Electric guitar: pickup from A to Z
The Fender type single-coil, is the most simple magnet pickup and consists of 6 magnets, each in correspondence of a string, wrapped by a common copper wire. There are also Pickup with a single magnet, which covers all the strings.
The single-coil sound characteristic is a crystal and clear tone, which, however, is balanced by a certain background noise.
– Tipical single coil tones
Jimi Hendrix – Little Wing
Nile Rodgers – Funk Guitar
Albert Lee – Country Boy
The humbucker, invented in the 50’s by the Gibson brand, derives from manufacturers attempt to make a pickup with reduced noise.
The Humbucker is a Pickup dual voice coil, like if they were two single-coil in series, with electric and magnetic opposite polarity.
In this way, we have the double result of the background noise elimination and the strengthening of the musical signal.
Compared to the single coil you can highlight a darker tone (since the mid frequencies are more present) and a higher output volume.
The two coils that make up the humbucker can also be connected in parallel, although this is a rare choice that involves a lower volume and a tone definitely lighter than the series connection.
– Tipical humbucker tones
Slash – Godfather theme
Gary Moore – Still Got The Blues
Joe Bonamassa – Blues Deluxe
Active and passive pickups
Passive pickups use the magnet and the electromagnetic field to generate the electric current.
Active pickups (both Single Coil and Humbuckers), however, also use an external power supply, represented by a 9 volt battery.
The number of windings of wire around the magnet, in this kind of pick up, is smaller and the result is low-impedance, clean sound and silent and low volume output, which is then increased with the use of a pre-amplifier built .
In the same guitar can coexist pickup both active and passive, but this solution is rarely adopted, because the two pickups require components (potentiometers, condensers) different from each other, and then the wiring may be difficult.
Since now, the most common pickup are passive, because many guitarists consider the sound of the active pickup too “cold”.
– Tipical active pickups tone
David Gilmour – Live at the royal Albert Hall
Steve Lukather – Live in Paris
Zakk Wylde – Live at Budokan
Posizionamento dei pickup
The pick up position in the guitar determines the harmonic content and should be studied carefully; if the pick up is single, for example, it is generally mounted as close as possible to the keyboard, to capture the maximum amount of sound.
By mounting the pick up in the rearmost position, however, you get a tighter sound, very useful in soloing, which need to emphasize the most of the harmonics.
In order to fully take advantage of all the sound potential, many guitars use two pick ups, one mounted to the keyboard (the bass) and one mounted to the bridge.
This happens for most of the electric guitars, some of which also build three pick ups, like on the Fender Stratocaster, probably the most famous of its kind.
In this case the three pick ups are positioned approximately at a quarter, half and three quarters of the space between the bridge and the end of the keyboard and can also be used one at time or in combination using switches that are normally present in this type of guitar.
For further information, read the article “Pickups for Electric Guitar: models and types“.