Finding your tone with pickups

Capt Jake on Jun 15th 2024

By now you may have seen our 'Tone Finder' chart on our site (if not,  check it out here!)

This chart is meant to help you find a 'jumping off point' when selecting a pickup, but let's take this opportunity to have an in depth discussion about how pickups affect the tone of your guitar.

First of all, let's have some honesty about guitar tone; your TONE is made up of nearly 100 different elements from the string gauge you prefer to the amp you play.  The wood your neck and body is made out of, which style of tail piece and bridge you use, the resistance value of the potentiometers and tone capacitor(s) all play myriad roles in the TOTALITY of your tone.

Here at Rio Grande we strongly feel that the largest parts of this tone equation are your amplifier, your speaker, and your PICKUPS! Trailing just behind these elements is your guitar construction, ie; solid body/bolt on neck, hollowbody, neck-thru, etc. etc.

SO, how do you select a pickup to achieve your tonal goals?!

This all starts with YOU. What style of guitar player are you? What type of music are you playing? Do you play with a soft touch, do you dig in, do you play with loads of dynamics?

There are two predominant types of pickups- those with pole pieces that are magnets and those that are magnetized by a bar style magnet on the underside of a pickup.  This marks the largest tonal division in types.  Your 'Fender' style pickups will have the pole pieces that are magnets, and your 'Gibson' style pickups will have the magnetized steel pole pieces (whether these are screws or slugs).

Pickups that have magnets as the pole pieces have excellent note articulation, that is, when you play a chord it will be easier to discern every individual note in a chord.  This is wonderful for intricate chord work and punchy lead tone. The magnetized pole piece style of pickups mix the individual tones of your strings into a full chord sound.  Typically this lends itself to more appropriate rhythm sounds but creamy lead tone.

Here will be a list of recommendations based on style and three key words to describe the nuance of each pickup we make.  There is no "catch all" for any one player.  So often we find that a metal player actually likes our suggestions for a country player - maybe just for the unique tone it gives them in their genre, or because it compliments their playing style best.

Pickup Series or Model Music Genre Tone Descriptor
Vintage Tallboy Series Country, Rhythm and Blues Chimey, Articulate, Clean
Halfbreed Series Country, Rock, Blues Bold, Articulate, Excelled Midrange
Muy Grande Series Country, Rock, Blues, Modern Metal Strong, Articulate, Fat bottom
BBQ Humbucker Rock, Blues, Metal Classic, Creamy, Powerful touch
Genuine Texas Humbucker Rock, Blues, Jazz, Metal Classic, Creamy, Dynamic
Buffalo Humbucker Jazz, Blues, Rock Classic, Creamy, Articulate
Bluesbar / Fat Bastard / Dirty Harry Rock, Blues Throaty, Barky, Crisp
Jazzbar / Bastard / Dirty Harry Jr Rock, Blues, Jazz Dynamic, Excelled Midrange, Crisp
Lowbar / Lil Bastard Jazz, Blues, Rock Classic, Dynamic, Chime
Stelly for Strats Country, Rock Twang, Chirp, Articulate
Rail Gunner / Grease Gunner Rock, Blues, Metal Classic, Creamy, Powerful touch
Blade Runner Rock, Blues, Jazz, Metal Classic, Creamy, Dynamic
Crunchbox Hard rock, Metal Power, Fat, Crunch
Punchbox Hard rock, Metal Power, Fat, Crunch

We realized long ago that our hot pickup recipes allowed our players a greater range of dynamics in their playing. By increasing the strength of a pickup players have a lot more room to roll down their volume controls or lighten their attack and still achieve a punchy tone. That is why we like it HOT, HOTTER and HOTTEST.  Have any questions at all?  Contact us, we are here to help!