Humbuckers are what gives us those warm, thick, and rich sounds associated with blues, rock, metal, and even jazz. While jazz players favor them for their warmth, many genres of rock use this type of pickup for the punch they give out.
If you’ve been playing with a single coil for a while, but run into problems such as unwanted feedback, low output – or just lack of oomph – fitting these pickups (or ‘pups’ as we refer to them in this article) might be the solution.
At a Glance – Our Pick of the Best Humbuckers on the Market
- Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz Set
- Seymour Duncan Antiquity Humbucker Set
- Kmise Zebra Faced Double Coil Pickups
- DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion
- Benedetto S-6 S-Series Pickup
- Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker Dimebag Darrell
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information on Amazon.
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Humbucker Pickups
- What is a Humbucker?
- Why Replace Your Pickups?
- Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Humbucker Pickups
Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz Set
This set consists of a SH-4 JB for the bridge and a SH-2n Jazz model for the neck, which together gives you one of the most versatile humbucker combos ever.
In the neck position, you get the SH-2n Jazz Model neck humbucker. A pickup used by many great players from Randy Rhoads to Jeff Beck, this pickup has a nickel silver bottom plate, 4-conductor lead wire for multiple wiring options, and vacuum wax potted for squeal-free performance. It uses an alnico 5 bar magnet and the special coil wind gives you an articulate, glassy treble response. It balances superbly with its full, but tight low end.
In the bridge position, you have the JB Model humbucker, Seymour Duncan’s most popular pickup of all time. With its alnico 5 bar magnet and hot coils, it delivers a punchy upper midrange attack, and a tight, articulate low end
The Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz Set is the perfect combo for anything from blues & country to the meanest hard rock & metal. Harmonically rich highs that really sing, with plenty of upper range attack and a tight articulate low end. it’s a superb all-rounder set of humbuckers.
Hand-built in their Santa Barbara, CA, factory too.
- Superb combination of two classic pickups
- Versatile and suitable for anything from blues & country to the meanest hard rock & metal
- Hand-built in their Santa Barbara, CA, factory too
Kmise Zebra Faced Double Coil Pickups
This budget-friendly option is perfect for those who are hesitant to spend much money on such a small component, particularly if the guitar itself is already inexpensive.
It uses solid nickel magnets that work similarly to alnico magnets, giving it a warm, vintage tone and it comes as a set so that you can replace both of your pups. The bridge pickup has a higher output than the neck. Both of them are wax potted, to reduce the risk of microphonic feedback.
The Kmise double coils are suited to Les Paul style guitars, though they’ll fit most guitars with standard string spacing. They’re passive, so you won’t need a battery to get them going.
Those who have a cheap Les Paul copy can breathe some new life into them with this cheap pair of pups.
If you have a more expensive guitar, you might wish to upgrade a little further than these.
- A budget-friendly set including neck and bridge pickups.
- Designed to reduce microphonic feedback.
- Solid nickel magnets work similarly to Alnico magnets.
Seymour Duncan Antiquity Humbucker Set
If you’re looking for a classic vintage pair of humbuckers, the sort of thing you’d find on a vintage Gibson Les Paul, then check these out.
They have 42AWG plain enamel mag-wire, 2.5-inch alnico 2 bar magnets, nickel silver covers, custom machined metal spacers & maple spacers, nickel silver bottom plates with long mounting legs, and single conductor push-back braided lead wires.
They try and stay true to the original Gibson PAF pickups too. They aren’t wax potted, which takes you to the extreme edge of harmonic breakup. The mold used for the butyrate bobbins is made at the same factory that built the original PAF mold for Gibson, and they’re even wound on an original Leesona winding machine used in the original Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, MI.
They’re also been custom aged to make them look vintage too.
- Perfect for raw blues, country, and classic rock
- Custom aging gives them a vintage look
- Stay true to the originals
DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion
The DiMarzio DP100 is a passive, bridge position pickup. It’s similar to the Dimebucker, but a little cheaper and without the Dimebag-specific specs. It has a ceramic magnet, giving it a huge output that is well suited to heavier genres and it focuses on bassier frequencies just slightly more than mid and treble. This gives it an extra beefiness.
There’s the option to split the coils to achieve a single-coil tone, but this doesn’t make you immune to the hum of single-coils.
These pickups were designed to drive an amp into overdrive, and they certainly make your guitar play loud.
The DP100 will suit heavier players who need clarity in their lead, distorted playing. Those who also play a lot of clean guitar might not get on as well with it, as the output is so high it was designed to overdrive an amp.
- Ceramic magnet and massive, meaty tone that’s great for loud, distorted playing.
- Emphasis on low-end frequencies gives it a booming quality.
- Four conductor wiring gives you the option to split the coils.
Benedetto S-6 S-Series Pickup
To finish our list, we’ve added a pup that’s best suited to semi-acoustic guitars. The Benedetto S-6 is designed to fit archtop, hollow-bodied guitars to allow them electric capabilities, without the infamous hum.
These pups work to bring out what’s already there in the guitar, tonally mirroring the qualities of the woods and producing a balanced, warm and rich sound.
There’s an alnico five magnet, giving it a high output with a crisp, clean tone and this product is well suited to both six-string and seven-string semi-acoustic guitars.
