10 Best Single-Coil Pickups (2020 Reviews)

You are probably aware of this by now but a guitar’s pickups are one of the key components to determining its overall tone. Through the years, many world-class manufacturers have invested their time in refining the art of creating high-quality pickups. Upgrading your guitar with these types of pickups can be an excellent improvement to your instrument.

Single-coil pickups have a very particular character. Compared to their closest “rival”, the humbucker pickup, single-coils have a bright, crisp tone. They are described to have more attack and “bite” than humbucker pickups, associating their sound to that of the 60s. You would normally use single-coils in styles such as country, funk, blues, and old-school rock.

In this article, I will give you some of my favorite options for the best single-coil pickups. I will give you the specs, pros, and cons so you can get a better idea of what you should get depending on your needs.

Let’s get to it!

View the Best Single-Coil Pickups Below

EMG-SA Active Single Coil Guitar Pickup
  • Type: Active Single-Coil
  • Magnet Type: Alnico V
  • DC Resistance: 3.55K

The EMG-SA single-coils are active pickups, which provide you an electric guitar with a higher output. This, in turn, gives your sound a natural boost, giving you a rounder sound with better projection. Make sure to remember, active pickups are powered by 9v batteries so you will need lots of those.

The EMG-SA has a vintage Stratocaster vibe, which is bright in nature with a very rich low end. These pickups are also favored by blues players because they have a creamy mid-range. This allows its character to be full of warmth and strength.

Thanks to its internal shielding, these single-coil pickups are virtually noiseless. This is a very big plus since single-coils usually have hum problems. Its Alnico V magnet bar gives consistency to its overall output, giving you great articulation and expression.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

Players such as Steve Lukather and David Gilmour favor the EMG-SA pickups, the must be doing something right. I really like the fullness and warmth of these pickups, compared to other single-coils. Very favorable for a bluesy-type, David Gilmour kind of vibe.

Fender Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster Pickups
  • Type: Single-Coils
  • Magnet Type: Neck and Middle= Alnico III, Bridge= Alnico V
  • DC Resistance: Neck= 5.8-6k, Middle= 6.3-6.5k, Bridge= 6.7-6.9k

Legendary American guitarist, Eric Johnson, paired up with Fender to design his signature single-coils. This gives these pickups a great blend of the classic Fender sound and Eric Johnson’s modern sounding tone. These are one of the best pickups on the market.

The neck pickup is similar to the one on a ‘54 Stratocaster while the middle pickup resembles the tone of a ‘63 Strat. They both consist of an Alnico III magnet. On the other hand, the bridge pickup uses an Alnico V magnet and has a higher output without sacrificing its sweet high end.

The Fender Eric Johnson Signature Single-Coils are highly dynamic, with a lot of expression and articulation, and a very balanced output that gives you everything you need for a sweet tone.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

I am a big fan of Eric Johnson and the fact that he was closely involved gives me confidence in its quality. I particularly enjoy how rich and warm the tone on these single-coils is. They also have some of the best single-coil pickup reviews from customers.

Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele Pickups
  • Type: Noiseless Single-Coil
  • Magnet Type: Alnico II
  • DC Resistance: Neck= 12K, Bridge= 13K

Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups produce that single-coil clarity and brightness similar to that of the 60s Telecaster. To this, they gave it the perfect addition by making them noiseless pickups to effectively strip any hum single-coils naturally produce.

This set of two pickups have an Alnico II type of magnet. This magnet has a warmer attack and a less-aggressive midrange than the normal Telecaster pickups. While this might be a con for someone looking for the closest replica of the vintage Telecaster sound, I favor it.

The Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele Pickups are an ideal option for anyone looking to play blues, rock, pop, or country music.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

There are many great Telecaster pickups in Fender’s roster and by any means are these the only great option. However, I do like the fact that the hum is very well reduced, which is an ongoing problem with single-coils. I also like the tone of these pickups, even is it’s less aggressive than the “normal” ones.

Mojotone Lipstick Stratocaster Pickup Set
  • Type: Single-Coil
  • Magnet Type: Alnico V
  • DC Resistance: Neck= 5K, Bridge= 9K

Mojotone Stratocaster pickups give you a tone that is particularly clear and glassy. At the same time, these pickups react very well to distortion, making them a very versatile set of single-coils. Mojotone took it to the next level by adding extra thickness to the overall output, making them excellent pickups.

Both the neck and the bridge pickup consist of an Alnico V, which has a very present high end. An added bonus is that the bridge pickup has increased low end and midrange, giving it an extra push for solos and lead lines.

The Mojotone Lipstick Stratocaster Pickup is a great choice for someone looking for a very clear tone and high output that can be properly influenced by distortion or overdrive pedals.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

The thing I like most about these pickups is its great reaction to any amp or pedals you use to shape the tone. Its clear tonal properties make it so that you can really hear whatever analog gear you use to get the best sound possible.

Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Strat Pickups
  • Type: Custom Shop Single-Coil
  • Magnet Type: Alnico V
  • DC Resistance: Neck Pickup= 6.2K. Middle= 6.5K. Bridge= 6.5-7.1K

For those looking for that Fender Stratocaster, blues-type, Steve Ray Vaughan-vibe tone, these are the perfect pickups for you. The Texas Special Strat Pickups have crystal high end and a tight low end. However, its midrange boost is what makes these pickups great-sounding and one of the best options for Stratocaster guitars.

These Fender Tex pickups are all Alnico V, which is enamel-coated. This gives you the classic Alnico V characteristics (clear, bright tone with great dynamics) plus a vintage influence on the overall output.

The Fender Tex Special Strat Pickups are recommended for styles such as Blues, Rock, Classic Rock, Country, and Pop. This are a great voice for someone looking to sound like the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

These pickups are the best if you are looking for a blues-sounding instrument. I like the midrange on these pickups and I think they blend very nicely on a Stratocaster guitar.

Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD Jerry Donahue Model Tele Bridge Pickup
  • Type: Single-Coil
  • Magnet Type: Alnico II
  • DC Resistance: Bridge= 7.7K

The Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD Jerry Donahue Model Telecaster Pickup is a single-coil that is used as a Lead (Bridge) pickup. It holds all of the characteristics of the classic Telecaster. This includes a sweet, warm, vintage-sounding tone with the traditional Telecaster guitar twang.

This single-coil is made with Alnico II rod magnets and a special coil wind to increase sustain and volume. An added bonus is its very good bass response and clarity, making this an excellent addition to your guitar.

The Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD Jerry Donahue Model Telecaster Pickup has a very balanced tone that suits almost any style but favors country and classic rock. Works well with overdrive and distortion on a guitar.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

I thoroughly enjoy the sound of a Telecaster and this pickup delivers the best of the best. It’s bright, but not too bright and that twang gives you a sound that is very strong in character. Great for classic rock music and Seymour Duncan is always a guarantee.

Lace Sensor Red Single-Coil Pickup
  • Type: Single-Coil
  • Magnet Type: Ceramic Pickup
  • DC Resistance: Bridge= 14.5k

The Red Pickup comes from Lace’s Sensor series and are the single-coil pickups with the hottest output from said series. It works best when used as a bridge pickup and provides you with a very fat, full-sounding tone. This pickup has the qualities of a humbucker but on a single-coil.

A great thing about the Lace Sensor Red is its Field Barrier system. This system reduces that 60-cycle hum that is prevalent on single-coils. It is thanks to the efficiency of its magnets that they require less energy, giving space to better dynamics and sustain.

This ceramic single-coil pickup is an excellent choice for any and all styles but is favored in aggressive genres such as rock, punk, and metal. It also works really well for lead lines and solos.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

I really like the fullness of this ceramic pickup. It is an excellent choice for you rockers out there and the fact that it has a reduced 60-cycle hum in a great plus. One of the best rock single-coil pickups out there.

DiMarzio DP419 Area '67 Hum Canceling Strat Pickup
  • Type: Single-Coil
  • Magnet Type: Alnico II
  • DC Resistance: Neck= 5.86K

The DiMarzio DP419 Area ‘67 is a pickup that holds aloof the tonal characteristics of Stratocasters in 1967. To this, they also added their Area technology to eliminate hum. Therefore, you get the best of both worlds, the classic Stratocaster vibe of the Monterey Pop Festival era and no hum.

These Alnico II pickups are very bright in nature and work really well in the middle or neck position. DiMarzio took it to the next level when they reduced the magnet pull by 40%. This gives you improved sustain and clarity.

The DiMarzio DP419 Area ‘67 works really well on blues and old-school rock kind of music.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

These pickups work wonders on Stratocasters and have a very clear, defined sound. As mentioned before, having that prevalent hum eliminated is also a great bonus. These are one of the top-rated single-coil pickups on the market.

Seymour Duncan Antiquity P-90 Dog Ear Pickup - Bridge
  • Type: P-90
  • Magnet Type: Alnico II
  • DC Resistance: Neck= 8.2K, Bridge= 8.6K

The Antiquity P-90 Dog Ear is a recreation of the Gibson sound of the late 50s. More specifically, they designed these pickups to replicate the sound of the ES-330 pickups. They have a very sweet, warm, and vintage sound with a present growl that characterizes the Gibson tone.

These Alnico II pickups use two specially calibrated Alnico II magnets and work great in both the neck position and the bridge position. In the neck position, this P-90 will have a full, rounded, and sweet tone while in the bridge it will have more midrange.

