Replacement Pickups Single Coils

By Stefan Vos
In Sep 28, 2010
Replacement Pickups Single Coils

Replacement Pickups Single Coils

The replacement pickup industry is booming. Especially for single coils. Aside from the ‘big’ names that have been around for a while, like DiMarzio ( and Seymour Duncan (, there are a slew of ‘boutique’ companies, like Lindy Fralin ( and Jason Lollar (, making a name for themselves in the pickup market. For the uninitiated, who might question the validity of replacing pickups rather than being happy with the stock models that come with a guitar upon purchase, let us examine why a player might consider upgrading.

One reason for considering a ‘pickupgrade’ (I think I may have just coined that? Cheesy I know, but there you go!), is that it is an affordable way to hot rod your guitar. You see, very expensive guitars come ready-loaded with expensive pickups. Many ‘Custom Shop’ instruments have custom-grade pickups installed. These pickups are often hand wound with premium components and any manner of fancy technologically-advanced techniques. They therefore deliver sonically accordingly. They tend to be very transparent (allowing the quality of the wood and craftsmanship of the instrument to shine through, revealing tonal characteristics), and deliver a very even and harmonically-rich performance across all the strings, qualities that are often lacking in cheaper stock pickups.

Of course, not all of us are able to afford these premium instruments with their accompanying premium price tags. What we can do, however, is replace the stock pickups in our guitars with premium ones (a far more affordable way to improve the sound of a guitar than buying a new, more expensive model). As the pickups are a major part of the sound of the electric guitar, replacing average stock pickups with some boutique beauties can make a huge difference to a guitar’s tone, resulting in a hot-rodded sound that inspires the player to practise and play more.

So, how does one decide what replacement model to go for? Active/passive, high/medium/low output, model, style? Well, the main thing to take into consideration is the style of music you play. Perhaps look up what your favourite player (who plays in the same genre as you) uses and start your investigation there. As far as the active /passive debate goes, perhaps some clarification is in order: passive pickups give a more organic, often lower output sound while the active pickups (An active pickup is one that uses electronics to enhance or modify the signal from the guitar’s strings. Unlike passive pickups that are constructed of wire wound around a magnet, active pickups require an external power source to operate.

Along with the external power source active pickups also include a preamp, active filters, active EQ and other tone shaping features.) are mostly far higher output options and tend to give a more clinically consistent sound. Active pickups are probably the less popular option, but some well-known players include David Gilmour ( and Zakk Wylde ( In terms of output, I will just say one thing; lower output pickups (including passive pickups) require the amp to work harder to deliver the tone. If you are using a valve amp this is a good thing! If you are using a solid-state (digital) amp, this won’t make too much difference and if you need monstrous, crushing distortion, a high output or even active pickup may be just what the doctor ordered.

Many pickup manufactures’ websites give very helpful indicators of output and style recommendations. I can give some personal recommendations for the replacement of single coil pickups: certainly check out Seymour Duncan pickups, I have yet to be disappointed by the sound from these great replacements. For those of a slightly more boutique leaning, I would suggest looking at Lindy Fralin and Jason Lollar, as well as the fantastic vintage option: Don Mare (http:/

I will continue next time with some replacement options specific to humbucker pickups.

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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"


  1. The alder body and the three single coil pickups are the foundation of the intimate sound that the strat is known for.

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