Choosing the Right Pickups

Welcome to the fourth installment of our Guitar Pickups 101 Series. In Part 1 we talked about the basics of what a pickup is and how they work. Part 2 we moved on to discussing pickup output and how it affects your sound. In Part 3 we looked at pickup location and the distinctions between single coil, double coil and humbuckers. You can read all these in series or simply read what you need to get tone educated!

Stacks vs Single Coil Humbuckers

Single Coil Sized Humbucker

There is no shortage of after market single coil replacement pickups, but there are a few things you should know when shopping for single coil replacements. Many of these are true-single coil pickups, but there are also pickups that are designed to be noise-cancelling, similar to a humbucker. These pickups have been designed to have the functionality of a humbucker, but to fit into the cavity of a guitar that only fits single coils.

There are two-types of single coil sized noise-cancelling pickups: Stacks and Single-Coil Sized Humbuckers. Stacks are single coils that sound just like regular single coils, but that cancel out the electric hum.

A single-coil sized humbucker is designed to SOUND like a humbucker, not a single coil, and also has the function of cancelling the electric hum.

Single Coil Stack Pickup

Standard Humbucker

High Output vs Vintage Pickups

Determining the level of pickup output you need is dependent upon your playing style, and the tone you are searching for.

High output pickups distort easily, whereas Vintage pickups can be played louder without distorting. By sending a stronger signal to the amp, less effort is required to create distortion with a high-output pickup.

What this means, is that with the same amp, on the same settings, a hotter (higher output) pickup will distort, whereas a vintage pickup may still sound clean. In fact, depending on your amp, your vintage pickups may not distort at all.

You can get any pickups to sound distorted, by using effects pedals and cranking your amp past the clean level. On the other hand, you can also get high-output pickups to produce super clean sounds by pairing them with an amp that is designed to stay clean and not produce distortion.

As with the other elements of pickup construction, what you choose depends on what you want out of your sound. If you play softly or finger-pick, but still want a ton of sound, then a high-output pickup could be perfect for you. But, if you like to vary your attack on the strings and want to have dynamic control over your volume and tone depending on how hard or soft you play, then a vintage pickup would work better.

Check out Guitar Pickups 101 Series Parts 1 -3, and the newly released Part 5 if you haven't yet!

Guitar Pickups 101 Series Part 1

Guitar Pickups 101 Series Part 2

Guitar Pickups 101 Series Part 4

Guitar Pickups 101 Series Part 5