You have probably been told before that the pickup is the heart of every guitar. True to this, pickups make the most significant difference to the sound of your guitar than any other component. Although they are pretty small, guitar pickups capture and amplify the vibration of your guitar's strings to produce a signature sound that differentiates you from other guitarists.
Which pickup should I use on my guitar?
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It's safe to say that if you are reading this article, the chances are that you are on the lookout for a guitar pickup. Whether you intend to upgrade your electric guitar pickup, modify your beloved acoustic guitar into an electrical one, or renew stock pickups on your acoustic-electric guitar, having the best guitar pickups will improve your tone and sound.
Since there are plenty of options on the market, we have researched and compiled a list of the best electric guitar pickups to satisfy your needs and ensure that you make an informed purchase.
What is a Guitar Pickup?
A guitar pickup is a device that transforms vibrations and sounds produced by guitar strings into electrical signals that you can amplify. Amplifying boosts the sounds into audible volumes as you're playing the guitar.
The best guitar pickups use coils and consist of six magnetic bars inserted in a black bobbin and an enameled wire sort of material wound around the magnets. This helps to pick up the sound from the six guitar strings better. In addition, you will find that some pickups are made of metal rather than magnets. You will place a long and narrow magnet beneath the bobbin in this case.
Different types of pickups will utilize different methods to amplify the strings. However, before we get into that, let us look at the best electric guitar pickups to meet your needs.
1. Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz Humbucker Set
- The ultimate Hot Rodded humbucker set
- Matched set of JB and Jazz Neck models
- Combination versatile enough for classic rock to extreme metal
- 4-conductor cable and wax potted
- Alnico V magnets
The Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz humbucker set combine two of the best humbucker guitar pickups to make the Hot Rodded Set. This SH-4 JB focuses on producing a hot and heavy output on the bridge humbucker. On the other hand, the SH-2n jazz humbucker gives a smooth, more nuanced sound with a glassy tone in the neck position. In turn, both pickups work together to balance out the attacking co-pilot.
The Hot Rodded humbucker set by Seymour Duncan is potted in vacuum wax. This helps to prevent any feedback, especially during a performance. In addition, although the JB and Jazz pickup combination seems odd, the resultant sound is versatile and perfect for blues.
2. Fender Tex-Mex Strat Pickups
The Fender Tex-Mex Strat pickups are ideal if you are want to upgrade your Strat to give it power and a tone boost. These pickups offer a sonic sound with increased output, shining highs and warm tones that grab your attention like a genuine Stratocaster.
If you are a fan of Jimmie Vaughan's sound, then you will want to get your hands on this three pickup set that allows you to replace your stock Strat electric guitar pickups conveniently. In addition, the set highlights a reverse-wound middle pickup to provide an aspect of noise cancellation. Finally, the Alnico 5 magnets give dynamics and focus to the sound, while the Polysol-enameled magnet wire offers the familiarity of warm vintage tones.
3. Fishman Neo D Single Coil Pickup
- The Neo-D’s low-profile, high-impedance design needs no battery.
- Easy installation with no alteration!
If you are familiar with the award-winning Rare earth pickup from Neo D, the Fishman Neo D Pickup should not sound strange since the two are cousins. The Fishman Neo D pickup utilizes a neodymium magnetic structure to improve string balance and shine acoustic clarity. In addition, this single coil pickup has a low profile and a high resistance to an electric circuit. Therefore, it requires no battery to function.
Installing this magnetic soundhole from Neo D is relatively easy. It would be best to fit the soundholes as small as 3 7/8" (98.4 mm) diameter. In addition, you can also mount the prewired output jack on the endpin. If you are concerned about alterations on your guitar, this passive pickup from Neo D will save you just that as it does not need any alterations to install.
4. EMG James Hetfield Signature Guitar Pickup Set
- James Hetfield Signature Pickup Set
- "Stealth" looking set
- Active tone with the clarity and punch of a passive pickup
- Familiar tight attack with less inductance for a cleaner low end
- Solderless install system
If you search for the best electric guitar pickups for metal, you can rest assured that the EMG JH pickup set will make a perfect choice. This stealth-looking set consists of EMG-60 neck pickup and EMG-81 bridge pickup. The pickups ensure capturing the punch and clarity of a passive pickup while still being the iconic EMG active pickups.
