Small in Stature, Big in Tone

minihbfirebird

The Firebird and Mini-Humbucker might be the two of the most underrated and misunderstood pickups that are available today. These two designs are as versatile and complex as any of the pickups we make, and many discerning players are taking advantage of their unique capabilities in order to expand their tonal options.

Pickups in the “mini” family have a different tone than the larger PAF for various reasons; some apply to all the smaller ‘buckers and some are specific to each design. All of these secondary pickups share a smaller size, 2-5/8” X 1-1/8”. The narrower width of these pickups (1-1/8” compared to 1-1/2”) senses a shorter length of string vibration. This makes the pickup  sense higher harmonics generated by the string, which gives you a slightly brighter and more focused sound due to the smaller size.

The internal constructions of these little guys are also a huge part of the tone. A Mini-humbucker is made like a miniature PAF pickup, with one bar magnet positioned under each coil with adjustable pole pieces made out of a ferrous alloy and the other coil containing a ferrous metal bar that is not adjustable. This corresponds to a PAF with adjustable poles in one coil and a series of metal slugs in the other coil. A Firebird on the other hand, has a bar magnet in each coil. Each coil is wound around the bar magnet, one coil is south up and the other is north up. The inductance properties of steel and alnico magnet grades are very different. Also the magnetic field shape and strength are different between the Mini-Humbucker and the Firebird which gives them different characteristics.
Steel cores tend to have a higher inductance- you get more bass and more output verses an alnico magnet core. That gives Mini-Humbucker a smoother attack with more sustain and you’ll get more of a grind to the tone when you push your amp into distortion. Traditional Firebird pickups have a tighter, “spankier” tone that stays more defined when you really crank up your amp.

Not to be left out, Johnny Smith pickups are a hybrid of both the Mini-Humbucker and Firebird; they combine some of the clarity of a Firebird with the smoother attack of the mini. It’s actually quite a clever invention- one coil has a bar magnet in it like a Firebird but the pickup has a bottom plate made out of steel that is tapped and threaded to hold adjustable pole pieces for the second coil.  The magnetism travels from the bottom of the bar magnet along the steel plate to the adjustable pole pieces.

One thing to note if you’re thinking about Lollar-izing a guitar with these mini-marvels is our sizes are bit larger than the vintage specs. Our pickups covers for Mini-Humbuckers and Firebirds are slightly longer than vintage mini or firebird pickup covers. Vintage covers are 2.587” X 1.87” which translates to 2-19/32” X 1-3/32”. New covers are 2.687” X 1.87” which translates to fractions as 2-11/16” X 1-3/32”. New covers are 3/32” longer than vintage pickups but they will still fit in a vintage route with a new size ring mounts you can order from us.

These small humbuckers were never very popular when they were first introduced- they tended to be overly microphonic and too bright. Recently they have come back in to the spotlight. If they are made correctly they can be a very good pickup! You can mount a mini bucker or a Firebird into any guitar that currently has soapbar P-90 pickups installed. The conversion is very simple to do – it uses a special P-90 soapbar cover size adapter. We also take orders daily for players wanted use them as neck pickups in Teles for a nice spin on a classic style.

Visit our website for a series of videos showing different ways to mount and install Mini-Humbuckers and Firebirds. http://www.lollarguitars.com/mini-humbucker-installation.shtml