why do guitars have multiple pickups?

Why Do Guitars Have Multiple Pickups?

While it can be said that not all guitars have multiple pickups on them, a good majority of guitars do. So you might be wondering what guitar pickups even are and why some guitars have multiple pickups installed on them. 

You might even be wondering what the differences are between the various styles of guitar pickups. Well, in this article, we go over everything you need to know about guitar pickups.

Simply put, a pickup is a series of magnets that are wrapped in copper coils. This, in turn, generates a magnetic field around your strings which allows them to carry the sound through your cables and into your amp.

Guitar pickups allow your guitar to make a wide range of sounds and tones. Each pickup controls a different aspect of the area where the pickup is located at. There are two main electric guitar pickup styles. They are the single coil pickup and the humbucker.

Single Coil Pickups

You will find the single-coil pickups to be the most common and recognized ones on a guitar, specifically stratocasters and telecasters. Most of the strats and teles that I’ve seen have 3 single-coil pickups. One pickup for the bridge sounds, one for the neck sounds, and then a middle one to give you a bit more tone.

Single coil pickups tend to have a crisper and brighter tone that’s produced. They also produce that popular gritty sound when you hook up your single-coil guitar to a small tube amp with some nice distortion connected.

Popular guitarists who preferred single-coil pickups include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix just to name a few. Many bands in the 1960s also used single-coil pickups. 

Humbucker Pickups

A humbucker pickup is made up of two coils, with each coil being wound reverse to the other. This creates phased-out wiring that allows your guitar sound to have more sustain and less noise. 

The style of guitar that is the most popular with humbuckers is the Les Paul style of guitar. Humbuckers are known to create a darker and heavier tone than that of a single-coil pickup, which makes them extremely popular with heavy metal, hard rock, and jazz musicians.

A few famous musicians that have preferred humbuckers are Jimmy Page, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, and Van Halen just to name a few.

Does changing guitar pickups make a difference?

Many different things actually contribute overall to the sound of your guitar but having good quality pickups are definitely important. 

Most budget guitars come standard with budget pickups. This may be just fine for someone who is starting out on their guitar-playing journey, but eventually, you will want to upgrade the pickups. 

To be clear, guitar pickups are important for the quality of sound, but they will not make up for an out-of-tune guitar or the guitar amp from which the sound is emanating. If your amp sucks, upgrading the pickups in your guitar will not really help that much.

What does raising the pickups on a guitar do?

Raising the pickups on your guitar so that they are closer to the strings will usually result in more output and a hotter tone. On the other hand, lowering the pickups so that they are closer to the base of the guitar will most likely result in less output and a fuller sound coming from your amp. 

There really is no right or wrong position for your pickups. It really depends on what type of tone you are going for. Obviously, you don’t want your strings rubbing against any of your pickups.

How long do guitar pickups last?

The answer to this question is going to be different for everybody, depending on the quality of the pickups. Luckily, guitar pickups are generally made of mostly metal and magnets, so they will usually last many years.

The most common reason that a guitar pickup stops working actually has nothing to do with the pickup itself. It’s usually a faulty switch on your guitar or some other wiring mishap. 

Guitar pickups have a tendency to die without any warning, but this is not always the case. For example, if your pickups start to make sounds that you don’t like, then it may be time to change them. 

It should be noted that rust or any oxidized coloring is normal for aging metal and that alone doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change out your guitar pickups.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article helped you out some when it comes to understanding the pickups on your electric guitar. Just remember that there are two main types of electric guitar pickups – single-coil pickups and humbucker pickups. 

If you are just starting out on your guitar-playing journey, then I would recommend not worrying too much about your guitar’s pickup system at this moment in time. 

Eventually though, as you get better and your sound progresses, you may want to look into upgrading the pickups in your guitar to improve your overall tone. 

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