Here’s a short clip with a “classical” EQ capture with the Cycfi Neo6 polyphonic pickup mounted on a Fender Stratocaster bridge position. The strings are panned from right to left, with the low-E at the right and the high-E at the left. Scroll below for details.
That’s cool. But does it rock? Here’s a short composition: Thousand Paths Lead Back to You (Joel de Guzman 2014). This one is mixed to mono using the EMG-81 EQ capture (again scroll below for details) before applying distortion and amp simulation. From acoustic to heavy-metal in a single shot!
Here’s a simple E chord recorded with no effects and no EQ.
Here’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra —a classical guitar piece composed in 1896 in Granada by Spanish composer and guitarist Francisco Tárrega.
The Neo Series active polyphonic pickups have a uniform frequency response from 20Hz to 20Khz. The sound is very clean with lots of overtones and crystal clear highs. The low impedance coils (at 350Ω per coil) give the pickups its characteristic wide bandwidth. A standard Fender Stratocaster pickup, in comparison, rolls off at around 5Khz.
The use of low impedance pickups is not a new idea. An important example is Les Paul’s favorite guitar and the one he used since the early 1970s: the Les Paul Recording Model. For Les Paul, it’s the the ultimate recording guitar. It was designed to be plugged directly into a mixing console. Now that’s a cool idea. The only problem was that only a select few at the time could afford owning a mixing desk! The output of the low impedance pickups could not sufficiently drive guitar amplifiers like the Marshall. Driving amplifiers into saturation was what people wanted! It did not catch on. Perhaps because it was ahead of its time.
The Neo polyphonic pickup, like the Les Paul Recording Model recording model, is also designed to plug directly into a mixing console. The big difference is that computer audio interfaces are now quite affordable and software effects processing has now become rather commonplace.
Raw sound clips
First, we have a raw sound clip of the Neo6 polyphonic pickup mounted on a Fender Stratocaster bridge position compared to an EMG-81 pickup bridge position and a Gibson Les Paul Studio bridge pickup. There are no effects and no EQ. The EMG and Les Paul are recorded straight into a high-impedance DI input of the audio interface.
Neo6 Polyphonic Pickup
EMG-81 Bridge Pickup
Les Paul Bridge Pickup
The pickups are meant to be equalised to suit one’s taste.You use your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to sculpt the tone. A full bandwidth response will give you full freedom to shape the frequency response —it’s the perfect blank canvas.
There are many ways to sculpt the tone. One way is to start with a guitar recording you like and capture its EQ using an EQ matching plugin such as Voxengo CurveEQ or Logic Pro’s Match EQ. You teach the EQ matching plugin your desired frequency response by feeding it the prerecorded sound clips. It then listens to your raw sound and calculates the necessary EQ adjustments to match the target EQ. For the sound snippets below, I used Logic Pro’s Match EQ.
Note: EQ capture is an interesting technique but keep in mind that the result is not an accurate replica of the target. It is however quite useful to easily get something up fast without ever having to fiddle with knobs and sliders which can very easily sink a lot of your time in the studio.
It is possible to get more accurate results with a DSP convolution and deconvolution. There are tools such as Voxengo Deconvolver that can capture the sound spectra of any medium by extracting its actual impulse response. For example, it can accurately capture anything from speaker cabinet response to full cathedral reverberations. The result is amazingly convincing that the technique has become standard now in the implementation of reverb effects as well as emulation of various microphones, vintage EQs, speaker cabinets, etc.
Essentially, anything that can be modeled as a filter can be captured. And surely, the guitar pickup is just another filter! What’s interesting is that with polyphonic pickups, the target response can be captured down to individual strings. The major drawback is that convolution is computationally expensive. But hey, we are now in an age where you see multi-core processors inside your humble mobile phone. We’ll get into (polyphonic!) convolution and deconvolution later.
Here are a couple of sound clips using various EQ captures with the Neo6 polyphonic pickup mounted on a Fender Stratocaster bridge position. The strings are panned from right to left, with the low-E at the right and the high-E at the left. Minimal effects: a bit of compression and a touch of reverb. Hey, this is a polyphonic recording mixed to stereo. Best get your best headset ready or run the sound clips through your awesome cool stereo system.
The first sound clip below matches the EQ of an EMG85 (neck) and EMG81 (bridge) active pickups (both pickups on)
Here’s how it sounds when a classical guitar is captured as the target EQ.
How about the EQ matching a Les Paul neck pickup?
I like the second mix for this piece. It does not sound exactly like a classical guitar, of course, but it fits the music quite nicely. I used that tone for the classical sound clips at the top. For the heavy-distortion clip, however, the EMG or the LP EQ captures are better. Distortion and overdrive are never friends with bright sounding guitars and it’s always better to roll off the highs before anything else.