Changing guitar pickups is one of the most powerful upgrades you can do to your guitar and improve tone. It can breathe new life into an old guitar, fix problems with a defective pickup, optimize the guitar for a specific rig, and much more.
While the idea of changing guitar pickups is overwhelming to some, we’re here to show you how easy it can be. We’ll debunk five misconceptions about the process, show you that you can do it, what to expect, and why it’s all worth it.
5 Misconceptions About Changing Guitar Pickups
- Changing guitar pickups is hard
- All pickups sound the same
- There’s such thing as “good” and “bad” tone
- Hotter or lower output—which is better?
- “X” signature pickup will make me sound exactly like “X” artist
Changing guitar pickups is hard
While upgrading your electric guitar’s pickups does require a bit of soldering and wiring know-how, it’s much more straightforward than it may seem at first glance. A wide variety of wiring diagrams are available for free right here; most pickup swaps are simple, drop-in replacements; and soldering is a quick process. Believe it or not, a full pickup swap can take as little as 20 minutes of your time.
And to make things even easier, Seymour Duncan offers in-depth courses that will walk you through every step of the process. Whether customizing an LP, going active, or working with a Strat or Tele, we cover it all. Check it out here.
All pickups sound the same
We all know a tone snob or two that will wear you out about when a company made a specific wire, or about where exactly in the world a specific tone wood is sourced. And, don’t get us wrong, that stuff is all important. But, sometimes it can feel a little bit over the top, right? Well, arguing that all pickups sound the same is just as misdirected.
Different pickups can sound wildly different from each other. Their output, frequency response, and even the amount of magnetic pull they put on your guitar strings deliver unique tonal properties. Even between pickups with similar character traits, such as our Seth Lover and Antiquity humbuckers, there are distinct differences in sound and feel.
So if you’re not happy with your guitar’s tone, there’s a pickup that fixes that. Our advice is to experiment and enjoy the tone journey.
There’s such thing as “good” and “bad” tone
Guitar tone is subjective. We’re all going for something different, using different rigs, drawing from different influences, and are stuck with the fingers we’ve got. Therefore, we’re never all going to agree on what defines good and bad tone. That sentiment directly correlates to electric guitar pickups.
No well-made pickup is intrinsically good or bad. They can only be good or bad at delivering the results you’re after. Do you want to slam the front-end of your high-gain tube amp as hard as possible? Go with a set of Mick Thompson signature Blackout active humbuckers. Want the closest thing to a ’60s Strat pickup as possible? The Antiquity II Surfer Strat set delivers. Get those backward, and you may find yourself with “bad tone.”
Hotter or lower output—which is better?
This misconception ties into the last one. And, like the good and bad tone debate, there is no such thing as “better” output. There’s just what’s better for you. Determining how much output is right for your rig is about how hard you want to drive your amps and pedals.
The Eric Steckel “Candy” humbucker set is a perfect example. Steckel’s high-gain “Bluesmetal” tone is to die for. But, Eric prefers low-output humbuckers.
The inimitable Steve Lukather is another one. For decades, he relied on a high-output, fully active set of pickups. Yet it’s his clean rhythms and in-between tones that drove hundreds of songs to the top of the charts.
And remember, you always have a volume knob or boost pedal if you want a dynamic shift.
“X” signature pickup will make me sound like “X” artist
Did you know that dropping a Joe Bonamassa Amos pickup set into your Les Paul isn’t going to make you sound exactly like Joe? And a Secret Agent Tele neck pickup won’t turn you into Brad Paisley. The point of signature pickups is to give you the same tools the artist uses to perfect what makes them sound unique. The pickups are incredible ways to move your sound in that direction. But, they are also perfect platforms for creating your own signature sound in a similar vein.
But don’t take our word for it
The funny thing about all tone advice is that it’s all subjective. You may disagree with all five of these pointers. That’s why we always recommend taking this—and all—tonal advice with a grain of salt.
Maybe you’ve never been able to master the soldering iron. Maybe you dropped a set of Dino Carzares’s Retribution humbuckers in your 7-string and nailed the Fear Factory punch. Again, tone is subjective. The important thing is that you experiment with changing guitar pickups and find what works for you.
Let’s talk tone!
Want to know more about changing guitar pickups? Check out the SEYMOUR DUNCAN ONLINE PICKUP CLASSES. Our expert technicians will walk you through every step of the process and teach you all you need to know to create the guitar of your dreams.
If you have any other questions about changing pickups or other guitar upgrades, check out our Knowledge Base here. You can also email us here. And don’t forget to dive deeper into the Seymour Duncan blog! There’s a ton of in-depth information on all of our different designs, how-tos, tone demonstrations, and a lot more.