Guitar Pickups

The guitar pickup is one of the most essential parts of any guitar. In conjunction with the guitar and the amp, pickups help players achieve their desired tone. There are many pickups to choose from, and every player should choose one that complements their instrument and their playing style.

How do guitar pickups work?

Guitar pickups are responsible for capturing sound vibrations and transforming them into signals, making them transducers. They are placed underneath the guitar strings, and they translate the vibrations of strings into electrical signals, which are then made audible via amps, mixers, and speakers.

What are the main pickup types?
  • Single-Coil: These magnetic pickups are constructed out of a coil of wire and magnetic pole pieces. This creates a magnetic field, which is disturbed by the movements of guitar strings. These disturbances alter the flow of the current, which courses from the guitar output to the amp. Single-coil styles only have one coil of wire. This technology first appeared in the 1920s, and it's a hallmark of vintage instruments. Tonally, these magnetic pickups have a bright, crisp sound.
  • Humbuckers: Humbuckers have two coils. They are out of phase with each other, which means that they cancel out any electromagnetic interference created. They are known for their warm, thick sound.
  • Piezoelectric: These do not use a magnetic field to gauge vibrational changes. Instead, they use crystals or film strips. This results in bright, percussive tones. They are often used with acoustic guitars.
How should guitarists select a pickup type?

When choosing a pickup, guitarists must consider many factors. They should think about the musical genre they want to play. The bright, biting tones of single-coil devices are often preferred by country musicians, who want to maximize twang. They are not just used by country artists, however. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan also used this type.

The thick, warm tonality associated with humbuckers makes them popular with metal, rock, and jazz players. Slash and Carlos Santana, for example, use humbuckers almost exclusively.

Desired genre is not the only factor worth considering, however. Some instruments are built for specific guitar pickups. Most Gibsons, for example, use double-coils, while most Fenders use singles. Sometimes, the instrument's body simply is not routed to accommodate variable coils.

What are some manufacturers of pickups?

There are many companies manufacturing high-quality pickups, which enable guitarists to achieve a variety of musical styles. They include:

  • Seymour Duncan.
  • DiMarzio.
  • Gibson.
  • Lace.
  • Fender.
  • EMG.
  • Fishman.
  • Bartolini.
  • LR Baggs.