In this article, we're going to be looking at the ten best pickups that are currently on the market. We'll go through each product then analyze it, review it, and tell you exactly why we rate it so highly.
There are many reasons you might be on the lookout for this piece of equipment. You could be considering transforming your acoustic guitar into an electric model. You might be looking to replace your stock pickups on an acoustic-electric guitar or to fix or upgrade your electric guitar's pickups.
If you've never bought this piece of equipment before, then you might be confused by the technical jargon that manufacturers use when advertising their products. You also might find it difficult to discern which product is best suited to your needs. We'll explain everything in simple terms in our article, as well as provide you with all the crucial information you'll need to make an informed purchase.
Table of Contents
- View The Best Guitar Pickups Below
- 1. EMG EM943260 JH Set James Hetfield Signature
- 2. EMG H4 Passive
- 3. Gibson 57 Classic Plus
- 4. Luvay Piezo Guitar Pickup
- 5. Fishman Rare Earth Humbucking Magnetic Pickup
- 6. EMG ZW-SET Zakk Wylde Signature
- 7. Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele
- 8. YMC Humbucker-Pickup-Chrome
- 9. HDE Guitar Pickup Acoustic
- 10. DiMarzio Area 67 Single Coil
- Guitar Pickups Buyers Guide
We have offered guitarists a broad range of products in this article. You'll find something to suit every style of playing, as well as fitting into all budgets. Now then, let's move onto the article. And make sure to read our buyer's guide after the reviews so that you can learn everything there is to know about this product. Let's go!
- Passive with active vibe.
- Easy to install without needing to solder them.
- James Hetfield signature model.
- Passive with the soul of an active PAF.
- Fully shielded for noise reduction.
- Solder-less install.
View The Best Guitar Pickups Below
Use Case - Guitar pickups can be used on both acoustic and electric guitars. Sometimes, an external pickup can bring a unique tone out of an electric guitar. These versatile tools are great to have around for any guitar enthusiast whether or not they're already plugged in.
1. EMG EM943260 JH Set James Hetfield Signature
The JH James Hetfield pickups from EMG are the result of an epic collaboration between the Giants and James Hetfield of Metallica. These seriously meaty, passive pickups for metal guitarists prove to be extraordinarily powerful. They are high output humbuckers that provide a traditional beefy warmth that somehow manages tonal clarity that rivals active pickups in terms of volume and attack.
The JH-B bridge pickup contains a steel pole piece for tight bass, and the JH-N neck pickup provides an increased attack because its pole pieces and bobbins are made from ceramic magnets. Each is based on the pickups Hetfield has used for the last three decades. If you're a fan of Metallica's distinctive sound, then you'll love this product, in our opinion.
The metal craftsmanship and quality of the components used in these EMG JH James Hetfield pickups are of the highest quality. They are stylish looking too, and are available in a range of metallic finishes. They come with all the parts you need for installation without having to solder them into place.
+ Passive with active vibe.
+ Easy to install without needing to solder them.
+ James Hetfield signature model.
Why We Liked It - These EMG JH James Hetfield pickups deliver a truly distinctive sound. If you're a fan of metal music - especially Metallica - and you want powerful, beefy tone, then you can't go wrong with this excellent product.
2. EMG H4 Passive
The H4 is another impressive pickup from EMG. It's a passive version of EMG's iconic 81 pickups. We can easily understand why it's such a popular product. In fact, it has become the stock pickup used by many of the top guitar and bass manufacturers because of the reliable quality that it offers.
This humbucker has dual bar-loaded coils, ceramic bar magnets, and is fully shielded. It comes with everything you need for a solder-free installation. The pre-wired volume and tone controls allow you to shape your sound. It gives a deep, throaty growl, and we think that it is ideal for hard rock and similar genres. It is strong but not overpowering. It responds well to bass frequencies and has a great cross-board tone.
EMG is a leader when it comes to pickups for hard rock and metal. A long list of legends use EMG's pickups, and it's very easy to see why. If you like beefy, feisty tone, then you'll love this pickup set.
+ Passive with the soul of an active PAF.
+ Fully shielded for noise reduction.
+ Solder-less install.
