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NOTE: This info is copyright and must not be used for commercial purposes by any other party. Chris Kinman (c) 2000.

Pickup makers Dictionary – Sonic terms.


Aged sound

Referring to specific old Strat pickups wound with Formvar wire:> The tonal characteristics developed with the passing of time and the aging and subsequebt degradation of the Formvar insulation. Usually softened attack, loss of the characteristic Strat low mid scoop, lowered Ice-pick-in-your-Ear brittleness and lowered dynamic range which results in earlier breaking into distortion yielding a creamy distortion when overdriven and a sweeter treble when played clean. The aging I’m referring to is not the result of magnets aging. New single coils cannot be aged artificially in the same way since this can only happen in the fullness of time. However, certain things can be arranged in a single coil to approximate Aged tone BUT usually this results in some unwanted side effects (less harmonic richness). My Hx pickups have certain design elements that I have manipulated to replicate genuine aged tone. Ironic ain’t it? That a high-tech noiseless design can generate authentic aged tone whereas a single coil has to wait 20 years to age naturally. For story of discovery of Aged Sound click here >* Aged Sound fully explained * See also Degaussing in Technical and Non-aged sound immediately below.

NOTE: Kinman pickups are age stable: that is they will not age noticeably, even over a long period of time.

Non-aged sound

The tight sound of a high quality new Strat pickup that is very snappy with rapid and explosive attack response, low mid scoop and piano mid-tones. For low to medium level playing (clean) the generous attack is a desirable characteristic since it provides presence, projection and a stimulating response along with very nice piano mid-tones on the wound strings (precursor of twang). Highs are pristine clear and rich in harmonics. The sound resists crunching too easily under heavy pick attack. All of this happens when the strings are picked in a certain way and can be de-intenfied with appropriate picking technique and choice of plectrum.

Aging covers

Click here to learn how to remove covers safetly from Kinman Strat* pickups

You can order your pickups with covers pretinted from my factory for an additional cost. These are moulded with the colour and so are permanent and non-bleachable colours.

DIY tinting of covers: Kinman’s current Strat pickup covers are moulded in a special plastic that can be semi-permanently tinted with water based dies such as Tea, Coffee, Curry, Henna hair dye etc. Some colours that can be made this way are …….

  • Mint (a light green tint seen on early 60’s L Series Strat pickguards, made from Peppermint Tea)
  • Cream (similar to Gibson P-90 cream covers, made with ground espresso coffee grounds – Vittoria brand)
  • Aged White (use 2 spoons of instant coffee, International Roast brand)

You simply degrease the covers first with kitchen detergent or lighter fluid and then soak the White covers in the above (boiling temperature) food solutions for anything from 10 seconds up to several minutes. There is no need to keep the solution on the boil. If stronger colour is desired simply allow more time, up to several minutes. If the colour is still not strong enough than add more coffee/tea/stain. If you make a mistake then reverse the process by soaking the cover in Laundry bleach and start over. The resulting colours may change with time and exposure to light.

Do not attempt this with old Kinman covers as they will simply melt. The old covers can be identified by the notch taken out of the bottom of the cover, in other words the bottoms of those covers are split into two planes.

Caution: we can not guarantee all covers that have Logo will stain satisfactorily as the stain might not work due to the application of a conditioner intended to allow the logo to stick. In this case the covers can be reverted to original color by bleaching as above. Covers without Logo will stain without difficulty.

Covers are Standard with Burgandy printed Ink logo. Covers are also available without Kinman logo by special request (same price). Logos sometimes wear off the covers and will leave a white witness mark if the covers are tinted.

The new covers also do not have sharp edges at the top (but it’s not rounded over noticeably), covers the lower coil completely and is more flexible than the previous cover. These new covers conform to early Fender specs in every way so it’s no longer necessary to fit old covers to my Strat pickups for that authentic old look.

NOTE: Covers from other manufacturers can not necessarily be tinted this way, and neither can pickguard materials or knobs.


