Posted December 5, 2013 by James in Blog

What is Alnico and why should I care?

Alnico pickup magnet
Alnico pickup magnet

lnico 2, Alnico 5, what’s the difference? Is it important? Should I care? These are some of the questions that I’d like to answer in this post.

Firstly, a little bit about pickups which is needed for this discussion. Pickups are usually 1 or more magnets wrapped in thin copper wire. This creates a magnetic field around the pickup which detects the vibration of the string, converts that vibration into an electrical signal which is passed to your amplifier, where the signal is, you guessed it, amplified.

Alnico is a type of iron alloy which is excellent for producing magnets. If you only take one thing away from this post, then that’s it…alnico is just the type of magnet in your pickups.

There are many different alnico options available for manufacturing magnets.  Alnico 2 and 5 are the most commonly used, but there is also 3, 4, 6, 8, 9…and probably a few more.  What’s the difference?  Quite simply, each type of alnico alloy (2, 5, 8 etc) has a different magnetism.  This results in a different sound because the magnetic field will impact how the string vibrates.  Pickup manufacturers (eg Seymour Duncan) understand the effects from the different types of Alnico & can produce pickups which suit different genres and players.  Alnico 2 tends to have a warm, smooth and clear mid range with a soft sounding bass.  Alnico 5 tends to have bright highs, punchy bass and a strong mid-range.

Should you care?

The only reason you might care about this sort of information is that you’re interested in why certain pickups sound differently, or if you’re upgrading pickups and are very particular about the tone you want.  On top of the countless number of high quality mass produced and hand made pickups available, there are also a lot of generic pickups that can produce terrific results.  By knowing a little about the components of a pickup, such as the type of magnet used, you can make an informed decision and save yourself some disappointment.

Other factors

Now that you understand what alnico is, here are some other factors that pickup manufacturers take into account in achieving a desired tone.

  • The number of times that the pickup is wrapped in copper wire, more wraps = more output
  • The location of the pickup. Closer to the neck typically will produce warmer tones
  • Series vs parallel wiring. Series is when the end of one pickup is wired to the end of another, effectively creating one large pickup. Parallel is where both pickups are connected independently. Many guitars have switching that allows you to choose between series or paralell wiring
  • Other materials such as ceramic used instead of Alnico
  • Active pickups
  • And of course, the guitar material, dimensions etc

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