Upgrade your axe with a new set of electric guitar pickups! The shop here at Sweetwater has modified countless guitars, which is why we carry an impressive collection of the most popular aftermarket pickups you'll find. There are several factors you'll want to consider, as you look for the perfect electric guitar pickups for your favorite instrument. Here's what you need to know.
The first thing you need to consider is the fit. Pickups come in many shapes and sizes, and an pickup designed for one kind of electric guitar often won't fit in a different type, unless you re-rout the pickup cavity. The most common pickup routings are the single-coil style (found on Fender Stratocasters and similar guitars) and the dual-coil humbucker style (found on Gibson Les Pauls and countless other models).
Gibson-style humbuckers tend to be twice as wide as Strat-sized single-coil electric guitar pickups, but there are stacked humbuckers designed for all kinds of single-coil routings. There are many other pickup styles in addition to the common Strat and Les Paul sizes, including Telecaster, mini, and soap bar, to name a few. At any rate, it's best to be sure you're looking at compatible-sized pickups before you narrow down your tone.
Speaking of tone, there are two basic pickup types—single-coils and dual-coils or humbuckers—and they sound nothing alike. Single-coil pickups tend to be bright, with a voice that cuts through dense mixes. They range from midrange-focused Tele and snappy yet rounded Strat tones to the slightly rude and aggressive sound of P90s. Humbuckers, on the other hand, tend to be loud and deep, with satisfying warmth. They're also much quieter than single-coils. Both type of electric guitar pickups come in a wide range of voicing, so you'll find all kinds of specific options.
Want more flexibility out of your pickups? Keep an eye out for 4-pole humbuckers. Standard 2-pole humbuckers are limited to a single basic sound (the same way single-coils are), but 4-pole models can offer an extra degree of flexibility. With the right switching mechanisms, these dual-coil electric guitar pickups can deliver several different voices, including true single-coil tone. If you want help figuring out how to do this, just give your Sweetwater Sales Engineer a call.
After single-coil or humbucker, the biggest divide between pickup styles is active versus passive electronics. Passive pickups are often thought of as the more dynamic and organic of the two. They tend to have a rounder and sweeter tone, with a greater degree of natural midrange warmth. Active pickups, by contrast, are loud and hot, with a compressed character and typically more focused tone. They're perfect for pushing your amplifier into overdrive, which is one of the reasons metal players and aggressive guitarists tend to prefer them.
Single-coil or humbucker, 2-pole or 4-pole, and passive or active are the three biggest considerations, but there are a few additional options you should know about. For instance, there are special pickup systems for turning your guitar into a MIDI instrument, and there are piezoelectric pickups you can add to your guitar to capture its acoustic sound. If you want help finding the right electric guitar pickups for your music, don't hesitate to give us a call.
Sweetwater's Sales Engineers are regarded as the most experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the music industry, with extensive music backgrounds and intense training on the latest products and technologies. They are available to offer you personalized product advice any time you need it.