The term applied to a pickup that describes how the response of the pickup feels and sounds to the player. More air means more expression, more lively, more satisfying to play with. See also Attack , Dynamic Range .


The short-lived instantaneous peak voltage response from a pickup at the precise moment the string is plucked. A direct equivalent of dynamic range and Q. More attack means the note will explode from the speaker with more energy. Excessive attack contributes to hearing loss because of the spike of power delivered by the loudspeakers. See Dynamic range , Air and Presence .


Combination of midrange dominance and hard attack. Often associated with hot pickups and P-90’s. A kind of Twang without bite. Like the bark of a medium sized dog.


Audio Frequencies below 200Hz.

Bell Tone

Ever really thought what a big church bell really sounds like? Huge, lots of shimmer, ring and presence but not really a lot of treble or bass. Big Bells are midrange dominant.


The ability of a tone to be noticed by virtue of it’s treble/midrange pleasingly gritty edge. One that bites or cuts through with a cutting edge of presence derived from Alnico magnets. Like the bite of a small sized dog. See also Presence , Attack .


The pleasing result of a specific presence factor of a pickup in expressing a group of concordant notes particularly in the upper register on the non-wound strings where the notes ‘chime’ together to capture that quality of a large bell. Often associated with a high quality single coil Fender style pickup using Alnico magnets. Noiseless alternate magnets deisgns such as Ferrite and Samarium Cobalt have less chime than regular single coils or Kinman noiseless.


This is what happens when a string dies during severe bending in the upper register. Usually caused by maladjusted truss rod/string height relationship OR a kink in the neck around the 13th fret. Caused by lack of internal reinforcing at the critical 14th fret area. Common on Fender style necks. Needs major surgery to remedy.

Clean sound

Sometimes applied to sound that is unprocessed, undistorted OR devoid of noise. See also Noise .

Clean Tone

Tone that has no distortion content or without excessive midrange and subsequently a high transparency factor. See also Transparency .


Usually applied to the presence (or abundance) of midrange frequencies which tend to muddy the tone. See also Transparency . Alnico magnets do provide midrange complexity but remarkable this is no muddy.


The intentional limiting of dynamic range by electronic methods to control large transients of audio power so as not to exceed the limits of devices such as recording equipment; also a characteristic of a guitar pickup when the peak frequency envelope is wide with the result it drives the amp into slight overload. In the extreme can also refer to the undesirable strangled feel or excessive lack of response and dynamic range from a pickup which is the result of poorly designed hum canceling techniques in single coil design, but not with Kinman’s.

Creamy distortion

Smooth unvarying (steady) distortion. Not warbling or rasping whish is typical of Stratitis .

Creamy tone

The quality of sound in relation to treble response and attack. If the sound is scratchy and thin or overly dynamic it is not creamy.


The enemy of Strat sound since it shares a lot of the same frequency bandwidth making it difficult to distinguish what notes are coming from the Strat/Tele player with Un-aged sound. See Definition .

Chunky tone

Having the qualities of a P-90 in sound. Big, fat, loud, good attack with resonance below the higher region, lower than a traditional Strat pickup.

Dark tone

Tone that is low in apparent bass and brightness (or attack) but rich in midrange. Genuine Aged pickups have a darker tone. See Thick tone .


The property of a guitar’s sound that enables it to be distinguished from the competing sound of the cymbals. Also the characteristic that separates and distinguishes notes played arpegio style. Balanced presence and dynamic range are key factors in achieving this difficult performance. Not always easy to evaluate unless in the context of a band in full tilt. 1970’s Strats had a very thin sound that was low in off-stage definition simply because the sound was so thin and piercing. Sometimes hearing loss figures in player-perceived low definition. Also see Presence and Punch .


When a signal is intentionally or unintentionally driven beyond the transient limits of the amplifier and results in a square wave-form as distinct to a sine wave-form. See Overdrive .

Dynamic range

The difference in output of a pickup from the softest to the loudest upon the instant of attack, without distortion. See Attack and Presence .

Fat sound

Opposite to a thin weedy sound, a fat sound is more like a wall of sound without the excessive volume. A sound with a big girth. One with a broad range of midrange frequencies.


