Sustain can be simplified as the duration of the string vibration.
With this concept in mind, we can say that a better sustain means that the vibration lasts longer.
This, however, is just a basic way of explaining how the system works.
The fact is that it is much more complex than the explanation above.
After all, there are plenty of features that reduce or increase sustain, including the guitar’s material and output.
Now, it is worth asking: Is the amount of pickups one of those factors that affect sustain?
Although having more pickups affects sustain, the are more important aspects that should be considered before, such as amp’s setting, the use of pedals, and the way you play the instrument. It is a fact, though, that the amount of pickups a guitar has affects its tone.
Let’s forget about quick summaries and dig deeper into this topic.
The information below will explain everything regarding pickups and sustain.
How could electric guitar pickups affect sustain?
Pickups affect sustain depending on their output.
Low-output pickups have a weaker magnet that pulls less on the strings, and which lets them vibrate effortlessly.
This leads to a more pleasant tone.
On the other hand, high-output pickups have stronger magnets. Therefore, their magnetic field is stronger as well.
This allows for picking up a wider range regarding changes in vibration.
In other words, higher output pickups detect even the smallest alterations in vibration.
Installing pickups takes wood from the instrument
There are certain myths regarding wood and instrument size on this matter.
Are bigger instruments more prone to have a better sustain?
Truth is, this seems not to be a matter of size, but of weight.
Some claim a lighter guitar will have better sustain because the energy in the string’s vibration allows the body to resonate.
Such resonance leads the energy back to the string, creating a feedback loop.
However, some others believe a denser and heavier wood is actually better.
A thicker instrument makes smaller vibrations not getting diminished by the neck and the body.
As a result, the energy would be maintained in the string.
Now, there’s a third group that states that weight has nothing to do with sustain at all.
Darrell Braun has made a Youtube video analysis on his channel (called Darrel Braun Guitar) where he discovers that weight is not a critical factor in either tone or sustain.
In the end, it seems that this last experiment may be the most solid conclusion regarding this question.
Pickups have a magnetic pull on the strings
Let’s back up to what was mentioned above.
The magnetic pull, or the magnetic field of the pickups, has a significant effect on sustain and tone.
Stronger pickups detect smaller vibrations.
Conversely, pickups with a weaker magnetic field will detect a minor amount of them.
This means that the moment in which the pickups stop detecting string signal is going to last longer in higher output pickups.
Are pickups really that influential for sustain?
Pickups do influence sustain.
However, it is safe to say there are other features that have a most significant change in sustain.
The quality of the wood is one of them, which in the end, is related to the materials selected for the guitar’s construction.
This means that the neck and the bridge, for example, have an important influence too.
The pedals and the setup that you choose to play with might be more important than the pickups you have.
And finally, the way you play can greatly influence how you sound and how long your notes sustain.
Below we’ll examine these elements more thoroughly.
What are other factors that affect a guitar’s sustain?
There are lots of factors that could alter sustain.
Some of them were already discussed, such as output and magnetic field.
Let’s find out which are the others.
First of all, we must mention the material that is used for the instrument.
For example, the more rigid the neck, the lower the energy’s absorption, which leads to a longer vibration.
Something similar happens with the headstock.
The headstock absorbs part of the string vibration, which reduces the sustain. This means that a more rigid headstock increases sustain.
Then, it’s worth claiming that the distance between the strings and the pickups is an important feature regarding sustain.
If strings are closer to the pickups, then the vibration will be wrapped-up.
However, this factor is no different from the distinction between high and low output.
Strings are not out of this topic either.
Thicker strings provide a higher sustain.
Scale length and strings go hand in hand because the longer the scale, the tighter the string.
As you might have guessed, the vibration muffling time is longer with tighter strings.
Finally, the quality and type of the wood will provide more or less sustain.
Ebony or Marple, for instance, both have a higher sustain due to their density.
How can you improve the sustain of your guitar?
Sustain is affected by a lot of factors, which means that you can actually improve guitar’s sustain in more than one way.
The simplest solution is to adjust your amp’s and/or guitar’s setting.
Increasing either the gain or the bass and mid frequencies will increase sustain.
Regarding the guitar’s setup, turned-up volume and tone are important for a higher sustain.
What is more, you can adjust the height of the pickups.
If the gap between pickups and strings has a drastic change in sustain, then modifying it can get the results you were looking for.
For this task, get a screwdriver and turn the screws of the pickups.
Another method for increasing sustain is getting a new set of strings.
Above we discussed how thicker strings have higher sustain.
You can buy any gauge that goes between 0.008 and 0.015.
This logic applies to picks too. The thicker the pick, the better the sustain. But this could be most likely due that a more massive pick will make you hit the strings harder.
The other thing that you could change for a long sustain is the nut material. The best ones are made of bone or metal.
At last, you could use different effect pedals.
If you are looking for more sustain, then get a compression pedal, or any gain-type pedal, such as a distortion or an overdrive.
Do single pickup guitars have more sustain?
Single pickups guitars do sound better.
This happens because of the lack of neck or middle pickups.
Having a single pickup makes it possible for fewer magnetic forces applied to the strings.
More string vibrations make for a better tone, which is why some prefer single pickup guitars.
Another characteristic that makes single pickups attractive is their simplified circuit.
Having less wiring reduces faults and interference.
With all that being said, it is important to fact-check by yourself.
What I’m trying to say is that, despite all the information, you could still prefer guitars with more than one pickup.
After all, more sustain might be better for some, but not for everyone.
Try different models. Play with the amp and the guitar setting and find a tone that provides just the right amount of sustain for you.
Remember, there are no two guitars that sound the same, even if their models are not different.
Find the one that suits your taste, and always enjoy the process.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.