Sound Clips - Explained
Right then - the sound clips! What are we doing with them? What are they good for?! Let’s see if I can get this explained without it turning into a complete wall of text eh?
What it used to be!
Basically - way back when, we used to record the all the pickups we make, doing "something fun" - we know what they're good at, so the original clips were simply a way of us showing them at their best - easy! Late 50s single coil is going to knock a bit of doo wop tinged Rock'N'Roll out of the park all day long, the Texas blues are going to do…well…Texas Blues pretty well!
And, honestly – it was pretty fun! It let us indulge our inner rock stars, we got to put pickups through their paces, and it always felt like the natural end point in the R&D – proof, in the flesh, that a pickup did exactly what we thought it did. Lovely stuff right?!
BUT – there’s a few little problems with making this wonderful, finished recording of a pickup!
Firstly, they’re useless for making comparisons between different models (How do the Late 50s do Texas Blues? How do the Texas Blues do Reggae funk fusion?!(… I’ve been asked that before, I’m not joking!)
Secondly – and anyone who’s ever been in a studio for a few days will know this – a guitar on a record and a guitar in real life are very different beasts! And obviously, we were trying to make the pickups sound as good as they possibly could – so there was a fair bit of mixing and tweaking and tidying up to really translate “how good these pickups are” – and whilst we didn’t take liberties, I’ll concede that there’s shades of dishonesty about it. Those recorded tones are studio tones – not live tones.
And Thirdly (maybe two-and-a-halfly) – there wasn’t a great deal of standardisation on the recordings either – we might have recorded the Bourbon Cities in a Les Paul® through a Marshal® JCM800 to give all those lovely chewy rock tones, but then the next “rock” pickup, was recorded in an Ibanez® RG and a dialled back Messa® Dual Rec… So obviously, they’re going to sound wildly different… and that’s not fair either.
And obviously, we’re all for fairness with this stuff – so we figured it was time for a change!
Time for a change
So – the master plan ran something like this!
“We write 4 tracks* - Clean, Rock, Blues and Metal – and each pickup gets recorded doing each one**. Always using the same amps, the same guitars*** and there will be absolutely no mixing on any of the guitars! Let’s get a true capture of the pickup on record!****”
Now – the problems with 2016 Craig’s genius idea (easy with hind-sight eh?)
* It wasn’t originally 4 tracks! I can only dream of being so concise – I think at one point there was 10 different tracks – Country, Brit Rock, US Rock, Classic Metal, Funk, Modern Metal… that’d have been fun! Eventually it boiled down to the 4 big ones!
**We figured out pretty quickly that not every pickup needed to showcase every track – we settled on 3 of 4… no one needed to hear a Telecaster® make a fool of itself fighting a metal track (unless it can… so do!).
***… it ended up that it wasn’t always the same guitar – tuning issues with some meant a shift to other guitars, not all pickups fit all guitars (P90s!) – we’ve tried to stay fair with it, but there’s been some chopping and changing (we’ve recorded them all in the track player if it bothers anyone)
**** IT turns out that when you record a guitar as part of a “band” – you can’t escape a bit of mixing weirdly – when you start including bass and drums, the cross talk between all the instruments means you can’t pick out the detail of the guitar with its full frequency spectrum – so we did have the apply a bit of an EQ – but because this is all about fairness – the EQ is always the same. It’s just there to tidy up the guitars and get them “clear” of the other instruments. So yeah – recorded guitars don’t sound like live guitars without a bit of a tidy up.
Do we did it!
Each pickup now has 3 recordings that best suit its style, and allows you to listen to each one playing the same track as the next! So you can hear exactly how the pickups differ.
Just a few things to remember with it though – the difference between pickups can be subtle! So you’ll want to be listening to these things through a decent set of speakers or a pair of headphones. What we’re showcasing here boils down to differences in frequencies – if you’re listening through a phone speaker, chances are it isn’t going to be capable of showing the finer details. (my PC speakers cant even make the bass frequencies on the tracks!)
And remember too, that these tracks haven’t been written to blow your socks off. They’re about as generic as they come. They’re nothing ground breaking musically, and you will, if your using the clips as intended, get pig sick of hearing the same song over and over again…but that’s kind of the point. Listen to the tone, not the track. Best advice I can give.
The players my little baby in all this – it’s a bit clunky at times (because we’re having to store and load the tracks as you call for them, so there can be a delay here or there – just, you know? Go gentle with her!) its got a few nice little features in it that make it really useful.
First thing is the “bookmark” button – find a pickup/position you like, click the little bookmark, and it’ll store it – go to another pickup and right at the bottom of the list, you can recall that bookmarked pickup.
Now, that’s great, because it means you can very quickly A/B pickups – and that’s one of the problems when pickup shopping. A humans audio memory is about 4 seconds – its much longer for something you’re familiar with (where you’ve committed a sound to “true” memory – your own guitar for example, but short term audio memory is amazingly short) – so the less time between hearing one pickup and the next, the better! Use it! It’s a great tool to base your decisions on.
The other “gem” – you can switch between the full band and the isolated guitar track – and that’s about as honest as it gets! They’ve not had any of the “tidy up” EQ applied to them, so what your hearing is the full frequency spectrum, as its been recorded, no messing about with it – just pure guitar. It’s amazingly unimpressive again, but if it’s the final piece of the A/B testing puzzle, it’s pretty helpful!
What about my Legacy?!
So – full disclosure? It aint half boring listening to the same 4 tracks over and over and over again – it’s great for making comparisons between pickups, but it aint exactly entertaining – and it’s not exactly a great sales pitch (is honesty ever?!) – so – we’ve kept the old tracks too – they’re under the heading of “Legacy” in the player – those tracks show the pickup doing their thing as well as they possibly can – Texas blues cranking some Texas Blue, Late 50s doing Rock and Roll, Bourbon cities pushing a bit of hard rock.
Its fun, it’s a nice listen, it gives a bit of a better idea of what a pickup wants to be doing (even if it can do other stuff) – they’re worth a listen, but go in eyes open, they’re “the pickups at their best” – mixed/EQed/Mastered and polished as if they were being recorded “proper” (*well… as much as a solo guitar track can be)
And that about covers it – 3 tracks on each pickup, allowing you to compare one pickup to the next. Bookmark button to make A/B swapping quick and easy, and isolated guitars if you want them. Minimal mixing, minimal tinkering and “little white lies” – just a straight representation of what the guitars going to sound like doing some of the more common musical styles.
And you get the Legacy tracks too – which are useless for making comparisons, but they do show the pickup doing what it does as well as possible.
More Tech stuff!
So - a lot of us think about pickups in the simplest terms when it comes to the technical side of things - and, honestly, for most people, that’s absolutely fine - few of us are actually all that concerned about how pickups are constructed, and how that process effects the sound of the things, and a lot of the time, it’s just easier to trust in the marketing hype surrounding stuff (and I’m not knocking that mentality at all – we all do it in some aspect of life or other don’t we? You can’t be an expert in everything!)
BUT – pickups? I’m very much on the engineering side of things before I buy into the marketing spiel myself, so, it scratch that particular itch for myself, and for anyone else who’s interested in this side of things – I figured I’d publish the more “in depth” specs of these pickups, and, hopefully, maybe bust a few myths along the way too.
So – whilst its fine to think of pickups in terms of “Its XXX Point XXX Kohms and its Alnico YYY!”… That’s fine! (it actually tells you more then you’d think too!), but its only part of the picture – so lets get stuck in to this set, and see what really makes them tick!
And the best way of doing that, is with a bode plot!