25 Feb Angus Young’s Bridge Humbucker Pickup Considerations (UpDated)
March Update: Issue “solved”. It was a wiring issue. Guitar is now excellent sounding.
Update as of 25th of Feb 2011
Yesterday I received a Rio Grande BBQ pickup, supposedly around 12-13 kohms DC resistance, and installed it into blackie’s bridge position. Surprisingly, no big change. I’m thinking that either the circuit or harness wiring (which looks odd) or even some of the components of the circuit itself (pots and/or caps) may be only partially working. I compared blackie on the bridge position with other SG Standard’s (late ’60s) and the latter seem to give a higher output. I tried this up late last night, and blackie sounded simply almost clean, just on the edge of break up while the others sounded in well driven territory. So I am sending blackie to the shop to have the electronics checked. The BBQ pickup “seems” to be a good choice, but I also ordered two Riff Raff’s directly from Tim (Bareknuckles owner) to go into either blackie itself and/or into another ’68/’69 that seems to have a weak bridge pickup. Also for other experiments that I have in mind.
A few images for you of work done/pending
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Update: so, as of now, my research is taking me to consider the following:
As George (SGAce) has mentioned in a comment before, considering the DC resistance measurement (output in kOhm) the materials of the magnet, the number of the spires and the type of wire used should be considered.
Late ’60s t-tops used ALnico V, and a sort of shorter magnet. They were considered lower ouput pickups, or they are now. Their DC resistance measurement corresponded on average to 8.x kOhm for the bridge.
Over time, it’s possible for this output to weaken as electromagnets loose some of their ‘residual’ magnetism.
I am currently considering, among a number of options, changing some of the bridge pickups in the older SGs that I have (Blackie, for example).
All of the ones I am looking at have Alnico V and compatible specifications with ’60s t-tops, and here they are:
– Angus Young Signature (The Gibson made pickup); should measure something in between 9kohm and 10kohm (some reports but perhaps bad readings are even higher)
– Rio Grande BBQ (Barbecue): seemingly used even by Angus himself “back in the day” (whatever that means, just comments in forums); measures 12kohm
– Seymour Duncan custom shop pickup: used in the custom shop Gibson Angus Young Signature (the recent one); while these are not normally for sale, the Duncan custom shop seems able to sell them. Supposedly 8.5 kohm or more
– Seymour Duncan “BroBucker”: it’s a Seymour Duncan “forum” pickup request. That is, its specifications were requested by a poll made at the Seymour Duncan forum. I think its measurement lies around the 9-12 kohm.
– Riff Raff humbucker: some are strongly suggesting this. 8.5 kohm
That’s it for now
this is a temporary place where I just put my thoughts.
I have been experimenting quite a bit with different guitars (all of my SGs) and pickups for a while, while trying to copycat Angus’ tone and its nuances.
The first thing I would like to say is, that you need a “hot” pickup to re-create Angus tone, whichever you like from whatever era you may be concentrating on.
What does “hot” mean or imply? To me, it is starting to imply that it “should” be higher in output (measured in ohm resistance) than 8k, to begin sounding right.
I know, this conflicts with some of his assertions where he said that he uses “stock” Gibson pickups. But once again, I really doubt that Angus was so aware of what he had in his guitars even back then. He often resorted to the guitar techs. He would probably describe what he needed to them, and they would act. I just don’t see Angus very interested in the technical details related to a Gibson SG, I may be wrong.
However, there are many indications – over the years – that have led me to think this way.
– I have been trying to re-create Angus tone – as you know – on a variety of older and newer technology and amplifiers: the best results always come from guitars that have a stronger output. Especially with a Marshall 1959, which won’t drive too much anyway, you need to have a strong output pickup to get the cream going. I am getting superb results from pickups that go from 10k (yes, 10!) to 12k.
– We also know that the Schaffer Vega Diversity System (his wireless unit from 1977 to maybe the mid eighties) added “drive” by boosting the channel with a “midrangey” equalization built-in in the unit. That surely helped him out during the earlier years.
– Gibson’s first Angus Young Signature guitar has a bridge pickup – the Angus Young Signature Bridge Pickup, designed with his collaboration (implying he stated what he liked and needed) with an output in fact of… 10k Ohm!
– The two Di Marzios that I found in two different older SGs that I bought recently both measure circa 12k Ohm. They do sound very good in fact. When wired ’50s style wiring (implying that when you roll off your volume knob the sound will clean up rather well and nicely, and the guitar will have less and less drive as you roll off and vice versa) they probably give the best results.
– The newer Seymour Duncan pickups in the bridge position, modified to fit the newer Angus Young Signature Custom, have outputs of circa – again – 12k ohm. Interesting, no? and supposedly, it was Angus choosing them!
