Pickups in an electric guitar

Pickups in an electric guitar

One of the most popular ways to change or improve the sound of an electric guitar is to replace its pickups. To put it simply, the pickups sense very fast movements of the strings, interpret them and send them as a signal to the amplifier. This is why they are such important elements of every electric guitar.

Single i humbuckery In the history of the electric guitar, singles were first produced on a large scale, and only later humbuckers. Singles are used in many models of guitars, the most popular of which are the Fender Stratocaster and the Fender Telecaster, although there are even Gibson Les Paul singles, but more on that in a moment. The singles are mainly associated with the “Fender” thought. These singles generally produce a sound that is distinguished by a bell-shaped treble. Singles used in Strat are characterized by a characteristic quack, and in Tele twang.

Pickups in an electric guitar
Texas Special – a set of pickups for the Fender Telecaster

True to its nature, single hum. This worsens when using distortion. The Brum does not interfere when using singles on the clean channel as well as light and medium distortion. There are also singles of “Gibsonian” thought, they also have a name: P90. They do not have a bell-shaped treble, but still sound brighter than humbuckers, thus filling the space between “Fender” singles and humbuckers. Currently, pickups are also available, which are a peculiar combination of a single and a humbucker, we are talking about the Hot-Rails, a double-coil pickup with the dimensions of a traditional single-coil. This solution becomes very useful in the case of Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars whose masking plates are adapted to the S / S / S layout.

Pickups in an electric guitar
Hot-Rails firmy Seymour Duncan

At the beginning, the humbuckers were an attempt to tame the hum of singles. It turned out, however, that they generate a different sound than singles. Many musicians like this sound and have been widely used ever since. The popularity of humbuckers is mainly due to Gibson guitars. Rickenbacker guitars also made a significant contribution to the popularization of humbuckers. Humbuckers usually have a darker and more focused sound than singles. They are also not less compatible with hum, so they work with even the strongest distortions.

Pickups in an electric guitar
Classic DiMarzio PAF humbucker

The converters have different levels of output power. This is the best indicator of how aggressive music the given pickups are. The higher the output, the transducers are more prone to clipping. In extreme cases, they start to distort in the clean channel in an undesirable way, so don’t think about very powerful transducers if you plan to play cleans. Another indicator is resistance. It has been assumed that the higher the drivers are, the more aggressive they are. However, this is not entirely technically correct.

Active and passive transducers There are also two types of transducers, active and passive. Both singles and humbuckers can belong to either of these two types. Active transducers eliminate any interference. They also balance the volume levels between aggressive and soft playing. Active transducers do not become darker as their output increases, which is the case with passive transducers. Active converters require a power supply. The most common form of powering them is a 9V battery. Passive transducers, on the other hand, are more susceptible to interference and do not even out loudness levels, and as their output increases, they become darker. The choice between these two types of drivers is a matter of taste. There are supporters and opponents of both assets and liabilities.

Pickups in an electric guitar
EMG 81 Active Guitar Pickup

Summation The most common reasons for replacing pickups are looking for a better sound and reducing or increasing their power to make the guitar more suitable for a given musical genre. Replacing the pickups on an instrument with weaker pickups can breathe new life into it. Let’s not forget about this method of improving the sound quality.


I am a beginner. Purchase of an electric guitar in about a year. And first you have to prepare yourself theoretically. For me, this article is a bomb – I understand what’s going on and I already know what to look for.


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