Are there specific places where pickups need to be placed on electric guitars? Given that most have two or three, how are the optimum positions calculated? On Teles, the neck pup is exactly under an open string node - which to me seems odd, and the closer one gets to the bridge, the more chances are that nodes will be 'in the way'. Leo seems to have considered most things; did he have a rationale at the time, or are the positions purely arbitrary?

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    I bet he built one that could slide, & put a chalk mark where he liked the sound ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 17 '17 at 17:03
  • @Tetsujin - wouldn't be surprised, but wonder if there is any scientific type reason why somewhere sounds better.
    – Tim
    Aug 17 '17 at 17:14
  • I'm very tempted towards, 'nope, just move it til you like it'. The science of whether it sounds 'better' or not [imo] fails on the tail pu of a Strat; though rear & middle gave the 80's its sound [once someone figured 5-way switches were the way to go]
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 17 '17 at 17:22
  • Anywhere there's a node for one vibrational mode, there's also a nearby antinode for another mode. Moving closer to the bridge just changes which nodes and antinodes are closest. Regarding your comment, "better" is subjective, there is no "better" or "best" placement. "Where he liked it" is more accurate language. Aug 17 '17 at 17:48

Short answer: No

Pickups can be placed anywhere. What will happen is the sound you get from a pickup is highly dependent on placement, as you observe, because of emphasis of some vibrational modes over others.

Note that the induction field of a pickup is not one dimensional, so even if you place a pickup at a node for a certain mode of vibration, the pickup will still pick up that vibrational mode, just with a lower amplitude than other placements.

Of course pickups placed closer to the end of a string will favor upper harmonics over the fundamental, and vice versa with pickups placed closer to the middle of the sounding length. That means when you fret a string, you change the harmonic balance that a given pickup detects. That's one (of many) reasons why the same note played on different places on the neck sounds slightly different.

Many other factors affect pickup sound, but placement is definitely a major component, if not the most important. That said, placement is entirely a matter of taste.

  • It's interesting that when I play an open string harmonic on my tele, where the node is over the neck pup, virtually no sound is heard with that pup on. As soon as I switch the bridge pup on, that harmonic is very clearly heard. So, I surmised that pup placing can have a direct effect on reproduction of some sounds. Obviously, as soon as I play an artificial harmonic, say with 1st fret held down, the node will move off the neck pup. So there's a possibility a guitar could sound 'better' in a certain key with reference to pup placement, maybe?
    – Tim
    Aug 18 '17 at 6:53
  • @Tim What if you play an open string harmonic where the node is over the bridge pickup with that pickup on? Maybe a pickup will be louder when playing certain open string harmonics, but that still doesn't make it objectively better. Sometimes you want a guitar to be barely audible. Aug 18 '17 at 11:33

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