I regularly get questions like ‘What pickup should I get?’, ‘Which pickup is hotter?’ Sometimes it’s even “Should I get the Seymour Duncan JB, or should I get the Seymour Duncan SH-4 instead?” It got me thinking and I realized that maybe an explanation of Seymour Duncan’s naming and coding standards was in order.
Let’s start with the Tone chart. This list offers an overview of all the pickups Seymour Duncan currently offers (with the exception of Custom Shop pickups, since those are made to order). The chart starts with ‘model’ on the far left followed by ‘name.’ I suppose that’s where the confusion lies. All of the pickups have a name but not all have a model listed. (Some started out as 7 or 8 string pickups and were redesigned to be a 6 string pickup. Some are artist pickups or were a region-bound pickup that saw a global release later on like the Whole Lotta Humbucker or Black Winter). So, let’s pick a few model names and see what the letters and numbers really mean!
SH simply stands for Standard Humbucker, though I like to believe it means “Seymour’s Humbucker!”
What happens if you widen the polepieces for the more spread-out string spacing of a guitar with a tremolo bridge? You get a ‘bucker for a trem… A Trembucker. Yup, sometimes it’s that easy. So, for instance, an SH-4 is a JB Standard Humbucker, while a TB-4 is a JB Trembucker.
Parallel Axis Trem Bucker. By now the ‘TB’ part is clear I suppose. The PA part stands for Parallel Axis which of course refers to the polepieces on a parallel axis.
Seymour Duncan makes two styles of active humbuckers. The most recent rendition of the active pickup Seymour Duncan offers falls under the ‘Blackout’ moniker. Hence, AHB stands for ‘Active HumBucker’ or alternatively, ‘Active Humbucker Blackout’.
This pickup is another one like the PATB series where the model is a two-part label. SH is already explained and PR is for P-Rails. P-Rails get their name from being a P-90 plus a Rail: P-Rails!
This is the Pearly Gates! Fairly simple to deduce how to get there, right?
Alnico Pro Humbucker. Comes in two flavors: the regular one and the Slash-version!
Live Wire. The old-school active pickup in Seymour Duncan’s lineup. This pickup comes in a few flavors that deserve to be mentioned and dissected. We have the CH2: Classic II Humbucker. HMET: Metal Humbucker. MUST: Mustaine. Does he need an introduction?! Of course not!
Single coil pickups have a similar model nomenclature. They all start with the ‘S’, for Single (coil). The next letter is either an S or T where ‘S’ stands for Strat and ‘T’ for Tele. The next letter is an L or a R which stand for, respectively lead or rhythm. Since a Strat pickup can go in any or all positions, they’re a. The lead and rhythm pickup of a Tele are completely different from one another, so there you really have to unique models. With this in mind it’s easy to actually build a model: STL. Single. Tele. Lead. SSL: Single. Strat. Lead. It’s that simple.
The single coils also have some subsections, too, like the Hot Rails, Stacks and Alnico (2) Pro models. Let’s take a look at a few: APTL- 3JD. Alnico Pro Tele Lead 3 Jerry Donahue. STHR- 1N. Single Tele Hot Rail -1 neck. This last one is different because it uses the ‘neck’ title in stead of the name ‘rhythm.’ Yes, the ‘R’ in this model really stands for Rail! Take a look at the other rail pickup for the Tele: STHR-1B: Single Tele Hot Rail Bridge. The ‘Strat’ family of pickups has the same build-up of letters to make a model, where, again, the R stands for ‘Rail.’
For both ‘families’ of single coil (sized) pickups, STK stands for Stack. After the dash the first letter denotes which ‘family’ with again, ‘S’ and ‘T’ for strat or tele. The ‘N’ or ‘B’ at the end differentiates the bridge from the neck pickup.
To make it a bit more ‘complicated’, Seymour Duncan also offers dedicated neck – or middle position versions of their single coils. Their respective position is denoted by an additional ‘M’ or ‘N’ at the end, for example the STK-S4M or SSL52m. And to really, completely make the story correct, there’s an additional ‘L’ or ‘T’ available at the very end of the code. The ‘L’ stands for ‘left hand magnet stagger’ and the ‘T’ stands for tapped.
With all this in the back of your mind, we hope you’ll be able to understand how the model nomenclatures are constructed, what they mean and perhaps you’ll be able to understand what models of pickups not mentioned in this humble explanation mean.