Single-coil pickups produce a distinct sound which some guitarist love and others cannot stand. If you fall in the former group, you will need to sift through a variety of options. We have compiled a list of the 7 best single-coil pickups to help you make an informed purchase decision.
I have been playing guitar for many years. I have used both single-coil and humbucker pickups and determined that I absolutely love the single-coil sound.
Now I am looking to upgrade the pickups in my Gibson Les Paul. I knew there were a few single-coil pickup options out there but I dint think there would be so many. The sheer number makes it difficult to think and settle on one.
Here is our compilation of the 7 best single-coil pickups to guide you towards a decision.
7 Best Single-Coil Pickups – A Comparison Table
Single-coil pickup brand
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Fender vintage noiseless tele pickups
EMG - SA Single-coil Pickup
Seymour Duncan APTL - 3JD Jerry Donahue Telecaster Pickup
Gretsch Hilo’ Tron Pickup
Lace Sensor Red Pickup
Mojotone Lipstick Stratocaster pickups
8.4 ounces ( packaging weight)
Lindy Fralin Vintage Hot Pickup Set
7 Best Single-Coil Pickups – Top Picks for 2021:
This is a product of the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, a leading manufacturer of instruments and accessories. These pickups come as a set of 2 and deliver the characteristic single-coil clarity. They manage to preserve the tele’s signature especially in the neck pickup.
Their brightness is similar to that of the Telecaster of the 1960’s with a welcome addition of hum-cancelling capability.
This set has an Alnico 2 type of magnet which gives your guitar a warmer attack and midrange delivered with less power than what normal Telecasters would. This may not be a positive feature for guitarists looking to replicate the vintage Telecaster sound but a merit for those looking for a mellow feel without losing the vintage sound.
Flush-mount pole pieces ensure even string response alongside a vinyl-covered output wire and a plastic bobbin.
Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele Pickups are best for rock, pop, blues and country music.
- No single-coil hum
- Classic vintage tele sound
- Has a more mellow sound than actual Telecaster sound
These are the pickups of choice for players such as David Gilmour and Steve Lukather. They are active pickups which means you get higher output compared to passive pickups and enjoy reduced feedback. This gives your sound a natural boost with well-rounded projections.
Active pickups also handle high-gain distortion better so you get stronger, clearer sound at all volumes. Don’t forget active pickups are powered by 9 volt batteries.
In terms of sound, this pickup has a vintage Stratocaster feel which makes it bright with rich low ends. The mid-range is creamy which makes these pickups a good option for blues players.
Internal shielding makes these pickups noiseless. This is a notable advantage especially considering that these are single-coils which manage to retain the characteristic single-coil sound.
An Alnico V magnet bar keeps the sound consistent and makes the overall output well-articulated and expressive.
The EMG-SA single coil pickup is available in a pack containing a single piece or as a set of 3 pieces. It is available in either black or red.
- Characteristic single-coil sound is maintained
- Eliminates noise
- Active pickup
- Require batteries
This is a telecaster pickup so it gives you the warm and sweet vintage tone telecasters are known for. It is a well-balanced pickup with boosted output recommended for genres such as blues, country, classic rock and country pop.
It features Alnico 2 rod magnets which generate rich mids, warm lows and soft highs. A special coil wind increases volume and sustain. You also get good clarity and bass response. Pole pieces are symmetrically staggered to mirror the fingerboard radius for well-balanced string – to – string response. It also works well with distortion and overdrive.
In terms of intended positioning on your guitar, this pickup is only available in lead (bridge) position. What can be used alongside it? The APTR- 1 is the closest match suited for the rhythm (neck) position although Jerry ( most popular player associated with it) uses it with an APS – 2 Alnico 2 Pro in the neck position. This pickup works best with maple fingerboards.
Apart from Jerry Donahue, other notable players associated with this pickups are Shania Twain, Trisha Yearwood, Dan Schafer, Luis Miguel and Garth Brooks.
- Classic telecaster sound
- Works well with overdrive and distortion
- Boosted output
- Only available in bridge position
Gretsch Hilo’Tron guitars were developed in 1958 to replace the DeArmond pickups. They soon became the foundation for Gretsch’s classic sound.
