November 2nd, 2011
Not surprisingly, we often get questions about the specs of our pickups. Most of the time the questions are about the resistance [R] of the pickup because musicians want to understand how the pickup ‘sounds’ or to determine if a JBE pickup will mate with another brand pickup in their guitar. It is also a question that has been answered many times in other forums. But, for the sake of sharing our view allow me to respond as well.
Resistance [R] in the absence of other metrics such as inductance [L] is meaningless as a comparative indicator among pickup brands and similar models. Yes, in manufacturing we use [R] as one indicator of pickup viability. But, it tells us little about the sound and quality of the pickup. We must go a bit further and use another measure, Inductance [L] measured in Henries [H]. We use these measures for pass/fail against our design criteria. These specs were solidified and approved for use in manufacturing only after having gone thru iterative aural assessments of the pickup in the design phase.
Still, what do these two specs mean in terms of a pickup’s tone and why the reliance on [R] as the determining metric? I suspect that since most musicians (and even many repair shops) do not have a way to measure other specs such as Inductance [L]. As such, musicians are left trying to describe/compare pickups by [R] alone, a measurement easily attainable on ubiquitous and low cost DMMs (Digital Multi Meters). And so, armed with the only metric readily measurable, the question and reliance about [R] persists. Unfortunately, [R] is simply not an appropriate metric to use this way.
There are articles on the Internet written by Engineers (many of whom are also musicians) that try to offer insight into pickup performance using a variety of specs such as magnet strength (Gauss), resonant peak frequency, coil quality (Q) , micro-voltage (mV) and more. Written primarily from engineering perspectives, these papers are loaded with formulas for the engineer. Engineers are trained (thankfully) to deal in the quantitative world and must be so in order to design the highly reliable electronic and mechanical products we enjoy today. What is missing however in any assessment using specs, is a characterization of how the pickups actually sound given those specs. Therefore, a subjective assessment must now be made to describe what we have just measured. We musicians use terms like, hot, warm, expressive, articulate, presence, tone, power, snotty, growl, nasty…and the list goes on.
When trying to relate specs to subjective aural assessments it is best done by those who are familiar with guitar /bass tone (perhaps the engineer/musician). In trying to do this, the gamut of pickup brands must be assessed not just by one person but by others as well in the attempt to establish a definitive/authoritative resource. Now, we have come full circle and are back to describing tone not by specs but by what we hear. Herein lies the problem about using specs alone and even more dangerously, using a single spec [R] to compare pickup brands. I can say with certainty that many players are surprised when they hear and play a JBE pickup that has a lower [R] value. It shatters beliefs based on what they thought they understood about pickup specs.
To be candid, the reliance on [R] as a sole criterion may beg the question about JBE’s sound. Therefore, we feel compelled to respond repetitively to the many well-meaning musicians who in the quest for tone go onto forums and raise doubt about the tone of a JBE pickup. After all, they argue, the sound thin has to be thin and uninteresting with such a low [R] value. We know it is not. Sadly, those who have never heard or played a JBE pickup make many of these claims. Perhaps they are merely defending their favorite brand or (for the marketers among us) satisfying the “cognitive dissonance” of an earlier purchase decision. (How’s that for slinging the marketing bull?)
After being confronted with the aural proof that JBE pickups sound great (and arguably better) even at lower [R] measurements, their entire tonal reference is shattered. Now what? And how can they continue to use [R] as a way to describe pickups? Yet, the debate goes on anew with each successive generation of musician. And perhaps, so it should be. To question is to learn. We are happy to speak with anyone genuinely interested in learning about our pickups. Having said this, please don’t ask to see detailed specs on our pickups on our website. While we have often share some specs in conversation and will continue to do so, we do not publish them for proprietary reasons. If someone wants to reverse-engineer a JBE pickup, they can do that, but we prefer not to assist.
In summary, Hearing and Feeling the difference a JBE pickup can make by auditioning them (from the root word meaning “to hear”) in a friend’s guitar or bass, or at a local JBE dealer, is the best way to make a decision on pickups. A number of JBE dealers have outfitted demo guitars with select JBE pickup models that you can try. Listen critically and make your judgments not on specs alone, but on what your ears tell you too. If you like what you hear…. great! Buy a JBE pickup. If you don’t, there are other pickup brands that may suit your tastes better. Whatever you decide, every musician must use the tools that fit their needs and preferences. One size simply does not fit all…. although we like to believe we come very close