It doesn’t need to be soldered, like electric guitar replacement pups do, but simply mounted to the neck.
This product will suit those who already have a beautiful semi-acoustic guitar, but struggle with feedback when they plug it in. This will eliminate that problem, while not losing any of your tone.
It will be less suited to those looking to improve the overall sound of their instrument.
- They bring out what’s already there in an acoustic guitar, reflecting the woods and magnifying their natural qualities.
- Alnico 5 bar magnet gives it a crisp, clean tone.
- Passive pickup makes it easy to control dynamics.
Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker Dimebag Darrel
The appropriately named ‘Dimebucker’ is a passive humbucker that aims to make you sound like famous shredder Dimebag.
The SH13 is designed to be used in the bridge position and made to the exact spec that Dimebag himself used. There’s a huge output, which is well suited to loud players and the magnet is powerful and ceramic.
There are stainless steel blades, making the pickups well balanced even when bending the strings (or doing ‘dive bombs’) and it’s suitable for both guitars with tremolos and those without.
It’s passive so that you won’t need any batteries and it’s similarly priced to the Gibson 57 classic.
Of course, this is suitable for Pantera / Damageplan and other thrash metal fans. It would also suit players who play heavy lead guitar in other genres and require an even balance as they perform lots of bends.
It will be less suited to jazz players, or those looking for a warm, vintage tone.
- Powerful, ceramic magnet gives you a high output that’s great for all things LOUD.
- Stainless steel blades keep the output balanced as you bend the strings.
What is a Humbucker?
They’re often found on Gibson guitars as well as PRS, Jackson, and Ibanez guitars.
They’re made with the same components as single coils (magnetic poles wrapped in wire). The difference is they are, in fact, two pickups joined together but wired slightly out of sync with each other, which works to eliminate any unwanted hum or feedback – hence the name (they’re also referred to as ‘double coils’ for this reason).
They often have a massive output – particularly when the magnets are made from ceramic – which makes them suited to loud playing that also requires articulate (hence their popularity in heavier types of guitar music).
You can sometimes find them in the bridge position on Strats or Telecasters, alongside single coil pups.
It’s also worth considering a hybrid pickup called the P90, a hybrid humbucker/single coil option that gives you more attack and articulation.
Why Replace Your Pickups?
So why would you want to replace your pickups in the first place, especially if you already have humbuckers? What would be the point in swapping them out?
Well, when it comes to cutting costs, especially on budget models, guitar manufacturers fit cheap pickups.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with them, but perhaps they let down the overall sound of your guitar. Upgrading average stock pickups with superior aftermarket ones can vastly improve your sound, at a fraction of the cost of a new guitar.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
Active or Passive?
You have a choice between active and passive pickups. Most pups have passive circuitry, meaning that no battery is required as the magnets produce electric currents in the coils and generally creating a medium output. If you’re looking for a classic, single-coil tone, passive circuitry is the obvious choice.
Active pickups have a far higher output, making them better suited to shred-guitar or other heavy genres. They require batteries, which can be a drawback to some people, and they also have less of a dynamic range than those with passive circuitry.
Alnico 2, Alnico 5 or Ceramic?
‘Alnico’ magnets made of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt were common in guitars in the 50s and 60s, offering a classic sound. These are still popular today amongst those seeking a vintage, warm tone. They’re available as Alnico 2 or Alnico 5 magnets. Alnico 2s are the warmest, most vintage sounding pickups, whereas Alnico 5s have a higher output and extra treble, for clarity of sound.
Ceramic pickups have also been popular since the ’70s. They are known for their beefy tone, giving them clarity and a strong sound like Alnico 5s. Ceramic magnets are cheaper than Alnico magnets, making them an attractive option to those on a budget.
Pickup Set or Individuals?
You can get your pickups either individually or in sets. A benefit to buying a set is that there will be a consistent tone and you’ll have an instantly useable combination of pickups. However, many guitarists choose to purchase individual, different pickups to give them access to a bunch of different tones.
When combining pickups, you may have to adjust your volume when switching between them if the outputs are far apart, but this drawback is small when compared to the huge benefits of a versatile guitar.
Compatibility – String Spacing
If you buy something that’s labeled as being the right fit for your guitar, it’s easy to get the right product. However, if you aren’t sure, there are some things to look out for.
If you play a Fender or a guitar with a Floyd Rose, ‘F Spacing’ humbuckers are the ones that will fit your guitar. These have a slightly wider string spacing than those suited for Gibsons and other guitars.
Some pups have names like ‘Trembucker,’ to indicate that they’re suitable for use with a guitar with a tremolo. If you play a Les Paul (or one of the many Les Paul Copies out there), look for something without any of these special labels.
Our top pick goes to the superb Seymour Duncan JB and Jazz Set. Versatile and suitable for anything from blues & country to the meanest hard rock & metal, they’re superb value for money.
If you’re on a really tight budget, the Kmise Zebra Faced Double Coil Pickups are excellent value humbuckers. They won’t sound nearly as good as the higher-end humbuckers, but for the price, you can’t complain.
If you’re looking for a classic pair of humbuckers, the sort you’d find on a vintage Les Paul, then check out the Seymour Duncan Antiquity Humbucker Set. Perfect for raw blues, country, and classic rock.