The way a pickup responds (or doesn’t respond) to various stimulus of the strings. A direct function of dynamic range or attack that imparts desired expression to the players performance.

Fluid response

A function of abundant dynamic range and attack that allows the player to string a sequence of notes in a seamless progression. Jimi used it to good effect in several more restrained, undistorted pieces. Other notables use distortion to achieve it. Kinman Woodstock’s are designed to do this effortlessly.


The overall dimension to a sound. Often used to imply a BIG, fat sound.


Another term for excessive brightness of single coil pickups especially the Fender genre. The characteristic of Fender sound that imparts a brittle or an Ice-pick quality. The enemy of high sound pressure level definition. See Ice-pick .


see Technical Dictionary . The gradual increasing of the power of a pickup typically intended to refer to the bridge pickup which needs to have output compensation because of it’s handicapped position next to the bridge. Resulting in more or less balanced output levels from all pickups.


When the amp is turned up and the low (wound) strings are picked close to the bridge twang gives way to growl, especially on the bridge pickup.


The multiplying of the fundamental frequency of a sine wave. Example; Assuming a 100Hz fundamental then 200, 400, 800, 1.6KHz, 3.2KHz etc etc would all be harmonics. Guitarists often refer to string harmonics. These are node points along the length of the string (Eg above the 12 fret) where harmonics of the fundamental coincide and the string will divide into multiple sections with each section vibrating at it’s own harmonic frequency but the total string section is completely devoid of the fundamental. You will notice the absence of movement on strings because the fundamental is not vibrating. Playing a harmonic does not require the string to be fretted, the mere touch of a finger tip at the right node point is enough to prevent the fundamental from sounding but set the harmonic ringing.

Hearing loss

After exposure to high pressure sound for extended periods the ears suffer irreparable damage. Ringing in the ears after a concert is a sure sign of partial hearing loss. High frequencies are affected first and progresses to the lower frequencies with repeated exposure. Loss of speech intelligibility is a symptom of it. Speech sounds like it’s muffled.


The term referring to the warbling of notes in the upper register of guitars with non-noiseless single coils (Strat and P-90), particularily on the plain strings G and B but can also be present on the D. The result is an unpleasant, offensive brittle sound. Often confused with Strat-itis it is not caused by excessively strong magets but rather by the pickup’s bandwidth focusing on a narrow band of frequencies that are naturally present in the strings vibrations and which are inheritently unstable (shifting up and down in pitch). Ice pick is proportional to the degree of midrange transparency (scoop) that is pickups with more scoop have more ice-pick.


The ability of a sound to be discerned and understood by the audiences ears. Excess treble brittleness can reduce it in electric guitars. Cymbals sometimes have the same effect by masking the guitar sound in acoustically difficult venues. Alnico magnets help by encouraging complex midrange detail that helps distinguish the guitar sound from the clatter of cymbals, snares etc. See Definition , Hearing loss and Presence .

Knopfler-esque sound

Mark Knopflers trademark signature sound used on the album Sultans of Swing. A stock Strat with non-aged vintage spec pickups in position 2 (bridge + middle) and position 4 (middle + neck). This is the sound of pickup connected in parallel and in-phase, not out-of-phase as some mistakenly believe.

A very similar effect is achieved when any 2 similar pickups are connected in parallel but the most striking and exaggerated Knopfler-esque sound is achieved with two similar P-90 Hx pickups. Regular Humbuckers exhibit the same tendency but the effect is weak. The effect is more pronounced when operating certain humbuckers in split coil mode, even when mixed with certain Strat pickups.

Hum can be cancelled when using single coil non-noiseless pickups by using a reverse wound, reverse magnetic polarity second pickup (middle of a Strat) which acts like the second coil of a humbucking pickup. When hum-cancelling pickups are used this is not necessary or appropriate.


