Whether you are planning to buy a guitar pickup for the first time or checking for a replacement, you have stumbled on the place to find the best guitar pickup. Some advertisements on these products may only leave you more confused. You might also end up being at crossroads trying to find the product that fends for your needs without breaking the bank. As a guitarist constantly on the quest for better sound, it is best to explore the world of pickups. This write-up provides information on these products to aid your search and influence your choice to your best advantage in a very straightforward way. In addition to a list of our top picks, we've put together a detailed buying guide to help you through this tricky quest for good sound. Follow carefully for the specific equipment that appeals to you.
For staunch guitar players, the sound is everything. So, we are constantly on an exciting and sometimes frustrating adventure of acquiring the perfect tone. We experiment, try out varied equipment like amps and pedals, and replace our old strings with the new ones rumored to give that edge to our overall sound output. Then there are the daredevils who take a step further to refurbish their guitars by utilizing pickups.
A good number of guitarists tremble at the idea of disassembling their precious guitar just for a pickup, but the truth is for those who do, the benefits can be overwhelming. Guitar pickups serve as the foundation for producing a richly reverberating sound, capable of filling up the room and the heart.
This guide covers all you need to know about guitar pickups and how to make an excellent choice regardless of your style of play and guitar type.
Do I Need A Guitar Pickup?
Simply put, a guitar pickup typically comprises one or more magnets wrapped a couple of thousand times in copper coils which transmit the vibrations to your amplifier. These signals eventually come out as whole and enthralling sounds.
Depending on preference and style of music, guitarists (casual or professional) can pick between basically two types of pickup setups, namely the single coils and the double coils, commonly known as humbuckers. Single coil pickups sound crisp and bright, with an intricate and somewhat tangy definition, suitable for blues, country, and alternative genres. The humbuckers have a deeper, thicker, smoother, and raunchy rhythm that sounds incredible with intense styles like metal and classic to hard rock.
Coming back to the original question - if you're planning to reap the above-mentioned sound benefits, then you do need a guitar pickup! Contrary to the intuitive concept, it's absolutely no rocket science to buy one either, let's help you narrow that down.
What Do I Look Out for Before Purchasing A Guitar Pickup?
Both types of guitar pickups we’ve discussed above have their distinctive sound benefits. Despite that fact, virtually any sound can be achieved from any pickup, given the right tweaks! We have put together a list of things to assess to help you fish out the best guitar pickup alternatives in the market.
Determine Your Style of Play
Realistically speaking, no brand of guitar pickups is exclusively developed for a specific music genre. Even so, certain pickups deliver better with certain tones. Therefore, your choice of pickups will significantly determine the level of tonal output. Lower outputs serve well for crisp, clean sounds, while a higher output is perfect for full, deep, and heavy sounds. Single coils work for the former, and the latter is best achieved with a humbucker.
In this context, compatibility simply means finding what fits. Regardless of whether your guitar’s packed with single coils or humbuckers, its cavity is more than likely shaped to house a specific type of pickup.
Compatibility usually is not much of a dilemma unless you want to transition from one pickup type to another. Fortunately, these days there are now humbuckers shaped like single-coils and the other way round. Stacks, reverse-wound single coils, and rail humbuckers are good choices for single-coil cavities. For humbucker cavities, you can get the single-coil effect from either coil-split humbuckers, coil-tapped humbuckers, or single coils placed in a humbucker-sized casing.
Take A Cue from Your Favorite Artiste/Guitarist
If you have no idea where to start, adopting the sound you like from your favorite artist eliminates more than half the problem. With a bit of homework, you can quickly discover what pickups they use for which songs and act accordingly.
Choosing Between Active and Passive Circuitry
Until a few decades ago, all guitar pickups were passive, and most guitar players today still prefer passive pickups. Ironically, active pickups stack up more advantages relative to passive from an objective point of view.
Moreover, active pickups give more tonal clarity and consistency at varied volumes, clearer signal over a wide frequency range, and don’t need strong magnets like their passive counterparts. Bass players mainly can’t get enough of active pickups as it suits their sound best. In the end, it all boils down to a player’s taste.
Pickup Magnet Type
Your type of pickup, be it passive or active, determines the kind of sound produced, and its magnetic configuration plays a more significant role than you might think. The magnet types used in guitar pickups are limited, and knowing about them can help you reckon which one works best for the sound you’re after. Pickup magnets range from the Alnico III to the Alnico VIII. The former is common and has the weakest magnetic pull. On the other hand, the latter is remarkable and has the power of a ceramic magnet and the same harmonics as Alnico V.
Then there’s the real gem, the more modern ceramic magnets. Ceramic-fitted pickups have a higher output compared to their Alnico counterparts. As a result, they are pretty powerful and sound especially fierce around mid to upper midrange.
Are You an Electric or Acoustics User?
Fitting a pickup into an electric guitar is a piece of cake. Even if you don’t have the expertise, finding a specialist or a reliable YouTube video isn't a problem nowadays.
The real challenge, however, is amplifying an acoustic guitar. The beauty of an acoustic piece is in its sound, without the use of an amplifier or pickup. When strummed, the acoustic guitar resonates from within, creating the most beautiful sounds. Using a pickup nevertheless could work if done right. The most common type of acoustic guitar pickup is the Piezo, which gives off a noticeable phony tone that some find bearable while others simply can’t abide by!
Guitar Pickup FAQ
Q: Which is a better option, active or passive pickup?
A: Your choice of guitar pickups hinges on your style of play and the tone you’re after. This reason is why some guitarists will pick one type, say active, over passive, while others will stick with passive pickups any day because each individual’s style favors one pickup type over the other. The most surefire way to know which one suits you best is to experiment and make comparisons.
Q: Can active pickups be used in a passive guitar or vice versa?
A: The simple answer is yes. It is possible to replace an active pickup with a passive one or, conversely, a passive pickup with an active guitar. It is even possible to have active and passive pickups within the same guitar (very few guitarists possess the know-how). Easier said than done, though. A professional needs to do a little refurbishment and in the cavity of your guitar from scratch to make it work.
Q: Do active pickups need batteries to work?
A: Yes, active pickups need batteries to function. Active pickups commonly use 9V batteries, and they can either be rechargeable or disposable variations. One way to tell if a guitar is designed to work with active pickups is if it has a battery compartment behind it. This just shows how essential batteries are when using active pickups.
Jack has been a touring guitarist for almost 20 years, playing in a number of country music and rock bands. Jack loves the road and defines himself as a never-ending student of the guitar and other important instruments or tools that make a musician.