Magnets are a fundamental unit in every electric guitar, without which the guitars may not function. Electric guitar pickups typically contain one or two magnets to generate a magnetic field from the electrical impulse. The two most commonly used permanent magnets used in guitar pickups are AlNiCo magnets and ceramic magnets.
Unlike acoustic guitars that have a hollow soundboard, electric guitars have a solid body that does not have a soundboard. Electric guitars are designed to produce sound using a combination of electricity and magnetism. The vibrations of the guitar strings are first converted into an electric signal via a magnetic component called the guitar pickup. Then the electric signal is sent to the amplifier and speaker, which brings out the sound from the strings.
The conversion of sound to electricity is possible because when an electric current flows through the coil, around which is placed a magnetic body, electricity is generated. In an electric guitar, steel strings act as magnetic bodies.
Talking about magnets in pickups used in electric guitars, there are two main types that are common: AlNiCo and Ceramic. Another less common option is the rare-earth magnets, which are not as commonplace as the first two.
The difference in the strength of the magnetic fields created by the different guitar pickup types basically accounts for the different sound qualities. This affects how the pickups sense and pick up vibrations from the guitar strings and eventually influences the pickup’s tone.
Alnico 5 magnets are probably the most used magnets in guitar pickups, and this is because of the strength of their tone and response. They generate more tight lows, balanced midrange, as well as sharp highs. They help in generating a higher output and slightly cleaner sound. They have a high volume and a wider equalizer, both of which make them a common choice among guitar manufacturers and players.
Generally, AlNiCo pickups are known to have warmer, smoother/sweeter tones, and they are pretty dynamic, with better responses to the subtle preferences of players. However, AlNiCo magnets may not be able to push too hard on the amplifier as ceramic picks would. But in general, the overall output of an AlNiCo magnet depends on the grade installed.
In terms of guitar pickups, ceramic magnets do not necessarily fall on a lower pedestal when compared to AlNiCo magnets. They have been used in making guitar pickups for decades. However, they are often considered inferior because they are mostly used in poor-quality lower-priced instruments.
For this reason, ceramic guitar pickups have a somewhat negative reputation. But when used to make high-end guitars, they produce great sound. Compared to AlNiCo pickups in tonal difference, ceramic magnets are stronger and tend to produce a brighter sound. They can also hold up pretty well under heavy distortion.
A particular downside is that the sound produced can sometimes get too bright, and may sound harsh or too tiny. Keep in mind, too, that the overall build or quality of construction of the pickup can be a significant factor.
Another option — though less commonly explored — for manufacturing electric guitar pickups is rare-earth magnets. Suitable or commonly used types include samarium-cobalt and neodymium magnets. These are super-powerful magnets and are relatively more expensive.
Neodymium magnets and samarium cobalt magnets are used in ultra-modern electric guitars. Pickups made with these magnets offer a warmer, more natural acoustic tone, along with high sound quality. The rare-earth single coil has been re-voiced and fine-tuned in some modern products to generate a smoother treble response than similar options previously available on the market.
At the core of every guitar pickup, whether a humbucker or a single-coil, is one or more magnets. These magnets essentially define the fundamental properties of the pickup’s tone. While the most common and quality options available on the market are AlNiCo and ceramic magnets, modern electric guitars now include pickups made from the powerful rare-earth magnets. For more information about permanent magnets, please visit https://www.stanfordmagnets.com/.