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Guitars & Accessories

Best Guitar Pickups

If you’ve ever admired a guitar player’s tone and overall sound, there’s a good chance a significant part is thanks to their guitar pickups. Small as they may be, these tiny transducers capture and process the vibration of a guitar’s strings and have helped shape the signature sounds of some of the most legendary guitarists of all-time. To put it bluntly, a great guitar player is nothing without good pickups. There are several different factors to consider when selecting pickups but we’ve outlined everything you need to know in our buyer’s guide provided below.

LR Baggs M1A Active Soundhole Magnetic Pickup

While it’s always fun to play with toys, a simplified all-in-one approach is definitely preferable when it comes to fine-tuning the sound of your instrument – especially when that instrument is something as delicate and malleable as an acoustic guitar. L.R. Baggs’ M1 Active pickup features adjustable pole pieces for each string, giving players the ability to fine-tune each string sound to make adjustments based on string type and gauge. The built-in electronics in the preamp give this pickup a major boost that eliminates the need for additional preamp processing – which avoids any signal coloring or disruption of fidelity that can occur when you start adding other elements to the mix. Its humbucker design eliminates the risk of any feedback or humming, which is one of the bigger concerns typically held by acoustic guitarists. Best of all, this pickup is made to last a long time; it can be powered for up to 1,000 hours by one single 3V lithium coin cell battery.

EMG ACS Acoustic Active Soundhole Pickup System

EMG’s ACS acoustic guitar magnetic pickup offers clear and adjustable amplification of an instrument that can often be puzzling to properly capture. The unit is feedback resistant, which is often a concern for players who take their acoustic instrument on stage. Adjustable pick-up poles ensure that you can develop a sound that specifically works well with your instrument. Its simplified design may make it seem like you’re not getting much control once the pickup is actually installed and working (you won’t find more than a volume knob on the controls) but when something sounds this good off the bat, you don’t need to clutter things up with extra options. Any further adjustments can always be made on whatever unit is receiving the signal such as a mixing board or amp.

L.R. Baggs Anthem-SL Acoustic Guitar Pickup

The quest to translate an acoustic instrument’s sound into an electrically transmittable signal can often color and change the tone in ways that are unwanted. The L.R. Baggs Anthem SL acoustic guitar pickup takes great measures to avoid those pitfalls and provide an accurate amplified signal. The microphone in this pickup is highly resistant to feedback and provides noise-canceling technology to eliminate any unwanted tonal by-products that can sometimes come along with microphone setups. A one-size-fits-all design makes it ideal for acoustic guitars of all shapes and sizes, and installing is simple thanks to its peel and stick adhesive bridge plate. A small set of sound hole controls allow you to adjust volume, switch phase, and check the battery life courtesy of a row of indicator lights.

Fishman Matrix Infinity Acoustic Guitar Pickup

Fishman’s Matrix Infinity acoustic guitar pickup gives guitarists not just a means of transmitting the sound of their instrument, but also a preamp system that takes the natural tone of your axe and offers ways to enhance it for performance and recording. With more than 25 years of tweaking and perfecting their products, the company has implemented new features into this product; one of the more prominent features are its volume and tone controls, the latter of which can cut the mids while boosting the treble and bass frequencies of the instrument for a truly breathtaking sound. A switchable voicing feature also allows players to make adjustments to the pickup’s settings, and varying them based on size of the instrument as well as guitar type. While professional installation is recommended by Fishman, maintaining the pickup is quite simple as the unit relies on a single 9V battery.

Seymour Duncan Woody SC SA-3SC Single Coil Acoustic Soundhole Pickup

The wooden look of the Seymour Duncan Woody SC pickup suggests a simplified, back-to-basics approach to acoustic amplification. In many ways, that assumption would be true. Installation is simple as you just just simply pop it in and start playing. The bright, rich tone that this pickup provides makes it perfect for strumming and fingerpicking both on stage and while recording. Its single coil design may at times result in a slight hum depending on the instrument and environment in which it is used, but its ease of use and accessibility more than make up for any deficiencies it may have in other departments. The Woody also comes with a 14-foot studio cable that can be used to connect the pickup to an amplifier, PA, or console. This pickup is also available in maple, walnut, or black, giving players options to play with.

Gibson '57 Classic Plus Guitar Pickup

Gibon’s ’57 Classic Plus humbucker pickup mirrors the design of the standard ’57 Classic, but is slightly overwound to raise the output and slightly enhance the sound – without comprising the vintage tone of its predecessor, of course. Much like its older counterpart, the Classic Plus has the same enamel-like coated wiring, Alnico II magnet, and maple spacers to unlock that sought-after tone. Whether you’re using the Classic Plus on a clean channel or are using it to drive out the signal of a overdriven wall of sound, the integrity of the audio fidelity will remain intact. Although the pickup can be used in a variety of guitars, utilizing it with a Les Paul will likely provide the best possible tonal results. It’s rare to find something that can make your sound bigger yet still manageable, but Gibson has been able to crack the code with the Classic Plus.

