Making Sense Of Seymour Duncan Pickup Coding

Custom Shop wall of Fame.
So many pickups on the Custom Shop Wall of Fame

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!”

I wonder how we should call this pickup?!
I wonder how we should call this pickup?!

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!
Dave Mustaine live 07-24-10LW
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.
sthr-1b 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.

Join the Conversation


  1. Ok Seymour I’m looking for a neck pick up that sounds like a hotter 5,2 Anilco when tapped with only the neck side energized. And as a JB in humbucker mode. I bought your P rail pickup. Lets see how that goes

    1. Sure, let us know what you think o the P-Rails and if it meets your needs. Otherwise, we have a 21-day exchange policy.

  2. I’m still confused : It’s time to rename all the pups in a way that
    makes sense… then we can all be confused trying to figure what new name goes
    to what old pick-up. Let’s start with the JAZZ.

    1. We understand – just use the proper product name. Jazz, JB, Full Shred, Invader, Duncan Distortion.

  3. Some of the older pickups have stickers on the underside with, to me, confusing numbers and letters on. The newer ones, with their labelled plate, are much easier to understand.

  4. Regarding the triple bobbin pup… I seem to recall that ‘MightyMite’ were the first to produce this configuration of pup (?) and that it was called a ‘Motherbucker’…. I would suggest a ‘TripleBucker’ or perhaps ‘Trident’ (?). Regarding the general naming of pups… I would agree with Byron Brown, names are less confusing than abbreviations or numbers [..however simplified they may be]. Using artists names, is good, because people identify with the sound that that artist is noted for… Hence the ‘Slash’,,,, Or ‘A Whole Lotta Humbucker’ […though somewhat of a mouthful, I think ‘Pagey’ would be far simpler…]…. ‘Dimebucker’, ‘Slowhand’, et al…. (Though I would concede that the artist themselves might have to sanction this move…] Or simply to use the genre… Blues, Blues Rock, Soft Rock, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Jazz….etc…. Here in the UK, our own [and local to me…] Bare Knuckle brand, use simple naming, such as ‘Mule’ or ‘Stormy Monday’ [lol], which evoke a ‘feeling’ of what the pup sounds like… But then, they do not have the vast repertoire of SD products to name.
    With the myriad of pups available to us, universal convention would be somewhat problematic. The key, is for the manufacturers to supply adequate listing and description of all products across the range, which the main players do, in part, endeavour to promulgate.
    Having said all that, I have never had a problem with understanding SD’s naming format, it is quite straight forward, though in agreement with Alderney Fred, those old labels were a tad confusing…
    Where I would offer some kind criticism to SD, is in their pickup web page… Your direct rivals [.ahem….DM] and other manufacturers like Tesla, use a block diagram to indicate the frequency response of their pups… This I find extremely useful in choosing a pup, fit for purpose. However, your ‘Tone Chart’ pages are useful, albeit a tad messy [imo]. All said and done, whenever I need to check out a pup, this is one of two places that I navigate to first.

    1. Thanks for your comments and praise 🙂 I have heard rumors on the forum that SD is developing a totally, brand new website which will be a complete and total overhaul of this one. Give it some time, a new website will be launched.
      That triple bucker was a bit of fun, though. As far as I know it hasn’t ever been produced by SD. At any rate, this is where it came from: we had a bit of fun with the triple cream. After all, ‘double cream’ is a trademark and can’t be copied by anyone, so why not poke a bit with ‘triple cream’. It’s a bit like Nigel Tufnel: but it’s one more [louder]! 😉 have a great weekend!

  5. I m currently using jackson flying v js 32 with jackson humbuckers…
    But i dont like their sounds.
    Can u people help me to find the best pickups suits with it.
    Thank you

  6. Making sense of SD pickup decoding Question: I have a vintage SD pearly gates with the letters PGBJ on the sticker .. I’m guessing it means “pearly gates bridge ” but what does “J” stand for??? I was told this was a custom wound by a chick that does all the rock stars?? Does anybody know what it means??

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