The Art of Focusing: How Focusing Plates Shape the Tone of Your Pickups

February 23, 2024 by
Nebula Belgium, Steven Van Hout

In the vast world of guitar pickups, every component, no matter how small, plays a crucial role in shaping the sound. One such component that often goes unnoticed but has a profound impact on tone is the focusing plate. Let's delve into the science and artistry behind focusing plates, particularly in Stratocaster and Telecaster pickups.

1. What are Focusing Plates?

Focusing plates, as the name suggests, are thin metal plates placed beneath the pickup, usually directly under the magnetic pole pieces. Their primary function is to redirect and concentrate the magnetic field produced by the pickup's magnets. This alteration in the magnetic field can significantly influence the pickup's tonal characteristics.

2. Why Use Focusing Plates?

The use of focusing plates can offer several benefits:

  • Tonal Enhancement: By concentrating the magnetic field, focusing plates can enhance certain frequency ranges, adding depth and clarity to the sound.
  • Balanced Output: They can help in achieving a more balanced output across strings, especially in pickups with wider magnetic pole spacing.
  • Noise Reduction: Focusing plates can aid in reducing electromagnetic interference, leading to a cleaner sound.

3. Materials Matter: The Impact of Different Metals

Different metals have distinct magnetic and conductive properties, which influence the tonal outcome when used as focusing plates:

  • Brass: Known for its warmth, brass focusing plates can add a rich, mellow character to the tone. They tend to smooth out the high frequencies, making them ideal for players seeking a vintage sound.
  • Nickel: Nickel offers a balanced tonal response. It neither overly brightens nor dampens the sound, making it a versatile choice for various musical genres.
  • Zinc Plated Steel: Zinc plated steel plates can boost the pickup's output due to their high magnetic permeability. They tend to emphasize the mid-range frequencies, adding punch and clarity.
  • Copper Plated Steel: Combining the properties of copper and steel, these plates can enhance the pickup's overall output while adding warmth and depth to the tone.

4. Stratocaster vs. Telecaster: The Nuances

While both Stratocaster and Telecaster pickups can benefit from focusing plates, their design differences lead to unique interactions:

  • Stratocaster Pickups: Given their typically wider magnetic pole spacing, Strat pickups can benefit from the balancing effect of focusing plates, ensuring even string response.
  • Telecaster Bridge Pickups: The bridge pickup in a Telecaster is often brighter and sharper. A focusing plate, especially one made of brass or copper plated steel, can mellow out the highs and add warmth, making the tone more rounded.

5. Challenges and Considerations

While focusing plates offer numerous advantages, they're not a one-size-fits-all solution. The choice of material, thickness, and positioning requires experimentation. Factors like the pickup's magnet type, coil windings, and the guitar's wood all play a role in the final sound.


Focusing plates are a testament to the intricacy and depth of guitar pickup design. They exemplify how even subtle changes can have a profound impact on tone. Whether you're a luthier, a musician, or a tone enthusiast, understanding the role of focusing plates can open up new sonic possibilities and refine your sound to perfection.

Nebula Belgium, Steven Van Hout February 23, 2024
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