The Best Guitar Neck Pickups (Humbucker Edition)
Seymour Duncan has a wide variety of neck pickups to help you find that perfect match. There are many things to consider when you’re looking for a neck pickup. First up is the wood of the guitar – do you have a bright guitar like alder and want to warm and fatten it up, or do you have a warmer guitar and want to make take it out of the darkness and give it some crunch and bite? [Read more about tone woods here]. Another consideration is how well it balances with your bridge pickup; do you want a neck that is different than your bridge for versatility or do you want more of a balanced compliment to what you already love in the bridge?
One of the most sought after pickups, the ’59 neck is just like its name implies, a vintage tone that is smooth, round and warm and can do hard distortion just as well as clean with plenty of harmonics and sustain. Works well with most pickups and also comes in a set with a ’59 bridge.
Like the ’59 the Jazz also uses an Alnico V magnet [more info on pickup magnet types here] and is still a pretty smooth and warm pickup, but it’s brighter than the ’59. It’s known for its articulation and crisp clean tones. Don’t let the name fool you though, this is a very articulate and well balanced pickup that is a great match for many styles – from blues to metal. Much like the ’59 and perhaps even more so, the Jazz can be paired with almost any bridge pickup.
Capable of being both rude and sweet, the Pearly Gates neck is a favorite on the Seymour Duncan Forum. The Pearly Gates matches well with many pickups, but particularly with the Custom series, JB (great split too) and of course the Pearly Gates bridge for that great Texas Blues/Rock tone with beautiful cleans and a dirty tone with plenty of sizzle.
Alnico II Pro
This pickup – which as the name suggests uses an Alnico II magnet – produces a warm, smooth sweet tone and is particularly well suited for bright guitars. On a clean setting you get a very sweet tone with some higher end sparkle, and with distortion it can really shine. The Alnico II Pro neck is fatter and warmer in tone than the Pearly Gates, and goes quite well with a Pearly Gates bridge, Alnico II Pro bridge or Custom Custom.
The Distortion neck is one of the more popular choices for metal players, with a chunky but articulate tone that is quite responsive. It’s commonly used for those who want a higher-output, more aggressive neck pickup (though some prefer the lower output pickups like the Jazz for versatility).
Designed for 7/8 string players originally, it combines the best qualities of the ’59 Model and the Jazz: clarity, detail, depth, attack and expression. Commonly paired with the Nazgul, Pegasus or Duncan Distortion. Like the Jazz and ’59 it can match well with many bridge pickups. You can hear how versatile it is in this metal context or this progressive rock clip.
A relative newcomer, the Black Winter neck pickup has become pretty sought after and admired by those who have it. It’s a very clear tone with great cleans. Here’s a couple reviews:
Gone_Shootin: “The BW neck compared to the Pearly Gates has more on top, the mids seem to hit at a higher frequency, and the low end is a lot tighter than the PG. The BW neck is excellent for pristine clean stuff. It’s got a beautiful chime to it, but it doesn’t do bluesy or funky stuff as well as the PG. “
Anonymous “Metal” Guitar Company: It sounds so good it could be used for rhythm and lead. When clean the Neck really shines and chimes with low end as well. When dirty it blasts away with authority. It puts the ’59 and Jazz in its place for sure. We liked the clarity of the pickup no matter if the amp was cranked with distortion or nice and clean.
While bridge models are designed and wound specifically to be hotter since there is less room for the strings to vibrate, there is no rule that says you can’t put a bridge model in the neck. Sometimes you just want that extra output in the neck and it works especially well if you’re pairing it with an already hot bridge pickup. The JB and Jazz bridge models in the neck are particularly popular on the Seymour Duncan Forum. Dimebag Darrell preferred the ’59 bridge in the neck, which balanced more with the high-output Dimebucker.
What are your favorite neck pickups?