Guitar Pickups – Picking the Right One

some information provided by Seymour Duncan – one of the top manufacturers of guitar pickups

First, what is a pickup?

Technically, pickups are transducers that “pick up” string vibrations and translate them into an electrical current which then comes out of your amp as a tasty jazz run, a chunky power chord, or an in-yer-face death metal riff.

seymour_duncan_sh-1n_reverse_zebraWhy change pickups?
Simply put: Are you totally satisfied with your instrument’s tone? Look – 99% of all guitars are built from the same basic stuff: wood, strings, hardware, and pickups. Each of these components plays an important role in formulating the tone and determining how your instrument will sound. But check this out – if you’ve got an instrument that looks right and feels right, but doesn’t sound right to you, then the pickups in that instrument are not the right pickups for you. Seymour Duncan/Basslines manufactures hundreds of pickup models for all kinds of instruments with the single-minded goal of helping you find your tone. Your tone.

OK, now I have decided to change but what and how?

Deciding on your tone needs in an important first step in choosing a pickup. Do you need more output? Are you looking for a thicker tone? Is your tone lacking bottom end? Are you in search of more sustain or better dynamics? Answering these questions is the first step in choosing the right pickup for you.

Next, read about pickups. Look at their reported sound and tonal qualities. Many pickup manufacturers have sample sounds from varying guitars on various amps on their websites. Seymour Duncan has a large audio library giving samples to help you find what you are looking for.

audio samples from the Seymour Duncan website – mp3 format

Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Humbucker

Seymour Duncan SH-2 Jazz Humbucker

See the Pickups Directory for pickup manufacturers


After buying your new pickup you need to get it installed. Whether you have it done by a local guitar shop or do it yourself is the next question. Installing your own pickups can be a little complex and requires some soldering skills. Pickup installation requires the strings to be removed from the guitar, the pickup removed, the new one installed and soldered back to the guitars wiring. Once installed put on a new set of strings and jam on.

Installation tips

-Note all the wire locations and wire colors
-Take a picture of the wiring
-Some factory installed pickups have different wiring than aftermarket ones, read the directions
-Most pickup manufacturers have detailed wiring diagrams and descriptions for installation.