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How much Electric Tone Comes from the Pickups?

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#1 carol m

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 07:41 AM

I have a second hand Samick of the Strat style (cheap) which I hardly ever play because I can't get it to give me a Sound that I like. Nothing sounds good to my ear, or like any other electric guitar that I hear, and I've tried running it through GarageBand options, an RP 150 and the Podfarm plugin.

Can I blame this on the pickups? I don't want to buy a more expensive electric guitar (or get the pickups changed) if the problem is me/my ears/my fingers etc especially as I play mostly acoustic.

Could the pickups be the limiting factor, or do I just have to persevere until I can find a combo of effects that sounds good?

BTW I don't have an amp - just use digital effects - would that make much of a difference? I can't help feeling that a more upmarket guitar with humbuckers would sound fatter, warmer, better tone - am I suffering from GAS or could the cheap guitar be the problem?
One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain - Bob Marley


#2 micky mac

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 08:05 AM

hi carol im not an expert but id say buy yourself a small decent amp to play on it doesnt have to be very expencive if you only play for yourself and friends it should sound better than the pc speakers i find with most of the computer based software theres to many settings to tweak to get a good tone.The pickups certanly make a difference to your sound my first guitar i played it for 2 years then i changed the pickups and the difference was amazing i could even increase or decreace the amount of overdrive of my amp with the volume control of the guitar before i never even touched the volume and the tone control did nothing at all on the down side they cost me around the same price as the actual guitar itself.
i hope you get some good advice as there's nothing better than the sound from a good player on an electric guitar.
The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you. B.B. King

#3 mset3

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 11:22 AM


I agree with Micky. Try playing through a small amp. It it still sounds bad to your ears, you may need to upgrade. Good pickups are expensive and as Micky said it could as much or more than the original price of the guitar.


#4 eddiez152


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Posted 12 April 2012 - 03:36 PM

They say the tone is in your fingers. A bigger amp cant hurt. Thought you have witnessed Kirk playing on a smaller one. PIckup's well what comes on a standard Strat ?
Nothin sweeter than the sound of music comin out of a 6 string box - EZ me Music / ASCAP "Music is a social act of communication, a gesture of friendship,the strongest there is"-Malcolm Arnold

#5 allthumbs

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Posted 12 April 2012 - 03:57 PM

A pickup upgrade is pretty reasonable if your not going for designer pups. Try you axe on a bigger amp in a store first though.

#6 karcey

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Posted 13 April 2012 - 04:00 AM

G'day Carol.

It's my experience that expensive guitars don't necessarily sound good. It's also my experience that inexpensive guitars don't necessarily sound bad. So what you have there might sound either good or bad, depending who is listening, and that leads on to the next step. If you want to know if it can sound good, take it to that guitar shop you used to go to. You know, the one with the helpful sales assistant. Ask him to play it through a couple of his amps, just to get a feeling about what you should buy next. (Wink, nudge.) Of course he'll do it for you, and in the process he'll tell you what you have to do to get a good sound. Over here in Oz, the sales people are all enthusiasts who don't mind a bit of idle chat about what you have, what you need, and how much it'll cost to get you there. I reckon he'll make it sound good. I'm of the opinion that your pickups are probably middle of the road and through the right amp will sound fine. Let's face it, there's not much in a pickup that an amp can't straighten out.
A while ago I restored an old Yamaha electric and loaded it with some cheap pickups, mainly because I didn't need to try for any particular sound. It sat here for a while unused until a bloke I know played it. He loved it! Couldn't get enough of it! To his ear it was exactly what an electric should sound like. To me ... well it was just something I painted up to look good.
So the approval of the sound will be in your own ears.
I think I agree with Micky and Mike and Allthumbs though. Get it road tested through an amp or a few amps before you condemn it or spend money on it.
"The music matters more than the instrument on which we play it." Jason W. Solomon

#7 pHGTRSpider



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Posted 13 April 2012 - 05:58 PM

