Electric guitars are known for their stunning aesthetics, often boasting a wide range of designs. While some designs are purely decorative, others have a significant impact on the guitar’s tonal quality.
Among the components of an electric guitar, pickups are particularly noteworthy for their diverse designs. Some guitars feature angled pickups, which serve to enhance the strength of certain frequency ranges. Specifically, angled pickups are designed to bolster the low frequencies of the bass strings and amplify the treble frequencies of the high strings.
This arrangement results in a brighter and more vibrant sound from the high strings, while simultaneously providing a warmer and richer tone from the bass strings. Consequently, the overall tonal quality of the guitar is greatly enhanced.
Electric guitars not only captivate with their visual appeal but also offer various design features, such as angled pickups, that play a crucial role in shaping the instrument’s sound characteristics.
History of Slanted Pickups
In the early 1950s, Mr. Leo Fender, the inventor of Fender guitars, introduced the concept of slanted pickups. This innovation was initially incorporated into the design of the Broadcaster, later known as the Telecaster.
Leo Fender devised a simple yet highly effective method to achieve balanced tonal qualities across the frequency spectrum, which continues to be utilized in most single-coil guitars today. His assistant, Freddie Tavares, supported this approach as it successfully maintained the brightness of the treble strings while delivering the power of the bass strings.
During the 1940s and 1950s, pedal steel and lap steel guitars gained popularity, with their distinct twangy tones being sought after by guitarists. The angled positioning of single-coil pickups played a significant role in reproducing these desired tones.
Additionally, the introduction of the tremolo bar was another element that aided guitarists in emulating the sounds of steel guitars, although that topic warrants a separate discussion.
The amplifiers used during that era also influenced the development of slanted pickups. Modern guitar amplifiers are designed to provide a balanced response across both lower and higher strings. However, the amplifiers of the 1940s and 1950s had a different characteristic. Although vintage tube amplifiers offered pleasant naturally distorted tones, they lacked brightness and balance in the low and high frequencies.
Leo Fender’s groundbreaking innovation of slanted pickups revolutionized the guitar industry, enabling guitarists to achieve a versatile range of tones and capturing the essence of popular steel guitar sounds of the time.
Angled vs Straight pickups
While angled pickups have their advantages, they may not be suitable for all guitar designs. The limited space between the bridge and neck can be a concern for some players, leading them to prefer straight pickups that offer a pleasing sound.
The preference for angled or straight pickups depends on the style of music the instrument is intended for. Not all players seek the thinner and brighter tone that angled pickups aim to achieve.
In certain cases, a neck pickup set at an angle can produce a tighter and warmer bottom tone when positioned differently. This illustrates that there are multiple options available between tilted and straight pickups.
Ultimately, the decision to use angled or straight pickups is a matter of personal taste and the desired sound for the specific guitar and musical style.
Necessity of Angled Pickup
The Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars are known for their slanted pickups. Fender employs angled pickups in these models to enhance the bass response on the lower strings and the treble clarity on the higher strings.
The origin of angled pickups can be traced back to the history of the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars. Leo Fender established the tradition of using tilted pickups, which has been upheld by the company ever since.
Opinions regarding the significance of angled pickups vary among seasoned professionals. While some do not consider it a crucial factor, others have even declined to play instruments with angled pickups. Ultimately, the preference for angled or straight pickups rests with the guitarist and the guitar manufacturer.
Read more: Neck vs Bridge pickup on a guitar
Pickup Position Affects the Guitar’s Sound
In electric guitars, there are three standard positions for pickups: the bridge, middle, and neck. While pickups of the same model may be used, their placement significantly influences their individual sound characteristics.
The proximity to the neck results in a rounder and warmer tone from a pickup, whereas placing it closer to the saddle or bridge produces a thinner and brighter sound.
This fundamental principle underlies the operation of electric guitar pickups, explaining why pickups positioned nearer to the neck tend to have a warmer tone. Meanwhile, pickups in the middle position typically offer a warm and lively sound.
