Best Humbuckers for Blues (Our Top Pick)
Fishman Fluence Classic Pickups
The Fishman Fluence pickups are difficult to beat in most any style, but we like them particularly for bluesy lead styles. They bring together the articulation and organic feel of passive/single coils and the smooth warmth of active humbuckers. For blues styles, it's a great combination.
Typically the blues style is best portrayed by single coil pickups, like on a Stratocaster or Telecaster. But what if you want to get a set of humbuckers that can handle bluesy tones and playing styles?
That's what we're digging up in this roundup: The best humbuckers for blues, all in one spot for easy browsing.
But what exactly are we looking for?
What to look for and how we made these selections
You need to know some of the technical issues surrounding humbuckers and what they're designed for. If you want to get into those topics, that's something we'll cover after we list our top choices in the table below.
To give a non-technical description of what we're targeting, we've included humbuckers that have a more natural, organic-sounding tone.
We want some grit and dirt.
You might say our target is more vintage/subtle than modern.
If you want to take our word for it the list of humbuckers is next. Just know that we've made less recommendations, but limited them to pickups that we've tested and have had actual experience with. For those wanting a more in-depth explanation of the reasons we call these the best options for blues, read on after the product table.
Best Humbuckers for Blues (top 5 picks)
We've linked to the Sweetwater page for each humbucker set for those wanting to read specs or product descriptions. There's also a compare button on this page so you can easily see pricing and specs side-by-side. If you have questions or you want to make a suggestion for this page, drop it in the comments section below and we'll take a look.
Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded Humbucker Set
Fishman Fluence Classic
Seymour Duncan Antiquity Humbucker Set
Seymour Duncan Saturday Night Special
Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Joe Bonamassa Signature Pickup Set
Bluesy Tone Quality
The first thing we're looking for is a bluesy tone quality, meaning we want a pickup that's going to help us sound something like this:
This tone should have some grit and a "wailing" quality, particularly on the higher register. While this is something that single coil pickups are known for, there are a lot of humbucker sets that can do the exact same thing.
In fact, the main purpose behind the design of a humbucker is just to reduce noise and provide a quieter overall pickup solution.
They aren't meant to be the opposite of single coil pickups in terms of tone.
But over the years, humbuckers have gotten heavier and warmer, making them more popular with modern styles and smoother sounds, particularly in active pickups.
For that reason, the first thing we do is limit our search to passive humbuckers (the Fishman Fluence set being the only exception).
Sticking to passive pickups
Passive pickups do not require a power source to run and are far more common than active pickups. However, active pickups usually come in humbucker form, and are more commonly used in modern, heavy styles - which is the opposite of what we want in a bluesy humbucker.
For that reason, when looking for the best humbuckers for blues we've stuck to passive humbuckers.
These have a more organic and vintage tone quality with that extra grit and roughness that we want for bluesy styles.
Active pickups tend to be too smooth and sterile for blues or other vintage styles.
The second feature I want to see in a blues-friendly humbucker is alnico magnets, as opposed to ceramic. While alnico magnets are far more common (there are several variations of alnico magnets), they're better for that crisp, edgy tone that you're trying to get out of a bluesy humbucker.
For this particular context, we've avoided ceramic magnets as they tend to be smoother and more percussive.
Thus far we have passive humbuckers with alnico magnets.
As I mentioned previously, it's important that when I make recommendations I'm able to make them from personal experience. That's why I list fewer products, limiting picks to those I've tried, or that I can verify with someone else who has tried them.
These are pickups that I've tried or know someone who has used them extensively.
This has allowed me to get familiar with the tone each one. Thus, I'm making an informed recommendation based on how they sound, not just what I've read about them.
Brands play a role in this as well.
For example, Fishman Fluence pickups are known to be good for both vintage and modern sounds and are some of the nicest pickups on the market right now.
Seymour Duncan is known for their passive designs and is one of the most reputable pickup manufacturers in the world.
Why so much Seymour Duncan?
You might have noticed that four out of our five recommendations are Seymour Duncan. This is because the other major pickup companies don't tend to focus on blues or vintage styles. DiMarzio is known more for rock and speed styles while EMG pickups are almost all active and designed for metal or at least the harder side of modern rock.
That leaves us with a lot of Seymour Duncan humbuckers which are known for their vintage designs and passive pickups.
Read more: Best Seymour Duncan pickups
Can I put humbuckers in a single coil guitar?
Can you put humbuckers on a guitar that has already been fitted for single coils?
Most of the time, no.
While there are ways to modify a guitar's body, the amount of work that goes into such a task is too difficult/tricky for us to recommend. If you have a single coil guitar, like a Stratocaster or Telecaster, we'd definitely recommend swapping with single coil pickups that will fit without any modification.
Read more: Best pickups for Stratocasters
However, if you have a guitar with dual humbuckers, or perhaps a humbucker in the bridge position, then you can easily swap out the existing humbucker(s) for a new set.
In summary, I'd recommend going with passive humbuckers that use alnico magnets, preferably from Seymour Duncan. You can use this as a loose guide for your own pickup shopping, or you can go with a set from our list. Just make sure you target humbuckers that have some grit, dirt, and a fair amount of pick definition to them.
This will give you a bluesy sound that'll be similar to the tone profile you'll get from single coil pickups.
If you have questions about our recommendations or another humbucker you want to suggest, feel free to drop those in the comments section below.
We'll see you there.
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