Guitar Pickups 101: The Best Humbuckers, P90s, and Single Coils

There’s no better feeling than finding the perfect guitar that matches your unique playing style. But once you find that guitar, you can customize it further to nail the exact tone you’re looking for.

The best way to do this is to find new guitar pickups for your ax. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about guitar pickups and the difference between a humbucker, a single coil, and a P90.

Keep reading to learn more!

What Do Guitar Pickups Do?

Think of the pickups on your guitar as magnets. They sense and attract the vibrations of the strings, then convert them into signals that they send to your amplifier, ultimately producing sound. 

Without these, electric guitars can’t make any sound since there’s no electricity that passes from the strings to the amplifier. 

An acoustic guitar can generate sound from its hollow body, but solid body electric guitars need amplification and electricity from the pickups to create that sound.

Different Types of Pickups

There are three main different types of pickups that are widely used in electric guitars. These are single coils, humbuckers, and P90s. Let’s take an in-depth look at all three of them.

Single Coil Pickups

Single coil pickups are some of the most commonly used pickups and are used across a wide variety of genres and styles. They typically have a very bright, cutting sound. When mixed with some drive, they can even produce a gritty tone. Compared to humbuckers, they aren’t as “hot” in their overall output. 

One of the most recognizable and common single coil pickup configurations can be found in the legendary Stratocaster. You’ll find one pickup in the neck, one in the middle, and one in the bridge position. Each single coil has different sounds that can be used for different tones that have been utilized for several different music styles.

The single coil pickup in the neck position typically has a warm, silky tone. This is popular for rock, blues, jazz, pop, and RnB. It’s a great, clean sound.

The middle pickup usually has a unique tone that feels like a mix of the warmth of the neck pickup and the strong bridge sound. This is often used for funk, blues, and rock.

The bridge pickup position has that signature biting and cutting tone that’s common for hard rock and metal sounds. You’ll find guitarists switching over to this pickup to break out their leads and solos. 

When paired with different kinds of guitars, the variety of single-coil pickups is endless. Whether you’re an RnB rhythm guitarist or a heavy metal lead guitarist, you can probably find a great sound with single coil pickups.

They’re also quite affordable and reliable, so they’re a great choice when looking for a new guitar pickup. 

What Guitars Use Them? 

Single coil pickups are most commonly associated with Fender guitars, notably the Stratocaster and the Telecaster. They both feature bright sounds and have a great clean tone.

Humbucker Pickups

Humbuckers are another super popular choice of versatile pickups across many different genres of music. As you can probably guess from the name, these pickups are wound in a way to cancel out any hum. 

Compared to single coils, these have a much stronger output and are considered “hot” pickups. They have a full, thick, and loud tone that has made them a popular choice for rock, blues, hard rock, classic rock, and hardcore.

They’re also quite popular with jazz guitarists as well. The neck position for the humbucker gives a full, jazzy tone. One of the most popular and recognizable tones comes from hollow-body electric guitars like the Gibson ES-335 which has humbuckers in both the neck and bridge pickups.

It’s quite common to use both humbuckers and single coil pickups in the same guitar. Usually, the single coil will be installed into the neck and middle positions with the humbucker on the bridge. 

What Guitars Use Them? 

Humbuckers are commonly used on Gibson guitars like the Les Paul and SG. Other brands like PRS, Jackson, ESP, and Ibanez also utilize them.

P90 Pickups 

P90 pickups are not as commonly known as their humbucker and single coil counterparts. Technically, they are a specific form of a single-coil pickup, although they actually look closer to a humbucker. 

These pickups have been utilized in Gibson electric guitars since the early 1950s. Their coil winding results in a much rawer and raspier output with more distinctive low frequencies. Because of this, P90s usually get categorized somewhere in between humbuckers and single coils.

With P90s, you can create early rock’n’roll or jazz tones while also emulating hot blues and modern rock sounds as well. They feature full bass, strong mids, and complex highs. They’re great for country and blues as well.

What Guitars Use Them? 

P90s are not as common as other pickups but can be found on classic versions of SGs, Les Pauls, Strats, and Teles. 

Which Guitar Pickup is the Best?

The honest answer is that there is no one best pickup. The best pickup is purely subjective and depends on your style, your tone and sound preferences, and the type of music that you play.

Single coils are great for a crisp, clear sound as well as mellow, bright tones. Humbuckers give you a great warm tone, even with lots of gain. P90s are a great in-between option that takes the best of both worlds.

Find the Perfect Pickups For Your Guitar

That’s everything you need to know about guitar pickups. 

Trying out different pickup configurations and guitars is all part of the exciting journey of finding that perfect tone that fits your needs the best.

If you’re ready to start searching for your perfect guitar and pickups, come check out our products today!

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