Once again, I need to make it clear that these are my personal
recommendations. You may be going for
something totally different, and as such may want to totally disregard my
suggestions; if so, I fully understand, and rest assured, my feelings will not
be hurt in the least bit.
Okay, now this is important,
as far as pickup height is concerned, humbuckers
are a whole different animal from single-coils.
Because the magnetic field, or the part of the string being sensed by
the pickup, is soooo much smaller and more focused with a single-coil, even
microscopic changes in pickup height make a perceivable sonic difference;
humbuckers are different. Humbuckers are
sensing a much larger portion of the strings movement, and as such are a little
more lenient on pickup to string height adjustment. From nearly as close as the pickup can get
without touching the strings to as far away as it can be adjusted, decent tones
can be had.
I prefer to use a digital caliper to take measurements, but a quality
luthier’s ruler will do fine if you have excellent vision! Okay, so with no further ado, here are my
suggestions and reasons why.
Alnico II or III humbuckers:
Low E: 3mm / 0.125"
Hi E : 2.5mm / 0.1"
Low E: 3.5mm / 0.14"
Hi E : 2.3mm / 0.09"
(Measurements from the bottom of the
string to the top of the magnetic pole piece screws)
Yep … that’s CLOSE! But
here’s why: The old PAF design using Alnico
III or II magnets has a single small bar magnet in the base providing the
magnetic charge for both the steel pole-piece screws and slugs in both bobbins
of a humbucker. The measured magnetism
(gauss) at the actual pole screw in these humbuckers is only about
200-300gauss, compare that to the 1000+ gauss of a typical Strat or Tele style
pickup … there’s a HUGE difference here, buddy!
As you raise the pickup closer to the strings the tone gets brighter and
more focused … now with a super bright single coil, that’s usually a bad thing,
especially on the bridge pickup. However,
with the relatively warm tone, wide detection area, and inherently low magnetic
pull of these original humbucker designs, that’s EXACTLY what makes them come
Alnico V humbuckers:
Since the Alnico 5 humbuckers have
an increased gauss (about 350-500 at the poles), I generally won’t smack them
up against the strings quite so close, as they would tend to get a bit “bitey”
as close as what I just outlined for Alnico 2 or 3. However, they DO tend to still sound their
best fairly close, as compared to single coils.
Here are my general starting point settings:
Low E: 3.5mm / 0.14"
Hi E : 3.1mm / 0.12"
Low E: 4.0mm / 0.16"
Hi E : 2.8mm / 0.11"
I don’t like (and I don’t make) any
humbuckers with ceramic (Ferric) magnets;
I find their tone to be terribly sterile
and uninspiring, as such I’m not going to give any recommended settings here,
other than my usual suggestion of properly tossing them in the waste basket,
don’t worry … there’s nothing in them that will hurt the environment.
A final note on humbucker height setting:
As stated earlier, quality humbuckers with AlNiCo
magnets are quite forgiving of height adjustments compared to Fender style
single-coils. The truth is that you
might find the tone you are looking for anywhere from the closest you can get
those puppies to the strings all the way to as far as you can get them away
from the strings (about 6-7mm is as far as you can go on a Les Paul style
guitar). Just remember this:
The closer you get to the strings the brighter,
louder, and more focused the tone will get.
The further you move the pickup away from the strings
the warmer, quieter, and less focused the tone will get.