Any frequency in the audio spectrum between 300Hz and 3kHz. Below 300Hz is considered to be Bass and above 3Khz is treble. Midrange is the most important element of sound since this is where the human ear is most sensitive because human speech is almost all midrange. Over emphasis of these frequencies results in Muddy sound. Alnico magnets provide a very high quality detailed midrange that is not muddy, but which adds girth and body to the sound.

Out of Phase

see Technical Dictionary . When 2 pickups or coils are connected in such a way that the current flows are in opposite directions and tend to cancel one another they are said to be out of phase. Position 2 and 4 of a Strat switch is not out of phase, in fact quite the opposite…they are in-phase. Out of phase sounds consist of very little bass, dominate mids and highs with a characteristic ‘nasal, honky’ sound and have a much lower level. Also see Parallel and In-phase .


When the input of the amplifier is driven beyond it’s clean capability into distortion. Happens when a sine wave from a pickup slams into the transient limits of the amplifier and takes on a square wave-form. Pickups do not distort, only an active circuit can do that. The rated power output of an amplifier multiplies under heavy overload (distortion) hence the need for excessive speaker power-rating. See Distortion .


see Technical Dictionary . When position 2 or 4 is selected on a Strat selector switch two pickups are switched on and said to be connected in parallel and in-phase. The sound becomes hollow and delicate, devoid of quack and with a drop in level. Mark Knopfler made this his trademark sound. Kinman fitting instructions for Strats detail a wiring option that allows gradual mixing of the neck with bridge or middle pickups to get an increases palette of parallel tones. Also see In-phase .


see Technical Dictionary . Assuming you understand the concept of wave forms (as in sine wave)…it’s the relationship between two (or more) such waves. In guitars they either oppose one another (being out of phase) or are in phase (in synchronous). To put it another way it’s when the polarity of two pickups (or coils) either match or oppose one another. Eg, in phase or 180 degrees out of phase (180 degrees being opposite to 360 or Zero degrees). In-phase wave forms add their energy together for increased level while out-of-phase wave-forms subtract from one another to decrease level. See also Parallel .

Plank Spanker

One who indulges in the skilled musical artform of playing a Telecaster.


Leo Fender identified a particular type of brightness that is not strictly a function of resonant frequency alone (trebles) but rather derived from the combination of this plus sharp attack and the essential complex detail provided by the Alnico magnets of a Fender guitars pickup. Even low notes can have presence when they possess the right type of harmonic makeup and attack. Up to a point more attack seems to pronounce this presence. However when the attack/resonance envelope is such that the sound becomes very thin and brittle then presence actually diminishes. Presence helps carry the note through the shimmer and clatter of Cymbals and other instruments without having to play overly loud. Balanced presence is a valuable commodity. Classic Fender guitar sound is all about presence. Thanks to Leo for applying the word ‘presence’ to guitar vocabulary and for designing his pickup around Alnico magnets.

I find it difficult to apply the term to other kinds of pickups, especially the non-Alnico noiseless Fender type.

Read Bill Machrone’s take on presence in early Fender amplifiers.


Like it sounds, the ability to punch through the rest of the band. It implies more midrange response coupled with abundant dynamic attack. A P-90 is certainly a punchy pickup but a bright Strat pickup has less punch but more bite and presence so it gets noticed in a different way.


Excellent single coil pickup in the Gibson family. Great tone but terribly noisy. Easily recognized by it’s centralized 6 adjustable steel screw pole pieces and rectangle plastic or dog ear cover, often cream in color. Has 2 opposing Alnico bar magnets lying flat underneath the coil. Extremely difficult to cancel hum from and retain an authentic punchy tone; so far this endeavor has not been successfully accomplished (but I’m working on it).


Or to be more precise Th-wack. It happens when 2 similar pickups are switched on together thereby Eq-ing the sound to reduce midgrange colouration but emphasing a particularily narrow band of upper midrange frequencies which then become more obvious. Projected by sharp attack this band of frequencies makes a characteristic QUAK or Th-wack sound. Some players refer to it as positions 2 and 4 on a Strat switch. (see Scooped ) The 2 similar pickups need to be combined in parallel and in-phase .


