Electric Guitar Pickups

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How do electric guitar pickups work?

The pickups are probably the most important part of your guitar since after the guitarist, they are responsible for most of the final sound. In fact, the same guitar can sound very different with a different set of pickups. Without being exhaustive, to choose your pickups you will have to take two things into account: the type and the configuration.

About the type, we first distinguish between active and passive pickups. As a summary, we can say that active pickups are powered by a built-in battery, while passive pickups don't need an external device. And this small difference has an impact on the final sound. In short, active pickups have more gain and volume, so they are recommended for styles that need more power and passive pickups tend to be more sensitive to the playing style, so they are recommended for styles where expression is more important, like blues or jazz, for example.

On the other hand, within the type we also distinguish whether they are single coil or humbucker.

The former consist of a single band of wound magnets and were among the first to be built. They are recognized for having a brighter, less compressed and more defined sound, although the signal generated is somewhat lower.

Due to their construction, they are usually more noisy than double-wound ones, a hum that increases as we add distortion. In recent years many brands have introduced pickups of this type that do not produce this noise and are usually called noiseless.

To avoid this hum, the humbuckers were invented, which are essentially two single pickups together. When wound in this way, their phases (roughly the position of the sound wave) are canceled, which as a result gives a more silent response.

Not only that, they also generate a higher signal level so they are usually preferred for hard styles, such as rock or metal, although they really are very versatile pickups, especially considering that you can adjust their tone and some give the option of being able to be split into two singles, which is known as split coil.

Finally, you have to take into account the configuration, that is, how we position the pickups along the guitar. There are two main configurations: SSS and HH. What does this mean? S refers to single coil while H refers to humbucker. The number of times the letter is repeated indicates the number of pickups of that type that we place on the guitar.

For example HSH means that we will put a Humbucker next to the neck, a Single Coil in the middle and a Humbucker next to the bridge. Other combinations can be SSH, HHH, H, S, etc.