Seymour Duncan is one of the largest pickup manufacturers in the United States, getting their start in 1976 and going on to supply pickups to thousands of the biggest names in the guitar and music industry. Their roster of pickups (and now pedals) is so vast that it's a significant chore to breakdown the best options within the brand, both in the humbucker and pickup category.
For the most part, Seymour Duncan is known for their humbuckers as opposed to their single coil designs, so we'll focus more on humbuckers in this roundup.
I'll cover four humbucker sets, one single coil Stratocaster bundle, and one Telecaster pickup set.
These recommendations are based on my own experience, those I've worked with, and thorough research. Please keep in mind that there are a ton of Seymour Duncan pickups to choose from and these are just a few that I've found to sound particularly good over the years I've spent playing electric guitar.
If you have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section below and I'll respond there.
Best Seymour Duncan Pickups & Humbuckers (our top picks)
Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded Humbucker Pickup Set
Seymour Duncan Invader Humbucker Pickup Set
Seymour Duncan Classic '50s Stratocaster Pickups Set
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Humbucker Pickup Set
Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Telecaster Pickup Set
Seymour Duncan Black Winter Humbucker Pickup Set
1. Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded Humbucker Pickup Set
The Hot Rodded set by Seymour Duncan is one of the company's original designs and still a highly sought after humbucker pair. It produces a really rich harmonic with a glassy high-end, that still sounds smooth, particularly friendly to a tube amp profile. I don't like it quite as much in a modern context, though the product page claims it can handle a wide range of styles.
While it's certainly versatile, I've found it to be more at home in a blues, or subtle vintage tone profile, perhaps with a lead playing style.
Though in all cases, it's an easy win if you're upgrading from a cheap stock pickup.
They're a good starting point if you're not sure what kind of tone you're aiming for. Start with the Hot Rodded set and build your rig up around them.
IDEAL FOR: All styles, modern and vintage
- Vintage, yet versatile tone profile
- Great price point for the set
- Harmonics come out very rich
- Smooth but with good sustain
- 4-conductor wiring for multiple options
- None for the price
2. Seymour Duncan Invader Humbucker Set
The Invader pickup set by Seymour Duncan is one of the best sets for those seeking a higher-gain setting with a modern edge. Here's how they sound in my 2005 PRS CE 24:
With my PRS they get a ton of low-end (more than I want in most cases). I should also note that I'm running all this through a Mesa Rectoverb combo amp, which is my only distortion source.
With the Invaders, I get a thicker saturation, smoother profile on the low end and a lot more sustain.
For those wanting a modern, hard rock sound like I do, I'd say the Invaders are the perfect balance of price and quality.
IDEAL FOR: Modern playing styles, sustain, and heavy power chords
- Sustain for days
- Heavy response sounds great
- Low power chords sound thick and bass-heavy
- Responds well to high gain
- A little too harsh with higher amp EQs
3. Seymour Duncan Classic '50s Stratocaster Pickup Set
Seymour Duncan makes a few different rail sets for Fender Stratocasters, but the California '50s are my top pick, based purely on the clean, almost glassy-sounding tone.
It's one of the bluesiest single coil sets I've ever heard.
You can listen to it with this little player that Seymour Duncan built:
Even for a Squier Stratocaster, I'd recommend the '50s set, just because it's not super expensive and will drastically improve your tone. Particularly if you're into bluesy, lead guitar playing styles, the California '50s set is hard to beat for the price.
IDEAL FOR: Vintage tones, lead, and (of course) Strat mods
- Glassy, bell-like tone sounds great
- Decent price point for all three rails
- Surprisingly easy to install
- Clean tones are awesome
- Low noise
4. Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates
With the Pearly Gates set, I've found them most appealing when focusing on midrange, and perhaps more of a deep-south country style. They aren't glassy or bright like the rails, but almost like an "edgier" jazz humbucker. You get the smoothness and thicker tone we'd expect from a humbucker set, but there's some grit and grind in there somewhere. It can also handle some pretty heavy gain if you want to push move that direction every once in a while.