Seymour Duncan JB SH-4 Guitar Pickup

Seymour Duncan’s JB SH-4 may not have been the first humbucker guitar pickup, but it basically typifies the style and sound at its thickest and warmest tone. Hot-rodded and best suited for styles like heavy metal and thick blues, the JB SH-4 is recommended for bridge position and is designed for balanced, warm guitars. When paired with a Seymour Duncan Jazz pickup in the neck position, the SH-4 provides the perfect balance, offering a strong treble approach and a keen blend of sustain and distortion. The high output drives really give this pickup the necessary crunch and swelling juice to make your guitar sing. Guitarists from Dave Mustaine to Joe Perry to Tom Morello are all fans, so if you’re looking to achieve a similarly thick and thumping character to your playing, this may be the pickup you’ve been looking for.

DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion Humbucker Pickup - Black

Get ready to bring on the rock. DiMarzio’s DP100 Super Distortion humbucker pickup is designed for guitarists who want to really break up their tone and get loud and aggressive. The ultra-high output on this pickup promotes thick, boosted mids, fat highs, and depth-defying lows. Players such as Ace Frehley, Al Di Meola, and Paul Gilbery have all enlisted the DP100 into their axes to achieve their killer tone. Though this pickup can be used in the neck position, DiMarzio recommends that it be placed in the bridge position and that it be put to use with solid-body guitars, as the hollow and semi-hollow counterparts can be harder to reign in when dealing with high output pickups.

EMG 81 Humbucking Active Guitar Pickup

The EMG 81 humbucker pickup was made to unleash those soaring, blistering overdriven tones that can be used both to create a thick wall of sound as well as to make solo melodies cut through in an incredible way. The aforementioned dichotomy of tonal options makes the EMG 81 ideal for both rhythm playing as well as lead guitar. The pickup’s ceramic magnet works in tandem with its steel poles to provide a quick attack, all while maintaining a fat sound that has been associated with the typical humbucker tone. Putting the 81 in the bridge position is best for lead guitar work; put one in the bridge position too, and the thick wall of sound is in full effect. Best of all, this pickup is able to remain quiet even when blasting a high-gain signal, which is advantageous for players who want to push the boundaries of their tone without drawing in unwanted frequencies and feedback.

EMG EMG-ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 Humbucker Set

EMG’s ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 humbucker pickup set captures the essential tone and performance of that the metal guitarist has built his name from in collaborations with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society. The two pickups mirror what Wylde has used in his signature Les Paul. The EMG-81 is made with lead guitarists in mind, giving a fat and aggressive tone that can cut through a mix and really maintain the sustain necessary to make your tone sing. On the other hand, the 85 is responsible for a beefier low end and a more natural tone overall, making this pick a clear winner when it comes to the type of fast and chunky rhythm parts necessary for hard rock and metal styles. Thanks to their Quik-connect cables, installing these pickups is a fast process with no soldering required.

Fender Fat '50s Stratocaster Custom Shop Pickups

If you’re looking for the classic blues sound of the 1950s, Fender’s Custom Shop Fat ‘50s Stratocaster guitar pickups faithfully recreate that sound that guitarists fondly look back on as a Golden Age of the genre. Providing a glassy, clear, and bright tone, these pickups also provide a bit more bite as well, which is perfect for blues players looking to make the guitar sing and get a little nasty but not too aggressive. The increased winding in the pickups promotes a greater mid-range, while also providing a tighter bass response. The middle pickup in this set is reverse wound to cancel any hum that may occur in the 2 and 4 positions. If you’re looking to emulate the sounds of Hendrix and his ‘60s contemporaries, these aren’t necessarily the pickups for you, but if the clean and contained sound of the ‘50s is what you’re going for, there are few pickups that can really compete with the Custom Shop Fat ‘50s.

Seymour Duncan Vintage Blues Humbucker Pickup Set

Seymour Duncan has made finding the right sound for your guitar a good deal easier with their recent practice of pairing together pickups to suit a specific tonal need or style. With their Vintage Blues set, the company has grouped two ’59 humbuckers for the neck and bridge, a pairing that is ideal for players looking to capture the wide range of tonal sounds necessary to capture the spirit of the blues. These pickups have a decidedly vintage sound to them, as they have been designed and hand-built just like the Seymour Duncan humbuckers of the Golden Age. When played through a clean channel, these pickups can make a guitar sound warm, rich and expressive; put the same guitar through a distorted/overdrive channel, and it will sound bright with bite. Thick and expressive, these pickups have what it takes to get the job done.

Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded Humbucker Set Black

Seymour Duncan put two of their already excellent humbucker pickups together for the Hot Rodded set. The SH-4 JB is all about hot and heavy output; putting it in the guitar’s bridge position really cranks out the juice needed to get those blues licks wailing in the mix. Meanwhile, the SH-2n Jazz Model humbucker offers a smoother and more nuanced tone; in the neck position, this pickup offers a glassy, smooth tone that nicely balances out its more aggressive co-pilot. Both pickups are vacuum wax potted to prevent any squeals of feedback during performance. Although the approaches that these pickups provide may make them seem as though they are the Odd Couple of guitar sounds, their combined effort is great for blues, a playing style that requires a wide range of versatility, from screaming, bellowing theatrics to more contained and subtle moves.

