If you’ve ever found yourself on guitar websites and forums confused about ‘pickups’ or ‘pups’ (in cooler circles)… Then you’re not alone.
A lot can be confused when talking about these magnets inside of guitars so I thought I’d try and clear some things up about the pro’s and cons and some misconceptions about the main 2 big dog pick up types.
Firstly, what is a pickup?
‘A pickup is a transducer that captures or senses mechanical vibrations produced by musical instruments, particularly stringed instruments such as the electric guitar, and converts these to an electrical signal that is amplified using an instrument amplifier to produce musical sounds through a loudspeaker in a speaker enclosure. ‘
In a nutshell… pick up is what makes up around 90% of your electric guitar tone. And there is many different styles for many different sounds!
The three main types are Single coils, P90’s and Humbuckers.
So lets start with the single coil.
Think stratocasters and telecasters. That iconic fender sound. Jangly, percussive and sparkly. Easily cuts through most mixes due to their spanky nature even though they are mostly low output. Especially on the bridge for that old school Twang.
The great thing about single coils is their versatility and how well they bridge the gap between your guitar and fingers. I’ve always found single coils to be extremely responsive to dynamics and detail in my playing which can be really inspiring!
Some noteable songs/solos to hear single coil pick ups in full force:
- Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits
- Slow Dancing in a Burning Room – John Mayer
All that being said… the (few minor) things about single coil pickups is that buzzing noise (hum) and (subjectively) a lack of oomph.
Which leads us nicely to the Humbucker.
“A humbucking pickup, humbucker, or double coil, is a type of guitar pickup that uses two wire coils to cancel out the noisy interference picked up by coil pickups.”
Think heavy, thick and smooth sounds. The signature pickup of the Gibson Les Paul and Gibson SG.r
Favoured by rock guitarists for the high output and aggressive tone and loved by jazz guitarists for the smooth and mellowness.
These pickups are still incredibly versatile just like the single coil but provide the player with more sustain and presence.
Some noteable songs/solos to hear Humbucker pick ups in full force:
- It’s a Long Way to The Top – ACDC
- Sweet Child of Mine – Guns n Roses
Choosing the right pickups/guitar can be really confusing so I thought I’d try and clear that up, although the best advice would be to come in store and try the different guitars and see which is your favourite!
Here are some examples:-
There are also other pickups too, like P90’s and active pick ups that can help shape the desired tone but I thought I’d just cover the famous two legends of electric guitar pick ups.