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Anico Pole-Pieces vs Pole Screws in Pickups - Tele or Strat Style

by vaughn skow February 02, 2022 3 min read

Traditional vs adjustable pole pieces tele pickup

Howdy guitar gang!  So I had a request come in that got me to thinking ... thinking that maybe this is some info that ALL tone connoisseurs need to know!  So here goes. 

Here is the Question:

"Hey Vaughn!   I’m putting together a Telecaster from used parts. I’ll need pickups for it, and wondered I’d adjustable pole pieces were available for the bridge pickup.  Thanks!"

And my Answer:

"No, that's never anything I've even played with as it would necessitate a design entirely outside of anything even CLOSE to an actual Tele pickup ... where the pole-pieces ARE actual magnetic rods.  Any design with screws, keepers, ad bar magnets below wouldn't sound ANYTHING at all like a Tele pickup."

Since there is no reason to go into great detail, I'll keep this simple!

One of the largest contributors to the classic Fender Tele (and Strat) tone is that Leo designed his pickups using AlNiCo (Aluminum, Nickle, and Cobalt) rod magnets as the ACTUAL pole-pieces!  Meanwhile, Seth Lover, and the folks at Gibson designed their first mass-production pickup, the P-90, using steel screws as pole-pieces, and these screws were made to be magnetic by passing them through a steel bar underneath the pickup that had a pair of magnets with the same poles FORCED to be facing each other on each side of the steel bar, which some call a keeper bar and some call a shoe.  It was a bit of fighting against natural physics since naturally the same poles repel each other, and opposite poles repel each other!  But, by pushing two (south) poles against the keeper bar and gluing them in place, when the screws went through the keeper, they took on a certain, fairly small, amount of magnetism. Sidenote: It's quite common for a vintage P-90 equipped guitar to come into the shop with a pickup "not sounding right", and it's usually because the glue on one of the two magnets finally gave up the struggle, and the magnet flipped over and joined the one on the other side!

Here is a chart of the average magnetic pull I have measured in my shop, measured right on the top of the pole-piece:

Pre-1957 Alnico III Tele And Strat Pickups: aprox. 650-800mT (mili-Tesla, One Tesla = 10,000 gauss)
Late 50's to early 60's Alnico V Tele and Strat Pickups: 850-1,000mT
Modern production Alnico V Tele and Strat Pickups: 1,000-1,2000mt
NOTE: Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Duosonic, Musicmaster, etc. models are all similar)

Early Alnico III P-90's: apx. 175-250mt
Mid 50's to mid 60's Alnico V P-90's: apx 200-350mt
Modern production Alnico V P-90's: apx. 250-375mT

Okay, so NOW go read THIS BLOG on what magnetic gauss means to a pickups tone. In a nutshell, more gauss equals a brighter tone with a lot more complex harmonic structure and touch-sensitive tone.  Less gauss equals a darker, more mid-centric tone.

Let's take a look at the back of some "adjustable pole-piece" Tele pickups:
Here is the back of a Fralin "Split Steel" Tele Bridge pickup:

Lindy Fralin Split Steel Pole Tele BACK

Yep, the screws go through a shoe with a pair of magnets glued to each side, JUST like a P-90, except with modern ceramic magnets!

Lindy Fralin Split Steel Pole Tele Set BACK!

I'm sorry, but putting a back-plate on the bridge pickup may make it LOOK more like a traditional Tele pickup, but it shure as heck doesn't SOUND like one!

Here's the back of a Porter 9T neck pickup:

Porter Pickups 9T Neck Pickup back

And the Bridge:

Porter Pickups 9T Bridge Pickup back

Shoot, here the steel screws simply screw into a ceramic magnet!  This looks soooooo very much like the ultra-cheap pickups from china where steel pole-pieces are simply pushed against a ceramic magnet glued to the bottom of the pickup.  Ugg.  It makes for a MUCH darker and sterile tone than a "real" Fender style pickup, so I guess that's okay if you really don't WANT Fender tone!

Both of these "screws for pole-pieces" Tele pickups sound a lot more like a P90 than ANY traditional Fender pickup.

So there ya have it!  The reason why I personally don't make any Fender style pickups with adjustable pole-pieces, I simply don't like the overly dark and dead tone. If THAT is what you want, maybe you need to just go with a P-90 or Humbucker equipped guitar, or maybe something like the Seymour Duncan Hot Rails, which sounds a LOT like a full sized humbucker!

See ya next week :)

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