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Daniele Galassi by Daniele Galassi
On September 20, 2016

Electric Instruments – PICKUPS

Finding your way through the complex world of pickups is not an easy task: the offer of industrial products (at any price point) and custom models from small workshops is really huge. Here we will explain what is a guitar pickup and how it works, providing a general classification of pickups for electric instruments. We will also try to give you some suggestions about the correct type of pickup for different music styles.

Pickup convert the strings’ vibration into an electric signal. In the large family of the electric instruments, the magnetic pickups (that consists of one or more permanent magnets wrapped with a coil of copper wire or other metal) are the most used, and the most common are the single coil and the humbucker pickups.

Single coil pickup
The typical sound of a single coil pickup is bright and clear, but with a noticeable noise floor. For this reason, these PUs are widely used in all musical genres where a clean sound is preferred, or with low levels of distortion, like blues, pop, country, jazz and funk. In rock music, the single coil is mostly employed when a more crisp and dynamic sound is needed.

From a manufacturing point of view, the most common single coil pickups consists of permanent magnets (one for each string) wrapped with a thin copper wire, but you can also find pickups with a single magnet bar spreading under the six strings. The thousands of windings of wire around the magnet or magnets create an electromagnetic coil. That’s why these pickups are called single coil.

A single coil pickup on a Soundsation Rocker-PRO guitar

The humbucker pickup uses a double coil, that is two coils usually connected in series with inverted polarity (but they can also work in series both in phase and anti-phase). This results in: less hum and higher output level. Soundwise this translates into a darker sound as the higher frequencies are slightly damped and the mid-band is more on the forefront.

Humbuckers are the ideal choice for highly driven sounds, like in rock, hard rock or metal, but also if you are looking for a more creamy and rounded tone for blues, jazz, or pop. To complete our short review, some humbuckers can be splitted: that is, you can bypass one of the two coils (using a push-pull, push-push control, or a toggle switch) getting a real single coil and broadening your sound palette.

An humbucker pickup on a Soundsation SLP-250 guitar

The following table allows to quickly compare single coil and humbucker pickups:

A further classification: active and passive pick up
We can further classify the pickups into passive and active types. While the formers only use the permanent magnets and their electromagnetic field to create an electric current, the latters employ a 9 Volt battery and a built-in preamplifier to offer a higher output level (starting from a lower level resulting from less windings) allowing sometimes further equalisation and tone control.

Featuring these characteristics, together with the absence of noise, active pickups sound usually colder than traditional passive pickups, that are much widely used. Both single coils and humbuckers can be of the active type.

Soundsation offers electric guitars featuring both single coil and humbucker pickups.

Single coil series:
Rocker, Rocker-PRO, STL, SJAG, SHADOW series

Humbucker series: