TheBuddha Approves #3: How do Guitar Pickups Work?

For reasons, I’m very busy today. I’m not just busy, I’m super-busy.

I did take the time to send out a detailed (and long) email to a wonderful online-friend. I’m half-tempted to turn that email into this article, but it contains a significant amount of personal information that doesn’t really belong to me – and putting it out there in public may be something that isn’t appreciated.

So, it’d take some time to whittle it down to article length and then remove the personal bits. While I’ve described the situation to a number of people, today’s missive was both long and detailed.

It’d also be difficult to edit it to ensure that it didn’t come off entirely creepy or as a braggart. I do think, after some thought, that it could be wedged into an article, though I’m unsure of the type of appeal it’d have or if I’d be subjected to negative responses. As it involves someone other than myself, and they’d be likely to read the responses, I’ve decided to not write that article and subject them to the potential negative feedback.

I do want to distill it and share a piece with you.

I also want you to know that I’ve chosen the following words with care. Some of what I’m about to say can be seen as an endorsement and, indeed, it is. However, this endorsement has not been purchased, but is based on a pattern of behavior, lots of observation, and my own personal experiences.

Yes, it’s true that I spoil the eldest hoodlum. Yes, she gets a great deal of attention. Yes, she gets expensive things.

I don’t need to justify that to anyone and I’m not asking for opinions on the matter. If the circumstances were fully understood and disclosed, it’d help explain it a great deal better. Those stories are hers to tell and she’s well and truly equipped to come on here and write her own damned articles if she wants to tell you about ’em!

In fact, she’s very much invited to write articles for the site – just as you are. I ain’t scared! Y’all can write about all sorts of music related things and I’m happy to facilitate that.

Now that we have that out the way…

She got some lovely gifts and is very happy with her new guitar and all the sundry equipment that came with it.

These gifts were purchased from a company known as ‘Sweetwater.’

These gifts were relatively expensive, because I got her professional equipment that should, with proper care, both serve her well and last her the rest of her life.

I do not know if they’re aware of this site.

I do know that they’re familiar with me. I do know that I’ve had numerous interactions with them in the past. I do have reason to expect they know that we musicians tend to speak out about exceptional service, deals, or things like informative sales and service staff.

The representative knows me by name and I have done business with them in the past. They also knew the reasons for my purchases.

They did not give me a discount on my purchases.

They did not ask for me to mention them on this site.

They did not ask for, or indicate they wanted, an endorsement. They did not ask me to link to them. They did not ask for a favorable review. We did not discuss this site, my opinions of their service and support, or anything of that nature.

What they did do was go out of their way, and at their expense, make her gift reception a better experience. Specifically, they included gifts of their own. They spent their money to include extras that were not ordered and this incurred no additional fees at my end.

These extras were not insignificant. It was not just a t-shirt. It was well beyond and above anything one might expect or demand. It was a personalized touch and something most people aren’t going to expect from a web store. These additions were incurred at their expense, and without any strings attached. (Well, no… They did include strings – but they were for a guitar.)

(One of the secrets to this sort of personalized service is to do things like place your orders by phone, but that’d be another article and for another time.)

It’s because of this, because of this personalized behavior, that I’m comfortable saying that you can add (for whatever it’s worth to you) Sweetwater to the list of companies with whom I’ve had a great series of satisfying interactions.

However, I feel it’s imperative that I at least strive to be open about such things and that I disclose any biases I may have, any gifts that have been received, and any rewards that may prejudice my  statements.

I do, after all, do some reviews and have talked a number of you through purchasing a guitar, or related equipment, as well having provided direct links to retailers which some of you have used.

It’s important, I feel, that this be aboveboard and openly disclosed.

Sweetwater did not give these gifts with any conditions, or mentions, of publicity.

It is because of these gifts that I’m mentioning them – but it is not because of them specifically. It is because they’ve continued to do things similar and have shown me a pattern of good service and support.

They did not buy my endorsement. They earned it by doing things like knowing my name, always having an answer, and working hard to keep me satisfied.

