Guitar Pickup Magnets: Sounds, Types, and Choices in 2022

When considering a guitar pickup, most people only think about the number of wraps of wire and pole pieces as being the sole contributor to their sound. But the pickup is a complex piece of equipment that requires a magnet to do the heavy lifting.

The size and type of magnet that is used plays an important role in the tone of the guitar pickups output. The magnetic field is responsible for turning string vibration into an electrical signal. The magnet’s shape, strength, and size all play a role in how pickups sound.

In this article, we are going to explore how different guitar pickup magnets produce unique sounds and how you should choose the right one for your tone.

Guitar Pickup Magnets

There are a few different types of magnets used in guitar pickups. They are generally made from Alnico, ceramic, or a combination of other materials.

Alnico is an alloy made of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. They get their name from the first two letters of the materials they are made from, Al-ni-co. It was one of the first materials used in pickups because it’s very strong and produces a clear tone. The main downside to Alnico is that it can lose its magnetism over time.

Ceramic magnets are made from strontium carbonate and iron oxide. They are less expensive to produce than Alnico, and they don’t lose their magnetism as easily. The downside to ceramic is that they can produce a harsh, brittle sound. They are also known as ferrite magnets.

Some guitar pickups use a combination of Alnico and ceramic magnets. This gives the pickup a balance of clarity and power.

Alnico magnets come in a different range of strength and composition as the material recipe used to make them is altered. This results in a series of Alnico magnets as follows:

  • Alnico II
  • Al-ni-co III
  • Alnico V
  • Al-ni-co VIII

Each of these Alnico types has a unique sonic signature. This means certain magnets work better for not only music styles, but the position they are paced on the electric guitar.

single coil pickup magnets

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Alnico II

Alnico II magnets are not very strong and have a small pull on the strings as a result. This provides a more dynamic picking response and a warmer, loose overall tone. These are often found in original PAF humbuckers.

They are a soft, bright, and clear-sounding magnet type that doesn’t produce any harshness in the overall tone. Some players describe them as sweet sounding and have a singing type of articulation.

Alnico II magnets are great when used for country, blues, classic rock, and folk music.

Alnico III

Alnico III magnets are the weakest of all available variants. They produce a spongy, compressed sound with a bold low-end response. You will find them in the neck position more often because of the perfect output.

They have some similar tonal qualities to Alnico II magnets, but the lower magnetic force allows strings to ring out longer and very clearly.

Alnico III magnets are best used for Rock, Funk, and Blues music styles.

Alnico V

These are the most common and normally found in guitars made for more aggressive music styles. They produce a bright, aggressive output with lots of mid-range. This results in a thick sound that is still very articulate, great for rhythm or lead tones.

Players find that chords are full, have a good bite with high gain settings, but still ring out long enough to be just right.

You can find Alnico V magnets being used for rock, metal, funk, and even jazz music styles.

Alnico VIII

Alnico VIII magnets are one of the stronger types. They were designed to create a more powerful output while keeping the feel and tone that is associated with lower-strength magnets.

The sound produced is thick, full, and very aggressive. You will find them mostly in high-output humbuckers meant for heavier music.

They have a pick attack all their own, but can also be very bright sounding depending on the build. But when it comes to aggression and precision, these can’t be beaten when it comes to Alnico magnets.

Because of the more aggressive nature, you will normally find these magnets used in pickups made for hard rock and metal music.

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Ceramic

Ceramic magnets are considered to be the most aggressive of any available. They are bright sounding with lots of output and a very present low-end response. They also have a bold mid-range that adds some amazing thickness and clarity.

Ceramic magnets are perfect for high-gain settings, as they are very tight in the low-end and are very modern sounding.

They have a very fast pick attack that is perfect for players who want to dig in and get aggressive with their sound. Just like Alnico VIII pickups, ceramics are made for hard rock and metal forms of music.

AlnicoCeramic
ExpensiveCheaper
Used Less In PickupsUsed More In Pickups
Identification is difficultEasy To Identify
Natural, warm toneBright, aggressive tone
ConductiveNon-conductive
Better for a wide range of music stylesLimited to certain music styles

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Conclusion

Guitar pickups are made with different materials depending on the style of music they are meant for. Alnico and ceramic magnets are two of the most common materials used to create these pickups.

Each type has its own unique sonic signature that is perfect for different genres of music. When choosing a guitar pickup, it is important to consider the type of music you will be playing. This will help you to choose the right magnet material for your needs.

FAQs

Why do guitar pickups have magnets?

The magnets in a guitar pickup are responsible for the creation of the electromagnetic field. This field is what “pickups up” the vibrations from the strings and converts them into an electrical signal. Without this field, your guitar would be silent.

What is the best magnet for a guitar pickup?

There is no definitive answer to this question. It depends on the type of music you will be playing and your personal preferences. Some guitarists prefer the sound of Alnico pickups, while others prefer the sound of ceramic. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which sound is best for your needs.

How do I know which magnet is in my guitar pickup?

The easiest way to tell which magnet is in your electric guitar pickup is to look at the manufacturer’s specs. Most manufacturers will list the type of magnet used in their pickups. If you cannot find this information, you can always contact the manufacturer directly.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!