Seymour Duncan SH-PG1 Pearly Gates Pickup

The tone of the Seymour Duncan SH-PG Pearly Gates pickup is sweet but isn’t afraid to bite if you get too close – which pretty much typifies the playing style and approach for the blues as a genre of music itself. Designed after the blues benchmark axe 1959 Les Paul Standard’s pickups, players have quite a few options when using the SH-PG in their own axes; it can be used in both the neck and bridge positions, or can be used in conjunction with a APH-1 Alnico II Pro or SH-11 Custom for smoother or more aggressive, hard-rock-friendly styles, respectively. The sustain and high-end sizzle that this pickup produces allows harmonics to easily pop off the guitar’s strings, and has been utilized in classic examples of Texas blues-rock and other genres of music that employ that twangy snarl. Unlike some humbucker configurations, the SH-PG is also well-suited for hollow and semi-hollowbody guitars, allowing the natural resonance of the instrument to really shine and be pushed through a thick-sounding pickup.

DiMarzio DP409 Virtual Vintage Heavy Blues 2 Strat Pickup

The DiMarzio Virtual Vintage Blues guitar pickup offers all of the perks of a single coil pickup yet lacks any of the drawbacks that typically drive players over to the humbucking side. With more power and warmth than what you would normally find in a single coil, the VVB produces a thick sound that is perfect for confident-sounding blues leads. This is especially advantageous for guitars that have a thin sound or guitarists who favor lighter-gauge strings. Like the humbucker model that its sound emulates, it also is free of any unwanted buzz or hum. The mids and lows are boosted with this pickup as well, yet guitars that utilize this device will still benefit from excellent pick attack. They say you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, but it turns out you actually can with the Virtual Vintage Blues pickup. And that’s nothing to get the blues about.

EMG EMG-ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 Humbucker Set

EMG’s ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 humbucker pickup set captures the essential tone and performance of that the metal guitarist has built his name from in collaborations with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society. The two pickups mirror what Wylde has used in his signature Les Paul. The EMG-81 is made with lead guitarists in mind, giving a fat and aggressive tone that can cut through a mix and really maintain the sustain necessary to make your tone sing. On the other hand, the 85 is responsible for a beefier low end and a more natural tone overall, making this pick a clear winner when it comes to the type of fast and chunky rhythm parts necessary for hard rock and metal styles. Thanks to their Quik-connect cables, installing these pickups is a fast process with no soldering required.

EMG JH James Hetfield Humbucker Set

Metallica’s James Hetfield approached EMG with something of a challenge/request, to produce a pickup set that could have the punch and clear sound of a passive pickup alongside the fat wall of sound associated with an active pickup. The company rose to the task with their JH Humbucker set, with components modeled after the same ones that Hetfield has used for more than 30 years of his career.

The JH-N sits in the neck position and provides more attack and fuller low-end, all with a blazingly hot output. In the bridge position, the JH-B has a tight attack with cleaner lows, which you’re going to want if you’re shredding around on down-tuned lower strings as one does when they visit the world of metal. A solderless installation system makes it easy to swap the pickups in and out of the guitar, which prevents any pre-playing headaches, after all, when you unleash the sounds that these pickups are capable of, you’re not going to want any pain in your temples, because it’s going to get loud.

Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded Humbucker Set Black

Seymour Duncan put two of their already excellent humbucker pickups together for the Hot Rodded set. The SH-4 JB is all about hot and heavy output; putting it in the guitar’s bridge position really cranks out the juice needed to get those blues licks wailing in the mix. Meanwhile, the SH-2n Jazz Model humbucker offers a smoother and more nuanced tone; in the neck position, this pickup offers a glassy, smooth tone that nicely balances out its more aggressive co-pilot. Both pickups are vacuum wax potted to prevent any squeals of feedback during performance. Although the approaches that these pickups provide may make them seem as though they are the Odd Couple of guitar sounds, their combined effort is great for blues, a playing style that requires a wide range of versatility, from screaming, bellowing theatrics to more contained and subtle moves.

Seymour Duncan SH-PG1 Pearly Gates Pickup

The tone of the Seymour Duncan SH-PG Pearly Gates pickup is sweet but isn’t afraid to bite if you get too close – which pretty much typifies the playing style and approach for the blues as a genre of music itself. Designed after the blues benchmark axe 1959 Les Paul Standard’s pickups, players have quite a few options when using the SH-PG in their own axes; it can be used in both the neck and bridge positions, or can be used in conjunction with a APH-1 Alnico II Pro or SH-11 Custom for smoother or more aggressive, hard-rock-friendly styles, respectively. The sustain and high-end sizzle that this pickup produces allows harmonics to easily pop off the guitar’s strings, and has been utilized in classic examples of Texas blues-rock and other genres of music that employ that twangy snarl. Unlike some humbucker configurations, the SH-PG is also well-suited for hollow and semi-hollowbody guitars, allowing the natural resonance of the instrument to really shine and be pushed through a thick-sounding pickup.

Bare Knuckle Warpig Guitar Pickup

Bare Knuckle Warpig Guitar Pickup

The old adage about dressing for the job you want definitely carries over to the Bare Knuckle Warpig. There are few pickups that simply look as metal as this thing does, with a design that makes it look closer to a war-ridden tank than any electronic component you might find in an electric guitar. Looks aside, the Warpig has what it takes to live up to its name. Its extremely high output handles intense amounts of gain, making it an obvious choice to endear to the needs of metal players.

