Single Coils vs Humbuckers – What’s the Difference?

Gear Shootout   |   October 4, 2022

posted by: Tone Tailors

Single Coils vs Humbuckers – What’s the Difference?

In the world of guitar gear there are more options for tones than you’ll probably ever need. That said, you’ve got to know the basics of achieving a certain sound whether you’re a beginner or a studio professional. One of the most common questions we get is why would I want single coils vs humbuckers? Not sure what either of those terms means? Keep reading!

If you’re looking for specific tones like you’ve heard from your favorite players, let Tone Tailors source the exact pickups you need!

Players know it’s not hard to start splitting hairs over “hand-wound this, new old stock that,” but let’s really come back down to earth… Single coils vs humbuckers!

Single Coil Pickups

single coils vs humbucker
Fender Custom Shop ’69 Stratocaster Pickups

In their most basic form, a single coil pickup consists of a single coil of wire wrapped around six individual magnetic pole pieces. Perhaps the most iconic of all single coil guitars is the Fender Stratocaster which features a total of three single coil pickups. While these pickups are awesome at generating the right voltage for picking up the vibration of guitar strings, they’re also prone to picking up various EMI fields. But don’t let that stop you from choosing a guitar with single coils – it’s likely some of the most influential players to ever pick up the instrument are known for the single coil sound.

Humbucker Pickups

Single coils vs Humbuckers
PRS Paul Reed Smith 57/08 Electric Guitar Pickup

For guitarists that prefer higher gained amps and may have more effects in their signal chains, humbuckers can are a more natural choice. Using two coils linked in series and running out of phase, these types of pickups do literally what it sounds like… they “buck the hum” from your signal! As a result of the additional coil per pickup, humbuckers offer an even higher voltage than single coil pickups. Of course, this means that another range of classic guitarists have gravitated to the humbucker sound!

Single Coils vs Humbuckers Tone

Now, the whole reason we need to explore this topic is that both single coils and humbuckers have their distinct tones and use cases.

Single Coil Tone

If you’re looking for a brighter, cleaner tone with lots of articulation and dynamic range, single coil pickups are the way to go! At this point, modern single coils pickups are designed with as little hum as is physically possible. However, some companies like Fender are well know for their guitars with Noiseless Single Coils which provide the beautiful clarity of single coils without the inherent hum. Most players agree that single coils are fantastic for everything from Blues and Country to Surf Rock, Shoegaze, and other, rather hybrid genres out there today!

Humbucker Tone

Of course when it comes to getting those heavy, classic rock and metal tones, humbuckers are the way to go! With a higher output and less noise, guitars with humbuckers allow players to run cascading overdrives and get their amps to breakup much quicker. Oddly enough, lots of jazz players also prefer humbucker style guitars due to their higher headroom and warmer tones. Keep in mind there are truly no rules to what type of pickups you choose for your first or next guitars.

The Single Coils vs Humbuckers debate may not even apply to what musical journey you’re on! We’ll cover more pickup types in the future, but for now knowing this basic distinction can help you choose the right tools for the job.

As always, Tone Tailors offers pickup installs and upgrade options to make your guitars the best they can be. Contact us today to Tailor your Tone!

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