To reproduce faithfully and accurate to the original. For example; Kinman AVn pickups replicate authentic Vintage Strat sound and Tele sound :)


The reaction of a pickups electrical and sonic performance to pick attack.

Resonant peak

Rz. The frequency at which there is the least resistance (Impedance actually) to the flow of electric currents in a pickup coil. The frequency at which string signal has the most output. Rz is defined in Hz. Typically 3.5KHz (3,500 Hz). It’s the quintessential definition of guitar tone. Is meaningful when stated as a specification of a pickup that is loaded with the full compliment of Volume and Tone pots and a typical cable. Is completely meaningless when stated as free air Rz (typically 9KHz).


The term applied to switch positions 2 and 4 of a Stratocaster or the middle position on a Telecaster. Also sometimes applied to a single pickup sound. More precisely, used to define scooped or de-accentuated midrange frequencies -or- sound that is somewhat hollow with less substance…. not-withstanding the detailed midrange complexity provided by Alnico magnets.


The vibrant characteristic related to the presence factor of an electric guitar pickup especially the Fender single coil family. Usually concerning the the upper midrange. Has the effect of a perceived or imagined ‘aural corona’ attending the notes something like that of a large Gong or Cymbal. This quality is imparted by the way Alnico magnets cause the induction characteristics of the coil to behave.


Some makers of noiseless single pole pickups resort to higher value volume pots to bring their pickups to life. These makers hope that the extra brightness will be mistakenly interpreted by the player as desired attack and dynamic range. The artificial brightness of such practice is said to be shrill. Not a prized characteristic by any stretch of the imagination. See Pot values on the TONE WORKSHOP page.


Bit hard to define this one, different meaning to different players. My take is it’s related to Dynamic Range and Punch. Teles are said to have spank and Teles have a bridge pickup that is fat, loud and punchy with a big fat Twang.


The term to describe the upper midrange *presence* factor of an electric guitars pickup, especially the Fender genre of single coils due to the use of Alnico rod magnets. See Presence .


Also diplayed in the Technical Glossary . (Strat-itis is simultaneous multiple discordant frequency syndrome). Dirty or rusty strings can also cause this but many players know this horrible phenomena is caused by excessively strong magnets in the pickups, here’s how it works. What happens is the magnets of the pickups pull a section of the string (the part that’s over the pickups) into a U shaped vibration path. Normally the strings vibrate in what is essentially a single-plane path or pattern. Lets say that the time taken for a string (not subjected to excessive magnet pull) to complete one cycle or oscillation is X milliseconds. Traveling in a U shaped path it actually takes longer to complete one cycle or oscillation since the distance is greater via a U shaped path, so the time is X + U milliseconds. Now it’s getting clear that what you have is a string that has a section of it’s length vibrating in a U shaped path and part of the remaining section traveling in a direct single-plane path and yet another section traveling at all frequencies between these two extremes. This means that the three sections are actually vibrating at many different frequencies when the string should be vibrating uniformly at a single frequency. What happens when you mix all these different frequencies together? Uggghhh, dissonant Stratitis that’s what! It’s bad enough hearing 2 non-harmonious notes coming from a single string, but when you get multiple dissonant frequencies (or notes) being produce simultaneously from a single string the results are absolutely horrendous. A string that’s out of tune with itself no less, big time. Kinman pickups have speical proprietry Alnico magnets that have 40% reduced string pull. This means Strat-itis is eliminated.

Sweet tone

Sound that is characterized by lack of overly brittle or ear piercing treble frequencies but which nevertheless sounds bright, crisp and alive with sweet harmonics and lack of Ice pick.

Thick tone

Sound that is high in midrange content and low in bass and brightness. If this is the result of the presence of Alnico magnets then it’s a good thickness, but if it’s the result of overwound coils then thait is not nearly so desirable.


Just like the sound of the word. High impact projection of a group of upper midrange frequencies at the moment of attack. Like a back hand slap accross the face but with tone. A particularily desirable characteristic found in only the best of single coil pickups.

