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Bob Elliott
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Talk to Me About Changing Tones by Turning Down the Pick-ups

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Bob Elliott

3/25/2009 7:49:32 PM

Talk to Me About Changing Tones by Turning Down the Pick-ups
I've practically always just turned my pickups all the way up on the les paul. I practically always use the rhythm one exclusively,too.

However, with the new tube amp I've been reaching for different sounds. One thing is when the pick-ups are wide open, the tone can sometimes be harsh. So I've been experimenting with turning the pick-ups down some and turning the amp up to compensate. Lo and behold it is a different sound. How does that work, what's the going wisdom on that stuff?

I always see good guitar players turn their pickups down for stuff.

I've started combining the pickups with different volumes and different amount of the treble tone knobs for each.

So those knobs are there for a reason, and what do you all know about the different settings purposes?

Or is it just flavor to taste with no one really knowing why they do what they do?


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Hop On Pop

3/25/2009 9:17:32 PM


With a tube amp, the tone is all about how hard you are driving the tubes; the harder you drive 'em, the sweeter the tone.
That said, if you have the volume cranked, but the pickups turned down, you'll be driving the tubes, but the tone won't break up (as much) because the speaker isn't vibrating as hard at lower volumes.
And that explains why a lot of musicians prefer to use small amps in the studio: you can drive them harder, especially with high-output pickups. Frank Zappa has told stories of recording some REALLY NASTY sounds by using a transistor radio as his amplifier. Something like that will break apart into a million pieces (aurally speaking), if you pump a Les Paul through it at top volume.

Anyway, it's all about finding that sweet spot, with both the guitar and the amp, no matter where you find it.


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never never band

3/26/2009 12:19:07 AM


The way it works is, If you have pretty hot humbucker you'll find that the volume knob controls your drive, right at 7 or so is a nice cleanish tone and the tone will break up after that. The Famous JB pickup or The pearly gates are designed around this very phenomenon, and you'll notice guys like Beck and Verheyen will control their guitars this way and can get tones from shimmering clean to a great crunch all with the controls on the guitar. Like Bob mentions, if you drive the input tubes with a hot pickup tone you'll get this nice crunch, I think this is because the pre side of most amps are like 12ax7s which are easy to overdrive..
My Les pauls have Seth Lover humbuckers and they are perfect for this sort of playing, I turn the amp up to where I have a nice bluesy crunch with my pickup at 10, and then roll off to seven and the tone cleans up0 without the volume really dropping much. With t 5 way strat set up you have even more options, you can set the bridge pickup closer to the strings and get more of this versatility. I actually angle my single coils a bit so I have even volume from High string to Low string and put them as close to the strings as I can without them effecting the tuning...

Like you I like that neck pickup on the les paul, but it beaks up in a way that really emphasizes low mids so I keep the tone pot at 10. You can squish the bridge pickup with the tone pot and get that jazz solo tone but if you try that with the neck pickup you get way to much low mid and bass...

Not all les pauls are created equal, do you have 59s in yours?
different pickups behave VERY differently, as do different guitars based on the wood and even just the mysterious incidentals..
The thing is this is all an accident, it's the incidentals and imperfections of the guitars and amps in the late 50s that players turned around into this wonderful voodoo!!


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Bob Elliott

3/31/2009 4:49:59 AM


Well, thanks for that knowledge.

My les paul is a 68 Black Beauty. I don't know if it has the right pick ups in it. THey were in it when I got it for 350 in 1985.

But I have been experimenting with turning them down and other things. Seems to be something more useful with this 78 Fender Princeton tube amp I got last summer.

Never had a tube amp before. Sure is a wonderful world.


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