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Pickups for Guitar and Bass Buying Guide

Buying Guide: Pickups for Guitar and Bass

Responsible for capturing the vibration of strings and translating it into electrical current, the pickups in an electric guitar or bass are perhaps the biggest factor in determining your instrument's unique sonic character. It's no wonder many players try out different pickups in their instrument before finding their ideal tone.

Want to experiment with some new pickups, but don't know where to start? Here's your guide. Read on to learn more about single-coil and humbucker pickups, active vs passive pickups, and more, so you can make the right choice for new pickups in your guitar or bass!
Single-Coil Pickups
Single-coil pickups are the originals found in the first electric guitars, and still popular today. Most famously used in Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster models, single-coil pickups come in a variety of types, including the P-90 and Jazzmaster types.

Known for their characteristically "chimey" tone and prominent upper-midrange bite, single-coil pickups can also deliver a mellower vintage character akin to the guitar sounds of the early '50s. You can also find single-coils wired for hotter output suitable for heavy blues and rock tones, and even humbucker pickups sized to fit a single-coil slot on your instrument, making the possibilities endless!
Humbucker Pickups
Invented in 1955 by Gibson engineer Seth Lover, the humbucking pickup, or humbucker, was a game-changer for the electric guitar. Named for its ability to "buck" the 60-cycle hum associated with single-coil pickups, the humbucker exploded in popularity when guitarists realized its girthy tone was perfect for higher-gain applications. Humbuckers remain the most popular choice in rock and metal today.

Modern humbuckers run the tonal spectrum from replicas of Gibson's original "Patent Applied For" pickups meant to suit Les Paul's quest for clean tone, to modern versions overwound for hotter output, to those made for death metal and not much else. Find a signature humbucker made for your favorite artist or carve your own path!
Active Guitar Pickups
As rock grew heavier and solos got faster starting in the late '70s, Rob Turner of EMG designed a new type of pickup to suit the needs of shredders. Active pickups utilize an on-board preamp powered by a 9-volt battery. These electronics give the pickups more output than a passive model, allowing guitarists to further "push" an amp into overdrive. Their active circuitry can also provide extended frequency response and open the door to more on-board tone controls.

Active pickups by EMG remain as popular as ever, especially within the metal community. Other modern players include Fishman, whose Fluence series offers multiple tones in each pickup. Whether you're looking to reach high-gain heaven or simply want more tonal control over your guitar, give active pickups a try!
Pre-Wired Guitar Pickguards
The simplest way to radically transform your guitar's tone is with a pre-wired pickguard. These kits contain a complete set of pickups, wiring, pots, capacitors, switches and a jack, all contained within a pickguard for easy, drop-in installation!

Whether you want to expand your tonal palette with a new set of pickups or you're looking to recreate the tone of your favorite guitarist, a pre-wired pickguard saves you time and money in your quest!
Active Bass Pickups
Active pickups are highly popular in electric bass guitars due to the inherent challenges of amplifying low frequencies. The on-board preamps help to get bass signals to a suitable volume for stage use and pushing an amp into rumbling overdrive. Most active basses also include EQ controls, allowing the user to cut or boost the high, low, and often middle frequencies. This blows the door open to a huge array of tones from booming rhythms to cutting leads.

Active bass pickups come in a variety of types, from individual single-coils to stacked single-coils and full humbuckers. Many of the world's best bassists have signature sets as well, helping you get started on your search for tone.
Passive Bass Pickups
As with electric guitar pickups, the original bass guitar pickups were passive designs of wire wrapped around a magnet. Though they lack the tweakability and enhanced output of active pickups, passive bass pickups provide a unique, authentic warmth and responsiveness to your style. Played with fingers, passive bass pickups can deliver smooth thump evocative of Motown and early rock. Dig in with a pick and you're in punk and early metal territory!

Fender's P-style and J-style pickups largely set the template still followed today, but other varieties like humbuckers can also be widely heard. The highly standardized configurations of most basses make it easy to swap in a new set of pickups to try out a brand-new tone!