Replacement Pickups: Humbuckers

Replacement Pickups: Humbuckers

Replacement Pickups: Humbuckers

As discussed in the last instalment of the investigation of replacement pickups, humbuckers are a sure-fire way to hot-rod your guitar, injecting your tone with a new lease on life. This time ‘round, we look at replacing humbucker pickups, so let’s begin by clarifying exactly what humbuckers are.

According to the oracle of all absolute knowledge, Wikipedia, “A humbucker (or humbucking pickup) is a type of electric guitar pickup, first patented by Seth Lover and the Gibson Company that uses two coils, both generating string signal. Humbuckers have higher output than a single coil pickup since both coils are in series and the magnetic circuit is low loss. Like a single coil pickup, a humbucker induces a slight magnetic field around the strings, which in turn induce an electrical current on the coils as the strings vibrate.

The two coils have opposite polarity, opposite windings and are connected in series, which causes noise and interference to be significantly reduced via common-mode rejection. Humbuckers get their name from the fact that they cancel out the interference (they “buck the hum”) induced by alternating current, which is normally experienced with single coil pickups. Hum is caused by interference typically created by transformers and power supplies inside various electrical equipment utilizing alternating current.

As alternating current passes through a coil, it induces a magnetic field around the coil. The magnetic field may be very weak at the pickup, but once the signal is put through various pedals and amps it can become much more evident. Using a guitar without humbuckers, a musician would hear a slight but noticeable hum from the amp in silent sections of the music. Sources of hum generated in the studio and on stage can include high-power amps, processors, mixers, motors, power lines, and other sources. Humbuckers dramatically reduce the hum effect compared to single coil pickups”.

So there you have it: hum canceling and higher output. Humbuckers have become synonymous with Les Paul-style guitars and hard rocking! Virtually all the very heavy styles of guitar music are played with humbucking pickups. Although the glassy chime of a single coil can be wielded in an overdriven rock context to great effect and many players love the quality of the single coil, it cannot be denied that humbuckers effortlessly give a driving ‘melt your face off’ sound. From Guns ‘n’ Roses to Lamb of God and Iron Maiden, Metallica to Chickenfoot, these guys are employing humbucking pickups with reckless abandon. As well they should!

For many years, humbucker-type guitars enjoyed a popularity that easily eclipsed that of their single coil brethren, although, the past few years have seen a major resurgence in single coil guitars, and accordingly in single coil replacement pickups. That being said, there are loads of replacement humbucker pickups on the market. Again, there are the more established, mass-market companies that offer fantastic replacements: Seymour Duncan (, DiMarzio ( and EMG ( probably being the most pervasive.

I am a fan of the Duncans and have yet to be disappointed in any of their products. These companies have comprehensive websites that offer all manner of categories and tonal descriptions to guide the buyer to the correct model to meet their specific needs. As with the single coils, there seem to be no end to the different models on offer, each tailored to suit a particular type of instrument and musical context. There are pickups specifically designed to be used in a Les Paul-type guitar that is played through a high gain amplifier for crushing distortion sounds, etc. The variety is almost endless, so the best advice I can give is hop onto the cyber information superhighway and read the forums and check out the recommendations. Do your homework research-wise, and you should be able to find a replacement humbucker that makes your tonal dreams come true.

On the more boutique side of things, I would also recommend looking at Lindy Fralin ( pickups, as well as British company Bareknuckle Pickups (, which seems to be offering some very tasty replacement humbuckers and even offers ‘aged’ pickup cover options.

All the best for your tonal quest!

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* Has played in the UK with the band Lightning Type on stages like the Camden Barfly, Dublin Castle and The London Astoria * Has recorded at Beethoven Street Studios, previously owned by Seal, through a mixing desk once used by David Bowie, with one of Brian May's amps * Has played with local rock superstars Cassette * Has been teaching for the last 10 years to all ages and levels * Listens to and enjoys playing ALL styles of music * Has spent years refining the POWER STANCE for maximum on-stage rocking * Has dedicated himself to the lifelong pursuit of ULTIMATE TONE: The Way of the TONE Master * Has never played "Guitar Hero"

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