It’s a basic question, but one we get a lot: What is the difference between a Single Coil and Humbucker style guitar pickup?
Electronically speaking, a Single Coil pickup consists of a single coil of wire wrapped around six (in guitar pickups) magnetic poles. While doing a great job of generating a voltage from the string vibration, they also tend to act a little like an antenna, picking up different kinds of EMI (see WFTD archive EMI) fields. As a result, the Single Coil pickup tends to hum quite often, and even quite loudly at times.
The Humbucker style pickup has two coils linked in series out of phase. This configuration causes the two coils to cancel each other out, eliminating or “bucking” the hum while providing an even higher voltage signal from the string vibrations. The result is a much quieter pickup with greater output.
Tonally speaking the Humbucker pickup is characterized as having a fatter, warmer sound as compared to a single coil. A single coil is traditionally considered to have a brighter and cleaner tone quality.