The EMG guitar pickup by James Hetfield features singular ceramic poles and bobbins that have a tall and large core than the EMG-60. In addition, the same core is used alongside steel poles on the bridge. As a result, it produces a high attack on the neck and a clearer low on the bridge.
5. YMC Humbucker Pickup
- Compatible with Gibson LP Epiphone Les Paul guitars,Ideal for general or Les...
- Each pickup includes height adjusting screws and springs
- Colour: chrome cover with Black Frame
- Triple wax dipped and vacuum sealed to eliminate any unwanted feedback and...
- Package Includes: 1 Set of YMC Humbucker Guitar Pickup with screws .
The YMC Humbucker pickup is specifically designed to be compatible with Gibson LP Epiphone Les Paul guitars. Therefore, if you are looking for the best humbucker guitar pickups to replace your Les Paul Style guitar stocks, this will make an excellent choice.
Each YMC humbucker guitar pickup has height adjusting screws and springs. The screws and strings are very helpful during installment to tightly hold the pickup on the guitar. In addition, these humbucking pickups have a beautiful chrome cover with a black frame that fits perfectly on the guitar's body.
These pickups are tripled wax and sealed in a vacuum to eliminate unwanted hum or feedback. In addition, the YMC humbucker pickup set has a 9K neck pickup and a 16K bridge pickup. It helps to duplicate a warm, classic sound at a higher output.
6. DiMarzio Super Distortion DP100 Humbucker Pickup
- Hot output
- 4-conductor versatility
- Coil-splitting capability
- Hot output and mid-boost get maximum scream out of your amp
Get ready to jam to your favorite rock tunes with Dimarzio's DP100 Super Distortion humbucker pickup. The pickup is a unique design that favors guitarists who break up their tone by getting loud and aggressive. It should not surprise you that this guitar pickup performs well when put in front of a high-gain amp.
It is designed to perfectly handle highly-driven amps by not releasing feedback and any background noise. It does this by pushing them even further by maxing out the output from your guitar.
Depending on the Tone you are looking for, you can top up your amp EQ section since the DP100 is a low-end heavy pickup.
You can also coil tap it since it is a 4- conductor pickup. That means you can achieve various tones such as the chunky humbucker, chimney, crisp single-coil strat in one guitar.
It features an ultra-high-output that promotes thick, boosted mids, fat highs and depth defying lows. Famous guitarists such as Paul Gilbery, who have used this pickup, have enlisted it into their axes to achieve a killer tone. Although you can use this pickup in the neck position, DiMarzio manufacturers recommend placing it in the bridge position. Additionally, it would be best to use solid guitars as the hollow and semi-hollow counterparts can be harder to reign in when dealing with high output pickups.
7. Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates SH-PG1B
- Applications: Blues, classic rock, southern rock, jam, hard rock
- Others: anti-interference
- Position: Easel
- Magnet: Alnico II
- Split : yes.Active : NoNumber of conductors: 4Resistance: 8.35kSpike: 6.5...
The tones of the greatest players of all time are envied for a good reason. An example of a renowned guitarist is Billy Gibbons' pearly gates that have left a legendary memory of a superb musical play to all players.
The Pearly Gates pickup focuses on accuracy and clarity in tonal variation. It has 4- conductor lead wires that provide various options in wiring. The pickups also provide a squeal-free performance since they are wax potted. Additionally, two Alnico bar magnets provide a brighter, hotter upgrade. If you are looking for a pickup that enhances the tones of blues, then the Pearly Gates is the one as it is the top choice for blues-rock.
When the Seymour Duncan manufacturers started to create their humbuckers, it was expected to be epic and unique. That is why this electric guitar pickup has landed on the top ten best guitar pickups. It doesn't matter the type of guitar you own, or if you want to interchange your bridge position tone or upgrade, be sure that this guitar pickup will not disappoint you.
It offers a relatively bright high-end with mid-range raunch too. In addition, the Pearly Gates includes a four-conductor hookup cable that gives you various pickup switching options.
8. Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker
- Fishman is dedicated to helping musicians achieve the truest sound possible...
- Original and totally re-imagined, Fishman Fluence pickups are free from the hum,...
- The most coveted, historical single coil tones without the hum. From vintage...
Fishman is familiar to you if you are a more refined and ardent guitar player. The manufacturers of these guitar pickups are known for producing high-end boutique-designed instruments. When it comes to music quality, the Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker is no exception as it leads in the market with great reviews on how effective it is.
It is available in two materials, ceramic and alnico. Each pickup material offers a unique voice during play. The alnico offers two voices:
Modern active: which is well boosted, rounded, and full sounding.
Crisp, clean, fluid sound: It produces a crispy neck humbucker that comes out whole and well-rounded.
On the other hand, ceramic materials also offer two styles as follows:
Current active high output is a sound with a low tight end and searing mid-range crunch.
Modern passive attack: the voice has high output and very dynamic response.
The good thing about these pickups is that you can switch between them regarding the tone you want to create. It is a win for you because when installing a Fishman Fluence humbucker, you are installing two pickups in one.
9. EMG H4 Passive
- Combines the power of our active 81 with the soul of a passive PAF
- Produces a well-balanced tone, with tight bass response, glassy mids, and...
- Utilizes over-wound coils loaded with ceramic bar magnets that are fully...
- Often used in the bridge position where it shines with excellent range,...
- If you want a big rock or heavy modern guitar sound, this is the pickup for you
If you are a lover of guitar strings, you are familiar with the EMG brand for producing impressive guitar pickups. The H4 is among the best passive versions EMG has sought from its 81 pickups.
Due to sound quality, it has become a popular product as it is sought by top guitar and bass manufacturers.
The H4 passive humbucker features two bar-loaded coils, ceramic bar magnets, and is fully shielded. It comes as a complete package, with everything you need to install it easily. In addition, you don't have to worry about adjusting the sound each time you play because the prewired volume and tone controls allow you to shape your sound to your liking. For example, play mode gives a deep throaty growling sound ideal for rock music and similar genres.
The sound is strong but does not overpower the rest. It instead responds perfectly to bass frequencies and offers a tremendous cross-board tone. If you are looking for guitar pickups to play hard rock or metal, you should try the EMG. Many famous guitarists have played great toes using the EMG pickups, and after using one of these, you will attest to why they picked this brand.
10. Lindy Fralin Vintage Hot
- Wound with 42 gauge Heavy Formvar wire and has beveled magnets and cloth leads
- The bridge is as hot as possible with this wire
- The neck and middle pickups are average 50’s specs
- ALNICO V Magnet
- Neck - 6 K || Middle 6 K ||Bridge 6.6 K
Lindy Fralin is considered the best single-coil pickup in the market. The Fralin company is known for manufacturing the best vintage single-coil pickups. It comes as a singular pickup available in the bridge, middle and neck positions. You can use all three sets at once to complete or match them with other units.
A unique feature in all Vintage Hots is the balanced and warm midrange that makes them not too bright and chirpy compared to other units.
The pickup is ideal for guitarists looking to upgrade to achieve an open sound, but a sizzle in the higher end will make you shine while playing your guitar.
Most players using Fralin's Vintage Hot regard it as the ultimate Strat pickup and love it because of its balance and clarity. It is pitched between the other Fralin's popular single coils that make it faster than its most vintage Read '54 but come out brighter than the Blue Special.
- It features USA-made Alnico 5 magnets that give a balanced output with a reverse-wound pickup to give you a hum-reducing tone when you play on positions 2 and 4. It is also a good deal to buy them as they come with a 10-year manufacturer's warranty to make sure you have not thrown your money once your instrument is damaged.
How Does An Electric Guitar Pickup Work?
The best electric guitar pickups use magnets (ferrite or alnico) and coils to convert sound to electricity through electromagnetic induction. The electric current flows through the coil when a magnetic body moves over the magnet. The steel strings in the electric guitar work as magnetic bodies.
Since most electric guitars have six strings, pickups are made with six pole pieces that create a magnetic field when wound with the copper coil/wire. In addition, the vibration frequency of the guitar strings affects the strength of the electric current. These two aspects work together with the help of the pickup to transform sound into electricity hence the amplification.
