First question: Which pickups fit your guitar?
What size pickup was your guitar designed for? That’s how we group the pickups on this website: Humbuckers, Pickups for Strat®, Pickups for Tele®, Bass Pickups, and Specialized, where you’ll find all guitar pickups that aren’t Strat-, Tele-, or humbucker-sized
Most modern guitars are routed to fit either single-coil or humbucker pickups. In the past, players often modified their guitar bodies to accommodate different types of pickups. Guitars still get modded that way, but nowadays it’s easier to find the pickup you want in the size you want. For example, we make single-coil pickups that behave like humbuckers, and humbucker-sized pickups that house single-coil designs.Back to Top ^
Second question: what kind of music do you play?
So many players have used so many pickups in so many different styles that it’s probably not a good idea to think of a particular pickup as “the country pickup” or “the one you need to play metal.” Still, your preferred playing style can suggest criteria that may guide you toward particular pickups.
A key question is, how often do you play with distortion, and how often do you play clean? High-output pickups generate distorted tones more readily, so they’re a good choice if you mostly play loud, aggressive music. Moderate-output pickups are more versatile-they’re great for clean sounds, but you have the option of dirtying up your sound via your amp settings or using distortion pedals. In fact, many of today’s amps have enough gain to make any pickup generate heavy distortion sounds.
Back to Top ^
I know the sound I want, but I don’t know which pickup will provide it.
Then check out the first part of this article, which explains which pickup designs tend to produce which types of sounds. Want more sustain? A bright, chiming tone? Monster crunch for low tunings? Stronger pick harmonics? You’ll have a good idea of where to start your search once you learn the basics.
Back to Top ^
Is there a “magic formula” that will direct me toward the right pickups?
Actually, there just might be one!
The idea is to select a pickup that complements the natural tendencies of the woods used in your guitar or bass. If your instrument has a naturally bright sound due to woods like maple and ash, you might highlight that quality with bright-sounding pickups, or counterbalance it with warm-sounding pickups. If your guitar has a naturally warm sound due to materials like mahogany and rosewood, you could emphasize that quality with warm-sounding pickups, or counterbalance it with bright ones.
For example, a guitar with an alder body and a maple fingerboard usually has a bright sound. A pickup with warm-sounding Alnico 2 magnets would balance that quality, while something with brighter-sounding Alnico 5 magnets would emphasize it. The darker sound of a guitar with a mahogany body and a rosewood fingerboard might benefit from a bright, punchy pickup with Alnico 5 magnets, or maybe a hotter ceramic one if you play aggressive music. Or you could go with an Alnico 2 pickup to maximize the instrument’s natural warmth.
For a more thorough exploration of choosing pickups to match wood types, try this blog article
In any case, one helpful technique is to listen carefully to the sound of your unplugged guitar. Is there an aspect of the acoustic tone that annoys you? Then select a pickup that deemphasizes that quality.
To recap: Start with your guitar’s pickup format. Next, consider the guitar’s materials and gravitate toward a pickup with a complementary magnet. After that, choose an output level based on your musical style, and decide whether you want similar output levels for all pickups, or prefer one pickup to be hotter. By that point you’ll have narrowed the field enough to arrive at a manageable number of options.
Best of all, you may not even need to do the “math” yourself. Our Tone Wizard uses the “counterbalance” method to make pickup recommendations based on the materials in your guitar and your usual playing style. It suggests appropriate warmer-sounding pickups for instruments made from bright-sounding materials, and brighter-sounding pickups for guitars and basses made from warmer-sounding woods, and proposes higher-gain pickup models if you gravitate toward aggressive musical styles.Back to Top ^
Are there any other helpful resources?
Absolutely! In addition to this article and the Tone Wizard, This site includes
- Audio examples of all our pickups
- A glossary of all relevant terminology
- Instructional pickup installation videos
- Wiring diagrams for all our pickups
- The Blog, which covers a diverse range of topics from pure music theory down to in-depth wiring expertise.
But our greatest resources are our players and employees. Our User Forum is one of the web’s liveliest (and friendliest!) musician forums, a place where everyone from absolute beginners to seasoned pros asks questions, shares tips, and talks tone. Our in-house experts hang out there as well. It’s rare that a player’s questions doesn’t generate much helpful, well-informed advice. And it’s 24/7!
And of course, don’t hesitate to call us during business hours at (805) 964-9610. We’ll connect you to a real, live musician who can answer your questions and make recommendations based on your needs. Our on-call experts are friendly, patient and extraordinarily knowledgeable about guitar tone.Back to Top ^