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Maury's Blog

Thursday, September 14 2017
Electric Guitar Pickups: Single Coils vs Humbuckers

When shopping for a Reverend guitar, many of our customers ask - "what's the difference between single coils and humbuckers"?  In terms of construction, a single coil pickup is just that - a single coil that picks up the vibrations of the string above it, that's passing through its magnetic field.  True single-coil pickups are succeptible to noise, most often associated with 60-cycle hum caused by routine electricity.  A humbucking pickup is a double-coil design, resulting in a noise (hum) canceling (bucking) design and a higher output.  Traditional humbuckers sit in your guitar with the coils next to each other, which also means that more area of string vibration is being "picked up".  While its worth mentioning that some single coil pickups are noise free, and some humbucking pickups are stacked vertically - for today's lesson we're not going to dive that deeply into those tangents.  For the sake of our discussion, we're going to compare regular single coils and regular humbuckers.

OK, so single coils are noisier than humbuckers & and less powerful. Does that mean humbuckers are better? Not necessarily. Just like Pepsi vs Coke, or in this case, Diet Coke vs Jack Daniels (or as I like to say Diet Coke and Jack Daniels)   it's a matter of personal taste. The style of music you're playing, and your choice of amplifier and/or pedals can greatly dictate which kind of pickup is more appropriate for the tone you're chasing.  

I'm willing to bet that many guitarists will agree with me when I say that early Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) is one of the quintessential single coil sounds. A clean Strat through very little (if any) processing is a very good example of single coil tone. Here's a short video example of what I mean, featuring the Reverend Six Gun.

Think that's a great tone? Why would anyone want humbuckers? Here's a tone you simply can't get with single coils. This guitar is the Reverend Sensei LE 2016.

Of course, neither application is wrong, but its my hope that you can see where each kind of pickup really shines. We've hardly covered everything there is to know about single coils and humbuckers - but I hope this brief overview was helpful. Make no mistake: the amplifier settings were very different for each guitar, too. I chose clean tones for the Six Gun and overdrive for the Sensei - and that was designed to reveal each guitar's personality. I realize there are exceptions to every rule, but I truly feel that each of these kinds of pickups has its signature strengths, and maybe we've helped you understand them a little better. What do you think? Please post your comments below.

Posted by: Maury- Maury's Music AT 11:06 am   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
Great article! I have always gravited towards humbucker pickups. That was until I discovered the P90 pickup. I always feel like the P90 sits somewhere in between the humbucker and the single coil. This is despite the fact that it is technically a single coil pickup. The P90 is a great pickup for clarity and cutting through. Thanks once again! Justin :)
Posted by Justin Levitt on 12/08/2017 - 02:17 PM

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