Seymour Duncan SSL-5; hot, vintage, pure single coils

Before there were amplifiers with master volumes, dedicated gain selectors and almost complete armies of overdrive pedals and stomp boxes, guitar players relied on pickups with higher output to drive their amps into higher gain territory than previously possible. Many players would swap out a pickup for a hotter specimen. The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB was one of the first pickups to hit the market and found it’s way into player’s hands fairly soon. Even players who had guitars that were equipped with single coils would sometimes switch to humbuckers. A very notable instrument was Seymour Duncan’s Tele-Gib. This guitar originally came with 2 single coils but was retrofitted in the early 70s to have 2 humbuckers.

Unfortunately, players who wanted to keep the pure single coil nature of their guitar but who needed extra output had some problems. There wasn’t a viable solution for them. They could go with humbuckers or lower output single coils, but hotter single coils? Forget it.

Until David Gilmour bursted into the scene! He asked Seymour Duncan to make him some hotter single coils, and those eventually became the SSL-5. Offered to the public in the early 80s, these pickups offered players a hot single coil. With its stronger magnets and more powerful winding, this pickup filled the need for many players. The SSL-5 is a hot yet true single coil. The SSL-5 was quickly adopted by many players, professional and casual alike.

Seymour Duncan’s Evan Skopp told us the following about the design stages of the SSL5:

When the so-called SSL-1C, which was a one-off designed for Mr. Gilmour, eventually went into production, it became the SSL-5 Custom. The SSL-5 you buy today is essentially the same pickup as the SSL-1C that Phil Taylor ordered from Seymour and which went into the Black Strat.

For Fender’s DG Black Strat reissue and as a tribute to this bit of guitar history, we stamp “SSL-1C” into the bottom flatwork of the SSL-5s that are installed in the bridge position of that guitar. 

You can get just one pickup if you want to beef up, for example, the bridge pickup, or get a hot single coil to keep up with a hot bridge humbucker. It is also possible to get a complete calibrated set, though, with the middle pickup reverse wound with a reverse polarity, to cancel out any additional hum you might experience.  To enhance the versatility of this set even further, you can get this set with a coiltap as an option. This will reduce the output by almost half and will yield a clearer, cleaner tone with a bit more spank and sparkle.

With enough power to drive non-master volume amps but not so much that your tone becomes an unbalanced, wooly mess, the Seymour Duncan SSL-5 Custom offers an incredibly versatile platform for many styles.

About Orpheo

Orpheo is a long-time member of the Seymour Duncan forum with an interest in the technical side of luthery and pickups and plays jazz, blues, rock and metal on predominantly carved top single cutaway guitars.
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  • Luke Smith

    Truly great pickup, works fantastically well with low or high gain amps, can’t think of a pickup I would rather use for lead guitar work and solos.

  • fjavier

    I’ve installed one in my Black Strat replica and sounds wonderful, especially in the 2-position selector, which offers a very creamy twang sound.