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Pickup Power: The Ohm Misconception Tags: ohm ohms miconception power


THE OHM MISCONCEPTION.  Whenever we buy guitar pickups, one of the first things we look at is the Ohm rating.  The general belief is that the higher the rating, the more "powerful" (louder) the pickup.   And to an extent, that can be true. It is at the same time a total misconception of how pickups work... and a misrepresentation of how much power (volume) a pickup can produce.


HOW PICKUPS WORK.  Most MAGnetic guitar pickups are created by wrapping copper wire around one or more magnets, and are measured by the Ohm reading from that wire.  When ferrous guitar strings (steel, chrome or nickel) vibrate above that coil it disrupts the magnetic field, which causes electrons within the wire to move.  This creates electricity... which is then received and significantly increased by your guitar amplifier.


WHY THE OHM MEASUREMENT IS BOGUS.  Measuring pickups strictly by ohms is a "cheat figure" the guitar industry uses to make general power ratings easier to understand.   The reality is that ohms have nothing to do with the actual power / volume of a pickup.  There is a good reason for this:  ohms is not a measure of electric flow; is it a measure of electric impedence-- the resistance of the device to the flow of electricity.

In laymen's terms, ohms measure how poorly electricity flows through a wire, not how well. 

Why then are ohms used as a pickup rating?  Because in general, ohms refer to how much copper is in the pickup coil.  The widespread belief is that the more copper wire, the more volume.  Yes, all things equal-- if coils are identical, using the same coil shape and the same wire thickness and consistency of coil wrap-- the higher the ohm rating the more powerful the pickup. 

However, pickups are not identical.  They vary greatly in how they're made, what kind of wire they use, the type of magnets used, how the wire is wound, etc etc.  This is why there are so many different kinds of pickups on the market... each boasting its own advantages. 

The reality: since amplifiers are designed to increase power and guitar pedals can significantly change the sound of pickup output... "power" is one of the least important of those advantages.  Power can be changed external to the pickup.  Of far greater importance is basic tone, consistency of sound, degree of distortion, lack of unwanted noise and hum, and general quality of pickup signal.  These all join together to form pickup output.

Still, ohms are widely used.  Mellow guitar pickups often have ohm ratings between 4.5K and 6K.   Humbuckers often run 7K to 9K+.  "Hot" pickups (ie heavy metal) sometimes hit 16K or more.  

BUT THE REALITY IS THIS:   a lot more is involved in making a guitar pickup than wrapping a wire a certain number of times around a magnet (a typical guitar "coil").  There are many variables involved.  That is why the field of guitar pickups is so complex and competitive, with everyone claiming to have a "special" pickup.  

Those variables are why pickups sound different from one another.   If all that was involved was wrapping wire a specific number of times around a magnet... all pickups would sound the same, the only difference being the number of wraps involved.



In a word: No.  The Ohm measurement is accurate...  but it has nothing to do with power, output or volume. 

This can be proved in three ways:

1) By winding thousands of hair-thin wire coils around a piece of cardboard with no magnet.  Then take an ohm reading on that coil.  You will get the same ohm reading as if you had wrapped it around a magnet, no difference... but there will be no sound from that coil-- because despite the Ohm reading, there is no output.   So obviously the ohm reading can be misleading.

2) You can sometimes purchase two pickups similarly configured, and the pickup with the lower ohm rating will be louder when played at the same volume as the higher-ohm pickup.  (Why would a lower-ohm pickup be louder if ohms were an indication of power?)

3) You can take 40 gauge wire and wrap it 10,000 times around a magnet.  Then take 44 gauge wire (far thinner) and wrap that wire 10,000 times around the same size and type of magnet.  Realistically speaking, 10,000 wraps of 40 gauge wire will have LOTS more copper than 10,000 wraps of 44 gauge wire.  But when you take Ohm readings, the 40 gauge wire will read far lower than the 44 gauge wire.  However, when you hook it up to an amplifier, the 40 gauge coil will produce significantly more power than the 44 gauge coil.  

Since the 44 gauge coil reads significantly higher Ohms, shouldn't it also have significantly higher volume?   No.  That's the entire point here.   Ohms is a measure of electrical resistance.  The smaller wire does not allow electricity to flow as easily as the larger wire, so produces a higher Ohm rating.  The larger wire produces a lower Ohm rating but due to its larger size allows far more current to flow.   Lower Ohms... but more power.


THE HOUN'PUP PARADOX.  Our company once produced a specialty mag pickup called the Houn'Pup that registered zero ohms on a multimeter.  Yet it produced significant volume and quality sound.  Why?  Because of the highly unique way in which it was designed.  The pickup received rave reviews.  The Houn'Pup was absolute proof of what I'm stating in this article:  it is a magnetic coil pickup with zero measurable ohms, yet produces great power and sound.  Obviously: ohms does not equate to power. 


OUR FLATCAT PICKUP.  The FlatCat produces terrific power (60% to 300% greater than competitive pickups).   It has received solid 5-star reviews lauding its rich and vibrant output. That's not because of an invalid ohm rating... but because FlatCats are built differently than any other pickup on the market. 

The FlatCat is unique.   It is a mag pickup, but it is obvously flat, only 1/4" thick.  The entire pickup sits directly under the strings.  Nothing is stuck inside the guitar body away from the strings.   This allows the FlatCat to pick up every bit of energy, every nuance of sound, over a considerably longer string length.

As a result, a FlatCat produces as much "power" (volume and tone) as a full-size pickup.  In fact a FlatCat can pick up some sounds a standard humbucker may miss, simply due to proximity to the strings and the way the FlatCat is designed internally.  The result is so unique and rich in tone that I use FlatCats on my personal guitars.  My customers are amazed at the sound they get from this thin pickup.



It's difficult to create a scientific measurement of "wonderful sound", because people's ears and tastes differ.   What sounds good to one person may not sound as good to another. 

FlatCat™ Pickups are designed to appeal to a wide variety of guitar playing styles and listening preferences.   Depending on your playing style, volume settings and the amp you use, FlatCat sound can range from smooth and mellow to overdrive "rock out".   FlatCats are very versatile pickups that are enjoyed by musicians world wide. 


SUMMARY.  Ohms is a measurement of the wire's resistance to the flow of electricity.  So how can ohms possibly rate power and volume?  The simple truth is, ohms is not a rating of power.

That said, yes, if you're sporting a 17 K pickup you are likely to get some serious power and probably a lot of natural distortion in the process (a "hot" pickup).   If you buy a 4.5K pickup it's almost certainly intended for clean, mellow blues and smooth jazz.   But as you've read here, that's just a generalization.  The best way to judge pickup sound and power is by ear and reading reviews.

True pickup sound is measured not by ohms (impedence in an electrical line), but by resulting power, consistency and tone.  The FlatCat definitely produces the power and quality guitarists look for in a high-level pickup-- and does so at a very reasonable price for a custom-wound pickup.






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