Even though there are numerous components you can easily swap into your guitar and the result is a noticeable change in the playability and tone, pickups are the most important of these.
In my experience of playing guitars for more than 2 decades, one thing is clear: pickups are essential to creating that unique tone you are seeking from your guitar. That does not mean the Telecaster suddenly sounds like a new, unfamiliar guitar just because you decided to use a different pickup, but there is something about its quality of tone that sounds different. After all, that is the ultimate aim of any pickup – bringing out different qualities that are present in your instrument, most which you do not notice during normal play.
In order to achieve a beautiful sound from your Tele, you need good pickups that can bring out that sound. Not everything will work though, so ensure you take your time in testing what works for you. In this review, I highlight 5 pickups that I have used over time and know that they are reliable enough to work for a variety of Telecasters, and also to help you know where to look.
Best pickups for Telecasters
Magnets it uses
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Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele pickups
11.4 x 7.5 x 3.5
Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD Tele Bridge pickup
4.1 x 2.8 x 1.5
Fender Custom Shop special pickups
11.4 x 7.5 x 3.5
DiMarzio DP172C Tele pickup
1.5 x 1.5 x 3.6
JBE Joe Barden Modern T-Style pickup set
4.0 x 2.0 x 7.0
Best pickups for Telecasters For 2021
Fender Telecasters have been known for more than 6 decades, and the main product that shot them to fame was their unique sound – especially those made before the mid-1960s. That classic sound was due to two single coil pickups, and the Noiseless Tele pickups seek to live up to that reputation.
- Enamel wire to create a vintage tone
- One-year warranty
- Alnico II magnets with a vinyl-covered output wire
These pickups are great in many ways – but the most noticeable trait is their noiseless sound production, a feature they greatly improve from the previous vintage Tele pickups that had annoying background noises. They feature special Alnico magnets and enamel coated wires, making them look like humbuckers even though they are not.
Their sound production is very top-heavy, though they still have underlying powerful lows especially when you drive them hard. Therefore, if you are looking for a vintage Tele sound, they are not the first pickups you should get – the overall sound is not very close to an actual Tele and can leave you disappointed. They still retain a warm feel to their sound though, mainly thanks to the nickel-coated neck pickup that delivers a clean sound.
- Noiseless sound production
- You can buy them at competitive prices
- Include a 1-year warranty
- The magnets offer excellent response
- May not suit guitarists looking for vintage sounds
- The installation requires soldering
These pickups are great if you want to upgrade the pickup collection you work with, as well as if you want noiseless pickups. You can only buy them in pairs, though they are at a competitive price.
If you are into playing a variety of music genres like classic rock or country music, these pickups are right up your alley. They feature Alnico-II magnets, and like most picks on this list, they use single coil construction. They have an interesting history behind them as well, as their beginnings stem from when the famous guitarist Johnny Donahue needed a pickup to replicate his unique ’52 Telecaster tone even when using other guitars.
- Staggered pole pieces
- Single coil Tele bridge pickup
- Alnico II magnets
- Single coil type
Many users of this pickup will likely agree that the sound it produces is primarily because of its bridge pickup. There are some minor changes in design that the manufacturer has implemented, such as the alternative wind for power that works alongside the Alnico II magnets. Additionally, there is better balance in the sound response, which allows for the achievement of the fingerboard curvature through raising the poles for the G and D strings.
The result in the sound is increased sustain and power. The pickup definitely has noticeable lower, warm tones compared to most pickups, making it an interesting addition to any Telecaster’s sound. Considering its high quality, the price is definitely a worthwhile bargain.
- Offers very good value for the money
- Very durable build
- Very good tonal quality with a vintage edge
- Tends to produce stabbing, sharp sounds at specific high frequencies
This is a great pickup for most music genres, as it gives you plenty of quality, warm sound production, and top-quality construction, all at a very affordable price.
In many people’s minds, Fender is the perfect company to create pickups for Tele guitars. They have had a few misses, though the custom shop Texas special is not one of them.
