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Question about Helix tone control vs Guitar tone nuances?


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I have a question about guitar tone but I'm wondering if it really doesn't matter because final tone is so adjustable with a Helix. For example, with a Helix can you have guitar pickups that are not hot enough? Instead of getting hotter pickups it seems to me you can crank up the gain, add boost or overdrive to get as much distortion as you want. Are there exceptions to this?

Here is another example. For the middle 5 way switch position, I was wondering if here is much difference in tone between the two inner coils  in parallel Vs. the two outer coils in parallel?  I suspect not much and I also suspect that and difference in coil configuration. This graphic shows what I'm talking about. I wonder if I could even hear a difference. If anyone knows the answer to this it would save me some soldering trial and error.


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There are no definitive answers to any of those questions, as they are all entirely subjective. Can a pickup not be hot enough? Well that depends on what you want to do with it. If you're trying to play Norwegian death metal on a vintage Tele, you're probably not gonna be happy. But if you're a country guy you'll be in hog heaven, and you'll never question the pickup's output.


No one can possibly predict whether or not you will be able to perceive subtle differences in tone between various pickup configurations from looking at a diagram.... and neither will you for that matter. There is exactly one way to find out... and the answer will boil down to a combination of several things: 


1) What specific pickups are we talking about? There are a million pickups on the market for a reason... they're not all the same. Not all humbuckers react the same to being split and/or coil tapped either... some do it better than others, so you may notice more of a difference with the in between positions with some pickups than others.


2) Then there's the guitar itself...put the same pickup in a Strat, a Tele, and a LP, and you're gonna get three different tones.


3) How good are your ears? Can you listen to a recording and know whether you're hearing a humbucker or a single coil? Can you tell whether it's in the neck or bridge position just by the tone? Have you been a musician and/or mixing and mastering recordings for decades,  or are you like my wife, who will never understand why anyone would want or need more than one guitar, because "they all just sound like guitars"?

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Funny answer!  My wife is the same.

Gain from the guitar..............

Depends!  mostly you can adjust gain in the Helix so that the amount of distortion is the same - however, the basic tone of the guitar will be a result of lots of stuff including how hot your pickups are.......

Pickups wiring - the further apart the coils the more range from top to bottom on that particular guitar (whatever it is).  That doesn't make one better than the other.  A strat in the 2 or 4 position has a certain sound because the coils are not so far apart.  A Tele gets a different tone because the 2 pickups are further apart. (plus other factors naturally!) One is not better than the other. But again, it's just one factor.  Splitting humbuckers is a black art it seems as a good single coil sound is hard but not impossible to get.  Definitely some humbuckers split better than others.  Some guitar manufacturers use some resistors to keep a little of the other coil in the mix which can reduce the extreme difference you might get between single coil and full humbucker.

See what your pickup manufacturer recommends on their site. Chances are you will be torn between alternatives!! So you will end up having to try it.

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Thanks for answering my question. 

My hearing isn't very good. For example, if I hear a difference between my guitars or my pickups, I can usually adjust my Helix to get them to sound similar enough to  each other. I was wondering if this is common with people that have a Helix but apparently not. 

About two months ago, before I got a Helix, I asked here if I would notice much difference between a Helix and my Boss GT-100. Everyone was confident I would notice a substantial difference and they were right so at least my hearing is that good. Now all of my six guitars sound great to me so I am going to sell most of them.

Tomorrow I'm getting a Schecter Banshee Elite-6 which might be the ultimate guitar for me, mostly because of the neck. It has two humbuckers and a five way switch so that is why I asked about A+D vs B+C. I was hoping there was universal truth and censensus about the tone difference between A+D vs B+C.   Both pickups are about 11k ohms and have ceramic magnets. Between them and the Helix I think I will get good tone. Worst case I will get different pickups. 

Bridge Pickup Schecter USA SuperCharger Mach-6™ 12K
Neck Pickup  Schecter USA SuperCharger Mach-6™  10K

I get the guitar tomorrow and will play it for the first time tomorrow. 
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11 hours ago, DugT said:

I was hoping there was universal truth and censensus about the tone difference between A+D vs B+C.


Dude, there is no universal truth for any of this stuff... not with how we perceive sound, see colors, or what a cheeseburger tastes like. Plus, guitar players are crazy... you'll never get 10 guitarists to all agree on anything.


Perception is weird and fickle, can be influenced by everything from the weather to the pain in your left big toe. It's highly variable from one guy to next, and completely unpredictable. You might love how your rig sounds one day and hate it the next, having changed nothing in the interim but your socks.



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The differences between A+D and B+C are probably pretty minimal.  They're quite close to each other.  You probably could hear a difference, but my guess is that it'd be so subtle it really doesn't matter.  Who knows?  Maybe someone with a Variax can use Workbench to emulate it and see how it sounds.  :)


One thing to keep in mind about "hot pickups" is that it's more than just volume from the pickups.  You can always get a gain pedal (or add one to the chain in Helix) to increase the volume before the amp.  But, hot pickups often distort the signal a little bit on their own just due to the nature of the pickup design.  This results in some harmonics and tone characteristics that make it different than simply boosting the signal.


In general, I'm not really one of those guys that worries about pickups much.  IMHO, differences in pickups (of the same style, e.g. humbucker to humbucker or p90 to p90) are usually quite subtle.  They differences they make are easily overridden by the signal chain, especially the cabinet and mic model.  Even new vs dead strings are way more important than the pickups to me. 

IF I was going to concentrate on pickup selection it would be about trying to find ones that are more or less articulate.  A hot pickup will "blend" the sound a bit more out of the guitar due to the previously mentioned distortion, while a less-hot pickup may be better at allowing you to hear each string a bit better. 

But hey, maybe I'm full of sh*t because I haven't gotten into swapping pickups.

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Thanks for the input.

I replaced some 14k ohm ceramic humbuckers  with some cheap 7K ohm AL2 single coil humbucker size pickups and it made a dramatic improvement but that is a pretty extreme example.  Now it sounds like my other five guitars that all have different pickups but sound similar through my Helix effects.  The humbuckers might have been better at heavy metal but the single coils were much better at everything I play.  However, the biggest improvement in my tone has come from taking advantage of Helix options and playing in stereo.  At this point, the most important thing about a guitar to me is having a neck I like and pickups that aren't too hot. I might try the B+C option if I get real board but I doubt if it will improve anything. Evidence of that is my google searches haven't found any discussions about it. 

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3 hours ago, DugT said:

Evidence of that is my google searches haven't found any discussions about it. 


You haven't found any discussions about it because it's an incrediblely narrow topic...if it can even be called that. It's one pickup combination. Nobody's doing their PhD thesis on that.


There are no magic bullets...there's only trial and error. And relying on anonymous opinions from the depths of the internet won't get you very far. You can't evaluate stuff like this in an abstract vacuum...


Try stuff. Keep what works, and discard the rest. And be prepared to wake up one day liking something that you previously despised once you give it another go. It happens. I hated Teles for years until I built a parts-caster that I liked. Now it's one of my favorite go-to guitars. Opinions change. Tastes change.... but there is one, and only one way to find out if you're gonna like something. And I promise you that diagrams, equations, and guesswork ain't it.

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