Why We Liked It - It's a passive pickup that offers the same volume and power of an active version. The harmonics have to be heard to be believed. It's the perfect pickup for hard rockers, in our opinion.
3. Gibson 57 Classic Plus
This is a stunning bridge pickup that's designed to be used in conjunction with Gibson's '57 classic guitar pickup. It rivals authentic 1950s humbuckers with its rich, vintage tone. Gibson was the company that created the first guitar to feature humbucker pickups, which were designed by Seth Lover. If you want that classic rock-n-roll sound, then you shouldn't look any further than this product.
This Gibson pickup features Alinco ii magnets and offers a broad, balanced tonal output. It features extra windings and gives a hotter signal, which is excellent for crunchy rock and high gains. We found it to be very responsive, and it also has a high output but isn't overbearing. It simply provides a classic tone with a little more bite. We think that it gives very clean tone articulation. That's because it features enamel-coated wires, maple spacers, and nickel slugs.
Gibson pickups aren't the cheapest on the market, but you get what you pay for with them. They are quality through and through. We rate these pickups up there with the very best around.
+ Extra turns in the winding.
+ High output.
+ Exceptionally well made.
Why We Liked It - This pickup has the ability to completely transform the sound of your electric guitar. It delivers stunning tone that we adored. For authentic rock-n-roll tone, then this is a superb choice, but it is also versatile, and with the right guitar, it can be used for a huge range of musical genres.
Pickup Maintenance - Don't forget to make a regular habit out of cleaning and tightening your guitar pickups, especially if you're performing live often. This is key to ensure that you have a clean, strong sound whenever you play. If you don't know where to start, there are tons of free tutorials available online to get you started.
4. Luvay Piezo Guitar Pickup
This powerful, piezoelectric contact mic is perfect for amplifying an acoustic guitar. It functions effortlessly attached to your soundhole. Its miniature size means it can be used for a wide range of instruments. Although, it is best used for an acoustic guitar, and that's why we have included it on our list.
This product incorporates a traditional piezo pickup transducer mic that measures the pressure of the electric guitar string vibrations, which translates into crystal-clear amplification. It gives a more natural sound than a typical Piezo because it utilizes the whole soundboard surface. It is also surprisingly powerful considering the small size, and even at high volumes, the playback is clear.
Costing less than twenty bucks, it's a low-risk investment that anyone wanting an acoustic pickup should consider. Of course, it won't be perfect if you're needing it for regular gigging or touring, but if you're wanting to amplify your acoustic for rehearsals or a few impromptu concerts, then it should do the job, we think.
+ Suitable for guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, violins, banjos, etc.
+ Simple installation
Why We Liked It - It's affordable, functional, and effective. As far as low-price, acoustic pickups go, it's one of the best around, we think.
5. Fishman Rare Earth Humbucking Magnetic Pickup
This is an excellent Fishman product that's an improvement on a previous version. It is a refined and re-voiced magnetic, sound-hole pickup. It provides a smooth treble response and features cutting-edge, neodymium magnets, which translates into crystal-clear amplification.
It has a simple design and is very easy to use. Slip it into your sound-hole, then you just need to plug and play. It fits a range of soundhole sizes, but the smallest it can work with is 5/8”.
It features active electronics - two 1.5 volts and one 3 volt - for less degradation than passive counterparts. The build quality is flawless, and it feels weighty and durable. It's made with top-quality, discreet, low-noise, low-current circuitry. It produces a pure signal. It is a single-coil pickup but they are single stacked for a quieter reproduction of natural acoustic tones.
+ Humbucking, stacked, single-coil.
+ Increased musicality within the tone.
+ High-end solution for acoustic guitars with a reasonable price tag.
+ Modification-free installation.
Why We Liked It - It has the exceptional accuracy expected of a Fishman pickup. If you want a high-level, acoustic pickup that can be used for concerts, then this is the one. We rate Fishman products very highly, and this one didn't disappoint.
6. EMG ZW-SET Zakk Wylde Signature
Next up is another excellent signature model from EMG. This time, these pickups were designed in collaboration with Zakk Wylde. The set contains an EMG 85 Alinco magnet pickup, as well as an EMG 81 ceramic humbucker. Both of them are active. They combine to deliver an aggressive tone, superb sustain, and are very punchy indeed.
