Guitar Pickups 101: Single coils, humbuckers and active pickups explained and described.

Guitar pickups 101: Single Coils and Humbuckers

So what’s in a pickup, anyway?

If you are playing electric, the pickups are the voice of your guitar. The technical explanation is that each pickup is a transducer that creates a magnetic field and the vibration of the strings is converted into electrical energy that be be transmitted through a wire coil. The less-technical explanation is that electric guitars pickups are simply big magnets that make the strings louder.

Single Coil Pickups

The first pickups designed were single coils, which are essentially a magnet wrapped in one single wire coil [hence the name]. This design is simple, functional and can produce some great tones.Yamaha PAC212VQM Single Coil Alnico V Pickups

From Jimi Hendrix to John Mayer, the single coil has been the voice of a many different styles of music.  And many of the most current guitar designs still feature single coils.  The newest line of electric guitars from Yamaha, like the Pacifica PAC212VQM, has Alnico V single coils.

Single coil pickups are known for either being bright and clear or smooth and creamy, depending on how it’s played.  The one downside to this type of pickup is that it is inherently noisy and prone to pick up [no pun intended] lots of hum and buzz.

Which leads us to the humbucker…

Humbucker Pickups

In the 50’s, Seth Lover invented a new type of pickup which became known as the humbucker.  It was created by using magnets and two separate coils together in a way that cancels the hum common in single coils.Schecter Blackjack SLS Seymour Duncan Humbucker Pickups

This new design not only deals with the noise but it also gives the pickup a thicker and more aggressive sound that a lot of players have fallen in love with.  The humbucker is used in almost every style but it really found its home in rock music.  Guitar players from B. B. King to Synyster Gates have proven that there is an endless variety of amazing tones.

Humbuckers are typically warm and big sounding but can also be very gritty and driven, depending on the guitar. The Schecter Blackjack SLS C-1 is just one example of a set of pickups that have a fat low end and highs that cut through nicely acheter du viagra en allemagne.

Lots of options

To be clear, this is a very basic and oversimplified explanation.  There are literally hundreds of variations on these two types of pickups.

There are guitars, like the Schecter PT Fastbackthat are wired with a coil split switch that allow you to get either a single coil or a humbucker sound out of the same pickup.  These are great for flexibility and functionality.

There are soapbars pickups, which are essentially oversized single coils.  And there are mini humbuckers, which I won’t describe because it seems fairly obvious.  Both of these fall somewhere between single coils and humbuckers on the tone spectrum.

Schecter Damien-7 FR Active EMG PickupsAnother fun option out there is active pickups, which are powered by batteries to provide gain boost and/or EQ.  The advantage of active pickups is that they give the player more control: they are quieter, have higher output levels and have a more balanced EQ.



Finding the Right Pickups

Hopefully this gives you a better handle on the many different types of pickups available. With all the pickup choices out there, the best way to find the right fit for you is to play a lot of guitars!  You can spend hours reading posts like this that try to describe the sound and use of each pickup but the only way to really know what you like, is to hear it for yourself.  So block out a couple hours, grab your favorite pick and head over to our store to waste some time playing guitars.

But please, no Smoke On The Water. ????

Roxy’s Music Store
228 West Main St. Batavia, NY 14020 (585) 343-7222
Monday – Friday: 10am – 7pm and Saturday: 10am-5pm