IDEAL FOR: Lead and rhythm hybrids, country
- Smooth, but with some subtle grit
- Great for country
- Can hang in the twangier "single coil styles" that humbuckers are usually too heavy for
- Lots of cover options to choose from
- Equal to the task of lead and/or rhythm
- Gettin' pricey
5. Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Telecaster Pickup Set
Just to clarify:
Seymour Duncan Trademarked the term "Quarter Pound" which means this is not the "Quarter Pounder" as I've seen it referenced quite a bit. The Quarter Pounder is a McDonalds thing.
I wanted to get at least one Telecaster set in here, primarily just to showcase the Quarter Pound, since it's such a good pickup set. As with the California '50s rails for the Strat, Quarter Pound mods for Telecasters are almost always a win, given a low-end Fender or Squier Tele.
The tone is full and warm, but also has a slightly grungy quality that can really help lead tones cut through a mix. It's definitely twangy, like you would expect a Telecaster pickup to sound. For those loyal to the Seymour Duncan brand who are upgrading a Telecaster, these are easily your top option.
IDEAL FOR: Twang, bluesy lead, and Telecaster mods
- Twang for days
- Great for blues and country
- Fantastic clean tone
- The perfect Telecaster upgrade
- Equal to the task of lead and/or rhythm
- Not great for a modern tone
6. Seymour Duncan Black Winter Humbucker Pickup Set
For the metal guitarist, the Black Winter pickup set is a little "darker" and more aggressive than the Invader. It's more of a classic metal tone (if that makes sense), with more string sensitivity and what I would consider a better, more metal-friendly clean tone.
Here's the Seymour Duncan audio sample.
It sounds like they added some reverb or a slight ambience to that mix, which was already nicely touched up, so odds are the demo is going to require some work to replicate in your own right (the pickups can't do it alone).
However, there's no question that the Black Winter is heavy while also producing a phenomenal clean tone.
For purely metal playing styles, they're hard to beat.
IDEAL FOR: Metal, aggressive styles, added string sensitivity
- Clean tones are phenomenal
- Tons of thickness
- Saturation and high-gain settings sound punchy and aggressive
- Sustain for days
- Ideal for heavy metal
- Gettin' pricey
- Stylistic application is limited to heavier playing styles
The Seymour Duncan Roster
Seymour Duncan has a ton of inventory. It would be a bit unfair for me to highlight these six without explaining that I've recommended them primarily based on my own experience. This means there are tons of Seymour Duncan pickups and humbuckers to choose from, but these are the handful that I can vouch for personally.
I've either used them myself, or have talked first hand with other people who have and gotten a good idea of what you can expect out of them as the consumer.
However, it's a good idea to explore the Seymour Duncan product roster for yourself.
If what I've suggested doesn't fit, just use it as a jumping off point.
Typical Price Range
Most of the time I recommend buying Seymour Duncan pickups in a set which typically run between $150 and $200.
High-end humbuckers will go up around $250 in some cases, though they're the exception in the Seymour Duncan brand.
For the most part, Seymour Duncan pickups are economical and affordable, especially if you're buying them as a set. Mixing and matching can get a little more expensive, but even then you'll likely spend less than $100 at both the bridge and neck positions.
Conclusion and Your Questions
Pickups are a tough purchase, because once you wire them in, they're harder to take out and replace. With Seymour Duncan, you at least know you're getting one of the most trusted names in pickup manufacturing, which makes your choice a little easier.
Checkout the sets I've recommended here and listen to the audio samples available. If nothing seems ideal you can move on to other pickups or even move outside the Seymour Duncan brand.
I'd also recommend the following:
- Fishman Fluence Series
- DiMarzio pickups
- EMG pickups
All three of these companies make great pickups and are worth some exploration.
Kevin Gaskell says
SH-4 JB and SH-2n Jazz are still pretty good for Rock/Metal. Nice to see something reviewed other than these! Good information!
Thanks, Kevin. Agreed.