If you have ever noticed that some pickups on certain guitars are angled, you may be curious as to why they would be installed this way. Sometimes it’s only one, sometimes it is all of them. Why are guitar pickups angled? And is this important?
Guitar pickups are angled on certain models because of the desire to increase certain frequencies. The slant chosen by builders enhances the treble from the thinner strings and the bass from the lower ones. This creates a more balanced, fuller sound from the guitar.
The decision to angle them is not for any cosmetic reasons, but entirely for the tone performance the instrument can provide. At the end of the day, this is what we want as players. In this article, we are going to look at the angle, performance, and how you can benefit from this design choice.
Why Guitar Pickups are Angled
When you switch between the bridge and neck pickups, you know that one is warmer sounding than the other. The reason for this is that the closer you can get to the center of the neck, the warmer and stronger the signal will be. This is because there is more string vibration in the middle of the neck than there is at the bridge or nut.
Single coil pickups are already quite bright on their own, and so when they are placed closer to the bridge, the thicker strings begin to lose bass signal intensity. This loss is simply too much, and so by angling the pickup, some bass signal can be restored while increasing the brightness of the treble strings.
It’s important to note, the slanted pickup consists of the poles under the bass strings moved closer to the neck, while the other side, towards the bridge.
Benefits of Angled Pickups
- Guitar pickups that are angled have more benefits:
- Enhanced treble response and improved note articulation.
- Boost low bass frequencies.
- More full and even frequency response.
- Provide a cleaner sound with more harmonics.
- Give you that signature Stratocaster tone.
See why this design is significant? Treble, presence, sustenance, and a better overall tone make for a fantastic instrument to play. While this is not true of every single angled guitar pickup, it still holds weight for why you might prefer the design.
Limitations of Angled Pickups
Obviously, there is a downside or two to angled single-coils:.
- Pickup pole pieces not lining up with strings.
- The outer strings have a drop in output with some pickups.
- Limited pickup options.
With a majority of these limitations, this will only affect a guitarist if the pickup installed is not capable of handling the task. In this case, it could be that the guitar has more than six strings, and the unit is not sized to match. In most cases, these limitations will impact a designer before the instrument is released into production.
If a pickup’s magnetic field is narrow, a loss in signal could result with the outer strings, and so if you change angled single-coils in a guitar, make sure they are going to work for the application.
Who Invented the Angled Design?
Leo himself, who founded Fender Musical Instruments, introduced this design in the 1950s. The Broadcaster guitar (later to be called the Telecaster) came with the single-coil pickup at an angle to give it an edge in its sonic capabilities. At the time of the design conception, lap and pedal steel guitars were the popular instruments.
The swing scene had taken off and players were seeking a bright twangy tone. In order to provide instruments to this emerging base of guitarists, Fender models were equipped with the slanted pickup at the bridge position. This provided a brighter sound with a more powerful bass presence that lent well to this new music scene.
Freddie Tavares, Leo’s assistant, confirmed that the design was created to provide this increased depth in sound, as amplifiers during this period were also not what they are today. In the early days of tube amplification, the tone was not very bright and lacked depth. The angled pickup design solved this problem by providing players a better response from both the bass strings and the treble response.
Players could now find the sound they were seeking, even with the warmer tones that amps were created to provide. The design of the angled pickup was such a success, most of the guitars in Fender’s catalog come with it, even today!
Angled Guitar Pickups: Not Just For The Fender Telecaster
A lot of people assume that all guitars with angled pickups were made by Fender. Yes, he is the inventor of the design, but they are found on many brand models, including the Gibson Nighthawk and Charvel 3DR. In other words, these pickups are truly a design feature that has been around for some time.
Why all designs did not receive them is another question entirely. The answer to this might have something to do with look or even brand originality. This was known as Fender inspiration, after all. For others, perhaps the design was not yet perfected, or it simply did not work with their instruments.
In any case, a slanted bridge pickup will enhance your tone and provide a better performance all around. This is why so many guitars come equipped with them from the factory!
Why Angle the Bridge Pickup?
If you look at a Fender Stratocaster, you will see 3 single-coil pickups, but only one is angled. Have you ever wondered why only the bridge pickups received this attention? Most guitar manufacturers experiment with all sorts of tweaks to their models to provide players the tone they seek in the modern era.
For Fender, he was seeking a brighter, rounder sound and discovered the angle at the bridge position did this better than the others. This is because the closer you go towards the neck, the warmer and more intense the signal will be. Angling the neck pickup does make a difference in sound, but at the expense of the warmer tone, you get when they are straight.
Designers want to provide many tone possibilities from the instruments, and Leo Fender was satisfied that the angled bridge pickup was the only one needed for a brighter tone. Keeping the others the way they were still provided players with the best range of sounds possible.
Other Angled Single-Coil Pickups
Some conventional electric guitar designs do offer slanted pickups in the neck position. The Charvel 3DR we mentioned comes with a slanted pickup. But this is at the neck position.
It’s a single-coil and is chosen by the designer to provide players with a more balanced sound. So as you can see, some manufacturers do slant more than only at the bridge.
Humbuckers are known to be a more powerful and less noisy pickup, great for sounds that are not possible with the single coil. But some designs are rather dark and bass-heavy in certain models. Some designers have experimented with slanted humbuckers at the bridge position with good results.
The Charvel Fusion series guitars came with this design and had the benefit of a brighter, well-balanced tone. The Gibson Nighthawk, that we mentioned earlier, also came with a slanted humbucker at the bridge, and it sounds great. Many guitarists that own one say they would never change the slant and love it for the tones they get.
But you are limited to what you can replace this with, as they are custom-made. It isn’t just a regular pickup put on an angle.
Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jag-Stang is another great example. In this case, both are angled pickups, as it best fits the grunge sound that it’s made for. But many grunge artists like it for the tone it makes, which is partly because of the slanted pickups.
Angled vs Straight Pickups
Why don’t all manufacturers use this technique? For a lot of designs, it just simply doesn’t work. With the limited space between the bridge and neck, some placements don’t favor angled pickups. To provide players with a great, well-balanced sound, sometimes they need to be straight.
And so it depends on what music styles the instruments are being made to satisfy. Not every player wants the bright, thinner tone that a slanted design is going for.
Sometimes a slanted neck pickup can also provide a tighter, warm, bass sound when angled in the opposite direction, and so there are many possibilities between slanted and straight. Experimentation will be the only way to find out.
Extended range guitars will also be loaded with slanted pickups, but sometimes this is because of the fanned fret design and bridge position. There is truly a wide range of options and sounds, so pick the guitars that best match the music style you like.
Why are Guitar Pickups Angled FAQs
We have answered a few more questions that may help you discover whether the angled pickup is for you.
Why did Eddie Van Halen angle his pickup?
EVH was an amazing player and one that shaped music for players alike. He, too, knew of the power of the angled pickup and put it to use in his Frankenstrat. With an angled humbucker in the bridge position, he was able to increase his treble and articulation, which was a huge factory in his tone.
Why are multiscale pickups slanted?
The same reason why multiscale guitars are the way they are is why multiscale pickups are angled. The design of a multiscale model is that every string has a different scale length, but they all work together in harmony.
And with a slanted bridge pickup, the instrument will sound like a conventional guitar with no angle. You can see this by looking at the angle of the saddle, the nut, and the pickups.
Can I angle my pickups?
Modifying a guitar to have angled pickups is possible. Some plates allow you to replace a humbucker with an angled single-coil pickup. You can also find many companies that sell pick guards that have been designed to allow you to replace the stock one with angled slots.
In some cases, it could mean routing the wood channels in the body, so make sure to find out for sure before any modification is done.