Without the pickup, your guitar may not be audible enough. And when you’re not using the right kind of pickup, your guitar may have issues sounding like it was intended to. A guitar pickup is at the core of a guitar’s functionality and performance, along with the wood construction of the instrument, your amp, and your strings. Therefore, overlooking the pickup is not wise. Let’s look at the pickups types.
- What is a Guitar Pickup?
- Electric Guitar Pickup Types
- Acoustic Guitar Pickup Types
- Passive vs Active Pickups
- Some Well Known Pickup Manufacturers
Pickups are available in different sizes and shapes. Most importantly, different pickups serve different purposes. For instance, the pickup used for playing guitar music cannot be used for metal and hard rock genres, and vice versa. The variety not just pertains to the music genre but also the kind of guitar. For instance, electric guitars and acoustic guitars have pickup classifications of their own. And they have their types of guitar pickups sub-categories as well.
For the sake of brevity and some basic understanding, we’ll be focusing on pickups for electric guitars only. But before that, let’s briefly understand what a guitar pickup truly is.
What is a Guitar Pickup?
A pickup, technically called a transducer, is essentially a magnet wrapped in wire. The wrapping helps transform your strings’ vibration into a microelectronic signal. In layman terms, guitar pickups help amplify your guitar’s tone. The insulated copper wire coil and magnet work in tandem to create the necessary effect. They create a magnetic field surrounding the strings. This magnetic field changes when you hit a string, causing the wire coil to grab an induced voltage and current. A signal is then created, which gets transferred to the amplifier, creating the tone of your electric guitar.
More reading on pickups:
- Why do guitars have multiple pickups
- Humbucker vs Single coil
- how to build a guitar pickup
- guitar pickups for metal tone
- How guitar pickups work
- how to fix microphonic pickups
- best guitar pickups for blues
Electric Guitar Pickup Types
The following are the three major best electric guitar for the money types of guitar pickups.
Single-coil pickups, as the name indicates, incorporate a single magnet. The regular Fender Stratocaster uses a single-coil pickup, for example. These Strat pickups are widely used, which is why their tone cannot be defined categorically. Generally, they are considered to be clearer and sharper than P90s pickup or humbuckers. They are thinner, brighter, and more focused compared to the other two pickup types.
The genres that typically complement a single-coil pickup are surf and country. Most funk guitarists play single-coil Stratocasters, in fact. For rhythm guitar components on funk, disco, soul, and R&B tracks, single-coils pickups are ideal. You may use them for soloing as well. However, you must be able to control the guitar feedback loops, which are inevitable. Perhaps the only area single-coil pickups falter a bit is in their ability to handle high distortion levels, which are usually synonymous with metal and hard rock genres. They can manage marginally distorted signals, but nothing higher than that.
Thanks to their great pairing of pickups with the Fender Stratocaster, they are often referred to as Strat or Fender style pickups. The Telecaster popularized its very own variant of single-coil pickups with some minor modifications added, like changes to the base plates. A widely known drawback to the pickup is its vulnerability to electrical interference, which results in a buzz or “hum” noise at higher volumes. This hum type is referred to as the “60 cycle” hum.
Humbucker Guitar Pickups
A humbucker is basically a couple of single-coil pickups functioning as a team. Unlike a single-coil pickup, humbuckers “buck” hums – therefore, the name. The bucking is thanks to the two coils canceling out the extraneous noise of each other using reversed polarity. The by-product of this being the two coils producing a warm, big sound which has become synonymous with Gibson guitars’ fat, buttery sounds.
Compared to single-coils, a humbucker has a fairly warm tone, making it quite suitable for the jazz genre. It’s believed that the humbucker pickups came to be due to the need for more output and volume from pickups while also eliminating the loud hum single-coil pickups generated. Thanks to this increased output, humbucker pickups do significantly better than single-coil pickups when it comes to genres that require high distortion levels. Country and surf are the only two genres that humbuckers are not cut out for. Otherwise, they shine in pretty much all scenarios. A lot of all this has also got a fair bit to do with the build and physics of a humbucker.
A fairly recent addition to humbucker pickups is “coil-tapping”, which has only heightened the pickups’ popularity. The coil tapping ensures only one coil of the two engage when you pull a knob. This means you get a significantly cleaner and brighter single-coil pickups sound. Also, this addition offers players using humbuckers a lot more tonal choices right at their fingertips.
P90 or Soap Bar Pickup
The P90s are somewhere in between a single-coil pickups and a humbucker pickup. It’s basically a hybrid of the two, but more of a single-coil pickup variant. Since P90s are technically single-coil pickups, their sensitivity is pretty much the same as a single-coil, 60/50 cycle. However, instead of magnets wrapped in a coil, like they do in single-coils, P90s come with magnets featured beneath the coil. And due to this arrangement, a P90’s single-coils look bigger than traditional single-coils. Its bobbins are wider and shorter. Another major difference is that P90 pickups incorporate bar magnets beneath their pole pieces. Regular single-coil pickups employ rod magnets instead.
A P90’s output is higher compared to single-coil pickups, but they lack the output that humbuckers are known for. A P90 usually has slightly more depth compared to regular single coils, but again not as intense as humbuckers. P90s are ideal for rock and blues genres – not hard rock, however. Despite having its strongholds, a P90 is usually considered to be versatile.
P90s pickups were seen on several Gibson guitars of yore, such as the Gibson Les Paul. Also, unlike humbuckers and single-coils, a P90 comes in different forms and shapes so that it could be compatible with different guitar builds when making an electric guitar. For instance, the soap bar shape was made to work with SG and Les Paul guitar body types alone.