It is rather vital to note that each pickup works differently. Therefore, let us discuss how each type works to get a clear view of using different methods.
1. Piezo Pickups
These microphone types work by converting your guitar or bass strings' physical vibrations into a signal using a compressed crystal. Based on technology, they are the oldest, and they produce the perfect treble-heavy music that sounds very bright. So if you are n search of a guitar pickup that will enable you to play excellent treble music, these should be on top of your list.
All guitar players love these guitar pickups because of their renowned fame of being utterly free from feedback. In addition, they come in many designs that you can pick from. However, the most popular design stands to be the under-saddle placement design which requires some modifications to your guitar whileyou installing them.
2. Transducer-Based Pickups
The transducer-based pickups work the same way as piezo pickups but have only one difference; they produce amplified sound. The sound comes out amplified because of the attachment of the pickup to your soundboard.
Instead, it should be beneath the bridge or fitted inside the guitar. In addition, due to the location on the guitar, they take the vibration of the whole of the front of your guitar to produce a full sound, making them more likely to produce feedback.
3. Acoustic Soundhole Pickups
There are other acoustic options to choose from, including hybrid pickups and incorporate microphones. Also, convenient modern soundhole pickups use magnets to produce electric signals, as affected by disturbances in the magnetic fields.
The good thing s that these types are widely available and easy to use. You just clip onto the guitar whenever you want to use them and remove them afterward. They also do not require a permanent modification to your guitar while you use them.
Magnetic pickups give you a chance to equalize your sound. You become in control of the areas of the magnetic field that are less or more dominant in the mix. They also give you the advantage of controlling the bass, middle and treble levels to your liking.
You need to clip the magnet below your guitar strings to pick up these movements. Its position allows you to adjust the height to bring the magnets closer or further from the guitar strings. It also gives you the advantage of altering the angle to focus more on your treble or bass guitar strings, or you can even balance your mix to get a smooth sound blend.
4. Magnetic Pickups
These are similar to acoustic soundhole pickups or what you find built-in in most electric guitars. In most cases, they come in sets of two or three, with each pickup having different magnetic strength and sometimes they are uniquely designed compared to the other pickups in your guitar.
These designs make it quite challenging when choosing pickups for an electric guitar. Still, luckily we have given you a brief description of the factors you should consider when selecting the best guitar pickups. So let us have a look at them.
What Are the Different Types of Electric Guitars Pickups?
1. Single Coil
Single coil pickups are the original electric guitar pickups used until the late fifties. These pickups use a single magnet. In addition, they produce a bright, high note sound that cuts through easily.
A single-coil pickup is extremely sensitive to the guitarist's technique. For this reason, most single-coil pickups are created to capture these subtleties. Guitars that have this type of pickup include:
- Fender Telecasters
- Fender Stratocasters
- Fender Mustang and Jaguar
- Some types of Yamaha, Airline and Eastwood guitars
Using one signature tone to identify a single coiled pickup is not easy. Nevertheless, the single coils are used widely and sound great in many genres, such as surf and country. However, the downside of using a single coil is that it does not handle high distortion levels like those in metal and hard rock. In addition, you may experience a background hum when using this pickup.
2. Humbucker Pickups
Humbucker pickups are made from two single-coil pickups bound in reverse or opposite polarity. The single coils are subjected to a 60-cycle hum, which cancels out the background electrical noise transferred to the amp through the guitar strings.
This noise is also known as hum, hence the name humbuckers. If you are looking for a pickup to use for jazz, a humbucker is an excellent choice since it has a warmer tone and a more powerful bass frequency compared to a single-coil pickup. In addition, as a result of their high volume, humbuckers are best applicable when playing in genres with a high distortion level, like blues and heavy metal. However, this type of pickup is not compatible with country and surf genres.
