Best Guitar Pickups – Humbuckers & Single Coils [2020 Review Updated]

Pickups have a huge impact on the tone of an electric or acoustic guitar. No matter what amplifier and pedals you use, you won’t get your desired tone without the right guitar pickups. With so many options out there, it can be difficult to sift through and find the ideal choice for your guitar.

Humbuckers and single coil guitar pickups are two of the most common, both producing individual tones with different qualities. The genre and style of electric guitar that you play will determine which type of pickup you need, and where to position them.

In the following detailed guide to the best guitar pickups on the market today, I will describe the attributes of each pickup, so that you can make an informed choice. I’ll start by presenting the guitar pickups reviews, then later in the article you can find a comprehensive buyers guide with more information.

Looking for a pickup specifically for an acoustic guitar? Read our acoustic guitar pickups reviews.

Top 8 Best Guitar Pickups Reviews

Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader

If you’re familiar with guitar pickups, chances are you’ve heard of Seymour Duncan. World-renowned for their extensive range of top-quality pickups for guitars, they are a popular choice for guitarists of all styles and genres. The SH8 Invader is a powerful humbucker that brings out the aggression of your guitar.

This pickup is ideal for producing the heavier tones required for rock and metal. It has a high output, thanks in large to the combination of a trio of ceramic magnets. The coils are over-wound and the addition of twelve oxide cap screws adds to the impressive energy of the passive pickups.

The SH8 Invader is most commonly employed in the bridge position of an electric guitar, although it is also available for the neck. The neck position pickup has a reduced output to maximize the versatility of your tone. Compatible with the majority of electric guitars, this Seymour Duncan pickup set has wide pole pieces to fit humbucker and trembucker string spacings.

Magnet Type:  Ceramic

Type: Humbucker

DC Resistance: 7.5K (Neck) 16.6K (Bridge)

PROS

CONS

The SH-8 Invader is a great addition to your electric guitar, especially if you play energetic, heavy styles of music. The main reason this pickup stands out amongst the crowd is its ability to produce a tone that has plenty of bite, ensuring that you cut through even the busiest of mixes on stage.

Fishman Fluence

Fishman has built a reputation over the past few decades as one of the leading providers of guitar-based electronics. Their Fluence Modern Humbucker pickup set further affirms their quality, with impressively smooth and full-bodied output and versatility that lends itself to many genres.

With the Fluence pickups, you get to experience the unbounded explosiveness of Alnico V magnets in combination with the sharp attack of ceramic. Whether you play mainly chord-based rhythm guitar or technical lead, this neck and bridge set of electric guitar pickups will give you a higher output to work with.

Perhaps the most noteworthy quality of the Fishman Fluence Humbucker pickup set is its versatility. The multi-voice nature can be wired up so that you can toggle between two distinct voices, one more soft and melodic, the other with more bite to grab an audience’s attention.

Magnet Type:  Alnico V (Neck) Ceramic (Bridge)

Type: Humbucker

DC Resistance: 8.3K (Neck) 11.9K (Bridge)

PROS

CONS

The Fishman Fluence Humbucker pickups maybe a little on the expensive side, but their quality justifies the price tag. No matter what style of electric guitar you play, these pickups will enhance your tone and give you more sonic options.

EMG JH James Hetfield Signature

Next up on our list of the best acoustic and electric guitar pickups is the outstanding James Hetfield Signature humbuckers. Designed in collaboration with the legendary Metallica guitarist in an effort to combine the detailed punch of a passive pickup while staying true to the heavy active pickups tone that he is known for.

Available with classy EMG Metal Works stainless steel caps, these pickups look and good as they sound. If you’re a fan of Metallica, you’ll know what you’re getting with the James Hetfield signatures: plenty of attack, grit, and a full-bodied low end.

The sharp attack is further enhanced by the inclusion of steel pole pieces and individual ceramic poles.  With solderless installation components, these guitar pickups are easy to mount onto your instrument. In my opinion, they are an improved version of the EMG 81 electric guitar pickups.

