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Pickups

There are two major types of pickups that are used in electric guitars-single coil and humbuckers, however even though they are different there are some similarities between them. Guitar pickups contain magnets that are wrapped up with coils of wire which react to the guitars strings vibrating. Most pickups have six poles – one for each string which will resonate above it. There are some pickups however that have a magnet that is a single bar which is also wrapped with coil wire.

When the guitarist plucks a string, the pickup produces an electronic signal due to the strings vibration. This signal is then amplified to enable it to drive speakers which convert the electronic signal into energy (and the resultant sound). Pickups have been around for over 80 years.

Single coil pickups did have a downside in that they can pick up interference which can sometimes be heard as a humming sound. This was countered by the development of the ‘Humbucker’ or the ‘Humbucking Pickup’. Humbuckers contain two coils that are wired out of phase with each other which caused the hum to be cancelled.

The tone produced by a single coil pickup is quite different from a Humbucker. A single coil pickup has a brighter tone with more attack, whereas the Humbucker has a thicker, more sustained warmer tone.

A pickup with a high output will send a signal that is stronger to the amplifier. This results in easier distortion of the sound. Humbuckers originally had a higher output than single coil pickups, however with modern single coil pickups this is not always true.

Whereas passive pickups generate their own electrical signal without any electrical power, active pickups are battery powered which helps make their output very high.

Guitarists will often have a favoured pickup that will provide them with the tone that best suits their playing and musical styles and compliments their amplification.