Guitars come in all shapes and sizes. The layout, color combo and shape of a guitar give it its own unique vibe. Even though the visual appeal is important in choosing a guitar, the biggest attraction should be the tones locked inside of it. Just like we have ears to hear the world around us, so to does the guitar have ears; they are called pickups. There are 3 main types of pickups you will find on an electric guitar and they each have a unique voice. Here is a quick look at 3 of those pickup types, who has used them and why you might want one on your next guitar.
Single Coil - This was the first pickup type to be used on a full sized, solid body electric guitar. These are what you see on a Fender Telecaster/Stratocaster. Single coils are the most dynamic pickups; you can get the most articulation from a single coil. Organic in nature, these pickups are and were preferred by many great guitar players such as; Hendrix, Clapton, Mayer, Vaughan, Johnson… Well then why doesn’t everyone just use this pickup? Let me tell you. A single coil pickup is just like the coil you find inside an old-school incandescent lightbulb, it has a “hum”. Try this, next time you turn on a standard light bulb listen for that high pitched hum, that is the coil inside “humming”, just like a single coil pickup on a guitar.
Humbucker - Most people don’t mind the “hum" of a single coil but there are some that are defintely not fans. A humbucker is simply that, a pick up that “bucks" (cancels) the “hum”. There is an easy way to hear this happening: Grab a Telecaster/Stratocaster. Slide the selector switch from position 1 to position 2, you will hear “hum” in the 1st position but in the 2nd position you won’t. If you take two single coil pickups and wire them together, you can drop the hum that a single coil creates. That is how a humbucker works, it is two single coils wired together as one pickup. Humbuckers are fat, big, warm, rich, etc… they usually have a little more output than a single coil and are great for hitting an amp harder or getting fatter saturation from a drive/dist. pedal. Many greats come to my mind who play humbuckers but the main ones are: Page, Young, Allman & King.
P90 - Some like the organic articulation single coils get, others like the warm, rich nature of a humbucker. Is there a pickup that does both? not really. Though there are some that come close, the most common pickup that covers both bases is the P90. P90’s are an over wound single coil and are usually found on hollow or semi-hollow guitar models. Probably the most famous of these types of guitars is the Epiphpone Casino. Played by everyone from the Edge, Noel Gallagher, the Beatles, Dave Grohl, Keith Richards, etc. A P90 can be warm & fat with the tone knob down and the volume knob around 7 or it can be bitey & cutting with everything cranked. I seem to notice my pick more and how it is helping with my tone’s character when i am playing through a P90.
There are more pickup types and plenty more to discuss in future posts. If you have more questions on pickups or want to know how to get a specific tone, give us a ring (541.323.2332), email (email@example.com) or simply stop by the shop.