– Some rumors say that Angus is using these ones (Rio Grande BBQ Pickups), these are – again – at 12k ohm!
Angus even stated himself in several old interviews, that he liked hot pickups (though no Di Marzio) and he would have to change them frequently as “…they wear off after one year of use…” meaning that they lost output after a short while.
Please consider this to be just a temporary post of in depth experiments that I am conducting. I am buying a few sets of those Rio Grande too, as I have a number of older SGs that measure outputs of around 7-8 kOhm at best, if not lower.
Just to clarify my thoughts with an example, the latest Back in Black cover, was played with the 1969 Gibson SG Custom with an Angus Young Signature Pickup in it, to reach – on the 1959 – the proper rhythm drive (solo was played on the 2204 and the Blackie “weak” bridge original t-top: soon to be replaced with either another incoming AY Signature pickup – the older series, to be clear – or the above mentioned BBQ pickup; so I am telling you that I am going to replace some original now “weak” t-tops with much hotter versions!)
Another note to undeline, is that with hotter pickups the effect on an older type of Marshall is the higher output forces the circuit (and tubes) to COMPRESS (audio compression) in a sweet, terrific way. If you remember, my earlier tone examples included use of a compressor (in post, i.e., AFTER the recording). I then progressed and elimitaed compression in post, simply reaching a better tone with the guitar and amp alone. Now, with these recent findings I am even more pleased. I am attaching an audio example where the two guitars on the sides are the ’50’s LP conversion with rather weak real PAFs. In the center, a 1966 Gibson SG with a Di Marzio 12kOhm “hot” bridge pickup, wired in ’50’s style (when you roll off, the sound cleans up very well).
If you listen to the improvised solo, played on a 1959 Marshall, with no addition of any effect whatsoever (just reverb) you will hear how it saturates fully. THAT is what I was looking for.
Found this on a forum (linked below). It comes from a person that worked with Seymour Duncan to get the pickup that Angus has in his current, live guitars:
I’m sure I can’t give them away even if I wanted to. Part of that back story is that Angus & his tech went to a lot of people before they came to us, but we nailed it, and he’s using those guitars live. Not to take anything away from the stock or signature pickups, but we just happened to have the knowledge to balance the attributes of both of those guitars with the pickup.
Gibson sells an Angus Young SG with Custom Shop Pearly Gates. I’m pretty sure that since they’re calling them Pearly Gates, there are no differences in the magnet type or wind. The Custom Shop comes out and uses the Leesona for most PE work, if it’s “gibsony” in nature, but there’s a chance these were wound on one of the Custom Shop’s machines if they had something special in mind, but to say Pearly Gates shouldmean it’s the PG number of turns, and probably the same tension/traverse/etc and therefore probably done on the Leesona. I’ll bet they have the Antiquity magnet, maybe custom degaussed, and of course the covers were aged. I think they’re chrome plated too, whereas we use nickel.
I can say this: Neither of the two pickups we made for his two main live guitars are Pearly Gates. One is close, but the other may not even be Plain Enamel. It’s very much not the Slash coil, but MJ was working on both around the same time and the one pickup may employ a few of the tricks used for the Slash pickup. As for the magnet, I can’t confirm it’s A2 nor the gauss strength but I can say he’s a low gauss kind of guy.
Some other tips we can share are that he plays unbelievably loud (as you know) and almost everything on the guitar is suspect to feedback. Rattly saddles, loosely mounted pickups, etc. It’s all suspect. They want everything on the guitar tight and feedback-free. We included custom foam placement under the pickups, and I think we might have used surgical tubing instead of springs. He goes for perpetual string feedback all the time, but if the pickup starts whistling, or something starts rattling then he’s pissed. He wants that experience where you hold the guitar up and it just “goes”. All this to say that Angus’ tone definitely includes wax potting.
His tone also includes light strings and a very light pick attack. He makes wild movements, and looks like he’s banging away, but the pick is really just brushing the strings. If you’re banging away on the strings they’re doing something completely different to the magnetic field, and that’s going to make chasing his tone far more difficult. You may get there, but it wouldn’t be by using the same pickups that he does. Instead, you’d have to wind a pickup to sound like Angus under the harder picking style.
Perhaps the biggest thing I can add to this is that since it’s only recent, I couldn’t tell you what he used historically, and I can assure you that NONE of the albums you’ve heard were made with these pickups! LOL It’s just what satisfies him today. That’s the tough part. It’s like the new Yngwie pickups. They are what he wants NOW, but no one could deny the fact that almost everything you’ve ever heard him do was on the Dimarzios.