Maybe your not a strat but a les paul or semi-acoustic Carol. Take your gtr with you to a gtr shop, play it and a few others through a small amp, without effects, say a roland cube. Try a few effects after you narrowed it down & don't forget your credit card! :whistling
Don't dream it, be it.
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#8 carol m

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 01:57 AM

Thanks for all your replies. The consensus seems to be that I should take it to a store and try it out with a few amps, and I will do that. But I still have a question that's been bugging me for a while:

How much diff does a physical amp make when I have dozens of tweakable amp simulations, condensers, mixers, effects etc on the podfarm plugin? I have no need of a physical amp for performance and would mostly be using it with headphones plugged in - I don't need an amp unless it will make a big difference to the sound.....I'd rather spend the money on a new guitar. :)

pHTGRSpider: I think I might be an LP or an Epiphone semi-hollow sort of gal (using the term loosely) - which is part of the problem, I don't want to spend money on a better guitar.... unless it is absolutely necessary. :whistling

i have to pick you up on one point, though - never take your credit card on a rechy trip - much too dangerous. That's the theory anyway. If you can't bring yourself to do that, at least leave it in the car so you have to physically leave the goodies shop, and get some fresh air and a rational perspective, before parting with any cash.
One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain - Bob Marley

#9 karcey

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 02:24 AM

I don't want to spend money on a better guitar.... unless it is absolutely necessary. :whistling

Snap out of it Carol. Of course it's necessary. Absolutely necessary. It's always necessary!
"The music matters more than the instrument on which we play it." Jason W. Solomon

#10 GotDeeBlues


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Posted 14 April 2012 - 05:27 AM

Carol, if all your needs are met without a full amp, try an inexpensive 7 band equalizer like a Behringer($23 US) between your guitar and the RP. You can better shape the overall tone with one. As a second option look for a used Samick RL series semi... the 1's and 2's can be had for a reasonable sum, and have decent pickups stock.( I think they have lefties, too) I had an RL3 and loved the tone, but it was a bit too small to be comfortable playing. Epi Dot Studios are also another good semi at very fair pricing used.
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

#11 Jimbo70



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Posted 15 April 2012 - 11:39 AM

I Think the small computer speakers are a limiting factor. Maybe an amp with a bigger speaker would help fatten things up a bit, you may want to look at something like a small Line 6, the fender GDec or a Vox with built in effects. Some of these can be found new right around $100.00 U.S. and if you look around you can probably get a good deal on one second had from someone trying to get a little of their money back after their child decided he wasn't really interested anymore.

#12 pHGTRSpider



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Posted 15 April 2012 - 09:58 PM

Hey Carol, I think I just had a flashback and Funeral Pyre by The Jam started playing in the background. Get that card out and get a Rickenbacher? Am I on the right track here? A couple of the suggestions above also ring a bell, do you run your computer into a decent stereo or the little PC speakers? That would be a huge difference. Like my apple, there's just no bass. Cheers.
Don't dream it, be it.
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#13 Lcjones

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 10:52 PM

I think the first question I would ask you Carol is ......

What sound are looking for? Can you point us to a sample of something you've heard that could help determine what tone it is you're looking for?

Not to complicate matters....

Just an example ....... all Rickenbacker 330's sound the same from the factory. (unless custom made) But .... Tom Petty's 330 sounds different than my 330 because he has thousands of dollars of equipment, pedals, compressors, over drives, and all kinds of gear *WAY* before the signal ever gets to the amp or sound board....I can fairly well replicate some of his tone but mostly I can't get "his" tone.

Digital or Analog (tube). Two entirely different beasts in tone

Strings .... flat wound or round wound? Two totally different tones.
Strings .... light, medium, heavy.... all different tones... * and then ... getting your 5 point switch and tone control where you want them ...

It's maddening! ;)


Respect The Music
I'll saddle up my pony so I wont be so lonely, at least I know his heart is true

#14 carol m

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 12:45 AM

Thanks for the info people.

Les, I find it more depressing than maddening - partly because I know my electric playing is woeful - because I hardly ever do it, and whenever I do, I'm always wondering if it's just me, or if it's the guitar, or a combination of both.

Some examples of what I'd like :) might be:


this video has the best sound. I know this is a Telecaster.