- Nickel/silver cover to produce a warm tone
- Use enamel-coated Alnico V magnets
- Steel bottom plate and height-staggered magnets
- Sold in a set of two and include all mounting hardware
The first thing you notice with these is that you can only get them in pairs, and using them delivers a noticeably high output with a punchy, powerful sound at the top. The top end has plenty of attention on it, while the neck pickup produces a rich and warm sound thanks to the nickel covering.
You will find the true Tele sound in the bridge pickup. Its bottom plate has copper plating and the core is comprised of magnetic steel with height staggered magnets. You will get plenty of attack with a fat sound due to the overwound pickups.
- Reproduce a vintage Tele sound
- Very competitive price
- Significantly more powerful compared to their contemporaries
- The package includes all the necessary installation tools
- Unsuitable in handling heavy play output
If you want to achieve the classic Telecaster sound, these are the pickups to go for. They deliver a great sound that is similar to a Strat; therefore you can trust their premium quality.
If there is one thing that DiMarzio are known for, it is their replacement pickups, especially for Humbuckers – but there are other options available to cater to different sounds. This is among those options.
- Neck pickup, comprised of Twang King Chrome
- Uses Alnico V magnets
- 2 conductors
Even though the price tag is higher than you may expect, it is difficult to not love the sound it puts out. The pickup as a whole is a conveniently designed, pre-wired pickup set that has spectacular sound quality and a premium-quality build.
It is very responsive to your instrument – likely the most responsive pickup I have used so far. Even strumming the guitar strings gently brings out a jazzy, quieter, and warmer tone, while harder hitting of the strings results in an attack-minded sound. This allows you to easily achieve multiple tone outputs and adding richness to your playing.
- Responsive to different playing styles
- Produces a good and clear sound
- Includes necessary components for effortless installation
- Quite pricey
This pickup may not fulfill your needs if you want a pickup that produces a purely vintage sound, but it should be enough for you if you want more variety in your tones.
Like the other pickup options on this list, these are also single coil pickups, but their sound eliminates any humming or hissing sounds – this makes your playing sessions more enjoyable to make and listen to.
- Eliminates humming and noise
- Fatter tone production
- Staggering of blade to improve balance in outer strings
The manufacturer claims that this pickup has a vintage tone and style, except the removal of the ‘tinny’ sound from its bridge. While this sounds like a good idea, it may not be for you if you love the vintage Telecaster sound as it had that sound as its trademark feature.
One major advantage it has is the addition of a staggered bridge, which adds balance to the sound when you strum the outer strings on your guitar. Its overall sound does not match up to the vintage Tele output because it is too fat, and there are noticeable shades in the sound when you drive the pickup very hard.
- Sound warm and have a good balance
- Eliminates humming and background noises
- Lack the vintage Tele sound
Just because this pickup set lacks the classic Tele sound, does not make it a bad choice – just that it may not suit you if that is what you are looking for. Its additions are good because they add a warm balance to the sound.
Types of pickups
Before getting into the considerations to keep in mind when choosing a Tele pickup, it is good to know the types of pickups you can find. There are many impressions that you can get from hearing certain terms like ‘humbucker’, ‘vintage’, ‘single coil’, ‘modern’, and so on, but they can be confusing when you are unsure of what to look for.
The truth is that most pickups are very similar in their construction, though they have some differences in winding methods and materials. They are:
Fender is a famous guitar brand that produces guitars and their accessories, including pickups, strings, bridges, and amps. With this in mind, Fender has a variety of pickups specifically for Telecasters, so your choice will depend on your preferences.
The default pickups that come with Telecasters are single coil types. While they are awesome in their sound quality, they have a specific issue – they tend to produce a lot of unwanted noise, hum and buzzing, which becomes worse the closer you are to your amp.
This is the main reason why humbucker pickups exist, because they work to reduce or entirely remove that hum. However, this results in an unwanted effect – the changing of the tone. Noiseless pickups seek to remove the unwanted sound effects of single coil pickups while still retaining the tone that Tele guitars are known for.
