What Ohm rating is best for guitar pickups?

Guitar players love specs, and we love getting all nerdy about the little details on our new favorite guitars – myself included.

Whether it’s a weight relief body or a chambered body, rosewood or maple fretboard, polyester finish or nitrocellulose finish, alnico V or alnico II, bone nut vs plastic nut, there are a crazy amount little details to consider.

Mind you, they do matter in the grand scheme of things and they will probably affect the tone one way or the other. But for some little details… well it’ll just lead to a full out argument on an online guitar forum, rather than being an actual piece of useful information.

With that said, today we want to talk about a type of specification that many guitar players love to talk about when it comes to pickups – Ohm rating of a pickup, or the DC resistance. 

What is DC Resistance and What Does It Tell Us?

DC Resistance in regards to a guitar pickup is the amount of current it takes to push the electrons from one end of guitar coil to the other end. So in other words, it’s telling us the resistance of the length of the wire that’s being used on that particular pickup.

It’s measured in Ohms, and it’s a specification that you will almost always see with pickups. Now, there are a lot of confusion and controversy with this spec, and many people rely too much on the Ohm rating of a pickup.

Many including myself, made the mistake of thinking that a higher Ohm rating will instantly mean “hotter” pickup with a lot more firepower and output. And yes, the Ohm rating will give us a very rough idea of pickup’s output, but at the same time it only really matters when we are comparing the output between identical pickup designs and specs.

For example, if you were to compare a Gibson PAF humbucker bridge pickup to a Seymour Duncan single coil neck pickup, the Ohm reading won’t really tell you much. It’s almost impossible to compare these two with just the DC resistance, because they both have completely different underlying variables such as lengths of wire, diameters of wire, type of bobbins, or type of Alnico magnets.

Now on the other hand, if you had two single coil neck pickups from two different Fender guitars, with all the same underlying variables above, then you could use a multimeter to compare which single coil neck pickup has more output like 6k vs 6.3k.

The pickups with a high output are described as a “hot” pickup, and the higher output means it is more likely to distort and have an increased voltage. And in many cases, hotter pickups have more mid-range frequencies and less treble in terms of overall guitar tone.

Other use of Ohm ratings is it can tell us whether a pickup actually works or not. A broken pickup might show a meter of “Infinity”, or a shorted out pickup can show a reading of 0 ohms. You can find a general ballpark Ohm reading of different kind of pickups, and compare that to check whether your pickup works or not.

Other things to consider when measuring the DC resistance, is factors like temperature, lengths of wire, diameters of wire, and the type of testing equipment, which can all factor into the Ohm reading that you get on your multimeter. 

General DC Resistance for Different Guitars and Pickups

Now considering all the information above, you can still use a general ballpark figure of Ohm rating when you are purchasing a new pickup, or comparing pickups that have the exact same variables. According to Seymour Duncan, the best DC resistance of a single coil pickups on a Fender Strat is around 5.8k to 6.3k.

For a Fender Telecaster Lead tone, the popular DC resistance is around 6.2k to 6.6k, and 7.6k for Fender Telecaster Rhythm. For Gibson PAF Humbuckers, they are usually around 8.4k, and 8.6k for Gibson P-90s.

Those pickups above were mainly for genres like blues, rock, jazz and pop – where we don’t really need a crazy hot pickup that will distort easily, and maybe just need enough for some overdrive. For a pickup that is built for hard rock and even metal, like the new Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty, they are loaded with DiMarzio Rainmaker neck pickup and a DiMarzio Dreamcatcher bridge.

Just to give you a perspective, they have an Ohm reading of 11.62k for the neck and 14.4k for the bridge. Now if we’re looking at full on metal guitars like Jackson Rhoads, they are loaded with Jackson High Output Ceramic Humbuckers.

These have a DC resistance level of around 13k, and some Jackson pickups can even go up to 17.4k of DC resistance. Clearly, you can get a rough sense of the different purpose that each of these pickups have – whether it’s for a clean, funky Strat tone or for a Meshuggah cover band. 

The Final Word​

The important piece of information that you should take away from this article is that the Ohm rating or the DC resistance of a pickup, is only a very small part of what makes a great guitar tone.

They can be used to give you a very rough idea of what the pickup output will be like, and they can be useful to compare and contrast pickups with the same materials. One example would be comparing 3 different Gibson PAF style humbuckers that you might own.

Given that they have same materials, one particular PAF humbucker might have a DC resistance of around 6.8k, while another one could have around 9k Ohm. With this information, you can probably assume that the 6.8k PAF might have a thinner and more snappy tone, and the 9k PAF might have thicker and warmer sound with more mids.

More important factors can include but are not limited to: body or neck wood composition, bridge of the guitar, string gauge, pickup adjustment, or magnet type. But most importantly, your fingers! Jimi Hendrix can probably take a Fender Squier Strat and make it sound like a $5,000 guitar…

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