If you’re wondering why some guitar pickups are angled, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll go through everything you need to know about this electric guitar mystery! So let’s get started.
Why Do Some Guitars Have Angled Pickups?
Some guitars have angled pickups in order to make the overall tone of the bridge pickup sound better. The angled pickups do this by emphasising the treble frequencies of the higher strings, and the bass frequencies of the lower strings. The higher strings are angled closer towards the bridge, resulting in a brighter tone, whilst the lower strings sound warmer and fuller.
How Do Angled Pickups Work?
Okay, so know you know what angled pickups actually do, you’re probably wondering how this works. Well, first you need to know a bit more about the science behind pickup placement.
Most guitars have at least two pickups. And even if they’re the exact same pickup type, model etc., they sound different, because they are placed in different positions.
For example, if you have a guitar like the Stratocaster, which has three single coil pickups (one near the bridge, one near the neck, and one in the middle), they all sound differently. Here’s how:
- Neck pickup: sounds softer and more mellow as it emphasises low-frequency or bass sound (generally used for rhythm guitar).
- Bridge pickup: sounds brighter and crisper as it emphasises high-frequency or treble sound (generally used for lead guitar).
So, how does this relate to angled pickups?
Well, the position emphasises the differences that pickup positioning causes. The lower notes on the E and A strings are angled towards the neck. This causes them to sound more “bassy”. The B and E strings, are angled more towards the bridge, causing them to sound brighter.
The means that from the low strings, you’ll notice a warmer and fuller sound, which is great for playing bar chords. And the high strings will sound clearer and crisper, which is what you want for soloing when using single strings.
Why Are Only Single Coil Pickups Angled?
You’ll only really ever see single coil pickups being angled. So why is this? Why are humbuckers and P90 pickups not slanted as well?
There are a couple of reasons for this:
- The shape and size of humbuckers and P90’s
- There isn’t really any need to angle other pickup types
Starting with reason number one. Humbuckers and P90s are a lot wider than single coil pickups. So if you angled them, there wouldn’t actually be that much room on the guitar.
The main reason why humbuckers and P90’s aren’t angled though, is because there really isn’t much need to. Single coil pickups are angled in order to enhance the treble response of higher strings, and the bass response of the lower strings. Because single coils are naturally quite bright, they need this angling so that the bass response isn’t too weak, causing the tone to be too harsh.
Humbuckers and P90 pickups on the other hand, are much warmer and more mellow. Hence, there isn’t any need to angle the pickup to increase the bass response of the lower strings, because it’s pretty prominent already in the bridge position.
Why is Only the Bridge Pickup Angled?
On most guitars, it’s only ever the bridge pickup that’s ever angled, so why is this the case? There are a few theories about this.
- It looks strange
- There isn’t enough room to angle the pickup
- There’s no need to
So history dictates that only the bridge pickup is angled on the majority of guitars, which has lead to the idea that angling the neck pickup would simply just look a bit odd, and also that there isn’t enough room to angle it. Another theory, is that it’s not necessary.
Single coil bridge pickups are angled in order to strengthen the weak bass frequencies associated with single coils, and to soften the harsh treble frequencies in the bridge position.
Since the neck position will cause the single coil to sound warmer and more mellow anyway, there isn’t much point in angling the pickup to balance out the sound, because having a bright single coil in the warmer neck position, creates a balanced sound anyway.
Hence, it would actually make more sense to angle a humbucker in the neck position. This would cause it to sound less mellow, and have a bit more treble, resulting in a more balanced sound. However, this is not very commonly seen at all.
Which Guitars Have Angled Pickups?
The first electric guitar seen to have angled pickups, was the Telecaster (formerly known as the broadcaster). The Stratocaster is also well known for having these angled style pickups. Generally, Fender guitars use this technique to really emphasise the bass on the lower strings, and the treble on the higher strings.
Other more recent guitar manufacturers have also adopted this technique as well, for example those with fanned frets or 7 strings. This is for the the same reason why Strats and Teles have angled pickups.
Why Are Some Single Coils Not Angled?
Some electric guitars have single coil pickups in the bridge position, whilst others just have them placed straight. So why is this?
One of the reasons why Strats and Teles have angled pickups, is due to history. It’s what Leo Fender initially did, and the tradition has struck. Some players don’t actually think it makes a lot of difference though, or they prefer all the pickups to be positioned in a straight line. It really depends on the manafacturer.
Some single coils also have a more balanced and warmer sound than Fender pickups, so this angling isn’t necessary to make the lower strings sound fuller and more bassy.
What Happens if you Reverse the Angle?
Some guitarists, like Jimi Hendrix, play their Stratocasters upside-down because they’re left handed but still use a right handed guitar. So what does this do to the sound of the angled pickup.
Well, if you switch the strings on the guitar around, then the lower strings (E and A) will be detected by the pickup side that’s angled towards the bridge. This causes them to sound brighter but thinner. Whereas the high strings (G and B), will sound more warm and mellow. This is the opposite effect to what the angle of the pickup was designed to do.
However, some guitarists still do it. The difference in sound isn’t huge, and some players actually prefer it, so it’s all personal preference.