As a guitarist, you’re well aware that the electric guitar pickups you use significantly impact your sound. Whether single coils, humbuckers, or P-90s, each guitar pickup has its distinct tone and voice. The standard electric guitar pickup has been around for over a century. Pickups come in various types and varieties, but they all work on the same basic principles.
So, how do electric guitar pickups work? The pickups on a guitar are one of the most important components of the instrument. But do you know what they do or where they are on the guitar? Please continue reading to learn more about how your guitar’s pickups alter its tone.
What Are Guitar Pickups?
Pickups are what allow an electric guitar to produce sound. In technical terms, guitar pickups are transducers, which are electronic devices that assist in the conversion of energy from one form to another.
Pickups on guitars and basses detect string vibrations and convert them to an electrical signal that may be played through an amp or DI interface.
Yes, you’ll need an additional transducer, such as an amplifier, to convert that energy into vibrations that we can hear.
While all pickups function in the same way, several different types of pickups produce varied tones. Let’s look at each of these to get a better understanding of the many tones available and how each pickup type works.
What Are the Pickups on an Electric Guitar?
If you’re just getting started with the electric guitar, you might be unfamiliar with some aspects of the instrument. One aspect of the guitar that not every guitarist is familiar with is the pickups.
An electric guitar’s pickups are the bar-shaped mechanisms beneath the strings. The pickups, along with the tonewood and build of your guitar, are one of the most important parts of the guitar when it comes to tone.
Pickups are divided into two categories:
- Single Coil Pickups: A single magnet is wrapped in copper wire in this pickup style. Single coil pickups produce a brighter tone in your instrument.
- Humbucker Pickups: Humbucker pickups have two copper wire-wrapped magnets placed next to each other. By removing some of the humming sounds, this type produces a more powerful sound, hence its name.
Pickups can also be passive or active, and these two types. The more common of the two is the passive pickup, but the main difference is the number of coils. Fewer coils will be used around the magnet in active pickups. Active pickups also require a preamp, which is powered by a battery.
You can also swap out the pickups if you don’t like the ones that came with your instrument when you bought it. We’ll talk about what pickups do on an electric guitar now that you know where they are and their basic structure.
How Does Electric Guitar Pickup Work?
Pickups are constructed of magnets and a wire coil, as previously stated. Magnetism, which forms a field surrounding the pickup, allows them to work.
The field around the pickup moves as the strings are plucked or strummed. The pickup gathers up that vibration — hence the piece’s name — and converts it into an electric signal. This signal is amplified and then sent out through a speaker. The speaker and amplifier then convert the electrical information into music for humans to hear.
In a nutshell, your guitar’s pickups serve as receivers and transmitters. They pick up vibrations from the strings and convert them into something humans can comprehend.
Understanding the science behind your pickups won’t immediately make you a better performer, but it will help you better understand the instrument as a whole. When you understand what influences your tone, you may adjust to achieve the exact sound you like.
What Makes a Pickup?
They can work because of magnetism, which produces a field around the pickup.
The tone and output of pickups are both influenced by their magnets. Both of these criteria are dependent on the sort of material used and how they are put up. When it comes to magnets, we often see three different layouts:
- Individual Magnetic Poles: This configuration is most frequent in Fender-style guitars or guitars with single-coil pickups. Compared to other layouts, it offers guitars a considerably thinner sound, which is why you get that brilliant Fender twang.
- Steel Poles on a Magnetic Bar: This setup produces a darker tone with a warmer bass end. This arrangement is commonly found on Gibson guitars and other guitars with humbucker pickups.
- Blade: This is the least popular of the three layouts. A single bar spans the whole length of the pickup in place of the pole components. They’re extremely high-quality, providing improved bending and endurance and increased clarity and output.
These magnets are made of several materials, each emitting a distinct tone. Alnico is a sort of material that is often utilized. Aluminum, nickel, and cobalt are among the metal alloys that make up this brilliantly called combination.
Pickup producers, over other metals, prefer this mix because it keeps magnetic force for longer periods.
Alnico is available in a variety of forms:
- Alnico 3: It has the weakest pull of the trio; therefore, it produces the gentlest tone. Alnico 3 is a typical pickup in vintage Stratocasters.
- Alnico 2: It has a vintage tone similar to Alnico 3, but the output is a touch greater, making it easier to overdrive your amp.
- Alnico 5: It has a strong output and a flexible tone, making it ideal for current guitarists who play a variety of styles.
- Alnico 8: It has the highest output and the most powerful tone. It’s perfect for rock and metal genres because the magnetic pull is powerful.
Aside from Alnico, ceramic is another popular material for pickups. Ceramic is also brighter, as you can see in the video below. It works well in hard rock and heavy metal genres where the guitar must cut through a wall of sound.
Potting is a process that you don’t hear much about, mostly because it is unusual. The basic principle is that every component in the pickup must remain attached and still as you play for no vibration or movement. Manufacturers dip the pickup in wax to ensure it is stable.
Potting also aids in the elimination of unpleasant feedback that can occur if you stand too near to your speaker.
Some older pickups were purposely not potted, allowing them to vibrate freely as air passed by. Vintage pickups have a one-of-a-kind tone because of this.
When connecting humbucker pickups, you can connect them in parallel or series. Most modern guitars with humbucker pickups employ parallel wiring as the most popular form of wiring. Series wiring has a more “personal” feel to it.
Parallel wiring separates the signal into two portions at the start of the signal chain before recombining them at the end. Although parallel wiring produces a lower output, it produces a considerably brighter sound.
In contrast, series wiring sends the signal via a one-way path through both coils. While series wiring produces more power, it also produces a warmer sound.
Best Electric Guitar Pickups
1. Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker Pickup Pair
Fishman’s pickup technology is somewhat new since they’ve abandoned traditional copper wire winding in favor of stacked coils. It has resulted in a pickup that sounds exceptionally clean and provides some of the greatest tones we’ve ever heard. With this technology, Fishman is unique, and it is without a doubt our top suggestion.
- Ceramic magnet
- Stacked coil technology
- Unrivaled clean tone
2. DiMarzio Twang King Telecaster Guitar Pickup Set
DiMarzio’s twang king Telecaster pickup is a high-output, twangy pair that brings out the character and right-hand technique of Telecaster electrics, as the name suggests. This single-coil is most suited to blues and country playing styles, and we recommend it to upgrade any stock Squier or even certain Fender branded pickup models.
- The twanginess of Telecaster electrics is brought out.
- Both Squier and Fender Telecasters benefit from this improvement.
- Bluesy, vintage tone
- For heavier gain levels, this isn’t ideal.
3. Fishman Fluence Classic Humbucker Pickups
The Fishman Fluence Classic set uses the same stacked coil technology as the Modern versions of the Fluence but with a significantly softer output. Again, the clean tones of these pickups are so wonderful that it’d be difficult to find a style where they don’t fit. Any guitar with an HH pickup setup will always be a major upgrade above the Fluence series.
- Ceramic magnet
- Stacked coil technology
- Amazingly good clean tone
Conclusion on How Do Electric Guitar Pickups Work?
How do electric guitar pickups work? The functionality of a guitar pickup and humbucker is rather simple, aside from the type of magnet and the electrical/magnetic process.
To summarize, the magnetic field is disrupted by steel-string vibrations, and the ensuing electrical current is transmitted by coil wrapping. They convert the strings’ vibrations into a current that can be conveyed by an instrument cable, to put it another way.
Though the science can be somewhat complex, the practical application is straightforward.