The dirty secret though is that noiseless pickups are just humbuckers, but their design is more of a single-coil type to allow the guitar to accommodate them.
Many guitarists love vintage tones from their instrument, which leads to the development of vintage pickups. However, there is a difference between them and vintage style pickups – vintage style pickups are modern types that are meant to sound old, while vintage pickups are literally old pickups whose year of manufacture is before 1970.
Vintage pickups are highly popular because of the smoother and softer tone, while vintage style pickups simply emulate this sound quality.
These pickups have a lower, crisp and bright output, as well as a versatile tone and wide dynamic response compared to humbuckers. Their difference with humbuckers is that they have a single coil of wire wrapped around a coil former or bobbin, while humbuckers have two wire coils.
You may hear these referred to as double coil pickups, because that is what their design uses. Their tone is richer, fuller, warmer, and darker, and their output is also higher than a single coil pickup.
What should you look for when buying a Telecaster pickup?
Regardless of whether you play a Telecaster guitar or not, you can easily agree that using a good pickup makes a major difference in your sound.
However, the question of what you should consider and what pickup to select is a trickier one, because there is no magical formula that applies to every guitarist – different people have different preferences in the tones they want to achieve from their instrument.
However, choosing a great pickup does not need to be an impossible process, as there are some general guidelines you can keep in mind, which I will outline.
Good tonal quality
Always choose a pickup that gives you the tones you want, whether it is rich, dark, crisp, spanky, bright, full, twangy, or anything else. This will mainly depend on your perception as well as preferences, since the same pickup may sound vastly different to different people.
This goes along with guitar playing styles – different guitars will sound very different in the hands of a variety of players. Therefore, go with a pickup that sounds right to you.
The magnets it uses
The magnet composition can also change the sound the pickup produces. While plenty of Telecaster pickups use Alnico magnets, there is a major difference in the sound of Alnico V magnets that produce a more focused and brighter sound, and Alnico II, which give less clarity and a more muddy sound. Alnico IV magnets on the other hand will have a balance between the muddy sound and brighter tones.
When choosing a pickup, it is good to know the basics of Alnico magnets. General guidelines to know are:
- Alnico II – these produce richer mids, soft highs, and warmer low ends. Their sound becomes darker when you place them in the neck position.
- Alnico III – these are best for players that prefer more treble, even though they have the lowest strength. They sound best when used on the neck, and you will usually find them in P90 pickups.
- Alnico IV – these have a flat spectrum design, which allows the natural tones of the guitar to shine.
- Alnico V – these are the strongest magnets, and you will easily recognize them by their tighter low ends and sharp treble.
Noise levels, hum, and buzz
As long as you are playing a Telecaster, you must accept that a specific noise level is inevitable – you cannot get rid of it. If your preferences lead you to specific pickups because of their tones, even with minimal noise, you should use them in your playing style.
Personally, my preference leans towards less noise, but I would not place this as a higher consideration than tone when choosing a pickup even though it is an important consideration.
Ensuring that it is the right fit
Not all Tele guitars are the same in their specifications, so that means they will not all accommodate the same pickups. It is important to choose pickups that work well with your guitar and fit its specifications well to achieve a pleasing result.
For instance, if the guitar is primarily comprised of woods that bring out a bright sound, such as ash or maple, then the pickup needs to enhance the bright sound quality.
If you are unsure of what to choose, check the manufacturer website. You can also take your guitar to qualified guitar techs to get some advice on the pickups you should consider and those which will likely not fit your guitar. If the pickups you choose are not good fits, then you will need to make some guitar modifications or take it to a guitar tech to do the job for you.
Each of these telecaster pickups is a great pick, though they fulfill different purposes – so your choice will depend on your preferences.
What makes a telecaster pickup?
They are distinguishable by the long and wide bridges, their two single-coil pickups, and powerful tone.
Why are telecaster pickups slanted?
This allows for a better response, as well as reducing the bass (which can ruin a guitar’s sound).
Is it worth it to change my pickups?
Yes, because it changes the sound your guitar produces without interfering with other components or buying new guitars.