The Ultimate Guide To Electric Guitar Pickups

If you have ever wanted to sound like a guitar god, or even if you just want your guitar to produce more of the unique tone that only an electric guitarist can create, then this article is for you.

The most important thing when it comes to getting good tones with your electric guitars is finding the right pickup. There are many different types of pickups out there and sometimes it can be overwhelming trying to decide which one suits best for your needs. This guide will help clear up any confusion about what type of pickup you should get.

It is important to note that the effect pickups provide will depend on what type of guitar they are placed in, so this guide may not be applicable for all guitars but will give an idea about how different effects work with various types and styles of electric guitars.

The Ultimate Guide To Electric Guitar Pickups

What Is A Guitar Pickup?

A guitar pickup is a device that takes the vibrations of your guitar strings and converts them into electrical signals. This is what sends the sound of your playing off to your amp, where it will be amplified and projected for all to hear.

There are a few different types of pickups on the market, but they all essentially do the same job. The most common type is the single-coil pickup, which uses one coil of wire wrapped around a magnet to capture the string’s vibration. There are also dual-coil or “humbucker” pickups, which use two coils to cancel out any unwanted noise or hum.

Pickups come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all have one common goal: capturing the sound of your guitar strings and sending it off to your amp. So no matter what type of pickup you choose for your guitar, you can be sure that it will help you create that signature sound we all know and love

black electric guitar

How Do Pickups Generally Work

Pickups are an important part of any electric guitar, and they play a crucial role in determining the tone that the guitar produces. In general, pickups work by using magnets to create a magnetic field which then interacts with the metal strings on the guitar. This interaction creates an electrical signal which is sent to the amplifier, and it is this signal which determines the tone of the guitar.

One of the most important factors in determining a pickup’s tone is its design. The shape and size of magnets, as well as the type of wire coils used, can have a drastic effect on how a pickup sounds. For example, pickups with large magnets tend to produce a warmer, more mellow tone than those with smaller magnets. Similarly, pickups with tightly wound coils will typically have brighter tones than those with loosely wound coils.

Coils (Single Coil vs Humbucker)

When it comes to electric guitar pickups, there are two main types: single coils and humbuckers. Single coils are the most common type of pickup and they consist of one magnet with a single coil of wire wrapped around it. Humbucking pickups have two coils (one for each side of the guitar) which reduces hum noise by 50%.

From a technical standpoint, dual coils are more expensive and generally more powerful than single coils. However, they can also reduce noise in the signal. Humbuckers often provide a better tone than single-coils due to their stronger output and less noise. Some people even consider them to be superior from a technical standpoint.

That said, humbuckers’ tone is judged by how it compares in contrast to single-coils. Single-coils are brighter and crisper, while humbuckers are warmer and darker. They also have more sustain than single-coils. Generally speaking, single-coils work better with clean sounds while humbuckers work better with distorted sounds. Finally, note definition between strings is generally better with single coils than with humbuckers

Circuitry (Active vs. Passive Pickups)

There are two types of electric guitar pickups: passive and active. Passive pickups use magnets to generate a voltage, while active pickups use both magnets and preamps. Active pickups began in the 70s when companies designed them to compete with passive designs. Both designs are still popular today, but the active design has an advantage over the passive design.

Active pickups boast cleaner signals and a wider frequency range than passive pickups. Passive pickups have more problems with tonal clarity, consistency, and sustain than active pickups. Active pickups also have lower noise and less hum than passive pickups. However, because most guitar players are used to playing with passive pickups, they remain the more popular option among guitarists.

Active circuits use a charge to move electrons in the circuit and create an electric current, while passive circuits do not require external power

Output (High Output vs. Moderate)

There are two types of output you can choose from when purchasing an electric guitar: high output or moderate output. The main difference between the two is that high output pickups provide a more powerful signal, which results in a louder and brighter sound. Moderate output pickups, on the other hand, generate a weaker signal but produce warmer tones.

Most guitars come equipped with either high or moderate output pickups, so it’s important to decide which type you prefer before making your purchase. Keep in mind that active pickups usually have a higher output than passive pickups, so if you’re looking for extra power be sure to opt for an active model.

The magnets

There are many factors that go into the sound quality of a pickup, and one of the most important is the magnet. Magnet layout and material can drastically affect the tone of a guitar, so it’s important to understand the different options available.

The most popular pickup layouts are individual magnetic poles, steel poles extending from a bar, and a combination of both options. Each has its own unique sound, so it’s important to try them all out to see what works best for you.

Al-Ni-Co is a metal alloy that blends aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. It’s been used in pickups for many years because of its ability to create vintage-sounding tones. Alnico 3 has the weakest magnetic pull and is most commonly seen on vintage Stratocasters. Alnico 2 is a similar vintage-sounding magnet but has a slightly stronger output. Alnico 5 has a high output and can be used by many genres of musicians. It’s perfect for those who want an aggressive “heavy” sound. Finally, Alnico 8 is the strongest magnet, with an aggressive “heavy” sound that’s perfect for hard rock and metal music


Potting is a process that’s used to prevent unwanted feedback in guitars and amplifiers. It’s also a great way to maintain the parts of an electronic device. The term “UN-potted” refers to an old pickup that wasn’t potted by default. This vintage charm can be achieved with current guitars if the engineer makes a specific effort to un-pot pickups.