Magnet Type:  Alnico V

Type: Humbucker

DC Resistance: 12.1K (Bridge) 12.1K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

One of the standout qualities of the EMG JH Signature pickups is the attention to detail. The high-end components produce a tone that is stunningly clear and powerful, as you would expect from the legendary Metallica member.

Seymour Duncan SH4 JB

Seymour Duncan makes another appearance on our list, this time with their more affordable SH4 JB hot-rodded humbucker set of electric guitar pickups. With over 30 years of being hugely popular amongst guitarists, this pickup provides higher output than many other options on the market.

If you need a pick up for blues or heavy rock, look no further than the SH4 JB. In terms of tone, it produces clear and smooth highs, sharp harmonics and a touch of natural distortion. Whether you need access to warm, sweet tones or straight up rock n’ roll, this Seymour Duncan offering will suffice.

The pickup comes with a four-conductor hookup cable, and installation is pretty easy. It’s most compatible with 250K pots, as this adds a smoothness to the treble output. The magnetic field adds a distinct warmth to your electric guitar tone.

Magnet Type:  Alnico 5

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 16.6K (Bridge)

PROS

CONS

The SH4 JB Humbucker pickup provides you with a balanced tone that is versatile and detailed. Well suited to heavy rock styles, this high output pickup has Alnico 2 pole caps and staggered pole pieces to bring the best out of your instrument.

Fender Original '57/'62

This list wouldn’t be complete without an offering from arguably the most iconic manufacturers of guitars and pickups, Fender. Many consider the late ’50s and early ’60s to be the pinnacle of Fender tone, and the Original guitar pickup set pays homage to that era with this set of single coil pickups.

Learn who invented the guitar pickup.

Indeed, the standout quality of the Original ’57/’62 pickup set is the bright, refined tone that the produce. With staggered band-beveled pole pieces, Fender has ensured that you get a well-balanced output across the whole frequency range of your electric guitar.

If you are a multi-faceted guitarist who likes to play a combination of melody, rhythm, riffs, and solos, then this pickup set might be the perfect choice for you. The Alnic V magnets are employed to add focus and dynamic range, and the aged white aesthetics give this Fender set a touch of authenticity.

Magnet Type:  Alnico 5

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 5.6K (Bridge) 5.6K (Middle) 5.6K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

Although the term “vintage” gets thrown around a lot these days, the Fender Original ’57/’62 pickups genuinely do take you back to the glory days of the electric guitar. With top-quality components and a smooth tonal output, they would make a great addition to any Strat or similar-styled ax.

Wilkinson Lic Cream ST

If you’re shopping on a budget, it’s worth considering the Wilkinson Lic Cream ST pickup set. Wilkinson has quickly become on of the most trusted manufacturers of affordable pickups, so you can rely on their products. Obviously, they aren’t built with the high-end components that more expensive offerings are, but they still perform very capably.

These ceramic guitar pickups come as a complete set, with the neck, middle, and bridge all included. You also get six mounting screws and springs that are made from chrome. The tone produced by the Lic Cream ST is perfectly suited to getting the best out of a Stratocaster, but there’s no reason they can’t slot onto a Les Paul too.

The staggered polepiece provokes a vintage voice from your electric guitar. The single coil pickup design provides you with plenty of bite in the mid-tones and articulate highs. They’re available in cream, black, or silver, so you can choose accordingly depending on the color scheme of your instrument.

Magnet Type:  Ceramic

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 6.1K (Bridge) 5.8K (Middle) 5.8K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

Although it’s usually true that you get what you pay for when it comes to guitar pickups, the Wilkinson Lic Cream ST single-coil pickup set performs at the level you’d expect from some more costly options. With a vintage warmth and sharp mid-tones, they’re perfect for lead guitarists in jazz, rock, or blues bands.

Want to see more pickups specifically for stratocasters? Read our best pickups for stratocasters review.

Seymour Duncan SSL1

The SSL1 Vintage Staggered Single Coil Pickup is a new offering from, you guessed it, Seymour Duncan. It’s testimony to their level of expertise when you consider the sheer number of quality pickups they produce, all with different capabilities.

