Why Guitar Pickups Are Angled? (Visual Explanation)

Have you wondered why guitar pickups are angled? 

Although it looks cool, is it purely cosmetic? Or does it provide an actual tonal function?

This post is your hub to the topic of slanted guitar pickups, including the function, history, and, importantly, why? Let’s go…

Why Do Guitars Have Angled Pickups?

Some guitars have angled pickups to increase the frequency strength of the high and low strings. Angled pickups enhance the treble strength of the high strings and enhance the bass frequencies of the low strings. This improves overall tone as the high strings sound brighter and the low strings sound warmer.

Angled vs Straight Pickups

How Do Angled Pickups Work – Part 1 

To comprehend how angled pickups work. First, you need to understand the concept of pickup position. More specifically, why does the neck, middle and bridge pickup sound so different due to their position on the body? 

For example, Let’s take a standard Stratocaster with a simple three-pickup configuration (bridge, middle, neck.)

Have you noticed how each individual pickup sounds remarkably different from one another? Even if they are the same model, type, etc. 

Well, there’s a good explanation why each pickup sounds so drastically different. It all relates to where the pickups are located on the body.  

The reason is this! The closer a pickup is positioned further up the neck – the ‘warmer’ and ’rounder’ it sounds. Likewise, the closer a pickup is positioned to the saddle – the brighter and thinner it sounds. 

My handy graphic explains this concept below. 

As the graphic above illustrates, The neck pickup is positioned higher up the body capturing predominantly warmer and rounder frequencies. 

In contrast, the bridge pickup is positioned closer to the saddle, meaning it mostly captures high-frequencies resulting in a thin and bright tone. The middle pickup captures a pretty even balance of high and low frequencies. 

How Do Angled Pickups Work – Explained

So now you understand pickup position in relation to tone. How does this relate to angled pickups? 

As mentioned before, angled pickup pole pieces for the high strings are positioned closer to the bridge. Resulting in a thinner and brighter tonal response. 

Likewise, the pickup’s pole pieces for the low strings are closer to the neck. Resulting in a warmer and rounder tone with additional bass. 

With this in mind, an angled pickup is designed to enhance the potential brightness of the thinner strings and improve the bass response of the thicker lower strings.  

Simply, the angled pickup is designed to essentially brighten the highs and boost the lows. How does this improve tone? 

Benefits of Angled Pickups

  • Brighter note articulation for solos on the high strings
  • Fuller bottom-end response with chords
  • Brighter clean tones
  • Even out tonal frequencies
  • Tones can ‘cut through’
  • Full frequency response

Tone Comparsion Video – (Watch Below)

Why Is The Bridge Pickup Angled? 

So why on most guitars is it only the bridge pickup that features the slanted design? 

Well, interestingly, the function of the bridge pickup is to capture the brightest and most articulate frequencies from the strings. 

The bridge pickup achieves this as it is positioned furthest down the strings closest to the saddle. 

The bridge pickup position helps it capture the high frequencies and relay the ‘bright’ sound through the electronics. Likewise, the neck pickup is positioned higher up the strings closer to the neck, which helps it capture warm and round frequencies. 

Knowing this, the offset angle in the bridge pickup position is simply more effective.

Merely because the bridge is designed for maximum ‘attack’ and ‘clarity.’ As we know, the angled design increases the brightness of the high strings and boosts the low frequencies of the low strings. 

Arguably, It would not make any sense to angle the neck pickup because the neck pickup’s tone is meant to be ‘warm’ and ’round.’ 

It would be unnecessary to enhance the neck pickup’s low frequencies that already contain satisfactory amounts of low end. 

The neck pickup or middle pickups are not designed for maximum ‘snap’ and ‘bite.’ Hence, angling them is unnecessary as their tonal function is to provide a solid bass response.   

Why Are Only Single-Coil Pickups Angled?

If you have noticed? The angled design is only typical of single-coil pickups (usually the bridge position.) But why is the angled design mainly common for single-coil pickups? 

It largely relates to tone and pickup response. The tonal signature of single-coil pickups sounds thin, bright, and brittle.

Single-coils do not have the boomy low-end of a humbucker because they are only a single-coil design compared to the humbuckers dual coiled design. 

Therefore, angling a single-coil pickup (especially in the bridge position) makes the most sense. You can maximize the bass and low-end of that specific pickup without modifying it without increasing the output with additional copper windings. 

The angled design with single coils gives the most ‘bang for your buck.’ These pickups need all the low-end that they can, especially in the bridge position. 

A Single-coil in the bridge position is the most at risk of sounding too brittle and thin.

Therefore, increasing the lows and brightening the highs “evens out” the frequency response. Therefore, single-coil pickups benefit the most from the offset design. 

The other reason is that a single-coil pickup retains a small footprint. Therefore slanting the pickup at an angle does not drastically change the guitar’s aesthetics. Allowing its appearance to stay consistent. If you ask me, the offset pickup looks pretty cool. 

Why Are Humbuckers Not Angled? 

Although angled humbuckers are rare in most traditional guitars. The reason for their uncommonness is for a few reasons. 

The first is that angling a humbucker would knock out the alignment of the pickup’s pole pieces. 

