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How does wire guage affect tone?


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7/26/2004 6:18 PM
Matt
How does wire guage affect tone?
how exactly does wire guage effect tone apart from the fact that thinner wire has a higher resistance and less highs?  
 
Matt
 
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7/27/2004 11:27 AM
Dave Stephens
Thats a broad subject, but basically thinner wire makes the pickup more sensitive; it all depends on the pickup and the design though, there's alot involved than just wire gauge...Dave
 
7/28/2004 4:13 PM
Mark Hammer

"Gauge" is a measure of physical size. As such, wire gauge has implications for a number of things about coils: inductance, resistance, output (more or less) and even weight.  
 
Inductance is affected by the physical size of the coil, or perhaps more generally, the way the coil is distributed over space. Coil resonances will depend partly on inductance.  
 
Thicker wire yields less DC resistance per linear foot. In principle, this produces a lower resistance coil for the same number of turns. I say "in principle" because thicker wire takes up more space which means that if you're wrapping wire on top of wire on a coilform the size of your average pickup, after a couple of thousand turns the perimeter of the coil (i.e., how far the wire has to physically travel to *make* a turn) becomes larger so the linear distance and DC resistance of the coil, despite having the same number of turns, is greater. Depending on the coilform dimensions, and the wire gauge used, it may be on the order of something like a 7-steps-forward-5-steps-back tradeoff to use a thicker gauge wire where you had previously used a thinner one. Conversely, going in the other direction (i.e., using thinner wire with higher DC resistance per linear foot instead of thicker wire) may end up yielding less increase in DC resistance than you anticipated because the circumference of the coil was smaller.  
 
Of course, as most anyone here can tell you, the thickness of the wire and coil is only partly a function of the copper, and is also a function of what the insulation layer adds to the wire's dimensions.  
 
Will thinner wire necessarily result in less highs? I don't think so. In practice, however, given the sort of output impedance presented by a given coil wound with thinner, higher resistance, wire and the input impedance of what it goes to, plus the effect of the pots and tone caps on loading and signal loss, there usually WILL be a certain amount of treble loss and dulling produced by a coil with a higher DC resistance. My own bias, though, is that it would be quite possible to design accompanying electronics *around* that. Consider that piezo transducers and condenser mics present astronomical impedances, but we expect nice crisp tone from each....when used within suitable electronic environments/interfaces. Moreover, magnet properties and pickup height adjustment are also responsible for the tone produced.  
 
For my part, I think, the major implications of using thinner wire are twofold: the opportunity to make coils in a more compact space, and the risk of breakage in winding or other coil damage. Since the majority of guitars will provide one of only a few standard installation spaces for pickups (although occasionally, a company like G&L decides to say "Screw it. We can make the pickups whatever size we want because we're the ones doing the body fabrication."), the strategy for pickup design is often guided by the space limits afforded by the holes in the instrument. You could probably pack 7600 turns of #38 wire onto a coilform that could park itself under a Strat pickup cover, if you were willing to drill down a little deeper to permit a pickup with a much taller profile and longer polepieces. Of course that's unlikely to happen. Consequently, working in the other direction (with thinner wire) can let you stick whatever you want (within limits) in the physical space provided by instruments routed for standard-size pickups.
 
7/28/2004 6:15 PM
Matt
Thanks alot guys, especially Mark, thats shed alot of light on the issue.  
 
Cheers  
Matt
 
7/29/2004 11:31 AM
Dave Stephens
Well with all that said, I gotta tell you there are NO hard fast rules in coils for pickups. As soon as you accept one as being true you'll either wind a pickup or find a vintage pickup that will contradict everyting you thought you knew. Thinner wire will usually yield a more sensitive pickup. But if you try to cram thin wire into a small flat space you will probably wind up with a dull pickup. But then it depends on the magnets you're using, ceramic, alnico?  
 
 
 
For me wire guage has nothing to do with SPACE constraints and thats where alot of pickup makers fall on their face in thinking that. I could probably spend the next five years in experimentation on the subject of wire gauge versus tone results in standard pickup coil designs. For instance, the original tele bridge pickup was wound with 43 gauge wire. Then they went to 42 gauge shortly thereafter. A tele bridge pickup sounds way better in 43 gauge wire and it has nothing to do with the space the coil takes up,but I don't think Fender ever really figured that out or they would still be making them in 43 gauge wire which sounds way better in my opinion. You can wind an incredible pickup using 42 gauge, 43, 44 or whatever in the same space, really, and each will have dramatically different tonal characteristics. They will all sound great, but WHAT sounds great? A single coil form with a ton of 44 guagewire will be creamy and bright, cram it full of 42 gauge wire and it will be fat and alot duller sounding, but if fat dull pickups are what you play it will sound better to metal heads. There is no end to this subject and its hard to make broad generalizations about any of it, you just have to do it and find out for yourself hat works and what works for you probably won't work for the next guy.  
 
 
 
When I got into this I used to think you could just use the formula winds and formula magnets etc. and you would make a great pickup. Nothng could be further from the truth, so when you check out a small boutique pickup maker's product you are really looking at a piece of art that is very individual to the maker and can't really be copied...  
 
Dave
 
7/29/2004 3:49 PM
Matt
I see, I was aware of the other factors, but I just wasn't sure how they all complemented (or constrained) each other in the different ways. Thanks alot!  
 
I was thinking of winding a PU with 44 guage, but how hard would that be to do on a sewing machine?  
 
I understand that it is very thin and im worried about breaks.  
 
Matt
 
7/29/2004 3:54 PM
Mark Hammer

Yes and no. Admittedly, there will ALWAYS be another pickup around the corner that makes you go "Huh? How the hell does it manage to sound like THAT!?" And while there is similarly no rule that says tall thin coils will sound like THIS and short fat ones will sound like THAT, the same way there is no rule for what #41 coils will sound like, relative to #44, the fact remains that changing the physical gauge of the wire WILL have implications for DC resistance (and all the things that interacts with), for how tight the coil can be wound (given one's setup) and for how big a circumference the outer windings have to travel. (Somewhere in there is voodoo about wire composition but I'm not gonna touch that.) Stick the same polepieces on a Jazzmaster and Strat coilform and wind them with the identical wire for the same number of turns, and I doubt you'd get identical sounding pickups. You may not know in advance what they'll sound like, but they won't be similar.  
 
Does space matter more than *anything*? Not at all, and Dave is absolutely correct there; physical dimensions are but one of many, many factors that yield tone and spectral content. But it is one of the things that comes along for the ride with gauge, and one can't ignore it.  
 
I wind MAYBE a couple of coils a year, compared to the many hundreds that the pros wind here. I pick up my wire when I happen to stumble across a spool at a decent price (the last one I bought was being sold as scrap copper alongside shim stock, believe it or not), which means that every single spool is different sized, and often bashed up. Given the number of coils I make, and the variety in spools, I have to just wing it when making pickups, which is why I use a hand drill clamped to the bench. It's not "better"; it just makes sense in my hobbyist context.  
 
What also makes sense in my context is use of thicker wire. I have some #43 and #44, but I generally wind with #41 these days because it is physically stronger and isn't so big as to physically preclude putting extra windings on any of the standard coil forms/sizes (though I'm never gonna pack as many turns of #41 onto a Strat coil as DiMarzio can pack turns of #42 or #43). I am surprised (but maybe not so surprised) by how #41 doesn't have any particular "sound".
 

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