The default of this pickup has an Alnico V magnet, which provides smooth high-end, natural middle-range, and deep lows. The Warpig also offers a ceramic magnet option that has a sharper cut in the highs and a faster bass sound, which really drives this already aggressive sounding pickup into full throttle. If you’re looking for intensified bass response, the Warpig is definitely the way to go, although if your instrument already favors the low-end, you may run the risk of diving too far into the deep end.

Seymour Duncan SH2 Jazz Humbucker Guitar Pickup

Seymour Duncan typically makes humbucker pickups for guitarists looking to crank out overdriven signal and bring on the rock, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to producing the clear, clean sounds of jazz. Enter the SH-2N Jazz Neck pickup. This bright-sounding pickup provides incredibly articulate, treble-heavy response that will give your guitar a clear tone that shines through any mix. Vacuum wax potted to prevent unwanted squeals and feedback, the SH-2N pulls great tone out of guitars when placed in the neck position. This pickup also delivers great tones for rock, blues, and some heavier styles of music, which makes it a great tool for the guitarist who plays fusion-jazz or other genres of music.

Bartolini 5J Johnny Smith Jazz Dual Coil Pickup

As its name might imply, the Bartolini 5J Jazz Guitar pickup is ideal for jazz guitarists. The articulate and smooth tone that the company has been putting out since the 1970s has earned them respect and has made fans in some of the most prominent current jazz players, including axeman like Charlie Hunter, Tuck Andress, and Ernie Denow. Installation is simple, thanks to the pickup’s top-mount setup. The dual coil design of these electronics delivers a big and clear sound, and the pickup is also protected from unwanted squeals and feedback. If you’re chasing the ideal jazz tone, it really doesn’t make sense to pursue your sound with anything less than one of the best in this relatively niche-market because Bartolini knows jazz.

Fishman Archtop Transducer Guitar Pickup

Fishman is the brand preferred by players across the board, including Maroon 5’s James Valentine, Stephen Carpenter of the Deftones, James Bay, and Andrew W.K. With such a diverse roster of artists who love the care and attention this company puts into their pickups and products, you can safely assume they know what they’re doing when it comes to making great sounding instruments. Fishmans Archtop Transducer pickup is designed to provide an immaculate sound from acoustic archtop instruments with dual vibration-sensing piezo-elements are embedded into the unit’s adjustable ebony bridge. Although an impedance matching preamp is recommended in order to attain the strongest signal, it isn’t required in order for this pickup to capture the full breadth of acoustic sound.

Kent Armstrong Jazzy Joe - Side Mount Jazz Pickup

Kent Armstrong’s Jazzy Joe Jazz pickup is one of the few pickups on the market specifically designed and marketed with jazz guitarists in mind. Six adjustable pole-pieces are put into place to allow players to tweak their tone to their liking. The Jazzy Joe has an Alnico magnet which produces a strong output signal so that your tone never gets lost in the mix. This also promotes an even output across all six strings. Because many jazz guitars have such a distinct sound, the Jazzy Joe has been designed to offer a very transparent translation of signal. You won’t have to worry about things getting transformed somewhere in the signal flow like you might with other pickups built for rock guitars.

Gibson '57 Classic Plus Guitar Pickup

Gibon’s ’57 Classic Plus humbucker pickup mirrors the design of the standard ’57 Classic, but is slightly overwound to raise the output and slightly enhance the sound – without comprising the vintage tone of its predecessor, of course. Much like its older counterpart, the Classic Plus has the same enamel-like coated wiring, Alnico II magnet, and maple spacers to unlock that sought-after tone. Whether you’re using the Classic Plus on a clean channel or are using it to drive out the signal of a overdriven wall of sound, the integrity of the audio fidelity will remain intact. Although the pickup can be used in a variety of guitars, utilizing it with a Les Paul will likely provide the best possible tonal results. It’s rare to find something that can make your sound bigger yet still manageable, but Gibson has been able to crack the code with the Classic Plus.

Seymour Duncan SH-PG1 Pearly Gates Pickup

The tone of the Seymour Duncan SH-PG Pearly Gates pickup is sweet but isn’t afraid to bite if you get too close – which pretty much typifies the playing style and approach for the blues as a genre of music itself. Designed after the blues benchmark axe 1959 Les Paul Standard’s pickups, players have quite a few options when using the SH-PG in their own axes; it can be used in both the neck and bridge positions, or can be used in conjunction with a APH-1 Alnico II Pro or SH-11 Custom for smoother or more aggressive, hard-rock-friendly styles, respectively. The sustain and high-end sizzle that this pickup produces allows harmonics to easily pop off the guitar’s strings, and has been utilized in classic examples of Texas blues-rock and other genres of music that employ that twangy snarl. Unlike some humbucker configurations, the SH-PG is also well-suited for hollow and semi-hollowbody guitars, allowing the natural resonance of the instrument to really shine and be pushed through a thick-sounding pickup.

