Is spacing between strings at the bridge and fret board radius important for humbucker pickups proper sound?

I made a simple guitar with narrow (10 mm between strings) and flat fretboard. (I originally wanted to build pickups myself, but I still have to wait to get my coil delivered and I'm not sure about results).

I think I made a mistake not taking available pickups in local stores into account when I started my build. As I see on pictures EMG or SD pickups (most popular as I can tell from my research) have about 12 mm spacing between magnets so that each magnet is placed exactly below corresponding string. Also magnets aligned vertically to match radius fret boards.

Right now I want to purchase EMG 85 for bridge or EMG 60/81 for neck (nothing else available in local stores). But I'm confused because my fret board is completely flat and spacing doesn't match. I've seen people put EMGs on 3-string guitars and they sound somehow (can't tell if it's good). But I want to get something close to real sound of an electric guitar (I understand how immature my construction is), not some noise of a wooden stick with strings amplified and scaled up.

So again is spacing between strings at the bridge and fret board radius important for humbucker pickups proper sound? In other words can I buy EMG and enjoy it on my narrow build? Or different spacing and flat bridge is a showstopper?

P.S. I have never had guitar so don't judge me too hard :-)

  • Vertical space between the strings and the pickups is what matters so far as electrical signal strength goes. Spacing off the fingerboard mostly affects the force needed to finger notes and the risk of buzzing if a vibrating string hits the fingerboard. But keep in mind that all electric guitars are basically oscillator sources for synthesizers (e.g. stomp-board switches). Jan 13, 2017 at 12:48
  • 1
    those little round things are not always "the magnets," but rather something touching the magnetic core. They might be made of magnetic material, but they are often just screws. My old Yamaha SC had single coil pickups with a single bar across the face, called a "blade style" pickup. The blade was steel and it touched a magnet at the bottom of the pickup assembly.
    – Yorik
    Jan 13, 2017 at 15:44
  • @Yorik I agree, I've seen different builds on youtube, usually it's simply steel with magnet bar beneath (seems it's cheaper than round magnet bars). I called them magnets for clarity.
    – Nik
    Jan 13, 2017 at 16:03
  • Can commenters please not leave answers in the comments. Yorik, Carl please incorporate some of that knowledge in an answer.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 14, 2017 at 7:04

1 Answer 1


In re-reading your post, I am uncertain which distance you mean, so I'll leave my previous answer (which was about distance between strings and pickups) and I'll add a new one below on string spacing:

While the distance between the strings and the pole pieces does have an effect on the tone, you can use them quite happily across an extremely wide range and it will still sound good. And by wide range, I mean anything from 1 or 2mm to even as far as 10mm.

At really short distances, you run the risk of hitting the pole pieces, which sounds bad, and of losing sustain, as the magnetic drag from the pickup drains energy from the string quickly.

At the other extreme, you don't get as high a signal, so you will have to boost the gain more, and will experience more noise as a result.

The tone does vary with different distances, and we have some posts here on the exact distances that are recommended for a professional for each pole piece (down to fractions of a millimetre in order to get phases correct etc) but that requires your guitar to be extremely well built to tight tolerances, so I wouldn't worry about that if I were you.

If you do have adjustable pole pieces, you can use them, but if not - don't be concerned. See what it sounds like.

If your string spacing doesn't match your pickups this is really not a problem at all. What guitar manufacturers do, and what I learnt very early on when I made my first electric guitar, is that you can angle your pickups so they match the string spacing if you have a non-standard spacing.

(I have just checked 9 of my guitars and they all have 10mm string spacing except one, which is 11mm and one which is 8mm. And that goes for 6 and 7 string guitars. So you really shouldn't have a problem)

  • Thank you for extended reply. I actually meant both X and Y axis spacing. I didn't know that adjustable pole pieces exist. So you're right I was wondering about Y spacing between poles and strings first and then about X spacing between each string. Angled pickup idea seems to be a good solution to me.
    – Nik
    Jan 14, 2017 at 12:59
  • I want to make it clear for myself: is it necessary to angle pickup to match horizontal (X axis) spacing between individual strings?
    – Nik
    Jan 14, 2017 at 13:27
  • No, it isn't absolutely necessary, as you can see by the way you can still hear the note even if you bend it away from the pole piece. It just helps with getting the maximum output signal from your strings
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Jan 14, 2017 at 15:22

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