The Antiquity P-90 Dog Ear is very well-balanced and works on any style of music, making this one of the best versatile pickups available.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

This can easily be my favorite guitar pickup on the list. They are very sweet and warm sounding and have a great balance of lows, mids, and highs. Perfect for any style of music and one of the best single-coil pickups.

Gretsch Hilo'Tron Single-Coil Electric Guitar Pickup Chrome Bridge
  • Type: Single-Coil
  • Magnet Type: Alnico II
  • DC Resistance: Neck= 3.5K, Bridge= 4.06K

These pickups have been around for a long time. Gretsch developed the HiLo’Tron in 1958 and quickly became the foundation for the classic Gretsch sound. Out of all Gretsch pickup families, this one is the one with the lowest output, which allows for more clarity without saturating the overall output.

As for its tonal quality, these pickups have brilliant highs and very mellow lows, giving you a full, yet sweet sound with hi-fidelity. The Gretsch HiLo’Tron is an excellent pickup that works both in the neck and bridge position and has tonal qualities fit for any styles. It does, however, fit mellow styles of music better.

PROS

CONS

Why I Like Them

I really like the sound on these ones, it is very clear and mellow and gives one of the best tones for chords and chord-melodies.

Single-Coil Pickups Buyer's Guide

The three main components when looking for the best pickups for your electric guitar are whether the pickups are active vs passive, the type of magnet used, and which position on your electric guitar favors them most.

If we talk about active vs passive, the reality is that even though most pickups are passive, active has many more benefits. Some of those benefits are a clearer tonal quality, a higher output and work better with overdrive/distortion. Their only “downside” is having to use a 9v battery.

Speaking of the type of magnet, as you saw on this list, there are several types of Alnico pickups. Alnico II has soft, gentle tonal qualities that give it a vintage feel. Alnico V on the other hand has a stronger output, as well as a bolder sound. Finally, we have one ceramic pickup on the list, which is the loudest, most aggressive of them all.

Lastly, we have the position of the pickups on your guitar. Pickups can work very differently depending on their position. A neck pickup usually has a darker, rounder tone while a bridge pickup is brighter and with more attack. Buying a neck pickup and placing it on the bridge can give you a warmer tone. On the other hand, getting a bridge pickup might give you a more pricing sound. Experimentation is key in this matter.

Frequently Asked Questions

1) Why single-coil pickups are better than humbuckers?

I wouldn’t say that single-coil pickups are better than humbuckers, they are different. They both have different tonal qualities that satisfy different needs in terms of tone and articulation. Single-coil pickups have a thinner, brighter sound with mich more definition. Humbuckers, on the other hand, are thicker, warmer, and are better suited for styles such as jazz, hard rock, or metal. They usually have a high output as well.

My top recommendation to you is to figure out which style you are most interested in playing and searching for your favorite guitar players. This way you can figure out what they sound like and which type of pickups they use on their electric guitar, which will become your best option.

2) Do single-coil pickups hum?

Unfortunately, they do. That is one of their biggest problem and why they are not that well suited for genres that required distorted or heavily over-driven electric guitar. However, as you saw on this list I compiled, many companies such as Fender or Seymour Duncan are creating noise reduced pickups that help a lot with this issue.

There are also several things you can do such as shielding your electric guitar or getting a hum eliminator pedal that will help you with any humming issues you may face. I would recommend checking those out, as well as any noiseless pickups you may find along the way.

3) How do you clean single-coil pickups?

Music Nomad has an excellent guitar polish that can help you clean your electric guitar’s body and pickups. You just need a cleaning cloth and you’ll be good to go. I’d also personally recommend always giving a wipe to your guitar’s strings and pickups after playing since sweat and/or grease can slowly damage your guitar.

Conclusion

There are plenty of excellent choices for your guitar pickups. By any means are these 10 pickups the only option for you and I would certainly recommend you take your time finding the right fit. You can always find smaller companies that can give you the best of the best. They can provide you a pickup with a unique tone or a unique design so don’t undervalue them. However, big companies such as DiMarzio, Fender, EMG, or Seymour Duncan are very reliable and it would benefit you to look into their roster of best electric guitar pickups.

Either way, make sure you take your time and do all the research you need to do before getting a new set of electric guitar pickups. you will not regret investing that time, trust me.

Expert Tip

Understanding the relationship between your electric guitar’s pickups and your guitar amplifier can give you incredible control over your tone. The best guitar players out there take their time figuring out how much do the bass, middle, and high controllers on their amplifier affect the sound. A great example is, when playing at high volumes, it is recommended to lower the bass on your amplifier as it naturally increases as volume increases.

Did You Know?

The first successful single-coil pickup was built in the mid-1920s by Californian guitarist George Beauchamp. This pickup was known as the “horseshoe pickup” and it was until 1935 that Gibson was able to create their own pickups.

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