EMG EMG-ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 Humbucker Set

EMG’s ZW Zakk Wylde 81/85 humbucker pickup set captures the essential tone and performance of that the metal guitarist has built his name from in collaborations with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society. The two pickups mirror what Wylde has used in his signature Les Paul. The EMG-81 is made with lead guitarists in mind, giving a fat and aggressive tone that can cut through a mix and really maintain the sustain necessary to make your tone sing. On the other hand, the 85 is responsible for a beefier low end and a more natural tone overall, making this pick a clear winner when it comes to the type of fast and chunky rhythm parts necessary for hard rock and metal styles. Thanks to their Quik-connect cables, installing these pickups is a fast process with no soldering required.

DiMarzio PAF Master Humbucker Pickup

With DiMarzio’s PAF Master Bridge pickup, rock guitarists can unlock the sought-after vintage sound of the past in a way that’s extremely dynamic and well-versed for head-slamming, face-crushing riffs. Though this pickup promises to be a welcome addition for any rock guitarist as the electronics are actually fairly quiet on their own but its response to pick attack gives a hot, fast, aggressive sound. It’s rare to find a pickup that can so easily toe that line, and in this case, owners are really getting the best of both worlds. Though designed to be placed in the bridge position, the PAF Master Bridge can also easily provide great sounds in a guitar’s neck position, too. From crunchy chords to single-note leads, this pickup will make your tone sound great.

Lundgren M6 Guitar Pickup

Lundgren M6 Guitar Pickup

Lundgren’s M6 guitar pickup offers incredible dynamic range and an overall tight sound that is ideal for hard rock. This thing particularly excels when being used with heavy distortion. Incredible sustain and an in-your-face approach makes this pickup ideal for any player who wants to rip through a mix. All of that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the company first started on their M design pickup in conjunction with the heavy metal band Meshuggah. Although this definitely has put it on the radar for metal hands, its powerful attack and balanced tone has given it a dual life in the world of regular rock guitarists.

DiMarzio DP228 Crunch Lab Bridge Humbucker Pickup

DiMarzio’s Crunch Lab pickup gets loud enough to earn it a spot at the rock guitar pickup table, but even though it can shake walls, it’s still a controllable force. It never sounds compressed, as it maintains a natural and accurate sound. And it is not so off the rails that it can’t be contained and controlled. Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci swears by this pickup for all of his prog-rock band’s endeavors, using it both in the studio and on stage. Beyond everything else, this pickup is noteworthy in that it may expand the highs, lows, and mid-frequency range, but it does so while maintaing a balance that is rich and pleasing to the ear.

Seymour Duncan Invader 7-String Guitar Pickup

The Seymour Duncan Invader 7-String passive pickup looks like a warrior, with its metal-like exterior. And looks aren’t deceiving in this case, as this humbucker pickup sounds powerful and mean, definitely in step with the styles that most 7-string guitarists who pick this thing up are looking to achieve with their sound. The ceramic magnets give this pickup extreme depth but also a sense of clarity, which distinguishes the Invader from other similarly-aiming products that often come with unwanted muddiness. The high-output on this pickup will crush in the best way possible. The wide magnetic field on the Invader adds a serious burst of pep and brightness that will have listeners clamoring to find out the secret to your tone – that is, after they’ve picked themselves up off the floor.

EMG 707TW 7 String Active Guitar Pickup

The EMG 707TW Active guitar pickup offers the best of both worlds when it comes to the old single coil vs. humbucker debate. It’s naturally a humbucker, which accounts for its thick and powerful fun. But it also features a single coil mode that does a great job at approximating that pickup design and provides a powerful, clear tone. This pickup features an Alnico magnet and separately-summed coils that bring out a clear and strong bass frequency which is perfect for the low B string on 7-string guitars. But the design of these electronics also prevents any unwanted sludge or muddiness that can often come about when a magnifying glass is placed over the low end of things. The end result is a pickup that sounds big, strong, and versatile enough to give players more than one sound that's useful to play with.

EMG 707X 7 String Active Guitar Pickup

The EMG 707X prides itself in taking great pains to capture the sound of the low B string on a 7-string guitar and truly give it unprecedented depth and warmth. This makes this humbucker pickup ideal for many different playing styles that are suited to 7-string guitars, from augmented jazz chords to chugging, riff-heavy rhythmic parts. Artists such as Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter and Glass Cloud’s Dane Markanson love and use this pickup because of its wide range of uses. The EMG 707X can be used in both the neck and bridge positions of your electric guitar, and both of them sound great. The increased headroom that this Alnico magnet pickup produces offers a natural-sounding tone for the 7-string.

Seymour Duncan JB Model 7-String Pickup

Seymour Duncan’s JB model pickup is renown for its added juice and attack that it has provided for electric guitar players over the last 40 years. Their 7-string model doesn’t do much to change this formula, but that’s not a bad thing as now all guitars can sound as great as the classics that used the JB pickup did. The JB’s hot coils and Alnico 5 bar magnet gives your tone a tight low-end, increased mid-range, and highs that sustain and cut through in the best way possible. Like all Seymour Duncan pickups, it’s vacuum wax potted to prevent against unwanted squeals and feedback. If you’re looking for a pickup that can do deep and heavy as well as one that sings and resonates, the JB is the way to go.

