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What does it mean when a guitar pickup is deemed "hot"?

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Need some context here, is this an opinion of hot by someone/manufacturers specification/other. Can you give an example of a pick up (I have one guitar with two Seymour Duncan 'Hot Rails' on it) –  DRL Jan 16 '11 at 0:01
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Isn't "hot" really a marketing term? There may be little to no consistency from brand to brand using the word "hot" to describe their pickups. –  Alex Basson Jan 16 '11 at 17:54

4 Answers 4

It tends to mean it is a higher output pick-up. This would drive your amp/gear "harder" than the non-hot pickup, giving a more dirty/distorted (some would say more modern) tone.

Like many things though, it is all relative. My Telecaster has "Hot" pick-ups, so they are more Rock than a traditional Telecaster pick-up, but they still have a lower output than a general purpose Rock pick-up like a typical EMG.

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A hot output (as well as pickups, can be bass drum microphones amongst others) are outputs that are particularly loud, or produce much higher output than other signals. A hot pickup with overdrive applied to it would produce a much more distorted sound than, say, a regular pickup.

As runrunraygun has already said, some people call this 'Modern' or 'Rock' tone.

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Not always. I have several vintage PAF overwounds that are quite hot but do not sound "modern" at all. I think the definition of modern tone is more of a question of how high fidelity the sound is--such as active pickups, and not how hot the pickup is. Ted Nugent, Brian May, and Jimmy Page, and especially Zack Wylde all ran rather hot pickups. –  Jduv Jan 16 '11 at 16:01
    
@Jduv, It is all about balance. I disagree that a high fidelity tone is necessarily more modern, but I don't think high output or high fidelity is the one defining characteristic of modern. But high output is a modern trend, read the description of these humbuckers from BareKnuckle. Their vintage range is "clear and smooth", vintage hot is "clear with extra output", and contemporary range uses terms like "For players looking for even more output", "masses of power", "stacks of output" bareknucklepickups.co.uk/main/… –  gingerbreadboy Dec 21 '12 at 14:56

"Hot" is general audio-speak for "loud". You may also hear someone say something like "my mic is a little hot".

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From my experience a pickup described as "hot" usually has more turns of wire on the pickup than usual--thus enabling a "louder" or "larger" amplitude to be induced on the pickup itself. This is a little subjective though, because one person can consider a Seymour Duncan SH-JB1 to be hot and another can consider a 5% overwound Lollar imperial to be hot--but they may not be equivalent in terms of impedance and signal production. A hot pickup usually overdrives your amplifier more easily due to the larger signal that is being driven to the amp.

An example is this: Humbucker pickups are generally way "hotter" than single coils obviously due to the construction of the pickup. A humbucker may have twice or more the amount of coil on the pickup itself because it's two single coils in series. This phenomenon is why single coils don't drive your amp to distortion as quickly as a humbucker will--and thus they usually sound more clear. However, you can overwind single coils to increase the "hotness" of them so they produce distortion more quickly.

The general rule I think is this: the larger the coil the hotter the pickup.

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