Iconic guitars that employ the humbucking technique include:
- Gibson ES-135, ES-150, and ES-335
- Gibson Les Paul Standard
- Gibson SG
- Some models by Dean, B.C. Rich, Ibanez, Jackson, Hamer and Paul Reed Smith
The P90 pickups fall in between the single-coil and humbucker. They have high output pickups than single-coils but lower than humbuckers in terms of output. In addition, their tone is much deeper than that of a single-coil, making these pickups more suited for blues and classic rock. However, P90 pickups can be versatile in producing a thicker and grittier sound.
Do You Need Guitar Pickups for Acoustic Guitars?
When playing in a small room, acoustic guitar pickups are not needed. However, most modern acoustic guitars models have been built for use in large spaces, like concert stages. Therefore, they will need the best guitar pickups to magnify the sound. In addition, it is essential to note that, unlike the electric ones, acoustic guitars do not work based on electromagnetic induction.
The best guitar pickups types for an acoustic include:
This type of microphone lies under the saddle of the acoustic guitar. It converts the vibration of bass strings into a signal using compressed crystal. Piezo pickups produce little to no hum and have a bright sound that makes them perfect for high in treble music.
This pickup is attached to the guitar's soundboard and works similarly to the piezo pickup. The difference between the two is that the transducer pickup pre-amplifies the sound. However, you can also expect to get some feedback or hum when using this pickup type.
This type of pickup is similar to the electric magnetic pickup. This pickup allows you to control the areas with more or less magnetic field dominance, increasing the treble, middle and bass levels. However, this dulls the character of acoustic guitars.
Which Acoustic Guitar Pickup Should You Get?
Are you willing to modify your guitar to install an acoustic guitar pickup? If yes, you should know that some guitars need more modifications than others. Also, in the modification process, you should be aware of the risks of damaging your instrument.
Don't do it yourself; employ a professional to tackle any modification you need to prevent damage. We know how musical instruments are fragile, and any slight alteration can cause a massive distortion in the sound.
Instead of modifying your instrument, you can use the clip-on pickups as they provide a convenient and easy plug-and-play option. They are temporary as you clip them on when you want to play your guitar and remove them afterward. They are pretty functional and easy to use as they won't cause damage to your guitar.
You also have to figure out if you will be using the pickup for live performances or just for your entertainment. If you use it for live performances, ensure it works well by producing a good sound when tuned into an amplifier at a high volume. On the other hand, you may want to prevent the guitar pickup from causing your strings to sound unclear or for them to be sensitive to feedback. Prevent this by identifying the best pickup for your acoustic guitar, and you can test it with a piezo, transducer, or magnetic one.
We hope that our guide has helped you pick the best guitar pickups after providing you with the information we have provided.
How to Choose the Best Guitar Pickups
a). Active vs. Passive Pickups
All pickups fall either under passive o active pickups. Passive pickups were first to be invented and are used on most guitars. They require no electricity to function since they have wire coils around the magnets. Strat pickups and Tele pickups are both passive. In addition, if you are using a passive pickup, you will be required to plug it into an amplifier for the sound to be loud.
Active pickups have a battery preamplifier of 9 volts to produce a more powerful output. They rely on an active circuit to boost the general output. Therefore, an external power source is essential for an active guitar pickup.
An active pickup gives you a higher output than the passive counterpart. In addition, it will also have no noise. However, most guitar players prefer to use a passive pickup to prevent the risk of the sound being too distracted when using active pickups.
In most cases, passive pickups are used on guitars because they have wire coils around magnets and do not require electricity to function. Contrary to the active pickups, which have a battery-powered preamp that offers much higher output than the passive pickup ones.
They also release no noise as you use them during your guitar play. You can never mix these two types in your musical play. However, most guitarists prefer passive pickup as it produces a softer sound. Using an active pickup may also put your sound at the risk of being overly distorted.
Your guitar's pickups have a very significant effect on the sound produced. Therefore, as a guitarist, you should first determine if your guitar's tone is what you need. When you're setting out to purchase a pickup, it is essential to be familiar with the tone you are looking for. It will help narrow down your choices by doing away with the guesswork.
Consider the type of music you want to play before selecting a pickup for your guitar. The pickup style can alter or enhance the tone that your guitar produces. Also, consider where you will place the pickups, as the pickup location can make a massive difference in tone variation. Using the same product may sound different if you put it in the wrong location.
