Brian’s Blog: Is my guitar a candidate for new pickups?

UPDATES ADDED JUNE 20th 2015. Updates in BOLD. We wanted to add some information to this to help you further determine if new pickups could be right for you. 

We get a lot of requests about which pickups we’d recommend from our line and upgrading stock pickups in various guitars. One of the things I enjoy about running Porter Pickups, is talking to customers and helping them find their tone. We often ask several questions about their styles of music, artists they like, and their specific guitar to develop a Porter Pickup just for them. Our models are meant as a starting point for custom color, cover and wind options. All those factors together make Porter Pickups truly custom. We design our pickups with a specific purpose and have applications and fits in mind for each model. More on that in a later blog!

We like to know about the guitar that the pickups are going in to. If the guitar has certain qualities, the new Porter Pickups will shine better in it. Here’s some of the things we look for:

1. How does the Guitar sound unplugged?

If the Guitar has a nice ring to it, and is generally pretty resonant, it will be a great candidate for new pickups. Not that if it doesn’t ring well new pickups won’t help, but it makes a big difference in the end result. Pickups are just a translation of the string vibration, so if thats good, the translation will be even better. A good test of this is to sit down and strum a chord (We like to use a simple “G”) Play the chord and hold it, letting the guitar ring out. Pick up the guitar while it’s still ringing. Keep holding the chord shape and place your ear on the back of the guitar body near the heel of the guitar. By the time you get your ear there, if it’s still ringing strong and loud and you FEEL the vibration of the guitar thats a great sign. If it keeps ringing, thats even better! Listen to the guitar: Is it bright sounding? Deep? What is it telling you? If it never got to the point of ringing out by the time you get your ear there, it’s probably not a very alive feeling guitar, but chances are you knew that before this test. 

2. Do you like the playability and feel of the guitar?

If the guitar plays and feels “right” to you, but you’re not happy with the sound, new pickups can help. We often tell customers to make sure they love the guitar before upgrading it. With all the mass produced guitars out there, there’s some that aren’t special and some that are. We recommend sorting through them as much as you can. Some of the guitars being built in all price ranges can still be special, but it takes some searching. If it feels comfortable in your hands, you like the setup, action and frets, then it’s probably worth putting the money into for new pickups. If the guitar has issues with the frets, setup, nut or anything like that, get that fixed FIRST. Playability is #1.

3. What are the electronics like?

Since all the signal path is important, we recommend upgrading the pots, caps, switches and jack of most guitars. Even higher end made in USA guitars can benefit from high quality components. We often sell new parts with pickups, so we (and the customer) knows that the best stuff is going into their guitar. Guitar companies are using cheaper parts to save money, so new pickups deserve better pots. Better taper on your volume and tone pots, better capacitors etc. We highly recommend Emerson Custom so much so, that we are a dealer of their products. They make a wide range of pre-wired kits and have custom spec’d pots and caps. 

4. What are your pickups NOT doing for you?

This may be a hard question for some to answer, but we usually go through what you like to play on the neck position, what you like to play on the bridge, etc. Some guitars can generally be muddy, or the pickups are too bright in one position. Some of those things can be adjusted with new pickups, specific wire, and magnets. Some of our models (Like the Smooth/Classic Humbucker set) are specifically designed for versatility and to pair with an otherwise muddy guitar. Your guitar should not be too muddy that you’d never thing of using the tone knob. Maybe the customer wants a bridge pickup that can cut through the rest of the band on a solo, or a neck humbucker that can handle jazz. We take all this into account when recommending models. More on the Pickups with a Purpose soon. 

Usually with those 4 questions, we can recommend some pickups for you. We have a wide range of models for that reason. There’s been plenty of times we’ve steered customers away from certain models, because they might not be the best fit for their setup.

Strangely enough, I enjoy talking tone and making sure we’re sending the customer the best possible set for their specific guitar. Email us today at and we’ll take a look at your tonal needs for your specific guitar.



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