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What makes a pickup bright or dark?

Michael Papenburg

New member
Aug 22, 2001
Is there one particular element that makes a pickup bright or dark sounding? I have been trying to find the right lead pickup for my Les Paul studio but haven't found the right one yet.

I have a SD '59 in there now but it is really bright sounding. I have to crank it pretty close to the strings to keep it from sounding really thin with no sustain. I have also tried a Harmonic Design classic humbucker but found that it was too bright in this guitar as well. The original 498T was way too hot and dark. I generally like lower output pickups because my playing is very dynamic. Any suggestions or tips would be appreciated.


Dr. Nick, 'Hi Everybody'
Aug 9, 2001
Are the lights on or off :lol1

JK, I would contact Seymour Duncan with your dilemma. Their customer service is very helpful, and they can probably make some suggestions for you on a complimentary lower output pickup.


Great 'Double White' North ~ Electronics Specialis
Jul 15, 2001
For all it's worth here's a few general guidelines...

The magnet strength will affect the overall tone of the pickup, darker versus brighter, sometimes also how sensitive it is to playing dynamics. The three most common magnet types weakest to strongest are Alnico 2, Alnico 5, and Ceramic.
The Alnico 5 magnet with a moderate winding may sound somewhat bright to your ears. That may be what is happening for you with the SD 59, it uses Alnico 5 and a fairly traditional 8K-ish winding for the bridge version. Generally speaking the stronger the magnet, the more the top end response. The Ceramic magnets are typically used only with higher output pickups.

How strong the coils are wound will also affect the tone, the stronger the winding beyond a certain moderate point of reference the more the top end response starts to suffer. The Gibson 498T uses an Alnico 5 magnet but it has a fairly strong winding, probably close to the limit of what is practical with an Alnico 5 magnet, so some upper mids would be lost. I would expect that is why you described it as too hot and dark.

As such, you are probably looking for some kind of compromise. A somewhat stronger than typical wound 59B might work fine, that would drop some of the top end and bring out the mids. Alternatively, you may want to try the Alnico 2 magnet equipped SD models such as the Seth Lover, Alnico II Pro, or Pearly Gates.
The SD company does have a CD available that provides a comparison of their various pickup models, that may be worth looking into.
Hope this helps...