Different guitar parts produce different sounds; a bridge pickup will amplify at higher frequencies than a neck pickup. And again, it is essential to note that using more pickups gives you more control over the tone you want to achieve. You can make this even more interesting if you have a guitar that has a three-way switch that gives you the fun of toggling between different pickups to create the tone you desire.
c). Pickup Switching
Some guitars are unique in that they can play with several pickups installed simultaneously. These guitars allow the guitarist to enjoy playing music by changing between pickups at the flick of a switch. In addition, it gives you a chance to choose between different combinations of tones you want to achieve and increase and decrease the volume of each pickup when you are playing.
You can then balance the tone and bring out your music as crisp or smooth as you want. Having several pickups at one in a guitar gives you a broader tonal range. You can also set one of the pickups to be delayed if you want to achieve a honky type of tone.
d). Pickup or Pickup Set
Pickup sets complement each other and are more suitable if you plan to replace all your current pickups. On the other hand, a single pickup can be matched with other pickups not included in the set. Again, there's no right or wrong. In addition, a single pickup is more on the affordable end than a set.
Some pickups are designed to produce one tone ideally, while others can produce various tones. Therefore, it is recommended to analyze what kind of guitar player you are and the genre(s) you intend to focus on. For example, a specialized pickup is best if you are going for one tone only. However, a multifunctional pickup would be excellent if you channel your creativity through numerous tones.
Considering your budget is essential before making any investment. For example, while pickups are generally less expensive than expected, the buying price is still costly and may take some time to save up.
Note that the quality is directly related to purchasing any musical instruments. Therefore, buying a musical instrument earlier by saving on it will guarantee you a good quality. If you are not on a budget, pay extra and get the best guitar pickup, as you will notice the difference in the tone of a more expensive pickup makes compared to a cheaper one.
g). Single VS Double Coil
You might want to level down to the single or double coiled when selecting guitar pickups. Most guitar pickups in the early fifties were made using magnetic pickups housed using a single coil of wire. These pickups had only one problem: they were subject to a lot of background noise while in play.
The solution to this problem was to advance to a double-coiled magnetic pickup. The coils were wired in opposite polar directions to set the two out of phase, which would result in bucking or canceling one another. Gibson was the first company to implement this idea.
All double coils are humbucking, and using them will produce a warmer tone than using a single coil. However, use the single-coil pickups to generate a brighter, crisper sound.
To choose between the two, you have to level down to two factors which are:
The size of your pickup holes: You can't force a humbucker to fit into your guitar if the pickup holes are too small. If caught up in this situation, the only option is to use the single-coil pickups into your guitar.
What sound you want to achieve: Most guitars have a mixture of single coiled guitar pickups and can even play worse than when you attach humbuckers. The solution to this is to create a powerful sound by using a standard setup known as the HSS or Fat Strat.
In this setup, you attach a humbucker as your bridge pickup. Then, you combine this with two single-coil pickups, one at the middle and another at the neck. You can then control the sound that comes out of your guitar and play it as you desire.
Also, consider how much volume the guitar pickup will give you. Some products may give you a significant volume but are not designed to minimize noise and feedback. Make sure you pick a product that minimizes background hum and feedback.
Frequently Asked Questions On The Best Guitar Pickups
1. Does Installing Guitar Pickups Make A Difference?
Yes, combining a pickup and a bridge pickup to your selection makes a huge difference to your sound quality. Installing new guitar pickups transforms the tones and sounds your guitar produces and affects the performance of your guitar while recording. In addition, the sound quality changes immediately when plugged straight into a direct input.
2. Which Is The Best Guitar Pickup?
The best guitar pickups will depend on your preferences and what you like to play. Unfortunately, you have only two options to choose from, either you go with a single-coil or a humbucker. To establish the choice that will suit you is to decide whether you will be playing lead or rhythm.
If you will be playing the lead, it is best to go with single-coil guitar pickups because they produce aggressive sounds and energetic tones. On the other hand, if you choose to go for rhythm, pick yourself a humbucker because they are smoother than single-coil pickups and create a smooth melody. Also, make sure you go through the factors you should consider when selecting the best guitar, as we have stated above.