These high-gain pickups are loaded with overdrive. But they can also offer a clean, crisp sound, depending on how you shape your tone. Despite them being associated with Zakk Wylde, they aren't just good for metal and hard rock. We think they'd be a superb choice for blues guitarists too.
They are fully shielded and benefit from EMG's no-solder setup system, which means all your wiring is already taken care of.
+ Active high output.
+ No soldering.
+ Endorsed by Zakk Wylde.
+ Clean tone.
Why We Liked It - They are a screaming set of active pickups that can be used for any genre, from blues to hard rock. If you're a big Zakk Wylde fan, then you're going to love the tone that these pickups deliver.
7. Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele
This set of pickups delivers that typical value-for-money that you'd expect from Fender. They feature enamel-coated windings to provide a vintage tone that's full of warmth. They also offer powerful mid-range due to Alinco 2 magnets. They have a vinyl-covered output, and they provide the classic retro telecaster tone but with less hum and zero noise.
The bridge piece provides the iconic Telecaster twang, while the neck has a silver-nickel cover to provide more clarity. They are less aggressive than some of our other options but give the same sound heard from pre-2010 American Deluxe Telecasters.
They are louder and better balanced than the original Tele pickups. We think they deliver the famous, 60s Telecaster sound without any cycling buzz.
+ Typical value-for-money from Fender.
+ Vintage telecaster twang without any hum.
+ Appealing price tag.
Why We Liked It - They deliver that famous Telecaster tone without any buzz, hum, or noise. The price is very reasonable too. A solid choice for anyone who plays a Tele.
8. YMC Humbucker-Pickup-Chrome
This set of budget pickups from YMC are a great option for anyone on a shoestring. For a small investment, they provide a sound that will blow you away. They are double coil Humbucking pickups that are designed to be used for Les Pauls or Les Paul-style electric guitars. They cost a fraction of more advanced pickups, and they are very much a budget product, but as a replacement for low-grade, stock pickups, then they do a good job, we think.
In terms of tone, they sound beefy and full of life, which is exactly what you want from Les Paul pickups. They will need to be wired in when they're installed, so you may want to consider asking a professional or someone with experience to do this for you.
The set is made up of a 9K neck pickup and a 16K bridge pickup. They have that classic chrome coloring that we associate with Les Pauls, and it combines perfectly with the black covering. They've been designed to ensure that they are free from feedback and noise, which we found to be highly effective.
+ Double-coil humbucker.
+ Unbeatable price.
+ Medium output.
Why We Liked It - They're an affordable replacement for stock pickups inside a Les Paul-style guitar. We enjoyed the beefy tone and that they were free from feedback and noise.
9. HDE Guitar Pickup Acoustic
Next up is another great, cheap choice. It's designed to be used to transform your acoustic into a powerful acoustic-electric. For just 12 bucks, it offers a huge amount of bang for the buck. It does what you want it to do, and it does that well. It's ideal for home use, rehearsals, or quick recording sessions.
It has an easy, clip design that makes it simple to attach it to the rim of your guitar's sound-hole, and fits most acoustics. It has magnetic pickups for use with steel strings for guitars. It will amplify your guitar's natural tone clearly, while also adding some warmth to the sound.
It's a removable pickup that is very portable. For anyone looking for a bargain, then you'll want to consider this superb product.
+ Can be clipped on, and it is easy to use.
+ Clear amplification of guitar's natural tone.
+ Low price.
Why We Liked It - It's a superb choice for anyone who wants a superb pickup for an acoustic guitar all for less than twenty bucks. We also liked how easy it was to attach to the instrument. A solid, budget pick, we think.
10. DiMarzio Area 67 Single Coil
The Area 57 single-coil pickup from DiMarzio is par of its hum-canceling Strat series. It is one of the newer products in their line and is unbelievably crisp and completely noiseless. It brings out the best of a Strat, offering that classic tone, without any buzzing or unwanted feedback.
These pickups feature Alinco 2 magnets, which contribute to the bright tone and enhanced sustain. The overall effect is a balanced tone that performs best with the high notes - as you'd expect from Strat pickups.
They're flawless pickups that tick all the important boxes. Anyone who wants a replacement for their Strat should go for this product. It's superb.
