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  1. #1

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    I just bought it used on Reverb and am happy with it, but wondering about the pickup, which the seller described as being a Kent Armstrong HPAG-1. It sounds good, but the output is quite low, and I don't see much on the internet about this specific pickup. It's my first archtop so I'm wondering if this is just the way archtops are, or simply that I like a higher output pickup and now I have a good excuse to spend more money? Or something else, like a KA Smooth Sam, as shown here on WD Music's site?

    Pickups in my (used) Eastman AR503CE-20200808_172156-jpgPickups in my (used) Eastman AR503CE-20200808_172144-jpg


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    Pretty guitar!

    If it sounds good, and the output is low ... turn up your amp! [seriously!]

    [yes, there are many, many wonderful pickups out there, and after spending lots of money down that rabbit hole, it may not sound any better than it does now! You have been warned ...]

  4. #3
    I know those are words of wisdom. I have a box in my closet full of various strat pickups from partscastering :-)

  5. #4

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    first off that looks like no kent armstrong hpag-1 that i've seen...thats supposed to be his paf copy

    2nd thats a set inbody pickup, you don't want to replace it with the ka smooth sam you linked..that's a floater!!...

    try raising the pickup closer to strings..& try a new set of nickel plated steel or stainless steel strings, for increased output

    if you do replace pickup, i believe just about any humbucker out there should fit...

    looks like you could move bridge slightly towards the low e to straighten out strings on fingerboard as well...

    take your time with it, and enjoy


  6. #5
    Thanks, now I am really curious as to what the pickup is! It sounds pretty good. I'm going to restring it with some pure nickel strings and will try the adjustment you suggested. I hadn't noticed the bridge was a bit off. Don't laugh, but I hadn't even realized that the bridge wasn't fixed in place!

  7. #6

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    Very interesting. I bought an AR-503CE and it has the Kent Armstrong. I like the tone of mine. The output is definitely lower than the humbuckers in my Les Paul and a recently acquired Fender dual-hum tele with Seymour Duncans. But it sounds really sweet and the lower output is nonetheless plenty of signal for amp or recording.

  8. #7

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    HPAG-1 is a PAF style pickup with a gold plated cover (that's what the G stands for) and adjustable pole pieces, so either that's something else, or somebody put a different cover on it. I have them in my D'Angelico semi hollow. Their output is in the same ballpark as a Gibson 57 Classic pickup, maybe a little more output (at least mine is, compared to the 57 Classic I've checked ou). I think they sound great in my guitar, but pickups are a strange topic. Wildly different opinions and descriptions abound, and people cite dramatic differences that I often don't perceive.


  9. #8

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    Well, first things first. That's a very nice looking guitar. The pickup itself is very attractive, in understated way, which I appreciate on archtop guitars. It seems likely that you already have a replacement pick up in that instrument.

    In terms of output, I would first set the pickup height. The press the high E string at the highest fret and raise the pickup so that there is about the thickness of a nickel's worth of space between the top of the pickup and the string. Set the bass side of the pickup to balance against the high E string; typically that's going to be a bit lower.

    Pure nickel strings will have lower output so you might want to try nickel plated strings instead.

    If you decide you want to replace the pickup, I would contact Kent Armstrong directly and buy from him. You can discuss what sound you want with him. His PAF-0 handwound pickup is pretty much the standard for current jazz sounds. Another excellent option is Pete Biltoft at

  10. #9

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    I love my 503ce, but replaced the pick up with one of the best jazz pickups I've ever heard. I created a forum thread about it here, with video:

    Another Charlie Christian pickup to consider


  11. #10

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    I have a 503CE that I love, but I don't care for the pick-up as I only play it unplugged.
    So I strung it with Phosphore bronze strings, and it's nice unplugged (if you want to plug it, forget these strings)
    Mine still has the original Kent Armstrong asian made pick-up, and I didn't noticed it to be so low output, if you don't want to compare it with 498R. And it doesn't look like the one on your pics.

    To sum up : good guitar, play the hell out of it, enjoy it with new strings, experiment with strings is cheap and funny !

  12. #11
    Before I brought the guitar over to my tech for a setup, I opened the small compartment in the case, and found an empty plastic bag that had contained a pickup cover from "Tone Ninja", as well as a gold pickup cover. So it seems pretty clear that the pickup is in fact the standard KA. just with a very nice black cover. I also found the original tuning pegs, that had been replaced by nice wooden ones and a truss rod wrench :-) I feel a bit silly now.

    Thanks for all the responses, everyone!