DiMarzio DP720 D Activator 7-String Bridge Humbucker Pickup

DiMarzio’s D Activator 7-String guitar pickup offers a well-balanced EQ that brings out the best and fullest capability of a 7-string instrument. The highs are bright but not too thin, the lows are thick but not too muddy, and the mid-range is enhanced in a way that will make your guitar sound thick. The D Activator offers plenty of headroom, which helps to avoid the sound that many active pickups have (hitting a brick wall of compression when you get to a certain volume point). In this case, you can play as hard as you want without bringing unwanted dynamics to the table, but playing quietly gives the pickup room to breathe and express the subtlety to your playing. Of course, subtlety may not be the number one thing most players are going after, and this pickup understands that approach totally as it’s built to be a beast, and if riffing is your thing, then this is most likely your pickup.

Gibson P-90 Single Coil with Soap Bar Cover

Gibson P-90 Single Coil with Soap Bar Cover

From the forefathers of the P-90 pickup comes yet another reason to fall in love with the unique sound all over again. Gibson’s P-90 single coil with soap bar cover provides a vintage sound similar to what the company introduced to the market when it first unveiled the pickup type more than 80 years ago. The tone is clear and still provides a certain amount of bite that makes it ideal for rock and blues axemen. Gibson’s P-90 is wax potted to protect your sound from any unwanted, renegade feedback. And its vintage, braided two-conductor wiring helps to deliver that warm, classic sound that has made the P-90 the definitive choice for guitarists.

Seymour Duncan SP90-1B Vintage P-90 Bridge Pickup

Seymour Duncan must have spent a good amount of time analyzing the design and build of the original Gibson P90 pickup when building their Vintage P90, because this thing can easily replace the original without much detection from discerning ears. In fact, many guitarists consider Seymour Duncan’s model their go-to, whether they are replacing the original in their Gibson or just want to harness that thick and loud sound at a fraction of the cost of the real deal. Seymour Duncan used plain enamel wire to wind this single coil, using of course, the same Leesona winder that Gibson utilized in their factory in the 1950s. The result is a higher output and a sparkling midrange that can really growl when used in overdrive. The Vintage P90 is wax potted to prevent feedback, and while this thing can get a little noisy when the gain on your amp is turned all the way up, that’s par for the course with any single coil pickup.

Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90 Bridge Black

The blueprint for immaculate rock n roll tone was established over half a century ago, and not much has deviated from the standard that was set. Players like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan possess a tone that is warm, gritty, yet doesn’t break up to the point of being fully overdriven – it’s that very vintage sound that Seymour Duncan has harnessed with their Antiquity P90 pickup. This soapbar pickup achieves this feat via its custom coil wind and dual specially calibrated Alnico 2 bar magnets. The midrange that this P90 produces is where the charm of this pickup comes in – the tone that it produces has something that you can sink your teeth into, but it never bites back too aggressively. Available in black or cream aged covers, the Antiquity P90 is an ideal replacement for any Gibson soap bar-sized P90 pickup.

Wolftone P90 Meaner Guitar Pickup

Wolftone P90 Meaner Guitar Pickup

Wolftone is fairly clear in what they’re promising with their line of P90 pickups – absolute raunch and grit. This series keeps in line with their rabid canine theme appropriately titled “Mean,” “Meaner,” and “Meanest". The Meaner model splits the difference between the two, providing a hot vintage output at around 9k, coupled with Alnico 2 magnets to offer a snarl that will have your guitar howling at the moon late at night. Available in soap bar, dog ear, and “batwing” models, this pickup can easily fit the logistical and stylistic setup of any guitar you choose to pair it with. If you’re looking to get your midrange boosted and your tone toughened up all for a very reasonable price, Wolftone is the way to go.

Harmonic Design Z-90

Harmonic Design Z-90

Harmonic Design’s Z-90 pickups have an open, airy sound that distinguishes them from other pickups in their class. These single coil pickups are housed in units that fit the size of humbuckers, making them easy to install into guitars that have previously been using humbucker pickups. There are no modifications necessary, which is a great benefit to players who want to make the switch quickly and for the cheap. The oversized pole pieces are responsible for the Z-90’s rich bass response and hotter output. Those pole pieces also are designed to accommodate the string spacing on both Gibson and Fender axes, making them ideal for players across the board.

Seymour Duncan ZSL-1m Zephyr Silver Strat Middle Pickup

The Seymour Duncan Zephyr Strat pickup holds the title as the world’s first silver wire Hi-Fi Strat pickup, putting it in a class of its own when it comes to its expanded frequency range and superb dynamic response. While copper wiring does a fine job, the silver that the Zephyr magnifies the sound and accuracy in a way that justifies its more expensive price tag. A Stratocaster with Zephyr pickups has a brighter sound, a crisper and tighter low end, and increased harmonics. As if the aforementioned product details weren’t enough to put the Zephyr in a class of its own, the pickup is also cryogenically treated after initial manufacturing to remove any stresses introduced during the winding and assembly of the product. This process also aligns the structure of the magnet wire, reducing any losses and boosting the efficiency of the Zephyr.