Among Fender’s renowned guitar models, the Stratocaster and Telecaster feature a single slanted bridge pickup. As previously mentioned, this pickup serves to attenuate harsh frequencies in the bridge position and enhance the bass response, which is typically weaker in single-coil pickups.
In the case of guitars like Stratocasters and Telecasters, angling the neck pickup is not as necessary. The straight placement of the neck pickup already provides a warm and mellow tone, and the combination of the straight neck pickup and slanted bridge pickup achieves an ideal balance.
However, some “offset” guitars, such as the Fender Mustang and the Fender Jag-Stang (a Jaguar and Mustang hybrid popularized by Kurt Cobain), feature two slanted pickups—one in the neck position and one in the bridge position—that are oriented perpendicular to the strings.
This configuration results in an even brighter tone, significantly boosting the high-end frequencies, which contributes to the distinctive sound associated with grunge and shoegazer alternative rock bands like Sonic Youth.
Humbuckers are widely recognized for their increased power and reduced noise compared to single-coil pickups. They offer a distinct sound that cannot be achieved with single coils. However, in certain guitar models, specific designs focus on a darker and bass-heavy tone. To address this, some designers have explored the use of slanted humbuckers at the bridge position.
One notable example is the Charvel Fusion series of guitars, which incorporated this design. The slanted humbucker placement resulted in a brighter and more balanced tone, offering significant advantages. Another instance of tilted humbuckers can be found in the Gibson Nighthawk, where this configuration also delivers fantastic sound. Many guitarists who own guitars with slanted humbuckers express their love for the unique tones produced and have no desire to change the tilt.
It’s important to note that these slanted humbuckers are specifically designed for these models and cannot be easily substituted with a standard pickup that has been angled.
Another excellent illustration of slanted pickups can be found in Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jag-Stang. As this guitar was designed for grunge music, both pickups are angled. Many grunge musicians appreciate the distinct tone produced by this configuration, which is partially attributed to the slanted pickups.
These examples highlight the versatility and sonic possibilities that can be achieved through the use of slanted pickups in specific guitar models, resulting in unique and appealing tones.
What Happens if the Angle is Reversed?
An intriguing example of reversing the pickup angle can be seen in the case of Jimi Hendrix and his upside-down Stratocaster. Despite being left-handed, Hendrix played a right-handed guitar with the strings flipped, so that the higher strings (E and B) passed over the poles closer to the neck, resulting in a mellower sound.
Interestingly, even though this setup essentially goes against the intended effect of the pickup angle, it didn’t seem to bother anyone. Hendrix’s unique approach proved successful, and his unconventional use of a right-handed guitar with reversed strings showcased his exceptional talent and distinctive sound.
This serves as a testament to the versatility and adaptability of guitarists, as they explore different techniques and configurations to achieve their desired tones, even if it means defying conventional norms. Hendrix’s ability to make the reversed pickup angle work for him highlights the creative freedom and individuality in the world of guitar playing.
In conclusion, the presence of angled pickups serves as further evidence that even subtle modifications can have a significant impact on the sound of a guitar.
The primary purpose of slanted pickups is to enhance the bass frequencies on the lower strings and intensify the treble on the higher strings, resulting in warmer bass tones and brighter highs. However, it’s important to note that achieving a bassier sound on the lower strings doesn’t necessarily require a tilted pickup. Straight pickups can also achieve similar results.
By positioning the pickups at an angle, you can achieve improved response from the treble strings and exert more control over the low-end strings. The closer the pickups are to the bridge, the brighter and more treble-heavy the tone becomes.
The angled placement of single coil pickups is specifically designed to optimize the bass and treble response across the entire string range. Single coils benefit from this angling because their inherent brightness can result in an excessively harsh tone if the bass response is insufficient.
In essence, the utilization of angled pickups underscores the nuanced nature of guitar tone and the intricate relationship between pickup placement and sound characteristics. It highlights the importance of considering these factors when aiming to achieve a desired tonal quality and responsiveness from an electric guitar.