Piezo pickups are an alternative to magnetic pickups that we find on a large majority of electric guitars and the technology behind it actually predates that of the magnetic pickups. Unlike magnetic pickups which translate string vibrations into electric signals using the magnetic field created by the magnet(s) and wrapped copper wires, a piezo pickup actually picks up the actual vibrations made by the guitar strings. This is the reason why this kind of pickups are most commonly used to magnify the sound of acoustic instruments, such as a nylon string guitar.
Now, as for piezo pickups on electric guitars, the pickups there commonly use a kind of compressed crystal which receives and measures the pressure of the string vibrations in order to translate it to electrical current. With piezo pickups, the electric signal is preamplified before it reaches the guitar’s output.
Tone-wise, electric guitars with piezo pickups produce a less warm but brighter tone compared to magnetic pickups and this allows for a high degree of tone clarity and string articulation. Therefore, we can probably say that piezo pickups really replicate the actual acoustic energy tone-wise. One particular advantage with piezo pickups (that many guitarists will appreciate) is that since there is no magnetic field involved here, you will pick up very little hum while playing an electric guitar fitted with a piezo pickup.
J style guitar pickups are a Joe Barden product. This incredible piece provides the same great JBE power, tone, and response for their bass guitar for six strings for the last 25 years. These pickups were designed to maintain the J-Bass tone and character but with advanced features.
J style pickups are readily available for both 4, and 5 string J-bass styled bass guitars. They are widely loved as they exhibit quiet performance for live performance or recording. What’s more, bass players can tailor their sound accurately without fear of noise.
Features include a dual blade design, extended frequency response, fits standard J-Bass pickup routs. The neck and bridge position pickups are different in size to fit into the cavities of traditional J-Bass, as well as guitars styled the same way without any modification to the instrument. These are among the many reasons that make these pickups a favorite to many.
If you are looking to upgrade the sound of your guitar, a set of pickups can do the trick. Since guitars are more or less the same, a pickup can make a significant change to how your instrument sounds. The way these pickups perform largely determines the tone of your instrument. But how do you choose the perfect pickups for your bass guitar? Below, we will let you know about split coil pickups.
Split coil pickups are two halves of one single coil pickup, with each half placed underneath two of the strings of the bass. This particular pickup was popularised by Leo Fender’s “P-Bass” in the 1950s. Also, they are common on a Precision bass. They are made in a way that the signal they pick up is out of phase, hence their nickname “the humbucker” as they buck the hum.
Overall, this pickup’s sound is more profound in the middle and bottom to make it more distinct. On jazz, they have a slight hum from the open circuit. Split coil pickups are very popular with punk rock stars because of the distinctive clear and big sound they produce. They can also be paired with J bass pickup at the edge to get a variety of tones from each.
Acoustic Guitar Pickup Types
No matter how loud your acoustic guitar is, you’re gonna need to amplify it when playing in front of any sizable crowd. And while a standard mic might get the job done, a pickup will be much more effective — and convenient too. Now, it goes without saying that you want to choose a pickup system that matches your style and tonal needs. On that note, it’s time to look at the 3 main types of acoustic guitar pickups.
These are very similar to electric guitar pickups, employing a magnetic field to pick up the vibrations of the strings. A typical soundhole pickup is comprised of a magnet upon which an insulated copper wire is wrapped; this combination is what creates the magnetic field. And like the name suggests, the unit can be mounted besides the soundhole or on top of it as bridging.
Soundhole pickups tend to have a warm tone with lots of string detail. They’re also user-friendly, and easier to install than other systems. The only problem is that they don’t work with nylon-strung axes.
Your pickup system could also be in the form of a tiny mic that’s mounted right inside your guitar’s body. Internal mics pick up sound the same way that standard microphones do, but they’re much more sensitive in design. This means they’ll pick up more of the instrument’s character and resonance, subsequently yielding a more natural tone than other units. Still, internal mics are highly-susceptible to feedback, and dependent on proper placement to produce the desired results.
Transducer pickups are known for their lifelike representation of your acoustic tone and work by converting physical vibrations into electrical signals that can be amplified. These pickups don’t pick up any ambient sound, hence produce more direct sound with a solid and distinctive tone. An example of transducer pickup is the piezo system.
The advantage of transducer pickups is they are more reliable than most pickups as their tone is easier to control. Further, they are not inclined to feedback. Hence, this pickup is your go-to option if you want to amplify a nylon acoustic guitar.
Transducer pickups are relatively easy to install. Nevertheless, you can still have a professional pre-fit one for you. Further, they are suitable for multiple styles to cater to a broad audience of guitar lovers. What’s more, they are pretty flexible and can be mounted under the bridge or anywhere you like.
Passive vs Active Pickups
Pickups are an important part of any electric guitar because they act as microphone during sound production. They are usually made of a magnetic material and covered in wire. Pickups mainly alter your guitar’s string vibrations into an electrical signal that is transferred to your amplifier to ultimately produce sound.
Pickups come in two types which include passive and active pickups.
They don’t require an external source of power for them to function because they have a copper wire and a magnet that usually senses string vibration. These vibrations are transformed into a current that is fed out of your amplifier.
When using passive pickup around electronics, you are likely to hear noise from the pickup that might interfere with your playing. This is mainly caused by static accumulation because of the multiple wires used in construction. A humbucker can be used to reduce this problem; although it might not be of much help when used at a high volume.
This requires an external source of power supply, which in turn necessitates fitting a battery onto your guitar rig. If the external source of power does not fit, you may be forced to modify your guitar. The external source of power will make the tone more consistent, and the sound a little more powerful.
Most musicians use passive pickups because of their ability to switch volume and tones across a song. Active pickups, with the ability to reproduce sound with clarity, are suitable for genres that need lots of power. One should consider what they want to attain musically when selecting between passive and active pickups.
Some Well Known Pickup Manufacturers
- LR Baggs
- Seymour Duncan