Or our very own Sheraton: http://www.youtube.c...eature=context
plays an Epiphone Sheraton II - a semi-hollow, slim body guitar.

From Wiki: semi-hollow body guitars were generally praised for their clean and warm tones.

Or Ry Cooder in this vid: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON9Cdiijbvc&feature=related

the software here won't allow me to upload this 3rd video, but that is the url for copy/pasting

Other guitars I've noticed for their tone include:
Les Paul SG (is that the same as the more expensive sounding Gibson SG?) - or LP Custom - not sure of the models


There's another one I've noticed which is very often seen in professional videos: solid (not archtop or semi-hollow) usually dark red, 4 nobs, black humbuckers and I think, double cutaways - I'm obviously no authority on electric guitars!

In fact in one of the other counting crows videos I found on yt, the guitarist is playing one of these, but you don't get a good view of him, or his sound in that video. I think it might be the Dot Epiphone but I'm not sure.

Now I'm going to have to keep my eye out until I can visually identify it.

When I have some extra time, I'll record a few demos of my strat copy guitar's sound through different effects and pickup choices (neck, bridge etc). I should do that anyway.
One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain - Bob Marley

#15 starsailor


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Posted 16 April 2012 - 01:55 AM

Love Counting Crows. I suppose the only way forward with the Samick is to run it through a real amp and compare the sound to what you're getting from the Podfarm, if you're get a better sound on the amp and you like it then that would be the way to go but if you still don't like it then you'll have to go for another guitar Carol :)

Here's a link to a list of gear and guitars, the guitarists in Counting Crows use, one of the ones they use is a Fender B bender Telecaster which is an interesting guitar and they have a few Gibsons too.


Here's a link to a Fender B Bender, just found it interesting.


All the best

You don't stop laughing when you grow old; you grow old when you stop laughing.

#16 carol m

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Posted 18 April 2012 - 01:39 AM

Yes that was interesting, so thanks Chris.

Today I took a day off and did some audio research on my Strat copy. One of the boys has an old Johnson Bass amp in the attic, so I dug it out and plugged in.....it did sound pretty good. That amp has no effects on-board - only bass, mid, and treble, plus volume.

Then I tried GarageBand amps and effects - also not so bad as I remembered. That's when I realised I haven't installed the Podfarm Plugin on this newish Mac running Lion OSX. Luckily I'd saved my old dmg file on the old, dead Mac's ext hard drive, because there is no info or downloads or updates on this old version at Line 6 anymore - now they are trying to flog the new super-duper version 2.0.

I wasn't sure if installing Podfarm would take out my GarageBand app - that's what it did on my previous mac when I upgraded to Snow Leopard, but all is well - plugin is installed, and GB is still available.

So, fortunately/unfortunately my GAS attack seems to have passed at no cost. My recent upgrade to Mac Lion has made my audio interface redundant, so I really do have to cough up some cash to replace it. I'm going to get the M Audio FastTrack Pro ($200) - a discount price at a local DJ store and comes with Protools SE. Don't know if the software is worth bothering with, but that's the best deal I could find for a decent audio interface. Most other places sell it for around $280 -$300....so It's a real bargain. :whistling

Skinny bought one of these a couple of years back - and described it in terms of a duck's anatomy - he liked it.

I will go to a store to see how my strat copy performs on an amp.... and see if I can find a lefty of any of those humbucker pickup guitars to try out. If not I'll check out the right handers and keep watching ebay - isn't it helpful how they send you daily emails listing new items for your Saved Searches? :)
One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain - Bob Marley

#17 fly135


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Posted 15 May 2012 - 01:30 PM

I'm a little late to the show here, but... yes a humbucker equiped guitar will give you a warmer fatter sound. There is a big difference between a single coil strat style and a humbucker guitar. You will be able to hear it through a multifx and through a guitar amp.

#18 carol m

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 08:10 PM

Hey there Fly! How've you been? - we missed you - well I did anyway. :) I haven't been around so much lately either - too many things to get done.
One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain - Bob Marley

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