One thing I fiddled with for a short bit once upon a time is adjusting the pole pieces on my Humbucker/P-90 equipped guitars. As a matter of fact, doing just that was the only way I could get my P-90 at the neck telecaster to clean up. It was muddy, dark, and squishy before I adjusted the pole pieces, but clear clean and sparkly after.

So, given that a pickup's tone is the union of many attributes (pickup height, mounting method, etc.), I specifically want methods and best practices for adjusting pole pieces for PAF/Humbucker/P-90 pickups.


Adjusting pole pieces is definitely worth doing (humbuckers). Contrary to what most say; (based on testing) does not really give out more output, rather emphasizing one coil sound prominent over the other coil. You may get more apparent drive/volume/mids/treble BUT at the cost of clarity and tone loss (no good). You'll get a distorted sound but not a clean tight overdrive sound.

Basically adjustments up/down alters the inductance along the length of the coil and also the "magnetic balance/flux lines" over the whole guitar body. The character of any pickup is inherent in the windings/wire type/bobbin type and by how much wound. The Goal here is to get the most out of your pickup interms of Clarity, resonance, low noise, harmonics, etc. Sometimes especially chords don't sound so crisp even if tuned perfect, even if intonation is right. Sometimes you find pickup combinations sound abit off (especially to get that quack-out-of-phase vintage sound)...and finally you wonder why on Monday, the guitar sounds good but Wednesday it sounds abit rubbish in tone.

The good news is that there is one pattern that works really well. But have never seen it on any pickup over the last 30 years or any other blogs/forums. It's just TOO MUCH hassle for manufacturers to do this. The pattern that works, balances out the tone/dynamics and clarity with the "Slug" pole piece coil. It can also be used on single coils too. Every time you add a pickup to your guitar, it makes the task of clarity a little more complex because more magnetic disturbance anomalies can exists.


  1. Make sure all your pickups are the same height (on the same axis)(top of plastic bobbins)..approx 2.73 mm from strings. Aim for this pattern 5 6 1 1 4 4 corresponds to E A D G B E

  2. Now with Overdrive; Play each string one at a time on the 7th Fret - Listen out for a slight flutter-wavering note [ It should NOT waver - adjust very slightly up/down to get a flat-line tone/note ]

  3. If you want to fine tune this clarity, and you have a good ear...do the same on the 19th Fret (even smaller- annoying adjustments)

The chat about neck radius, string gauge, bridge intonation, pickup output, changing tones and what-have-you do matter somewhat, but are mis-leading ...they are NOT major factors really. What the pole piece adjustment does is create balance inside the adjusted coil and in combination with the fixed slug pole coils in humbuckers (Longitudinal & Lateral magnetic flux lines). You are also adjusting the overall inductance and how it is distributed. When all the pickups are adjusted...They ALSO blend well together.

Cheers & Enjoy !

Before adjusting the pole pieces and especially if you're new to this; it's better to only have one bridge humbucker in your guitar then add all the the other pickups one by one.

The Ultimate test/biggest impact on tonal quality is when you select two pickups out-of-phase with each other, this method proves perfect.

9/10 times the middle pickup HSH configuration mucks everything up. So adjust it's pole pieces manually if need be. Another good tip is once this is done, cover the middle coil (only) pole pieces with only one layer of PVC electrical tape (over the 4 inner poles). The sound will be less harsh and quite smooth and will balance better with the other pickups. I prefer Alnico magnet for the middle single coil pickup, ceramics can be too rough/overpowering sound.

It will accentuate one string more than another if that is your desired sound. Once you've adjusted the whole pickup to its desired height remember raising individual pole pieces will quickly take them into the magnetic drag area, so do it in small increments. Ultimately use your ear, adjust to your taste. And the guy who said it would affect the 'magnetic balance/flux lines' over the whole guitar body was talking a lot of nonsense.

  • 3
    Going to try this out before my next gig - never heard this method. – Doktor Mayhem May 11 '11 at 7:47
  • yeah, me too. Very interesting anyway, I never paid much attention to the adjustable pole-pieces, actually. – Anonymous May 11 '11 at 8:31
  • +1, great supplemental answer. I've heard of this method as well, but I've never tried it. – Jduv May 11 '11 at 12:17
  • A question regarding the 5 4 3 2 0 1 method. What exactly do the 5 4 3 2 0 1 refer to? Are they "screw turn", as in 'the large E would be screwed down to bobbin height, then backed out 5 turns'. Or did I totally miss it? What is meant by 'adjust the screws at 30 degree intervals'? Thanks! – user2028 Feb 27 '12 at 21:48
  • 3
    David - if you are the same David who originally posted this, you appear to have set up two separate accounts here. You can request for the two to be merged (check the Contact Us link at the bottom of the page) so you get the benefit of the reputation points earned. – Doktor Mayhem May 1 '15 at 9:24

These polepins define the distance from the pickup coil to the string, thus the intensity, thus the power of the output signal.

If your guitar has had a (too) high output (the pickups closer to the strings) it is possible that it was giving muddy and less-defined sound. Had it been the other way (the pickups further from the strings) it could have sounded squeaky and thin.

So, the best practice for adjusting them would be to see at which point you like the sound the most. There are people who enjoy playing with the pickups too close or too far, so there isn't universal truth. I usually try to even the sound of the thinier strings with the one of the fatter and than lower the pickup until the signal is clear enough. Also that position depends on other factors such as the gauge of your strings and the material they are made from.


If you want to avoid a muddy sound, as a general rule, you should adjust the pole pieces on the two lowest and the two highest strings higher than those in the middle. This is due to the frequencies tending to cluster around middle "C". Of course, you have to use your ear when making adjustments.


I wish an explanation of typical humbucker polepieces had been described for novices. 95% of guys who have humbucker guitars want to adjust to make the neck HB less 'woofy' in the bass and to balance the 2 HBs together and then adjust the polepieces to get string to string clarity and balance. I learned that the 'D' is the smallest and most finely wound string, so it needs to be raised nearly all the time. B or G will typically be too strong/harsh and needs to be lowered. The treble E is usually too soft and needs to be raised. By raising the bass E and A, you get a 'firmer' and more crisp sound. I lower the pickup bass side maybe a turn of the screw and then raise the A,E polepieces to make them more 'crisp'.


Once you've adjusted the whole pickup to it's desired height remember raising individual pole pieces will quickly take them into the magnetic drag area, so do it in small increments. Ultimately use your ear, adjust to your taste. And the guy who said it would affect the 'magnetic balance/flux lines' over the whole guitar body was talking a lot of nonsense. And what's the 561144 answer about?

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