Whether it’s a single-coil or a humbucker, practically all electric guitar pickups and bass pickups are equipped with a magnet that captures the vibrations of the strings. While magnets don’t boast any sonic properties of their own, the specific type of magnet inside any guitar or bass pickup certainly helps to shape the overall sound of the instrument. Since most pickups feature either an alnico or a ceramic magnet, I’m going to highlight the differences between both and tell you how the well-known Alnico V models compare to Alnico II variants.
- Alnico vs. Ceramic
- The Different Types of Alnico Pickups
- Alnico V vs. Alnico II
- Ceramic Pickups
- In Closing
- See Also
Alnico vs. Ceramic
First and foremost, it’s important to know that alnico is an acronym for an alloy made of aluminium, nickel and cobalt while ceramic magnets are made of ferrite (iron oxide). As such, ceramic pickups generate a more powerful electromagnetic field than alnico models, resulting in higher output and more focus on the trebles. But, bear in mind that you can’t tell a ceramic pickup from an alnico one by just looking at it, so always check the technical specifications of a guitar or bass if you want to know what kind of pickups it comes loaded with.
The Different Types of Alnico Pickups
Alnico pickups exist in various forms that each have their own unique characteristics due to differences in chemical composition. The most popular types of alnicos are the Alnico II and Alnico V flavours. Loved by both jazz guitarists and players with a preference for tasteful cleans, Alnico II pickups pack typically warm, vintage tone with a soft mid-range focus and, funnily enough, are more powerful than the Alnico III models that were widely used throughout the 1950s.
Alnico V vs. Alnico II
Alnico V pickups easily beat Alnico IIs in terms of output, boast all-round capabilities, and have a subtle mid-range scoop, which explains why they’re so popular among metal-heads and hard-rockers. Another big plus is that Alnico V pickups retain tonal brightness when kicked into high-gain settings and maintain the foundation sound of the guitar or bass they’re fitted to for all-natural cleans. Also, these days you can even get Alnico 8 magnets, which are basically Alnico Vs on steroids.
Since ceramic pickups are cheaper to produce than alnicos, they’re often used to build lower-end instruments. That’s not to say they’re bad, because in reality, ceramic pickups simply have a different ‘vibe’ when compared to alnico pickups. At the same time, ceramic pickups are more powerful than Alnico Vs and are designed to boost bass and treble performance and retain maximum brightness and articulation, making them a great pick for metal guitarists. On the other hand, ceramic models aren’t as cut out for clean tone, since the natural compression they offer sacrifices part of the organic foundation sound of the instrument they’re mounted onto.
Hopefully, the basic information laid out in this article gives you a better idea of the various types of magnets that sit inside electric guitar and bass pickups. While there’s obviously more to pickups than magnets alone, like the winding, magnet poles and active-versus-passive designs, knowing that there are no fixed rules when it comes to picking pickups that best suit your style is enough for now. So, go out there, gain as much knowledge and experience as you can and use that to complete your personal quest for legendary tone!
What kind of pickup is your favourite? And have you noticed any differences between ceramic and alnico pickups? Feel free to share your thoughts, opinions and experiences in the comments below!