The importance of guitar pickups

Pickups are all about character and style. The pickups in your guitar are what amplifies the sound and picks up the vibrations from your guitar strings. Yet they are much more than that. They emit ideas of an era, an intensity and a different collection of sounds. Brian May spent a fortune on his pickups and had many different switches for different parts of the songs in the band Queen. They’re definitely as important as the type of wood your instrument is constructed from, your amplifier, and your gauge of strings. It is important when buying a guitar or entering a Sydney Recording Studio to give a lot of consideration to this area of the sound.

Naturally pickups exist in different sizes and shapes. They also aim towards different musical goals. For example, you’re not going to use the same one to play rockabilly that you use to play old rock or Heavy Metal. If you don’t choose the right pickups for what you want to perform, you’ll find it hard to get the tone you are searching for.

Below is a basic introduction to the different types of pickups available. Its not exhaustive but it will certainly get you started. This blog doesn’t go deep into the science or construction but it will give you an important overview. Then you can begin to understand what pickups are right for you when you are recording in a Sydney Sound Studio.

The basic construction of a Pickup?

Basically a pickup is a magnet with wire wrapped around it that transforms the vibration of your strings into an electronic signal or waves. This can be applied either on an electric instrument or on any acoustic instrument also.

Electric Guitar/bass Pickups

There are basically three main categories of electric pickups:  humbucker, single coil, and P90.

Single Coil


Single coil pickups use a single magnet. The Fender Strat is a great example of these kinds of pickups. Single coil pickups have a huge range of tones and styles and are used on much more than just Stratocasters. They are considered to be brighter and crisper than humbuckers or P90s.  Rockabilly, Chicago blues, country and surf rock all utilize single coil pickups effectively. Having said that, they sound fantastic in any genre depending on the mix and eq as well as effects applied. The one thing Single Coil pickups do not do well is heavy metal. Some bands and musicians make this work but generally they don’t take to distortion well. The sound doesn’t break up consistently with high levels of distortion in a Sydney Recording Studio. For this sound you want to be looking more at a Humbucker:

Humbucker

 

Humbuckers are basically two single coil pickups together. Single coil pickups utilise what is called a “60-cycle hum”. This refers to the fact that background electrical noise is transferred to your amplifier along with the vibrations from your strings. Humbuckers were designed to enhance or “buck” this hum and as a result have higher output. This can make them warmer and more useful for jazz or blues. It also lets them receive and put out much more distortion.  Humbuckers are by far more versatile and are a safe bet. A single coil pick up comes with a unique sound and style but can be a real risk in some settings. Arguably the humbucker will not perform country, rockabilly or anything that requires a “twang”. For that you can stick with your single coil!

P90

If you are looking for a compromise and something in between the single coil and humbucker sound.  P90 is for you. They have a higher output than single coil pickups, but not quite the heaviness and force of humbuckers. Their tone has more warmth than your standard single coil, but will never be as deep as a humbucker. Often blues artists will walk into a Sydney Sound Studio with a P90 because they want to get that blend of warmth and twang.

Here is a great guide online for  Electric Guitar Pickups.

Bass Guitar Pickups

There are a number of different categories of bass pickups : J-pickups (Jazz Bass), Split-Coil pickups, Dual-Coil pickups, and Soap Bar pickups.

  • J-Pickups
    J-pickups were first used by fender on the fender Jazz bass as early as the 50’s and this is the reason they are named so. They have a warm and clear sound, and are often used by soul, blues and jazz bassists. Having said that, plenty of rock musicians use them. Noteably Duff McKagen from Guns and Roses. 
  • Split-coil
    Split-coil pickups are two halves of a single pickup that are split in order to cover a wider range of the neck versus bridge sound. They are much more punchy than jazz pickups. Imagine a huge hammer with a lot of weight that is coated in cotton wool and butter. This might get you close to a visual image of the Split coil sound. They are used on the infamous P-Bass or Precision bass. They are also the most popular pickup because of they’re warmth and ability to punch through a mix in any Sydney Sound Studio. 
  • Dual-coil
    Dual-coil pickups create a humbucking effect for the bass. They are much warmer and fat and great for a vintage sound. Dual-coil’s are subtle and good for a small band where the mixing is clear and has lots of space for the bass. They will not cut through well in a large ensemble if you are performing live. Keep the Dual-coil for intimate settings. 
  • Soap bar
    Soap bar pickups are J-bass pickups with a wider casing. They are sealed and last longer. You will find Soap bar pickups in a lot of modern basses. They also have pins that protrude from the bottom of the pickup in order to facilitate different wiring combinations. 

Hitting the town with your new information

Armed with this basic information, you should be able to make a serious start in selecting the right pickup for you and your instrument. Use your ears, continue researching and enter a Sydney Recording Studio like Crash Symphony Productions with confidence!!