Fender Fat '50s Stratocaster Custom Shop Pickups

If you’re looking for the classic blues sound of the 1950s, Fender’s Custom Shop Fat ‘50s Stratocaster guitar pickups faithfully recreate that sound that guitarists fondly look back on as a Golden Age of the genre. Providing a glassy, clear, and bright tone, these pickups also provide a bit more bite as well, which is perfect for blues players looking to make the guitar sing and get a little nasty but not too aggressive. The increased winding in the pickups promotes a greater mid-range, while also providing a tighter bass response. The middle pickup in this set is reverse wound to cancel any hum that may occur in the 2 and 4 positions. If you’re looking to emulate the sounds of Hendrix and his ‘60s contemporaries, these aren’t necessarily the pickups for you, but if the clean and contained sound of the ‘50s is what you’re going for, there are few pickups that can really compete with the Custom Shop Fat ‘50s.

Seymour Duncan California 50's Strat Pickup Set

Seymour Duncan spent a great deal of time studying the methods and design of classic Fender Stratocaster pickups from the 1950's in the development of their California 50’s set. Everything from the hand-filed flatwork to the lacquered bobbin emulates the same process that Fender applied to their pickups during this era. And beyond cosmetics, these pickups provide the proper tone that made the world fall in love with the Strat more than half a century ago; bright, glassy tone and a crisp treble sound is achieved thanks to the hand ground Alnico 5 rod magnets and heavy Formvar mag wire with a special wind pattern. Each pickup is wound differently to help provide different dynamics and range for the guitar – the neck pickup is standard wound, the middle pickup is reverse wound, and the bridge pickup is overwound. This creates a well-balanced tone for the guitar.

Fender Texas Special Strat Pickups

Stevie Ray Vaughan is without question one of the iconic Fender Stratocaster players in the company’s history, and the Texas Special Strat pickups have been designed to emulate the legend’s tone. These pickups are also included as stock in signature Fender Strats for SRV, Bonnie Raitt, and Mark Knopfler and if that doesn’t inspire confidence, you probably don’t want to like these pickups. Designed with a hot output to really drive home that gritty, blues-breaking tone that Vaughan made his signature sound, the Texas Specials offer a tight bass, sparkling highs, and solid midrange bite. Noise cancellation is in full effect here as well, thanks to the reverse-wound middle pickup.

Lace Sensor Gold V-Series Electric Guitar Pickup

Lace Sensor Gold pickups utilizes a radiant Field Barrier system surrounding the coil and magnets, which helps to reduce the hum that can often detrimentally affect single coil pickups. Despite a more contained sound, these things never sound compressed; in fact, the pickup reads a larger physical area of the guitar string, producing a wider range of harmonics that results in more complex tonal response. These pickups also produce up to nine times the amount of magnetic fields to read the string’s vibration in comparison to regular pickups, resulting in a more accurate and nuanced tone. The sustain is also increased, which can really make your Strat sing.

Seymour Duncan ZTL-1 Zephyr Silver Tele Pickup Set

Seymour Duncan’s Zephyr Telecaster pickup set raises the bar for just how bright and shimmering a single coil pickup can sound. Offering great responsiveness and noteworthy punch, these electronics can produce snappy, rich, powerful tones. Part of that is without a doubt due to the silver wiring, which magnifies the sound in a way that is unparalleled by its copper wire peers. The Zephyr set also gets cryogenically treated after initial manufacturing to remove any stresses that may have been introduced during the winding and assembly of the product. This process also aligns the structure of the magnet wire, reducing any losses and boosting the efficiency of the pickups.

EMG T-Set Single-Coil Telecaster Active Pickup

The EMG T-set doesn’t do anything to drastically alter the natural sound of a Telecaster guitar. Instead, these pickups provide a boost to the character that the axe already possesses, upping the beefy tone and warmth that has already made the guitar a winner in the minds of musicians everywhere. Custom engineered coil sizes and windings help contribute to this heightened sound, resulting in a tone that is beautifully immaculate but can still bite a bit when pushed in the right direction. These pickups also operate very quietly, so you won’t have to worry about the unwanted buzz and hum that can often be attributed to single coil pickups. Although some may find the steroid-esque Tele sound to be a bit sterile with this boosted character, those looking to amplify all that they love about their Tele tone would do well to check out EMG’s T-set.

DiMarzio Vintage Twang King Pre-Wired Pickup Set for Telecaster

Responsiveness is the name of the game when it comes to DiMarzio’s Twang Kings pickup set for the Fender Telecaster. These pickups are configured with controlled-tension coil-wining and hand-calibrated magnets, resulting in a sensitivity that works well on both ends of the dynamic range of playing. A light playing style accurately conveys a softer, more subtle performance, whereas a hard picking attack makes this thing squawk in a manner that is perfect for twangy styles like country, blues, and some rock. Of course, it’s all good squawks here and these pickups are doubly wax potted to prevent against any squeals of feedback. If you’re looking for an unparalleled high-end character to add to your Tele, these pickups are definitely worth checking out.