As you know, the pole pieces need to be directly under the string to optimally capture the vibrations and relay them as an electronic signal. 

Angling a humbucker would cause a redesign regarding the size and shape of the humbucker to a parallelogram. Guitar manufacturers understand this. Therefore, to keep costs down, most humbuckers are parallel in design.

The last reason is simply aesthetics. Let’s picture a Standard Les Paul guitar with two pickups. 

If the bridge pickup was angled, but the neck pickup was straight. The pickups would not look symmetrical. It would look kinda weird right? 

It would look strange and unaesthetic as symmetrical pickups. Also, humbuckers have a much larger footprint than single-coils, so the angled design would stick out like a ‘sore thumb.’ 

As we know, looks are essential to a guitar’s appeal. Guitar manufacturers know this, so manufacturing a guitar with ‘wonky pickups’ can jeopardize the sales and guitar’s reputation.   

Electric Guitars With Angled Pickups 

Regular Guitars  

  • Fender Stratocaster – Bridge 
  • Fender Telecaster – Bridge
  • Fender Mustang – Neck & Bridge
  • PRS Silver Sky – Bridge Pickup 
  • Epiphone Nighthawk – Humbucker Bridge 
  • Danelectro 59 – Neck & Bridge 
  • Danelectro 59XT – Neck & Bridge 
  • Jackson SL4XDX Soloist – Bridge 

Multiscale/Fanned Fret Guitars 

Despite the striking appearance, multiscale/fannedfret guitars are designed with “offset” frets. Meaning the frets are extended at an angle and not the typical 90-degree angle typical of all standard guitars. 

Along with the frets, the pickups on multiscale guitars are angled and sport an “offset” design. 

The reason is so the pole-pieces can accurately line up with each string, ensuring there is no drop in output and loss in tonal frequencies. You also get an increase in tonal benefits with angling a bridge pickup. 

The other reason is purely cosmetic. I think you will agree that angling all the pickups looks cool and ties in with the “offset” theme of multiscale guitars.

Arguably, it would look strange if each pickup were installed at a straight angle with multiscale guitars. 

Why Have a Reverse Angled Pickup? 

So what happens if you reverse the angle? Well, as mentioned above, the same would happen but in reverse. Let me explain…

Essentially, the high strings (high E, B) sound warner, and the low string (low E, A) sound brighter. Reversing the angle brings out a prominent bass response for the high strings and a boost in high frequencies for the low strings. 

Interestingly this was the secret sauce to Jimi Hendrix’s tone. Jimi was left-handed and played a right-handed Stratocaster upside down. Merely by reversing the string order, he could play a right-handed Stratocaster.  

Playing a Stratocaster upside-down meant that the pickup angle was “unintentionally” reversed compared to a traditional right-handed Stratocaster setup. 

The unusual setup allowed low notes to have better note articulation and clarity. While also providing high register notes with more warmth and roundness.  

When & Why Were Angled Pickups Introduced?

So which guitar was the first to feature an angled pickup?

You can thank Leo Fender, founder, and Godfather of Fender guitars.

He introduced the offset pickup modification in the 1950s to the Broadcaster (later renamed the Telecaster) during the early design stages.

He was so impressed with the tonal results he decided to standardize this pickup modification in all future Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars.

When Leo Fender-designed the Stratocaster. He wanted this new guitar to sound bright and articulate, similar to a steel pedal guitar.

Ultimately, the goal was to capture the tonal qualities of a pedal steel guitar incorporated into a conventional electric guitar.

Therefore, the pickup was angled slightly to maximize the bridge pickups’ brightness and treble response to achieve a clear and articulate sound.

Reason 2 – 1950s Guitar Amps were Muddy as Hell 

Interestingly, the angled design was also incorporated to counteract the dark tone of tube amps of the time. 

Guitar amps back in the 40s-50s were primitive in their functionality and tonal clarity. 

It was easy to get an excellent crunchy dirt tone with most tube amps back then.

Unfortunately, 1950 tube amps could not produce clean, transparent, and shimmering clean tones. The problem was the guitar amps of that generation heavily colored the tone and muddied the signal. 

Leo Fender recognized this, and to counteract this, he angled the pickup slightly to get the brightest tone available from the bridge pickup. It was simply to compensate for the lack of high-end amps could produce at the time.

Leo Fender’s assistant in design was Freddie Tavares (a designer, engineer, and musician), who worked very closely with Leo Fender back in the early 50s. 

From the book “The Fender Stratocaster” by Author A.R Duchossior. 

Freddie stated that the bridge pickup was slanted for a very important reason. Because the further back the pickup is to the bridge, the thinner the tone, and in the process, you lose depth. 

Therefore slanting the pickups produces more strength in the bass strings while still retaining the articulation of the tone.

It was also because around the 1950s, Leo Fender believed amplifiers at the time were not very good at producing a treble-focused sound and lacked the depth in the top-end frequencies. 

This meant that these amplifiers would not optimize the jangly and ‘bright’ sounding Stratocaster and Telecaster frequencies very well.

The main frequencies these guitars like to produce are because Leo Fender loved clean and bright-sounding guitars.

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