George Harrison was one of the early and most avid users of the Gretsch Hilo’Tron. He carried the banner through the mid-sixties with a classic Tennessean sound. These pickups were used on many Gretsch guitars all through the eighties. They were redesigned and reissued in 2001 and have built a following of their own.
There are more than a few members of the Gretsch family. The Hilo’Tron has the lowest output but the upside to it is that it allows for more clarity without compromising overall output.
Hilo’Tron single-coil pickups boast of an incredibly wide range of tones. You get brilliant highs and mellow lows and a very lively response. The overall product is full and sweet hi-fidelity sound. It works in both neck and bridge positions.
- Classic Grestch sound
- Hi-fidelity response
- Wide range of tones
- Low output
Lace Sensors have been around since 1985 but were used exclusively by fender between 1987 and 1996. They were designed to replace one of Fender’s early coil pickups with a bell-like tone and crisp top end. These are true single-coil pickups but their internal construction is different from classic single-coil pickups.
A key advantage in these pickups is a Field Barrier system. Here the coil and magnets work to reduce that annoying 60-cycle hum. This is a single-coil pickup problem but this one has magnets which are very efficient and thus require less energy. This allows for space for better dynamics and sustain.
Patented Lace Micro Combs are used instead of traditional bobbins. This yields a wider range of tones and better string balance than in traditional pickups.
Unlike standard pickups, this one reads more physical area of the string and picks less interference from outside. This allows it to deal with a key disadvantage of single-coil pickups.
Lace Sensor Red pickups feature ceramic magnets which work well with just about any genre of music but is best for rock, metal and punk.
These have the hottest output in the Lace sensor series. They work best when used in bridge position and are available in black and white.
- High output and low hum
- Field barrier system
- Very specific tone may not suit many users
Mojotone is a vintage electronics supplier with a trusted name in the industry. Their lipstick pickups are so called because of their long cylindrical shape.
These come as a set of two which can be used in bridge and neck positions. The tone produced is particularly clear and glassy with a hollow sound similar to that in older versions of Lipstick pickups. . They also respond well to distortion thus making them exceptionally versatile. Extra thickness added to the overall output adds to their appeal.
The single-coil hum in just about all such pickups is present but not anywhere near as much as in other single-coil pickups. That said, you will notice the hum more as output increases.
Both pickups in the set feature Alnico 5 magnets. These give you an airy top end. Increased low end and mid-range makes them good for lead lines and solos.
This set is a good option for users looking for clear tone and high output which can be manipulated through overdrive or distortion.
- Clean and clear glassy sound
- Less hum than in other single-coil pickups.
- Hum is noticeable with increased output
Lindy Fralin Vintage Hot Pickups come in a set of 3. They are more or less the same as the Fender pickups used in the late fifties and early sixties. It has the same high quality parts as it did before.
Sound produced is open and lively and supports a wide sound spectrum. Even when connected to high gain amplifiers, the sound maintains its characteristics and peculiarities.
Unlike many other pickups, but like all Lindy Fralin pickups, this one is wound by hand. Stronger pickups make the treble strings sound better. Winding on this set is done with a 42 gauge heavy Formvar (orange) wire and has cloth leads and beveled magnets.
The middle and neck pickups are on average 500’s specs. The bridge is as hot as possible. The neck and middle winding is about 6000 each and the bridge is about 6800.
All replacement pickups have reverse wound middle pickups. This provides hum cancelling in the 2nd and 4th positions.
A notable improvement in this version is that individual cartridges are designed for corresponding positions that is the neck, bridge or mid.
- Set of 3
- Open, lively sound
- Replacements have reverse wound middle pickups
- Available in a single color
What to Consider When Buying the Best Single-Coil Pickups
Before looking at some factors to think about when buying single-coil pickups, it is necessary to understand exactly how these pickups work.
Today’s single-coil pickups are an improved version of the original ones first introduced in the 1930s. The basic set up which relies on magnetism, remains the same. A thin electrical wire is coiled repeatedly around a form (also called a bobbin) and then placed on a permanent magnet.
A guitar pickup could have magnets made from different materials. All impart different but characteristic tones.
Alnico pickup magnets
The most common metal used for pickups is Alnico. This is an alloy of iron, aluminum, cobalt and nickel.
