Almost every pickup can be put in one of these two categories:
- Single Coil
Humbuckers were designed in the ‘50s by wiring together two single coil pickups with opposite polarities, which was primarily used as a method to cancel out the noise that is often associated with single coil pickups.
For several decades Gibson made the most visible use of this design while Fender focused primarily on guitars that used the single coil versions.
Today, humbuckers are widely accepted as the “heavier” of the two designs, often used for metal and hard rock. They’re frequently found in Ibanez, PRS, ESP LTD, Gibson, and Epiphone electric guitars.
Read more: Best Pickups for ES-335
Some characteristics of humbuckers include:
- Longer sustain
- Thicker, heavier sound
- Less noise
- Higher gain
- More ideal for distortion
Despite the benefits of humbuckers, single coils are sought after for different reasons, primarily based on their unique tone profile and advancements in technology that have greatly reduced their excess noise as well.
Characteristics of single coil pickups include:
- Brighter, crisp tone
- More ideal for clean tones or low gain
- More emphasis on picking definition
- Better for vintage styles
Keep in mind, these are conventions and not rules. You can get noise-free single coil pickups that are good for metal and even cleanly-voiced, vintage humbuckers.
These are just the general differences between the two types, which should be noted for your own stylistic leanings.
- For those into rock and heavier styles, or rhythm guitar players, I’d advise going with a humbucker design.
- If you’re more of a lead player or into styles with less gain, the single coil variety might serve you better.
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