There’s a huge number of factors that make up the sound of an electric guitar. The subject of which is the most important is the stuff that makes up the millions of forum posts out there.
Which elements contribute most to the tone? If you’re talking about an acoustic guitar, you’d have to say the tonewood. For an electric guitar, the pickups play an enormous part 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.
Table of Contents
Neck vs Bridge Pickup – Key Differences
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.
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 its position.
The bridge pickup is wound ‘hotter’ (more turns) than the neck pickup so they have a higher output. This adds more mids more bite. They do this to compensate for the smaller string amplitude (lack of movement of the strings).
Because of it’s 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 it 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:
As we’ve seen, the tone you get from a guitar is affected by guitar pickups. 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.