What is a guitar pickup?
At its base, a guitar pickup is just magnets and wire. This simple design uses vibration from your guitar strings to create an electric signal which is then sends it to an amplifier to produce sound.
There are three main types of guitar pickups covered in this article: Single coils, p90s, and humbuckers. While there are countless variations, this is just a basic breakdown of the world of pickups.
Single coil pickups were the first widely available pickup. With the use of single magnet, they can be prone to a “60 cycle hum”. Commonly found on fender guitars these pickups are used mostly for clean tones but are not limited to that. While they do not handle gain easily because of the hum, a bit of overdrive will be perfect for a bluesy Rock tone. Single coils are very popular in genres like country, surf, pop, and can be found in some areas of rock as well.
P90 pickups are an over wound single coil that uses a wider and shorter bobbin. This makes them warmer and not as bright compared to a normal single coil. Officially introduced by Gibson in 1946, they were used on most Gibson guitars until the humbucker came around. After the humbucker they were mostly seen on budget or “student” guitars like the SG special and Les Paul junior and fading away until the late 60s and early 70s. The p90 pickup is now revered for its punchy aggressive tone and warm.
Humbuckers or double coils we’re first designed by Seth lover with Gibson in 1955 designed to “Buck” the hum of a single-coil pickup that used two magnets with reverse polarity of each other. Humbuckers are generally darker and less articulate than single coils but handle gain a lot better. This has made them popular in genres like rock, metal, punk and blues but can also be used for more mellow tones with a punchy bass response.
These are the three most common formats to guitar pickups. To learn more about the magnets that make these pickups up, check out our article here. Keep searching for your tone and always visit the daily tune for more helpful articles!