+ Passive pickups.
+ Single coil.
+ Low magnet pull.
Why We Liked It - Countless legends have used DiMarzio DP100 pickups in their instruments, such as Steve Vai, Dave Gilmour, Joe Satriani, and the list goes on and on. The tone is gorgeous, and with this product, there's no need to worry about noise or unwanted feedback. The ultimate choice for anyone with a Strat.
Pickup Type - Humbuckers, or double-coil pickups, tend to have stronger output and more sustain. Single-coil pickups might be better for guitarists looking for a clean, crisp sound. However, skilled players are able to produce both sound types from either pickup types. You'll also need to weigh the pros and cons of an active versus passive pickup.
Guitar Pickups Buyers Guide
What Is A Guitar Pickup?
A guitar pickup is a device that transforms the sound you produce via your guitar strings into an electrical signal that can be amplified.
There is a wide range of pickups, and while they all will produce the same results, - i.e. amplification of the strings - they will use different methods to achieve this result. We'll have a look at this in more depth soon.
How to Choose the Right Guitar Pickup For You
Several factors will alter your choice. The most important factor is your guitar. Next, it is important to consider your playing style, the genre of music you play, and your level of playing. Of course, your budget will need to be taken into account too. Let's have a look at the different types of pickups so that you can then decide what type is best suited to your needs.
How Does A Guitar Pickup Work?
Each type of pickup works differently. Let's go through each type so you can understand the different methods used.
Piezo pickups are a type of microphone that converts the physical vibration of your guitar or bass strings into a signal using a compressed crystal. In terms of technology, these pickups are one of the oldest around. They're perfect for treble-heavy music, and they sound very bright.
They are known for being almost completely free from feedback. They come in several designs with the most popular being the under-saddle placement design. They require some modification to your guitar when they are installed.
Transducer-based pickups work in a similar manner. One major difference is that they pre-amplify the sound. They are attached to the soundboard of your acoustic rather than below the bridge or being fitted inside the guitar. They take the vibration of the entire front of your guitar, producing a fuller sound, but they are also more likely to produce feedback.
Other acoustic options include pickups that are hybrids, incorporating microphones, or the convenient modern soundhole pickups that utilize magnets and generate the electronic signal based on disturbances inside of their magnetic fields. These are widely available and most just clip onto the guitar, requiring no permanent modification to your pride and joy.
Magnetic pickups bring with them the opportunity to equalize your sound. You can control what areas of the magnetic field are more or less dominant in the mix, giving you the chance to increase the bass, middle, and treble levels. They need to sit directly below your guitar strings to pick up their movements. You will typically be able to adjust the height, bringing the magnets closer or further from the guitar strings. You can sometimes alter the angle, allowing more focus to be on your treble or bass guitar strings, or even to have a completely balanced mix.
Magnetic pickups - like acoustic soundhole pickups - are the same as what you find built into an electric guitar. Often, they come in sets of two or three, with each pickup having a different magnetic strength, and sometimes a different design to the other pickups in your guitar. As you can imagine, this makes it a little more difficult when choosing pickups for an electric guitar, as there are so many options to choose from. Let's have a look at them.
Which Electric Guitar Pickup Should I Get?
Choosing pickups for your electric guitar can be more complex than for an acoustic.
So let's have a look at the basics.
First, you need to check what pickups your guitar has been designed for. Ideally, you want your replacement pickups to be the same size as the stock ones inside your guitar, as this means that they can be swapped with minimal wiring or modification. If, for example, you want to put humbuckers on a guitar that has single-coil pickups, then you'll need to modify the guitar, so try to stay with the same style and size as your current pickups.
Next, we need to consider the type of music you intend to play. Why? Because the style of pickup can alter the tone that your guitar produces. You also need to consider where you're going to place the pickups. It can make a huge difference where the pickup is located. Even the same exact product can sound completely different depending on where it is put. That's because a bridge pickup will amplify higher frequencies than a neck pickup will do. Also, it's important to remember that the more pickups you use, the more control over tone you will have, especially if your guitar has a three-way switch so you can toggle between the different pickups.
The following are the most common forms of electric guitar pickups: single-coil, double-coil, passive, active, vintage tone (which has weaker magnets to emulate older models), modern tone, moderate output, and high output.
