Setting pickup height

It has been a day of rain showers and after getting all the tools out and then putting them away again three times I gave up for the day. No progress on the custom bass. Instead I set myself to a couple of indoor jobs.

First I decided to properly set the pickup heights for my Voodoo Telecaster. As I was doing it it occurred to me that my approach may be of interest to someone else, so here it is. It is largely based on the common sense approach recommended by pickup guru Bill Lawrence (see point three).

I start with the bridge pickup. I find this is the most sensitive one to get right so I like to get this set up first.

  1. On the treble side, as a starting point I fret the E string at the highest fret and then adjust the pickup until it is around 2mm from the string.
  2. At this point Bill recommends setting the bass side to around double the treble side. I start here but then I strum a six string chord and listen to the relative volume and raise/lower the bass side of the pickup until I get a pleasing balance.
  3. Once I’m happy with the bridge pickup I turn my attention to the neck pickup. Flicking between bridge and neck pickups and with a consistently strummed chord I aim to balance the volume between bridge and neck. All the time I make sure the neck pickup is in balance with itself and neither the bass nor treble side predominate.
  4. At this point I’m fairly close but I like to take one extra step. One of my favourite sounds on the Telecaster is the bridge and neck pickup together. For this combination I like the bridge pickup to predominate slightly, so it has still got that Telecaster snap and bite, but with just a touch of warmth underneath it. I usually wind the neck pickup down slightly and then go back to step #3, and then back to step #4, until I’m happy with the compromise.
  5. Twang!
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