I’m a member of the Seymour Duncan User Group Forums; many great ideas originated from the user forum such as the Custom 5, the idea of swapping magnets and the popularization of making ‘hybrids.’ The 59/Custom Hybrid humbucker is even a ‘forum invention’ by itself! So what exactly is a hybrid and what sets it apart from other pickups?
Pickups are in their bare form simply a magnet and a large strand of copper wire wrapped around it in the form of a coil. The wire can have several thicknesses. Usually, a humbucker has two coils wound to be the same. That entails having the same amount of turns, same wire thickness and the same winding pattern, but with one coil being wound in reverse so the humbucker cancels out the 50 hz or 60 hz cycle hum you get when playing through an amplifier (as Richard Irons explained so well in his blogs).
A hybrid is essentially a pickup where one of the aforementioned parameters is different, meaning you have two coils that are no longer the same. That can be because of a different winding pattern, different wire gauges, different amount of turns or perhaps even a combination of those parameters.
The reason these kind of humbuckers are called hybrids is because they are made from elements of several different pickups. In the case of the ’59/Custom Hybrid, it came about when some forum members used parts the Custom 5 and ’59, with the difference between those two pickups only being the coils (the magnet and baseplate are still the same).
But what really makes the hybrid do the magic it does? Why does it share traits of both its ‘parents’ yet has a unique character of its own?
That’s because of the different resonant peaks of each coil. The resonant peak is a term used to describe the frequency the coil (or pickup) amplifies best or easiest. Even though the coil will hand out every frequency the string produces, the coil has a frequency it prefers to amplify. That’s actually the entire meaning of resonance. Your guitar has a resonant frequency, just like everything else. Whenever a vibration is being transferred to anything, that piece of whatever it is will want to vibrate too. The unique frequency at which the piece will actually amplify the vibration that’s being transferred to that piece is called the resonant frequency.
It is this unique resonant frequency of each coil that enables the unique characteristics of the hybrid pickups. In a regular, symmetrical humbucker, you get the cancellation of the hum because both coils pick that frequency up. Because they also pick up a different piece of the string, no matter how minute the difference, not every frequency is canceled. Unfortunately a lot of the nicer upper harmonics you don’t necessarily hear instantaneously are also canceled out in a symmetrical pickup. You can negate the issue by using different kinds of pole pieces for each coil to change the inductance of each coil, but if you really want to get more of the upper harmonics you simply need to cancel out less of those harmonics! By using two different coils you get just that. The downside is that you get a bit more of the hum you were trying to cancel out in the first place but still much less than with conventional single coils.
I can’t say that I only want hybrids or non-hybrids. It completely depends of the guitar I’m putting the pickup in. Some pickups work wondrously well in some guitars and some guitars sound horrible with them. All a hybrid pickup enables you to do is to widen your tonal spectrum. Hybrid pickups are no magic cure for ill-sounding guitars, but good guitars may reveal a broader potential with hybrid pickups than with ‘conventional’ humbuckers. But that may hold value for great pickups in general.
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