Manufacturers use different Alnico formulations which yield varying tones. Alnico 2 for instance yields low output but smoother, warmer tone with plenty of midrange.
Alnico 5 is perhaps the most commonly used formulation. It yields high output, brilliant treble and rounded midrange.
Other Alnico formulations include Alnico 3, 4 and 8.
Ceramic pickup magnets
These are stronger than Alnico and yield a crisp high end. They don’t lose clarity even with heavy distortion.
These are about seven times stronger than Alnico so are smaller. They are rare in regular guitars and more common in bass guitars.
Hum – cancelling ability
Single-coil pickups produce distinct sound which many guitarists love.
The disadvantage to them is that they pick up electromagnetic radiation in the environment, usually from power lines. These signals are picked up along with those from the vibrations from your guitar’s strings. The result is an annoying hum in your music.
This is why the development of a single-coil pickup (with the characteristic sound) but no hum, was considered a major development for designers. Now you will find a few-single-coil pickups in the market with cancelling capability so you can have your cake and eat it.
The shape of the coil also determines a pickups sound. In a Stratocaster coil for instance, the coil is relatively tall (about 0.56 by 2.56 and 0 .44 inches high). Compare this to a Jazzmaster pickup (about 1.5 by 3.5 and only 0.13 inches tall).
The shorter design is flatter and creates a differently shaped magnetic field. It yields stronger bass and midrange response.
Number of turns
Some pickups have more turns of wire to the coil than others. More turns increase output. The tradeoff is that more turns also increase impedance which reduce high-frequency response.
The point is to understand the effects of this and use it to produce your desired sound. Pickups with either more or fewer than average turns of wire are referred to as ‘overwound’ or ‘underwound.’
Active or passive pickup
Passive pickups work such that the amplified signal put out is generated purely from the magnetic coils. Active ones have an onboard preamp, powered by a 9 volt battery to boost the pickup signal. The preamp in active pickups also helps to kill hum, even in single-coil pickups.
Both active and passive pickups work well. You only need to figure out which of the two matches your playing style and desired tone.
The single-coil pickup can be mounted in one of 3 parts of the instrument’s body. The bridge neck or pickguard.
String instruments vibrate in a complex way. Placement of the pickup in relation to the strings creates drastic differences in the resultant tone. Here is a brief description of how it works:
- Pickups placed nearest the bridge are brightest and have short sustain.
- Pickups closest to the neck sound warm and full and have longest sustain.
- Pickups places in between the two produce sound ranging between the previous two.
The point to remember is that some pickups come as a set so you can use them for multiple positions from a single purchase. Other come in single pieces so you need to buy more than one to cover more than one position.
On top of that, some pickup brands supply devices which are specifically designed for only one of the described positions.
Guitar pickups are a key component which determine the overall tone of your music. Single-coil pickups have a distinct character different from their ‘rival’ the humbucker pickup.
Some guitarists believe humbucker is an obvious choice but that is not necessarily the case. You could be replacing old stock pickups or looking to upgrade to something more powerful. You need to know what you are looking for before you start your search. You need to listen to the options and determine which one best suits your kind of music and matches the tone you are looking to achieve.
Keep in mind that whichever you pick, there are merits to be enjoyed and demerits to be dealt with. In the case of single-coil pickups, you often need to deal with a hum which comes about when unwanted signals from the environment are picked along with those of the guitar strings.
What is the difference between Strat and Tele pickups?
There are several differences but key ones have to do with sound, physical dimensions and output.
A traditional Stratocaster gives you clean, clear and punchy sound while the telecaster’s is warm and shimmery. In terms of dimensions, the Stratocaster pickup is shorter than the traditional tele pickup which is taller and longer. There is more area available on the tele to wind additional wire to the bobbin. The result is higher output.
Why is pickup potting necessary?
Potting (dipping the pickup in wax) serves to hold every component of the device in place. It prevents any movement or vibration between parts.
In terms of sound, potting works to prevent unwanted feedback.
What does it mean that a pickup is ‘hot’?
It generally refers to output. A hot or hotter pickup is one which gives you more sound. It drives your gear harder than a comparable pickup therefore giving a more distorted tone.