Seymour Duncan pickups are synonymous with hot rodding a guitar. Aftermarket pickups and other upgrades first gained widespread popularity in the ‘70s, and Seymour Duncan were one of the first companies to the playing field in a large scale capacity. The JB is famously the most recorded pickup of all time, but what are the best Seymour Duncan pickups for you?
There are so many pickup options out there, and it can be intimidating trying to figure out which to choose! Whether or not it’s aftermarket pickups in general, Seymour Duncan’s lineup, or different pickups well suited for different genres.
Today we cut through some of the confusion, with the top 5 Seymour Duncan humbuckers!
1) Black Winter Set
As their name would suggest, Black Winter pickups were designed for the trvest of trve kvlt fanatics. The saturated, aggressive black metal tones fly out of these, and are perfect for any extreme genre. However, they’ve quickly gained a huge following in the blues community too! How could this be?
Black metal is largely known (even comically so) in guitar circles for extremely bright tones and production that is sometimes borderline, or often pole-vaulting over the border, icepicky. So Seymour Duncan wound this pickup with a lot of mids, a good deal of treble, and chose a Ceramic magnet for tight bass response. This actually resulted in a bridge pickup that always has great cut in the mix and a good amount of clarity, and a neck pickup with some single-coil like qualities that excels at both overdriven leads and glassy cleans!
This accident of birth is one of my favorite things to come out of the Seymour Duncan lineup lately, and almost anyone could get a tone they enjoy with them! (As long as you like your pickups on the hotter side) I personally like them in 7 strings that are on the warm side to give them a much needed extra punch as well.
2) Pearly Gates Set
The Pearly Gates may just be the most versatile pickup on this list. This PAF-style pickup was created for Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, and benefits from an extra (but still not too large) dose of mids. This gives the pickup more punch for distorted tones, but also retains the sweet and reserved character PAFs are famous for. There is much more going on beneath the surface of this pickup, however.
The Pearly Gates utilizes an Alnico 2 magnet. This is the second weakest variation of Alnico magnet, and provides the utmost dynamic range. The bass response is a bit loose, but the highs are very warm and well controlled. When you combine that quality with the enhanced midgrange and slightly increased output, you’re left with a pickup capable of most things, with an awesome growl and character that catches metal players off guard!
This is a pickup that would suit anyone’s vintage needs that is also capable of metal. The bridge is well suited for clarity under high gain, and the neck is well rounded for neoclassical leads and sweeping. If you’re interested in approaching your tone from a different angle (lower output, less aggressive magnet, and lots of dynamics, as opposed to pushing the front end of your amp very hard with a brutal pickup) this could be the pickup for you!
3) Custom 5 Bridge
The Custom 5 is a really unique pickup in both design and execution that fills an interesting niche. The original Custom pickup had a Ceramic magnet, and was designed to be a monstrous and much more trebley take on a PAF, pretty modern and removed from its roots. Later, the Custom Custom was released, with an Alnico 2 magnet (like the Pearly Gates) to rein things back in. Naturally, the Custom Custom Custom was developed (and luckily renamed) with an Alnico 5 magnet to provide the best of both worlds.
The result is a pickup with an EQ cure rather similar to a PAF (relatively bassy and scooped), but much hotter. This creates a very fat and thick sound that is still aggressive. Remember how I said there are different ways to approach a good saturated tone in the Pearly Gates section? That holds true here, you can have a scooped pickup and still dial in mids amp-side if you want that sort of tone. However, this pickup is especially good for styles that don’t necessarily require razor sharp bass response and even saturation, like punk, oldschool thrash, funk, and more. I find this pairs rather well with a 59 in the neck, given that both pickups are really fat.
4) Alternative 8 Bridge
This pickup may be the least well-known humbucker contained within this article. Though, if you notice a trend, it’s that we covered both ends of the pickup spectrum, and then worked our way back through the middle, specifically with different magnets types. I introduce to you a personal favorite of mine: The Alternative 8, complete with Alnico 8 magnet.
Alnico 8 can be described as the midpoint between Ceramic and Alnico 5: tight bass response and upper mids saturation meets warmth and character. Why doesn’t everyone use these? Sounds like the best of both worlds, right? Well, it’s loud. Extremely loud, and rather unruly. There is a lot of everything. A lot of treble, a lot of mids, and even a lot of bass. This makes it not very well suited to especially warm guitars, however it does thrive in brighter guitars, bolt-ons, and baritones.
This pickup is simply too hot and rough around the edges to recommend for vintage applications, but if you’re looking for aggression and don’t want to make any sacrifices to either end of your EQ, this could be a good bet for you. You can also match it with unusually hot pickups in the neck because of how loud it is, such as a distortion!
5) Jazz Neck
To put it simply this is one of my favorite neck humbuckers, and I’m very picky about them, given that I prefer single coils in the neck. This could be because of the enhanced treble response and scooped mids of the pickup: it’s very glassy like a single coil!
This is definitely a pickup for people wanting more articulation out of their neck pickup. Guitarists tend to fall into two camps here: fat, bassy, and totally rounded, or more pick attack and fluidity, and the jazz definitely falls into the latter category. Which ironically enough, would make it far from my first choice for jazz.
Leads maintain a lot of pick attack and cleans stay punchy. The pickup also splits very well and can get great notch position quack when combined with other pickups. The Alnico 5 magnet and moderate output makes it very versatile, so it plays well with basically all other pickups!
Hopefully this helped a little bit! As you can see, there really are pickups out there for everybody, and many are much more versatile than you’d think. Seymour Duncan’s wide catalog has many more quality pickups, and we’ll be doing reviews of specific models in the future.
This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.