Neck vs Bridge Pickup on a Guitar – What’s the Difference?

Which elements contribute most to the tone of a guitar? If you’re talking about an acoustic guitar, you’d have to say tonewood. For an electric guitar, the pickups play an enormous role in the overall sound.

They’re the things that pick up the movement of the strings and turn it into sound.

But one thing beginners struggle with is knowing the main difference between the pickup sound in the neck position versus the one in the bridge, and when you should use one instead of the other.

In this article, we walk you through the key factors and outline the main differences between the neck vs bridge pickup.

Neck vs Bridge Pickup – Key Differences

Position

The bridge and neck pickup are so named because of their positions on the guitar, as below. They are positioned like this to give you the broadest amount of tone possible. 

Note that the bridge pickup is angled slightly, whereas the other two are straight (perpendicular to the strings). This is common on many Fender guitars, including the Tele. An angled bridge pickup helps to thicken up the bass frequencies and brighten up the high notes.

neck and bridge pickups
The location of the neck and bridge pickups

Tone

If you pick the strings in the bridge position on an acoustic guitar, it sounds very bright and ‘trebly’. This is because there is greater tension on the strings in that location. 

The same things apply to the bridge pickup on an electric guitar. As bridge pickups are closer to the bridge, they sound a lot brighter and sharper. 

In the neck position, the strings are looser and there is less tension. This results in a warm, thick, mellow tone.

Note, the tone is greatly affected by the type of pickup you’re using, not only its position. Humbuckers and single-coil pickups both have their characteristics and this will have a bearing on whether or not they’re in neck or bridge positions.

The relative position also affects how loud each pickup is. Even though the neck pickup has less attack than the bridge, it sounds ‘bigger’. 

Construction / Build

The basic construction of each pickup is the same. Both have cylindrical polepieces (i.e., magnets) wound with copper wire.

But because sound dynamics vary so much on the guitar, both neck and bridge pickups are calibrated slightly differently relative to their positions.

The bridge pickup is wound ‘hotter’ (more turns) than the neck pickup so they have a higher output. This adds more mids and more bite. They do this to compensate for the smaller string amplitude (lack of movement of the strings).

Application

Because of its thick, warm sound, the neck pickup is more often used for playing lead lines. A great example of a classic solo using a neck pickup is the intro to Gun’s and Rose’s ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’.

Check out this version of the song, where you can get a good look at Slash playing it:

Use the bridge pickup for rhythm playing, as it’s a bright, clear tone. It’s also used for chunky, heavy riffs in the metal/hard rock scene.

Neck vs Bridge Pickup Comparison Chart

Here’s a little summary of the main differences:

neck vs bridge pickup comparison chart

Summary

As we’ve seen, guitar pickups have an impact on the tone you get from a guitar. The closer to the bridge it is, the higher the output, making it perfect for rhythm. Neck pickups sound bigger, and many guitarists use it for solos.

The pickup selector lets you mix the two, and depending on the guitar, you have lots of options to play around with. 

Good luck!

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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