Which is a bit amusing, ’cause I usually use a competitor! I’ve used Sweetwater in the past but I’d actually tried to use a competitor and they couldn’t get me the GLP Standard in the color that she wanted. We were able to secure the last available one from Sweetwater and I chose to just place the entire order there – even though their competitor gives me a discount.

So, I’m pretty happy with them and have no problem adding them to a list of retailers that I will acknowledge as having exceeded my expectations.

Which, and weigh it as much or as little as you like, is an official endorsement from me.

There’s also room on the list of approved retailers for more than one company. Hell, it’d be a great world if every single musical instrument retailer was working hard enough for me to endorse them. That seems unlikely.

But, I feel it’s important to disclose my biases and to disclose any gifts that have been given, as opposed to things that I pay for directly. While this didn’t directly come as a gift with the intent that it be mentioned here on the site, it still seems like the ethical thing to do. This will continue to be my policy.

So, when it comes to Sweetwater, they are officially getting my seal of approval. It probably doesn’t translate to them getting a bunch of sales but, nonetheless, TheBuddha Approves!

Anyhow, let’s get on with today’s article!

How do your pickups work?

I’ve been planning on writing this for a while. The answer combines math, music, and physics! Those are a few of my favorite things!

I planned on telling you all about how Einstein’s E=MC2 had all sorts of connotations about mass and energy, about how it could be looked at from multiple directions, and about what it meant as it relates to your guitar.

I planned on explaining how we understand that to work at the smaller level, in the quantum area, with regards to particles zoomin’ about and smashing into each other. I’d planned on telling you that you’re actually warping an electromagnetic field as you put your energy into the system.

In my imagination, it was gonna be a pretty sweet article!

Then, I decided I’d look online and I found that people have already written some wonderful descriptions and have explained how your pickups work.

That’ll save some time!

They’re not very good explainers! No… They don’t mentioned matter wigglin’ and dancin’ or anything. They don’t even use the word “smash.”

Not one of them used the phrase, “Shit-a-damn awesome!”

I apologize for their oversight.

The slack bastards don’t even compare it to fire-breathing monster trucks taking sweet, sweet jumps.

No, they give a technical description and use fancy words like “electromagnetic induction” and that it requires motion. They even appear to know that a fella named Faraday came up with all that and it was so awesome that they called it Faraday’s Law.

It’s not just a suggestion, it’s a law!

And, so… I’m just gonna share some links and let you read their work (even if their description doesn’t involve mentioning smashing particles into each other).

At the end of the day, the answer isn’t so cut and dried. There’s also a variety of ways to examine this. I’m going to share ’em, and you can process the information as you’d like.

First up, we have someone named Hank Wallace and he does a great job at telling you how pickups work. Click this link to read his fantastic description.

Second, we have a guy who appears to be about as passionate about pickups as Paul Reed Smith is about guitars. He looks at things a little differently and has a different way to explain them. He does appear to be trying to promote a product – but he also appears to be pretty damned passionate. I will be keeping an eye on him and watching the developments. Click here to read more about guitar pickups.

If you see those two links, and read ’em – more than just click on ’em and skim them, you’ll see they’re not quite the same. You’ll also notice that there’s some date differences. It seems that our understanding may be in the process of changing and, as of yet, I’m not really comfortable stating an opinion. I suppose one major difference is that the first is telling us how they work and the second is telling us why they work.

Finally, we have this link, which is probably a bit more interesting to anyone who’s just interested in learning a bit more about pickups. The subject can be made pretty damned complicated, but most players probably don’t need it to be – they just need to know what works for them and what best enables them to get the tones that satisfy them.

Seeing as we’re on the subject…

You might be interested in this scholarly work, The Science of String Instruments (PDF warning). If you’re interested in understanding the nature of your instrument, you may be interested in that. You can order a print copy, but it’s pretty expensive. I typed it into Google and that popped out. (About $100, from Springer.)

Anyhow, they all get my stamp of approval. I’m just stampin’ everything today! Now, I have to get into the studio to check on her progress for tonight’s submission to the weekly guitar thread. It’s Friday! You’re all, of course, invited to come share a merry tune with us. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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