Many of the most influential electric guitarists were blues guitarists – from BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Robert Johnson and so many more. Even with so many new genres popping up throughout the last couple decades, a top quality blues electric guitar remains as the gold standard of electric guitars. Now, what makes a top quality blues electric guitar? Well, there are many parts to being the “best” blues guitar, but one of the biggest component is the pickup.
Pickups are the magnets on an electric guitar that directly picks up the string vibrations and turns it into electric signals. On most electric guitars, the pickups will be placed close to the neck (neck pickup), or close to the bridge (bridge pickup). On some occasions, you might even see a pickup in between the neck and bridge pickups. After comparing many different pickups, we have selected our top 5 picks for blues.
Seymour Duncan SSL-1 California '50s Strat Pickups
Seymour Duncan SSL-1 California ’50s are vintage style single coil pickups that gives you the classic ’50s and ’60s Stratocaster sound. If you’re looking for the class blues Fender Strat tones, this is what you are looking for. It also has great versatility, and SSL-1 can be perfect for genres like country, pop, surf, funk, classic rock.
The neck pickup sound is warm but has strong enough treble to give you the classic Strat sound, and the middle position has a bright tone that bites, perfect for funk, surf, and country. And the bridge comes with quite a bit of treble, along with strong bass, great for overdrive tones.
Other than that, SSL-1 also comes with hum-cancelation in position 2&4 from reverse polarity in the middle pickups. One thing to consider would be that the SSL-1 won’t be the best choice for hard distortion, and many SSL-1 users often use SSL-5 for the bridge, which will give you more output and sustain for more distortion and harder overdrive tones.
Magnet Type: Alnico V
Type: Single Coil
DC Resistance: 6.5 k
Seymour Duncan SSL-1 California 50’s pickups provide a classic 1950’s original Fender sound that we all grew up on, reminiscent of legendary guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, even John Frusciante, and countless legendary guitarists of the 50’s and 60’s.
Fender Texas Special Pickups
The Fender Texas Special Pickups were originally created to replicate Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “number 1” Strat, and now these pickups are used on Fender’s high quality custom Strats. These pickups have much more mid and bass than other Fender single coil pickups, and has a characteristic powerful and louder sound with less of the classic Stratocaster treble. Especially the bridge pickup has a DC resistance of 6.7k, resulting in a more thicker and fatter sounding bridge with less treble than usual.
And just like the SSL-1, middle pickup is reverse wired and gives you a hum cancelling effect in the middle positions. Because of strong bass and tight guitar tone, these can also be used for rock as well as blues. But the Texas Specials aren’t recommended to brand new Fender models, because the powerful mid and bass range might not be suitable for the newer models.
Magnet Type: Alnico V
Type: Single Coil
DC Resistance: Bridge – 6.7k, Middle – 6.5k, Neck – 6.2k
Fender Texas Special pickups are one of the best single coil pickups that Fender has to offer, and its strong bass and mid will help you get that thick Stevie Ray Vaughan sound. They are also one of the better choices for a single coil pickup to play rock and loud distortion and overdrive.
Seymour Duncan SH-55 Seth Lover Humbucker Pickups
Now moving onto more Gibson territory, the SH-55 is a tribute model to the father of humbucker pickups, Seth Lover. With the SH-55, you can get the historic original PAF Gibson sound that made Gibson legendary.
These pickups have a signature warm, smooth, and creamy tone with clear mids and bass. So they will work best for semi hollow body guitars like the Gibson ES-335, hollow body guitars, as well as Gibson Les Paul guitars.
SH-55 sounds best with clean tones and overdrive tones – perfect for blues, jazz, and anything genre that requires warm guitar tone.
And compared to the single coil pickups, SH-55 has even better hum-cancelling feature due its humbucker nature. One downside would be that these won’t be the best choice available for blues that are more on the hard rock side, and it might not suit the guitars that are built for shredding.
Magnet Type: Alnico II
DC Resistance: Bridge – 8.1k, Neck – 7.2k
Seymour Duncan SH-55 Seth Lover Humbucker is a perfect example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Tribute to the true original humbuckers, Seth Lover humbucukers deliver vintage warm and creamy tones that can work perfect for blues and jazz.
Seymour Duncan APH-2s Alnico II Pro Slash Humbucker Pickups
Seymour Duncan Slash Humbuckers are perhaps the most hardcore pickup on this list, and this Slash signature pickup was designed to replicate Slash’s one and only Les Paul guitar tone that he uses for recording all his music.
