Q: What are "Noiseless" single-coil pickups?
This is a question that we get asked a lot. It makes sense, as one of the first things that new guitarists learn about pickups is that -- a) single-coils can suffer from hum, and b) humbuckers were made to combat that hum. So when they see something referred to as a "noiseless" single-coil, it is understandable that they would have some questions about this design.
To get right to the meat of it, a noiseless single-coil isn't a single-coil at all, but a rather a humbucker. The reason some might refer to them as noiseless "single coils" have to do with their size and sound instead of the number of coils. Many manufacturers of noiseless pickups simply remove any mention of coils altogether to avoid confusion. A better name for them (and one used just as often) would be single-coil stacks. As the name suggests, single-coil stacks are comprised of two single-coils stacked on top of each other, compacted to fit into the size of a regular single-coil (as opposed to humbuckers which are two single-coils wound side by side).
A lot of solid-body guitars have pickup cavities that can only fit single-coils. This means that installing humbuckers on them would require some serious surgery on both the pickguard (if it has one) and the body itself. Sure, it can be done, but if you're not experienced or careful, you can easily ruin your guitar. Or you might have a vintage model and don't want to drastically change its appearance. This is where noiseless single-coil stacks come in, pickups designed to give the hum-cancelling abilities of dual-coiled pickups without the size requirements. Many are also made with the goal of retaining as much "single-coil" tone as possible.
When it comes to noiseless pickups, many argue that since they are humbuckers by nature, they lack the signature brightness and tone that true single-coils are known for. And while there are definitely stacked pickups that proudly convey their humbucker innards through their warmer, higher output tone, there are several stacked designs made to retain the traditional single-coil tone with the hum canceling nature of humbuckers. In fact, many of these designs are so close that by the time you add every other piece of the signal chain into the equation, they are hard to tell apart from true single-coils.
Take Seymour Duncan, who have a selection of stacked, noiseless pickups based on many of their popular single-coil models. For example, the STK-S6B Classic Stack is directly based on the SSL-5 single coil, which was originally developed as a bridge pickup for David Gilmour. With that in mind, check out the video below to hear for yourself just how well the STK-S6B Stacks comes to recreating the well-known single-coil tone of the SSL-5:
STK-S6B Custom Stack Plus @ $85.00. A noiseless version of the popular SSL-5 Custom Staggered for Strat pickup, the Custom Stack Plus will give you all of the extra output and drive without losing that unique Stratocaster voice. The low notes are tight and snappy but the high end is focused without being overly bright, and the midrange has a slight vocal quality that adds an extra layer of expression to your sound. And it's dead quiet. This pickup is designed to look like a traditional Strat single coil, and it works great in the neck, middle, or bridge positions, or you can pair it with the Classic Stack Plus Strat in the neck and middle positions.
While the dual-coil design of these pickups does give them a slightly different tone, noiseless pickups have come a long way and can come surprisingly close to the classic single-coil sound. If you're looking for a single-coil sized pickup with the noise canceling features of a humbucker, look no further than a noiseless, stacked pickup.
Have you ever used a noiseless pickup? What did you think of their tone?