Single VS Double Coil
All magnetic pickups housed a single coil of wire until the late fifties. The problem with these pickups was that they were subject to a lot of background hum. The solution to this problem was to move to two coils, which were wired in opposite polar directions so that the two were just out of phase and constantly canceling (or bucking) one another. The first company to use a double coil was Gibson.
The choice between the two comes down to two things.
1. The size of your pickup holes. Would a humbucker fit or can you only put single-coil pickups into your guitar?
2. Your desired sound. For example, Jimi Hendrix played with single coils and had a dirtier overall sound than say Carlos Santana who plays with humbuckers. Lots of guitars will have a mixture of the two.
For full, powerful sound, a common setup is the HSS or 'Fat Strat'. This is where you will have a humbucker as your bridge pickup. You will combine this with two single-coil pickups, one at the neck and one in the middle.
Active VS Passive
Typically, passive pickups are used on the majority of guitars. This means that they have coils of wire around magnets, and they require no electricity to function. Active pickups contain a battery-powered preamp. They offer a much higher output compared to passive models, and will often provide zero noise. These two types are rarely mixed. Most guitarists prefer the softer sound of a passive pickup. There's also the risk of the sound being overly distorted with an active pickup.
Some guitars will have several pickups installed at the same time. This allows the guitarist to change between pickups at the flick of a switch. You can choose different combinations, as well as increase or decrease the volume of each pickup. This gives you a broader tonal range. You might also want to choose one of the pickups to be slightly delayed, which can create a 'honky' type of tone.
Which Acoustic Guitar Pickup To Get?
The key question is whether or not you’re willing to modify your guitar to install it. Some types require more modification than others so you need to consider if you're willing to take the risk of damaging your instrument or not. It's recommended that you employ a professional for any modification, as musical instruments are fragile, and only a slight alteration can cause a big impact on the sound.
Clip-on pickups provide a convenient and easy plug-and-play option. They are non-permanent, and won't cause any damage to your guitar.
You also need to work out if you're going to be using the pickup for live performances. If so, you need to ensure that it works well when an amplifier is turned up to a high volume. You don't want the guitar pickup to cause your strings to sound distorted or for it to be sensitive to feedback.
Our guide should have helped to inform you of all the different pickups available, but for further assistance see our article on the top ten best acoustic pickups.
What To Look For When Buying A Guitar Pickup?
Above all else, it's important to make sure that the pickups will fit your guitar before purchasing them. If you plan to modify the guitar, then it's recommended that you contact a professional in advance, tell them what guitar you have and what pickups you plan to buy, then make sure with them that it will be possible for the new pickups to be installed.
You should also consider how much volume and power you want. Some products will give you a big volume boost, but you should check that they are designed to minimize noise and feedback.
Also, you need to think about your budget. As with anything related to musical instruments, the more you're willing to pay, the better the quality will be. So, if you're not on a shoestring, then pay extra, as you'll notice a big difference in the tone they deliver. This is particularly true if you're replacing stock pickups.
You should now be in a good position to choose your next set of pickups. They aren't the most complicated piece of equipment. It's just important to focus on tone. That's why you'll be replacing your stock pickups anyway. So, if you want to sound like James Hetfield then choose pickups that deliver that beefy, full-bodied, metal tone. If, however, you want something more clear and crisp, then consider investing in some Telecaster-style pickups.
If you're still confused, you could head over to Seymour Duncan's website where they have a handy pickup selector tool.
If you pick any of the products on our list, then we can assure you that you won't regret it. We hope that you've found this article to be highly informative.
It isn't the end of the world if you want to install pickups that are different from the stock ones in your guitar. For example, if you want to install humbuckers to a guitar that's got single-coil pickups, then you can choose a rail or stack so that you can achieve the same results. It's also possible to buy humbuckers that allow you to turn off one coil, which is a good option for anyone who wants single-coil sound from a humbucker.
Did You Know?
Humbuckers are sometimes referred to as 'PAF'.These initials stand for 'Patent Applied For'. That's because these initials would be found on a sticker attached to the pickups in the first few years after Gibson created them and had yet to be granted a patent. Some people still call them PAFs to this day!
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