Pickups may just be the most important factor in shaping a guitar’s sound.  Yet, they often get overlooked when choosing an instrument.  In this article, we’ll go over basic pickup types, how they differ and what guitars you’ll find them on.

Binary Choice

Although there are many variations and flavors, there only two primary types of guitar pickups, single coil and double coil.  Double coil pickups are also know as “humbuckers” because they tend to reduce 60 cycle hum through an amplifier.

While it’s difficult to describe sounds in words, I’ll try to describe the difference in pickups when compared to each other.  Single coil pickups tend to be brighter and have less bass and double coil pickups tend to be thicker sounding with less treble.  That’s a very big generalization, but enough to understand the basic difference.

Single Coil Variations

Strat type – These are the standard pickups on a Stratocaster and don’t really have a specific name.  You can consider them the baseline single coil pickup.

Stratocaster single coil pickups

Lipstick – Aptly named because they look like a silver tube of lip gloss, these are commonly found on the neck of Telecasters.

3 Lipstick single coil pickups on a Strat

P-90 – These come in “soapbar” or “dog ear” configuration.  I consider them to be the closest thing to a middle ground between a single coil and humbucker sound.

P-90 soapbar pickups on a Les Paul

Double Coil/Humbucker Variations

Well this is pretty easy because a humbucker is pretty much a humbucker.  While there are some wide varieties in tones between different makes and models, there’s no real stand out models or catchy names for this pickup–it’s mostly something like “XYZ humbuckers” or maybe “blah-blah bucker”.  Humbucker pickups are most often associated with Gibson model guitars, especially the Les Paul, although they’re very common on guitars of countless makes and models.

Humbucker pickups with covers

Humbucker pickup without cover

Which to Choose?

While some believe one pickup type is better than another, I think of them as different colors on the palette.  Sometimes you want blue and sometimes you want yellow–or maybe you want both and the best choice is to mix your colors:

Bridge humbucker with middle and neck single coil pickups