Using a combination of Alnico II and Alnico V magnetic field, the SSL1 produces high output that is perfect for blues and rock. The coils are overwound, creating clean and detailed harmonics across the fretboard. The pickup produces a bell-like tone that is well suited to a Stratocaster or similar instrument.

The SSL1 was first produced by Seymour Duncan back in 2004, and ever since then, it has been a popular choice amongst electric guitarists desiring to enhance the sound of their instrument. You get the classic, red-hot, single-coil sound that is ideal for playing riffs and solos.

Magnet Type:  Alnico V

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 6.5K (Bridge) 6.5K (Middle) 6.5K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

This single-coil pickup by Seymour Duncan provides a guitarist with pristine bell-like clarity in the higher registers of the fretboard, for a very affordable price. It’s a good middle ground between the more advanced, expensive pickups on this list and the affordable entry-level offerings.

Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz Set

To conclude our list of the best pickups for guitar, we have another entry from none other than Seymour Duncan. This set of hot-rodded humbucker pickups boast great versatility, with everything from classic rock to heavy metal well within their capabilities.

Created in 1974, the classic humbucker pickup set is known to be one of Seymour’s personal favorites. The JB pickup adds a fullness to the bridge, enhancing the power of any low-end riffs and chords. Combined with hot coils and an Alnico 5 magnet, it delivers a distinctive midrange attack and singing highs.

The Jazz Model neck humbucker also uses an Alnico V magnet but has a specifically designed coil wind to improve articulation. The result is a glassy tone in the treble send, that blends nicely with the upper midrange of your fretboard. These were hand-built with top-quality components to ensure the best performance possible.

Magnet Type:  Alnico V

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 16.6K (Bridge) 7.5K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

The combination of JB and Jazz pickup models is known to be one of the most reliable out there. The JB sounds awesome on the bridge pickup, really enhancing the mid-tones and articulation. The Jazz electric guitar pickup produces a sharp attack for added power and clarity.

Granted, our list is filled with top-end electric guitar pickups, but if you’re shopping on a tight budget I’d recommend the Wilkinson Lic Cream ST set. Although they’re not built with the same high-quality components as more expensive offerings, they boast brilliant value for money, providing you with exceptional tones for a very low price.

Guitar Pickups Buyers Guide

When deciding on which guitar pickup is best suited to your needs, there are a few main factors to consider. The history of the manufacturer and their reputation amongst musicians is a good indicator of the quality of their products. The components they use and the small nuances that go into the design of the pickup also have a large impact on their performance.

It’s commonly thought that a guitarist’s tone is mainly impacted by their choice of guitar, the amplifier they use, and the effects that are present on the pedalboard. Although these three factors undeniably play a big part, pickups are also an integral choice that should be thoroughly considered. If you don’t install the best possible options there will be a limit on the quality of tone that your guitar rig is capable of producing, especially if you have a particular style or sound in mind.

Tone is everything for guitarists. It’s the accent that colors the notes, and an opportunity for individuality to shine through. Let’s take a look at the main factors that impact the tone produced by a pickup, starting with magnets.

Magnets

The magnets that are used for the pickup have a notable impact on the overall tone that they produce. Alnico II magnets are commonly used and are great for highlighting the warmness of the mid-tones of an electric guitar. Compared to Alnico V magnets, they produce a lower-output but the response is generally smoother across the frequency range.

Alnico V magents produce more of a bite, with clear treble tones and a sharp attack. It’s common for manufacturers to combine Alnico II and V magnets in a pickup set, to get the best of both worlds. If you can see a black magnet at the bottom of a pickup, this indicates that it is ceramic. These types of magnets are popularly used due to their magnetic field, which is stronger than the aforementioned Alnico II and V’s. The overall tone is more agressive, especially in the high-end frequencies.

Humbuckers or Single Coil Pickups

Another factor to consider when choosing the best-suited options for your guitar is the variety of coil that has been employed. The amount of coils has a big effect on the sound output of the pickup, whether it be single coils or humbucker. Both of these have distinctive qualities that lend themselves to certain styles of playing.

