Staggered or Flat Pole Guitar Pickups?

It depends on your guitar neck whether or not to use staggered or flat pole guitar pickups. If you recall, and I’m sure all of you will, a Fender neck radius in the 40’s and 50’s was very severe.
What do I mean? Simply put, the radius of the fret board was 7-1/4″ inches. It’s a very curved radius.
The arc across the width of the fingerboard resulted in the two middle strings sitting higher above the pickups.
Why? because Leo Fender thought players would like it better. Some of Leo’s ideas were great, however not this one.

Almost no guitar manufacturer today has that kind of extreme radius design, unless they don’t want to sell guitars.
Players who especially like to bend strings will be very disappointed with the 7-1/4″ radius.
Why? because strings will fret-out and sound will choke when a player tries a bend on this kind of severely curved neck.
Confused? Got it. You need more info.

How Do I Know What Pickup Designs Are Best?

First you’ll need to understand what poles are and the relationship they play in a pickup design.
Pickup poles are magnet posts that run perpendicular to the string windings in the guitar pickup’s coil to serve as a conductor for each string above it.
Often you’ll notice one pole piece per string on a single coil is used. Some of today’s designs have one long bar pole piece, or blade, per string.
Poles look like small metal circles under each string. Flat poles are all the same height.
The staggered poles have some poles reaching higher for certain strings and some are lower. They have a very non-uniform look.

Flat-pole pickups simply give your guitar a better string balance. When the pole pieces are all level then your tone is more balanced.
No volume on any string will dominate the others. Fender Teles until sometime in 1956 had flat-poles. Leo Fender decided that since some of the strings were so far away from the guitar he needed to compensate and make some poles higher. In his mind, it would bring the volume out in the more distant poles for strings sitting higher.
Now, moving pickup poles closer to the strings does increase their output-only more windings will do that. However it will make the string sound louder.
Think about a pole as being a microphone for each string. Think about a singer. What happens as a singer gets farther away from the mic?
The volume drops but the mic still has the same output. So-placement of a pole piece is very important. The closer the pole (or mic) the better sound reproduction.
It is much more important than the “output” of the pickup. Ever notice when a singer lays into the mic the vocals are louder?

Why Use Staggered or Flat Pole Guitar Pickups ?

Today there is no need to stagger pickups. The most significant reason for the design factor concerning staggered pickups was fingerboard radius on the guitars of the past.
Players in the late 50’s and early 60’s began to demand easier playing necks with radius’ such as 9.5 and 12″. These radius’ remain most popular today.
String height should correspond to your fret board radius-period. Most importantly, if you have a modern radius such as 9.5 and 12″ then do not use staggered pickups. Now do you understand when to use staggered or flat pole guitar pickups? Still not sure? Call us: 843-347-5742 or email us: [email protected]

About the Author:

Mr. Rick Mariner Owner and Founder and CEO of Haywire Custom Guitars Inc. He is a member of The Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (A.S.I.A.) as well as a guitar player. Rick holds a bachelors degree from University of Md. and a Masters degree from George Washington University. Rick developed his exclusive 8 – Point “Gig- Ready” guitar process that allows for Custom Guitars that are “GIG-READY”. With Rick’s many years of development and guitar set-up experience, Haywire Guitar shop “Builds satisfied players… one Haywire guitar at a time”.

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