Alnico Magnets Explained
I often get asked about the different Alnico magnets I have available for my FiftyNiner, SixtyNiner, and SeventyNiner humbuckers, so I figured I would do a quick write-up to help you find the right magnet for your set of Romain Hand-Wound Pickups.
Alnico magnets – Aluminum + Nickel + Cobalt – come in several variations which have different percentages of aluminum, nickel and cobalt in their overall makeup. What these different percentages alter is the magnet’s strength, which will affect the end result tone-wise… That being said, the magnets don’t have a “tone”. Think of it more like this: the string’s vibration in that particular Alnico magnet’s magnetic field will translate differently from one another and generate a signal that comes out of the guitar’s output jack and into your amplifier – and you’ll hear the different tones.
Here are the different magnets I wind pickups with:
Alnico 2 magnets tend to generate richer mids, looser and warmer low end with softened highs. This magnet is the 2nd lowest strength magnet in the Alnico range which results in fantastic vintage dynamics and flavour. This magnet can be used in either position (Bridge or Neck) but is best used as a bridge pickup magnet where you tend to get a brighter and tighter tone naturally – the warm Alnico 2 helps tame the bite a bit. An Alnico 2 magnet will tend to get mushy and dark sounding in a neck position humbucker. This is one of my favourite bridge position magnets.
The Alnico 3, the lowest in strength of Alnico magnets, is similar to the Alnico 2 but tends to generate more treble, slightly scooped mids and a softer-yet-tighter low end. This is my favourite magnet for a neck position humbucker, especially when looking for that aged PAF tone. An Alnico 3 humbucker in the neck position typically has a flute-like woody tone with plenty of clarity and allows the guitar’s character to come through quite nicely – I’ve personally noticed a P90-ish type of tone when used in the neck position. It works excellent as a bridge humbucker magnet as well when you’re looking for that vintage PAF tone on the cleaner side. This magnet in the bridge position can beef right up with slightly overwound coils for a warm compressed rock tone with a bit less edge than an Alnico 2 yet retain some shimmer on top giving a fairly 3D quality to the tone – if done correctly.
Alnico 4 magnets generate a flatter “EQ” overall which can sometimes sound bland to some players, yet have been the hidden little secret for others. This magnet tends to sit between the Alnico 2 and Alnico 5 in magnetic strength and tone – rounder lows than a 5, tighter lows than a 2 with crisper highs than a 2. With the ALnico 4’s flatter “EQ”, the guitar’s true colour and character really shine through – this is where Alnico 4’s can sometimes sound bland. Some guitars just simply don’t work with Alnico 4 magnets, but when a guitar works with Alnico 4 it’s pure PAF magic. In my personal opinion, these magnets work best in a naturally big-sounding SG, Les Paul or PRS type guitar. Since Fender style guitars typically sound tighter and thinner, I’d personally go with one of the other magnets in the Alnico range to better compliment them. This is one of my favourite magnets for both bridge and neck positions when in the right guitar.
The Alnico 5 is the strongest of the most commonly used magnets and has been a very popular choice of magnet. Being the stronger magnet in the range, it tends to generate more output, tighter low end, scooped mids and sharper treble bite. These work great in a low-wind neck pickup for very crisp tone. When in a hotter neck pickup, the Alnico 5 may lean towards the boomy side which can overpower the highs. In a bridge humbucker, the Alnico 5 will work best in a hotter wound pickup where you’d want to bring in more low end and shave off the highs to tame the bite and avoid the dreaded ice-pick-to-the-ear-drum. In a lower wind bridge humbucker, the Alnico 5 may sound thin and brittle compared to an Alnico 2 or 4.
All that said, there are no rules – just personal tastes and experimentation. Every guitar is different, every player is different and every hand-wound pickup is different. That’s the fun of it all… and THAT is what I know today.
Hope that cleared things up and helps narrow down the magnet and tone you’re looking for and I look forward to winding your set in the near future!
Now, go play your guitar!