How to choose the right pickup for your guitar

Pickups for electric guitar: types and tips to choose the ideal pickup for your guitar.

In the world of musical instruments, the electric guitar is one of the most recent compared to classical instruments. This does not mean that it is less complex, as it is made up of many elements that allow us to achieve those spectacular sounds that we find in many musical genres.

From jazz and blues to rock, country and metal, the electric guitar suits every musical style. However, its design, the wood used for its creation and its components are what make the difference between one and the other.

1. What are electric guitar pickups?

One of the elements that most influence the sound the electric guitar produces are the pickups. Surely you have heard about them, but how much do you know about it? Let's find out together in the following paragraphs.

The pickup, as its name suggests, is the component that collects the vibrations of the strings and converts them into an electrical current. This current is carried to the amplifier where it is converted into sound and played at a higher volume.

Last units of Seymour Duncan pickups

Just so you understand it better, as singers need a microphone, so do electric guitars. And that's the role of the pickups.

2. Brief history: how the pickups came about

This need to amplify the sound dates back to the 1920s when the electric guitar began to compete in volume with other instruments in orchestras. It was from that decade onwards when amplifying the volume became a priority for guitarists. And the first to start experimenting with coils and magnets was George Beauchamp. Did you know that he designed the first electric guitar pickup in history? A simple pickup with two magnets covered by a coil.

Although the pickups have come a long way since that primitive origin, the basis is the same: one or more magnets surrounded by a coil of copper wire.

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3. Types of pickups: characteristics and differences

More than a hundred years have passed from the creation of the pickups until now. The market has expanded and different types of pickups have appeared, each with its own well-defined characteristics that we will tell you about below.

Generally, the two most popular types of pickups are:

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3.1. Single coils

These are pickups made up of a copper wire that wraps around the six (normally) cylinders associated with each of the guitar strings. They were created by George Beauchamp, but because of their use for Strats and Telecasters, they are associated with Leo Fender, who outfitted these guitars with single-coil pickups, giving them their definitive status.

What sound will you get from them? Due to their sensitivity to high frequencies, single coils produce a clear, bright and defined sound. However, you may notice some background noise due to the electromagnetic interference it picks up. For many guitarists, the hum associated with single coil is a small toll to pay, while many others try to avoid it by using pickups specifically designed to combat it.

3.2. Humbuckers

Although created almost twenty years earlier, the model made in the 1950s by Seth Lover for the legendary company Gibson is the model to be followed by other manufacturers. The goal was to remove the annoying hum of single pickups. How did they get it? They put two single coils together, placed the magnets upside down and wound the cable in reverse. The result?

  • Elimination of hum through phase cancellation

  • Increased the gain compared to the single coil.
  • Achieved a warmer, deeper sound by focusing on the mid-tones.

And the best of all, you can combine both pickups in one guitar. And with a selector switch, you can also choose to mix the sound of both in their center position. 

3.3. P-90 pickups

 P-90 Seymour Duncan pickup

Although single coils and humbuckers are the most popular pickups, there are also other pickups that can give you a good result, such as P-90 pickups. Also created by Gibson, they consist of a single coil pickup with a humbucker look.

3.4. Jazzmaster pickups

Another type of pickups, with a deeper tone and aesthetically very similar to the P-90, are the Jazzmasters. These do not have a magnet under the winding, which allows to get cleaner sound.

Before moving on to the next section, it is important that you also know the difference between active and passive pickups.

a). Passive pickups

These are the best-known pickups and the first to be manufactured. In terms of composition, they are made up of a single magnet and a copper wire that wraps around a coil. However, the type of magnet or the turns of the wires in the coil make the tone sound different. That is why many guitarists bet on this pickup thanks to the musical expressiveness they achieve with it. Brands like Seymour Duncan offer a large catalog of passive pickups that you can consult in the Pickups section of our website.

b). Active pickups

In a nutshell, these are made up of a very low output passive pickup and a preamp powered by a 9V or higher battery, usually mounted on the back of the guitar. It should be noted that they have a wider tonal response than passive ones and a good performance in the treble and bass

4. What are the magnets in the pickups made of?

One of the factors to consider about the sound produced by the pickups is the material of the magnet. Usually, these magnets are made of ceramic or alnico. The ceramic ones give a brighter sound and are often used in musical styles such as metal. The alnico ones are made up of three elements (aluminum, nickel and cobalt in different quantities) and allow more diverse sounds adjusted to different musical styles such as rock, jazz or blues.

5. The most popular pickups on the market

As you can see, there are many types of pickups able to produce different sounds. What will it depend on to choose one or the other? Your musical style, the sounds you want to achieve, the materials of your guitar, these are all factors that will influence your decision on one or another pickup.

At Maderas Barber we offer you single coils, humbuckers and P-90 pickups from brands such as Seymour Duncan and Boston. You just have to enter, investigate and choose yours.

And if you need advice, you can contact us by email or phone and we will help you as soon as possible.

Our latest Seymour Duncan and Boston pickups

In our online store you can find the best single coils, humbuckers and P-90 pickups from recognized brands such as Seymour Duncan and Boston, among others.

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