The Alnico II magnets deliver just enough output for a sweet sustain and dirty crunch, while being clean and crisp. Neck pickup provides a fat and warm tone that can work well with distortion as well as overdrive, and bridge pickup provides more mid range and treble, perfect for cutting lead guitar playing and powerful power chords. It can be used for blues, jazz, classic rock to hard rock.
And despite being high quality signature pickups, Alnico II Pro Slash comes at a great affordable price They are also super easy to install, and it’s easily among the top rated blues pickups in the market today.
Magnet Type: Alnico II
DC Resistance: Bridge – 8.53k, Neck – 7.92k
Alnico II Pro Slash humbuckers are some of the best pickups within this price point, and offers great versatility in tone, perfect from blues to jazz to hard rock.
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates
Here is another classic that you should know about. Similarly to the SH-55, Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates are perfect for a vintage sound with a touch of rough Texan personality. Pearly Gates have a sweet, clear tone and is perfect for natural amp overdrive and has singing harmonics.
Like many other humbuckers above, Pearly Gates thrive on mahogany instruments like Les Pauls and SGs, bright-toned instruments, and even works well with semi-hollow and hollow bodies like a Gibson ES-335. This makes them perfect for genres like blues, classic rock, and even harder rock sounds. And it being a pickup built for the vintage sound, Pearly Gates may not the best option for modern rock blues, and it probably is not the best choice for country twangy guitar sound. Overall, a sweet pickup that will bring out the best in vintage instruments.
Magnet Type: Alnico II
DC Resistance: Neck -7.3k, Bridge – 8.35k
Created after ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons “Pearly Gates” guitar, this thing packs some clear and rich sounds with singing harmonics. Paired with a right instrument and wood, it’ll give you that vintage blues and rock sound that you’ve been looking for!
Pickups Buyers Guide
Finding your favorite pickup will be a life long journey for most, and it’ll look different for every guitarist. And if what you’re looking for is the classic clean and overdrive blues tone, the key is to look into the vintage pickups of the 50’s and 60’s.
In this case, it won’t make sense for you to look at a modern pickup like a John Petrucci DiMarzio pickup. The above list contains some of the best pickups that will give you a vintage and classic blues tone, and you should also consider whether you’re looking for a pickup for mainly clean and light overdrive sound, or a pickup for overdrive and hard distortion sound.
Single Coil Pickup vs. Humbucker Pickup
Single coil and humbucker are the two main type of pickups that you’ll run into. Historically, single coil came before humbuckers. Single coil were the original pickups that were developed in 1930s, and they were developed as magnets that were wrapped in coils of wire, in a plastic or metal casing.
But the issue with single coil pickup was that it would pick up a lot of hums and buzzes along with the guitar signal. To solve this issue, an engineer by the name of Seth Lover developed the first humbucker pickup.
Single coil and humbuckers have fundamentally distinct differences – single coil has a thinner and brighter sound, while humbuckers generally have thicker, warmer tone.
Other than tone, single coil pickups are usually paired with stratocasters and telecasters, while humbuckers are used in Les Pauls, SG, semi-hollow and hollow body guitars. One isn’t better than the other, and both have distinct tone and uses.
The modern day electric guitarists mix and match single coil and humbucker pickups to find their sound, and as an electric guitarist, it’s super important to understand what single coil and humbuckers each sound like – on both neck and bridge positions.
What are the best humbuckers for blues?
Like mentioned in the list above, my picks for the best humbuckers for blues are Seth Lover SH-55, Alnico II Pro Slash, or Pearly Gates pickups. Among these, Seth Lover and Pearly Gates pickups are definitely more vintage and classic, and provide gorgeous clean tones and can handle overdrive.
Alnico II Pro Slash is a more modern invention compared to the other two, and this one can handle way more dirtiness, and you can even play hard rock with them.So, cast iron tables are durable, but this comes with another consideration. Iron is a heavy material that can be highly difficult to pick up and transport by yourself.
If you are someone who needs to store and transport your band saw often, a cast iron table may be your worst nightmare. Although iron is high quality and long-lasting base to work on, it can be a headache and a backache to move if you will need to do that often.
What are the best Strat pickups for blues?
The Final Word
An important thing to remember when buying pickups are your tone ultimately comes down to your fingers and your playing ability. So I suggest you only upgrade to one of these pickups if you really know what you want in a tone, and it’d be wise to really look into each pickup and its tones before committing to one…
Another suggestion is that you can upgrade your “cheap” guitar just by changing the pickup, and you’ll notice a huge difference straightaway. Anyway, whichever pickup you decide from the above list, I hope you can find that tone you were looking for. Good luck to you all!
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