Wiring (Parallel Wiring vs Series)

There are two ways to wire pickups: parallel and series. Most humbuckers are wired in parallel, which is the standard wiring method. However, series wiring is a custom modification that can result in a warmer sound with higher output.

With parallel wiring, both pickups are engaged and the sound passes through both of them. This produces a brighter sound with more clarity than series wiring. Series wiring connects both pickups in series so that only one pickup is engaged at a time. This results in a thicker, warmer-sounding tone with more output. The downside to this setup is that you need both pickups to be on for the sound to come through properly.

Pickup Locations And Positions

There are three primary pickup locations on an electric guitar: neck, middle, and bridge. Each has its own unique sound, and players can choose to use the same pickup in each position or switch between different ones.

The pickup nearest the bridge sounds brightest, with the shortest sustain. The pickup near the neck sounds warm and full, with the longest sustain. The pickup in the middle sounds somewhere in between.

When selecting pickups, players can choose to use the same pickup in each position or switch between different ones. For example, they might want a brighter sound for lead playing and a warmer sound for rhythm playing.

silver guitar strings

Picking The Right Pickups For Your Guitar

There are a lot of different pickups on the market these days, and it can be tough to decide which one is right for you. Your personal preferences are the most important factor in choosing the right pickup- after all, not all pickups are good for all types of music!

However, there are some general guidelines that can help you make your decision. For instance, certain pickups work better with certain styles of music. There are different models of pickups which generally work better with certain tones. A major factor affecting tone is output level, with higher outputs working better for heavier distorted sounds and lower outputs working better for cleaner, more dynamic sounds.

Pickups are also chosen based on external tonal influences- from pedals to amps. So, it’s important to consider what kind of gear you already have before making a purchase.

Finally, there are subtle differences between 250k and 500k pots- so if you’re changing from one pickup to another it’s important to keep this in mind!

When changing from one pickup to another, the guitar will need to be “cut” to accommodate the new shape. Most commonly this means adjusting the height of the strings as well as the saddle or nut heights. Humbuckers are now available in single-coil shapes, but there is a solution for switching from one size of pickup to another.

The most popular pickup for the single-coil cavity is a reverse-wound single coil. Rail humbuckers are a half-size version of dual coils and can fit into a single-coil slot. Stacks are similar in sound to single-coil pickups, with noise cancellation benefits. A pickup with a rail and stack design creates 4 single coils into one humbucker pickup.

If you want the tone of a humbucker but don’t have room for one on your guitar, there are plenty of other options available! Coil split and tapped humbuckers offer the best sound quality but can be expensive. You have the option of both single-coil and humbucker tones with the flip of a switch- this option is usually a custom modification, not commonly seen.

So, how do you choose? It may seem like a daunting task, but hopefully, this guide has helped make things just a little bit easier!

close up photography of brown electric guitar

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most versatile pickups?

There are a lot of different types and brands of pickups available on the market. So, which ones are the most versatile?
Well, P90 pickups are a great option for punk, alternative, country, and blues music. They offer a warm, thick, and gritty sound that is perfect for these genres.
However, they do have some noise issues that can be remedied with a noiseless version.
If you’re looking for the best all-around pickups, then we recommend the Fishman Fluence Modern humbucker set. The Fishman design is currently our top pick.

Which pickup configuration is best?

There are many pickup variations and options, so it can be hard to know what you need. However, the most common alternatives are single coil and humbuckers. The third and fourth most popular options are P90s or Mini humbuckers. So, if you’re not sure which configuration is best for you, it’s best to ask around and see what others prefer.

Can I mix and match guitar pickups?

There are two types of guitar pickups: passive and active.
Passive pickups offer clarity, higher output, and a sharper attack.
Active pickups have more wires and batteries.
The differences in tone between passive and active pickups are subtle for some people. However, many musicians prefer the sound of authentic pickups – which are the most expensive option – because they have higher sound quality.
Additionally, the angle of a guitar’s pickup can change its tone. For example, angling pickups towards the strings will produce a brighter sound, while strumming closer to where the neck and body meet will produce a warmer sound. Finally, angled pickups can create equal amounts of warm and bright tones, creating a better overall sound


When it comes to guitar pickups, it is important to think about what you want out of them. Do you want a warmer sound? More brightness? More sustain? Different tonal qualities? If you’re not happy with your current sound, then new pickups may be the answer. However, don’t just swap out your pickups to whatever your favorite guitarist is using and expect to sound like them! There are many factors that go into creating the perfect tone for your instrument, so take some time to experiment and find the right setup for you. And remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to pickups – it all depends on what YOU want from your guitar!

The Ultimate Guide To Electric Guitar Pickups

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