Fender Pure Vintage 64 Telecaster Pickup Set

If anyone is going to know how to make a Telecaster sound great, it’s going to be Fender. That’s why their Pure Vintage ’64 Telecaster pickup set works so well in creating a flawless, undeniably Tele tone they’re basing the design and schematics off of what worked so well for the guitar in the past. These pickups have been wound to the specifications of what Fender used in the 1960's, from their vintage bobbin construction to original era cloth wiring. Enamel-coated magnet wire is responsible for the warm vintage tone that these pickups provide, while their Alnico 5 mangers provide greater dynamics and focus. The copper shielding plate on the set’s bridge pickup is also responsible for the livelier tone that this set produces.

Fender Pure Vintage Reissue Telecaster Pickups

From country to rockabilly to classic rock ’n roll, the Telecaster has played a significant role in the development of music from an era that is still looked at as a golden standard today. Fender’s Original Vintage Tele pickups channel this sound to give guitarists today easy access to the tones of the past. The flush-mount pole pieces in these pickups offer an even string response, ensuring that the subtleties to your playing will be accurately delivered. Alnico 3 magnets are responsible for the tight bass and sweet midrange sound. Much of the vintage tone also comes from the enamel-coated magnet wire. If you’re looking to capture such a classic sound, you’re probably looking back to the old days (and electronics) of Fender, anyway; in this case, you don’t need to wander too far from home to achieve that familiar tone.

Buyer's Guide

 

Guitar Pickup Buyer's Guide

It’s important to keep in mind pickups alone won’t determine your guitar’s sound. Everything from the amplifier, to effect pedals, to the actual make/model of the guitar itself can have an impact on your tone, but it all starts with the pickup. If possible, you’ll probably want to test out a brand or type of pickup first, but here are some important elements to keep in mind before making your purchase.

Define Your Tone

Pickups primarily determine the tone of a guitar’s signal, equalizing the amount of highs, lows, and mids which are sent out. There are pickups designed to pump out the highs and filter out less bass; these are typically referred to as being “bright.” Pickups that favor more mid or bass-heavy tones are typically referred to as “punchier” or “warmer”.

There is no textbook definition of a desirable tone since different styles and genres call for varying sounds. For instance, if you’re looking to play heavy metal or rock favoring low-note riffs, a pickup pushing a more bass-driven tone is preferable. However, playing higher leads or country fingerpicking can be enhanced by a brighter pickup.

Guitar Pickup Types

Single Coil
The single coil pickup dates back to the 1920s, making it the oldest type of guitar pickup. Most Fender Stratocasters have single coil pickups which produce a clear and brighter tone. While popular in all kinds of music, they are mostly employed in rock and blues  but again, it’s important to remember there are no rules when it comes to creating music. As a result, single coil guitars can be found in almost every musical genre.

These pickups are often found on guitars utilizing three different single coils. This allows guitarists to combine the sounds of these three devices using a switch so their tone can incorporate the neck, bridge, and middle pickups to shape their sound. Though single coil pickups at one point could pick up an undesired buzzing sound when run at a high volume, technological advances have largely corrected this issue.

Humbucker
One solution created early on to solve the humming issue with single coil pickups was the humbucker. The humbucker pickup cancels out the undesired noise by combining two single coil pickups positioned side-by-side with one another, with opposing coils and polarity. When run together, the hum is minimized while the actual sound output of the guitar’s signal is doubled.

The humbucker sound can definitely produce a fuller sound with more body which makes it a desirable tool for heavier music or a wall-of-sound thickness that’s perfect for metal and heavy rock. It’s also worth noting many companies are able to accommodate their products to produce a variety of sounds; in other words, there are humbuckers which behave like single coil pickups, and vice versa.

Passive Pickups

Another factor to consider is whether you want a passive or active pickup. Passive pickups directly capture the signal from the guitar’s string through the wood. This provides what’s generally agreed to be a more organic and dynamic sound.

Many guitarists prefer passive pickups because the ability to tweak their tone is right at their fingertips, so even tiny adjustments to the volume or tone knob can make a world of a difference in sound. However, because of the hypersensitivity of this method, passive pickups are also more susceptible to feedback and (paradoxically) a sometimes-diminished amount of sustain.

Active Pickups

Active pickups rely on a separate battery stored on the body of the guitar. This allows for a higher output and a more even frequency. In most cases, it doesn’t matter what type of guitar you use with an active pickup as the sound will generally remain uncompromised. The higher output and reliability makes it an ideal choice for metal players who are looking for over-driven, accurate stability in their tone.

Still, many critics of the active pickup claim that same reliability is also the cause of a sterile and homogenous tone. The active pickup also requires players to replace the battery when power gets low which isn’t ideal for live performances.

Sean Kramer
I'm a guitarist/music producer with 18 years of experience playing on-stage, in the studio, and everywhere in between. I have toured and recorded on projects both independent and major, in styles such as rock, pop, funk, hip hop, electronic, and more. My axe of choice is probably always going to be the Fender Stratocaster, but I've been known to pick up other guitars when the music calls for it. I'm a big fan of using a multitude of effects (both hardware and software-driven) to manipulate the sound and atmosphere of an instrument. In addition to playing on records, I have also contributed to the score/soundtrack for shows and spots on MTV and ESPN, as well as for a variety of independent films, web series, and television shows.
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