be fairly compared.


Strumm, directly back to your question I will start with the "tougher". First, all of these would be played through the same amp with the same setting....AND all the playing is soloing and not strumming....played clean with slight reverb and high bass and treble settings.

All of the TVJs? b'ween a SuperTron and TVJ Classic? Yes and especially soloing with just the neck position. I can tell the difference b'ween a White Falcon and Black Phoenix (difference b'ween FilterTron and the Setzers). But all of the TVJs? Only if played in front of me announcing of the pup change. I'd still be able to hear the difference but not directly identify.

Yes on a Strat w/ the difference between lipsticks and original low output pups.....even the difference between higher output pups like the Texas Specials on the SRV models.

P90s? Mostly, although I admit that David Gilmour has proven he can make a '50s LP sound like a Strat with just the neck pup (think "Another Brick in the Wall" solo)

I definitely can tell the PAFs.....especially since I have them in my Tokai LS135 vs. my '14 LP Traditional with '59 reissues. The difference is worlds apart.

I must say that I have confused hot P90s(like the hot Lollars) w/ the mini-hums from a Gibson Firebird. Played with the pups in the middle position, I can hardly tell them apart even when I'm the guy playing it. But can definitely hear differences amongst all kind of P90s. I love the black LP CBell had with the staples P90s.....warmth, depth and clarity all in one.

Hilotron? Yes, given the same amp and settings. A Dyna and a Dearmond 2000? Yes, but Dynas are pretty versatile so might get tougher with other non-humbuckers.

And I concur with Curt's 1st post.


If pickups were crayons your guitar wouldn't work.


Gibson also has a quick pickup swap LP as well. Only Gibson pickups, obviously. I suppose the old Dan Armstrong/Ampeg plexi guitar would be another, tho they didn't have that large of a pickup choice.


In terms of sound, I believe the type of pickup, how it's adjusted, and it's relative location along a vibrating string's scale length makes up about 90% of the sound that hits the amp or pedals. All this crap about species of wood, neck body joint being glue-in, bolt-on, or neck through doesn't make a difference. Even chambering vs. solid has little effect....body a true hollowbody with the pickup bolted to the soundboard will have more bass due to the pickup itself moving.

The guitar's onboard electronics scheme can influence the sound a lot as well. I'm assuming that being controlled.


At low volume, into a clean amp, pickup differences are a lot more subtle.

Once you turn up and the amp starts to break up a little, to my ears and hands the differences become magnified and are a lot easier to tell.


Single coils sound very different from Humbuckers. Beyond that, switching string types make a bigger difference in the sound.


Single coils sound very different from Humbuckers. Beyond that, switching string types make a bigger difference in the sound. Always try to buy TV Jones because Tom's a nice guy and he needs the business.


I built an Andy Summers Tele using a Classic Vibe Tele body as an exercise, I put a Tonerider 59 HB in the bridge and 4 way switch with out of phase option, sounded really good,


At low volume, into a clean amp, pickup differences are a lot more subtle.

Once you turn up and the amp starts to break up a little, to my ears and hands the differences become magnified and are a lot easier to tell.

– WB

That's what kills me about pickup shoot-outs and such on the web. First they play with a low volume clean and then kick in the over-the-top dirt pedal. Both extremes make pickups sound the same.


Some pickups just stand out. F'trons, tubes, p90s, and tele bridge. Most buckers based on Gibson are muddy territory. P90 variants are kinda gray area too as are strap pickups. I always tell by clean tones. Distortion isn't that varied between pickups.Although dirty P90s do stand out on bite and tubes stay kinda chimey in the harmonics.


I...can't....watch....ANOTHER video where some smug dork shows how the amp/pedal cleans up when he lowers the volume. Especially when he physically players quieter and then twats the guitar when he turns it back up....'and wow, look how it cleans up when I turn it down'.


With pickup variations, I think there's a theory that we can only retain the experience of a guitars sound for a small amount of time...and it's blown away in a fraction of a second when you plug in a different guitar. Bit like jumping on a trampoline...'this is good fun...no it's not...this is good fun...no it's not etc.,


The CAR is a very dark choice for a telecaster pick up. It's kind of a purpose built unit I think that works best for some very specific low-volume music styles. If that's your bag then go for it but otherwise proceed with caution.


If pickups were crayons your guitar wouldn't work.

– JimmyR

I know someone who potted a pickup with a box of crayons, a sauce pan and a propane torch. It worked better, but we argued over whether the last sauce in the pan affected tone and whether or not to use generic crayons.


A long time ago I decided to upgrade my pickups, after countless video demo's and internet research,I took the plunge and invested alot of time , money and labor on the project. After I was finally finished, I came to the realization that the guitar and the pickups sounded like crap. So it sits in a case ,,forever.

So now I just play my stock 6118, and Im happy.

Register Sign in to join the conversation