Are guitar pickups supposed to move or should they be as stable as a rock? For the uninitiated, some parts of a guitar can be confusing or intimidating. It doesn’t help that music instruments – unlike electronic devices – don’t usually come with a manual to explain how things work.
Most of us musicians possess that inherent curiosity since the first time we’ve held an instrument, especially if it’s an electric guitar and the parts are a tad more complex. Just like you, I tweaked a lot of screws on my guitar too when I was starting out, for the lack of available information on the nascent world wide web.
Fortunately for guitarists of this era, knowledge is overflowing on the internet and you can avoid making errors that can inconvenience you and your beloved guitar. If you have just bought a guitar for the first time and nobody has ever informed you about how pickups are installed, you could get surprised by the way it is mounted on your instrument.
The parts of a guitar serve specific functions and the manner in which they are put in place, follow certain design principles. Designers and engineers understood every guitar player’s need to obtain flexibility, so they devised various ways to address this requirement.
Guitar pickups are not as simple as we deem them to be and their positioning can significantly affect the sound of the instrument. Pickup height plays a role in the tone-shaping process and this is why your guitar pickups are supposed to move a little. With the help of mounting coil springs, this system will give you the freedom to adjust the distance between the pickup and the strings.
Why do guitar pickups have springs?
Springs are usually used to provide a sort of suspension that will absorb excess force and prevent shock or damage. Although this might also be true with pickups, the true purpose of a mounting spring on a guitar is to make height adjustments possible with the turn of a few screws.
After being inserted into the pickup’s body, each screw goes through a coil spring close to its size, and this combination is a simple mechanism that will allow you to lower or raise the height of your pickups from either side.
If you are a beginner and doubt whether guitar pickups are supposed to move, the presence of springs in your pickup’s screws are proof that they designed your instrument in a way that the height can be easily modified with just a screwdriver (and the aid of a ruler).
Why do we need to adjust pickup height?
Whether you just bought a new guitar, planning to replace your current pickups, or made some adjustments on your bridge and neck, adjusting the pickup height is also required to find the tone that matches your preferred setup.
Being able to adjust your guitar pickups is an important facet in finding the perfect sound for the style that you are aiming for. Pickup height can change the tonal quality and loudness of a guitar’s output, giving every player a vast array of options for shaping their sound.
If your guitar’s pickups are too low, or too far from the strings, it will produce a weaker output. You may attempt to lower a high-output humbucker to decrease the signal and make its clean tone fit for jazz. Unfortunately, the sound will also become thinner, so practice with restraint when adjusting them, or get yourself a low-output pickup instead.
In certain cases where the pickups have sunk too deep into the guitar’s cavity, raising them would be the effective remedy, assuming the mounting springs are still working (replace the springs immediately if they are already broken).
On the other hand, pickups that are too high will produce less sustain because the magnetic field is restricting the strings from fully vibrating. In more extreme conditions, the strings can even hit the pickups and create annoying buzzing sounds, as well as some unusual overtones.
Are humbucker pickups supposed to move?
Just like most guitar pickups, humbuckers are supposed to move with the help of small coil springs that are installed together with the adjustment screws.
For guitars with pickup rings, the humbucker pickups are held by screws connected to these rings. Turning the screw clockwise, will tighten it and raise the pickup closer to the strings. On the contrary, turning the screw counterclockwise will loosen it and lower the pickups away from the strings.
However, for humbuckers that are fastened straight to the guitar’s body without rings, turning the screws clockwise will lower the pickup, while turning counterclockwise will raise it.
What if the pickups are moving excessively?
Even though guitar pickups are supposed to move, the motion should be very minimal and the volume adjustments are expected to be incremental. If your pickup is moving on their own without pressing down on them or turning their screws, then something must be wrong with it.
Either there is an error in the way it was installed or one of the mounting springs might be broken. Springs provide a malleable environment for your pickups so you could calibrate their height to your liking. However, they are also responsible for maintaining stability for your pickup, so that your sound won’t fluctuate from time to time.
Guitar pickups are supposed to move only when you deliberately try to touch or manipulate them. If the movement is excessive or occurring without your intervention, then it’s probably time to bring your instrument to the repair shop for a checkup as there might be some problem with the springs and screws, or even the guitar’s pickup cavity.