Transient response

The ratio of voltage produced to a given energy of pick attack. Another way of expressing Dynamic range or attack. Lack of transient response equates to a choked or compressed feel to practically all noiseless single coils with one notable exception, can you guess which one? See also Attack .


The low concentration of 600-2.5KHz midrange frequencies (coloration) resulting in a clean/clear tone that is said to be transparent. Guitar pickups demand some colour in the midrange for satisfactory definition and projection. The best colour comes from Alnico magnets because it provided interesting detail in the sound that I call TONE. Colour that is derived from overwinding the coil(s) is muddy and I call that TONE-less. Many side-by-side humbuckers are overly muddy. Alternate magnet design noiseless single coils are sometimes overwound to add colour as well, the result is the same, low grade mud. Excessive transparency is not a desired characteristic of Fender style pickups.


Tremelo is often used incorrectly to describe Strat bridges which are actually Vibrato bridges. Vibrato is the rapid raising and lowering of the pitch, and is thus fundamentally different from tremolo which is a rapid variation in only the loudness of the sound. Guitar bridges should be correctly described as Vibrato bridges, not tremelo which is the amplifier effect Bo Diddley used to create his Diddley beat sound back in the 50’s Bo Diddley Mona


The sound made by the combination of attack and upper midrange response of a pickup with moderate transparency when picked closer to the bridge. Twang becomes outstanding with vibrato or pitch shifting. Usually associated with the mid frequencies of the wound strings, and to a lesser degree sometimes non-wound strings. Fender type single coils with Alnico rod magnets have a distinct advantage because the Alnico imparts a midrange complexity that’s necessary for making twang. Instrumental guitar players like Duane Eddy and Hank Marvin have used this effect to great advantage over the years. Used skillfully it imparts an element of dignified excitement to the piece.

Un-aged tone

The tone of a contemporary pickup before the aging process has any discernible effects. Characterized by abundant attack, dynamic range and brightness. Refer to top of this column.

Vintage sound

For the purpose of this definition Vintage sound will mean the sound of a 50′ or 60’s Strat pickup when it was new.

I have come to define vintage sound with a mix of technical and sonic terms because sonic terms alone can be interpreted in so many different ways. No doubt others have their own opinions. Basically I define this as the sound that comes from 6 Alnico-5 rod magnets with a coil of approx. 8,300 turns of 42 gauge Formvar coated wire and complying to the template of a Stratocaster pickup design. My personal extended definition calls generally for snappy attack, twangy midrange with biting but tinkly highs, a complex midrange that is both scooped (clean) and gritty (complexity) at the same time (see Alnico magnets). It has good dynamic range that culminates in very satisfying expression for the guitar player since these pickups respond so well to the light and shade of different picking variations. I also think of vintage sound as having a range of tonalities depending on the number of turns of wire (approx. 8150 to 8,350) and the age of the pickup. Thus you can have new vintage (what an old pickup sounded like when it was new) and aged vintage or what a genuine old pickup sounds like in present day (Aged sound and unaged sound).


The greatest and most creative of players. Inspiring and exciting to listen to. Jimi Hendrix and SRV for examples.


See Stratitis Often associated with Strat-itis however there is another kind of warble (sounds like flying razor blades or a chain-saw cutting thin steel sheet that is not properly supported) that occurs mainly a plain G string and sometimes on other plain strings. The severity of this warble seems connected to the degree of midrange scoop the pickup has, more scoop means more warble. It’s cause remains a mystrey but I hypotethize there are naturally occuring warbling tones in every string but midrange complexity masks it over. That’s why the warbling appears worse when the midrange is very scooped. It is very difficult to get rid of since it is not related to proximity of magnets to strings.


Predominately middle frequencies (about 500-700 KHz) with a controlled amount of attack and not overly endowed with brightness. Sort of Twang gone south. Vintage Fender style pickups have “wood” thanks to the presence of Alnico rod magnets. Mainly noticed on the bridge pickup or on other pickups by picking the string near the bridge. A favored characteristic of Mike Lewis, Sales manager for Fender USA.