Single-coils were the only choice in the formative years of electric guitars, but the issue that musicians and producers kept encountering was the unwanted noise that crept in when they were cranked to high volume and gain levels. To combat this, humbucker pickups were designed. These are essentially dual-coil, which cancel out the noise, literally “bucking the hum”. The result was a thicker, more predictable output from the pickup on guitar.

Many guitarists transitioned back to single-coils after the technology became more advanced. Nowadays, most single-coils are fitted with mechanisms that stop there being too much-unwanted noise. Single-coils are great for playing screaming solos or powerful, on-the-edge riffs.

Winding

Winding is an art form that also plays a significant part in determining the characteristics of electric guitar pickups. When the wire has a higher number of windings, the output is generally higher. The higher frequencies are less prominent on wires that are more tightly wound, and the overall range of sound dynamics is also depleted.

When a wire has less windings, the tone becomes more punchy. It’s common that top-quality pickups of decades gone by would hand-wired by a technician, with purposeful inconsistencies. This technique makes the pickups sound more unique.

Poles

When choosing your desired pickup for guitar, it’s worth looking at the type of pole-pieces that are used. These are basically the metal objects that are placed below your strings. Alnico magnets and steel and the two most commonly used materials to make pole pieces for electric guitar pickups. If you desire a bright sound with sparkling highs, Alnico is your best bet. If you like a more understated tone, look for a guitar pickup with steel pole-pieces.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the frequently asked questions regarding the best pickup additions you can make to your guitar.

1.) Which guitar pickups are the best?

This completely depends on what you want from a guitar pickup. Ultimately, you have two options: single coil or a humbucker set. A simple way to decide on which guitar pickup is best suited for you is to establish whether you will predominantly be playing lead or rhythm. Single-coil electric guitar pickups are considered to be better for playing lead guitar, because of the more aggressive sound, energetic tones that they produce. Humbuckers are smoother than single coil pickups and sound great for melodic chord playing.

2.) What are the best humbuckers?

Seymour Duncan’s range of SH Humbuckers takes some beating. Although their passive and active pickups differ from model to model, they all produce an articulate and smooth humbucking sound and often a higher output than competitors. EMG 81 and 85 range are also recommendable, but I would put Seymour Duncan at the top of the pile.

3) How do I choose guitar pickups?

The number one piece of advice I could give to someone choosing new pickups is to establish what you want to get from them. If you have specific attributes in mind or a particular sound, you can make a much better choice. Looking into the pickups used by your favorite guitarists is also a fool-proof way to choose the right electric guitar pickup.

4) Do pickups really make a difference?

Yes! The combination of the pickup and bridge pickup that you select makes a huge difference to your sound, and how your guitar interacts with pedals or other musicians. Installing new ones on your guitar can completely transform the tones and sound it produces. A guitar pickup also affects the performance of your guitar in a recording environment, when they are plugged straight into a direct input. The relationship between a pickup, guitar and amplifier are integral to the overall sound.

Conclusion

After reading this comprehensive guide to the best guitar pickups, you should now be able to make an informed choice of which are best suited to your needs. Electric guitar pickups are highly important components when it comes to sculpting your tone, so it’s important to take the time to make the best choice possible. Whether you need active pickups, passive pickups, bridge pickups, or neck pickups, you’ll find them all in this detailed article.

All that’s left to do once you’ve decided on the best option for you, is to enjoy experimenting with your new addition!

Expert Tip:

Sometimes, installing a neck pickup on the bridge and vice versa can produce some pretty interesting results. After doing this accidentally once, I fell in love with the strange sound and frequency response it provoked. If you like to experiment and create unique sounds, give it a try (providing the neck pickup will fit on the bridge.) Sometimes, the best tones come unintentionally!

Did you know?

John Frusciante, the guitarist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and regarded by many as one of the best electric guitarists of the 21st century, experimented with many pickups on his beloved 1962 Fender Stratocaster. In the end, he settled on were a brand new pair of specific Fender strat pickups because they enhanced the sound.

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