How To Identify What Pickups Are In Your Guitar

Do you ever wonder what kind of pickups are in your guitar?

Knowing the pickups in your instrument can give you valuable insight into its sound capabilities and help you make informed decisions for upgrades or replacements.

In this article, we’ll guide you through identifying the pickups in your guitar, including the three main categories: Single Coil, Humbucker, and P90.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, this article will equip you with the knowledge to unlock the secrets of your guitar’s pickups.

Let’s dive in!

Key Takeaways

  • Electric guitar pickups fall into three main categories: Single Coil, Humbucker, and P90.
  • Single-coil pickups are known for their bright sound and are used in country, blues, and jazz.
  • Humbucker pickups have a fuller sound and are well-suited for rock and metal.
  • P90 pickups have a versatile sound, softer than humbuckers but warmer than single coils.

Types of Guitar Pickups Explained

Now let’s dive into the different types of guitar pickups and how they work. When it comes to electric guitars, there are three main types of pickups: Single Coil, Humbucker, and P90. Each type has its own unique characteristics and sound qualities.

Single Coil pickups, found on guitars like the Fender Stratocaster, are known for their bright and twangy sound. They’ve six poles spaced evenly around the coil, with the center pole slightly longer. Some single coil pickups have a single metal strip in the center instead of individual poles. The pros of single coil pickups include their clarity and articulation, perfect for genres like country, blues, and jazz. However, they’re more susceptible to hum and noise. If you are curious can you play metal with single coils, follow this link:

Humbucker pickups, on the other hand, were designed to cancel out the hum associated with single coils. They’ve two coils wound in opposite directions, resulting in a fuller and warmer sound. Most humbucker pickups look like two single coils stacked together and have two rows of magnetic poles, with the center pole slightly longer. Humbuckers are well-suited for rock and metal genres, providing a powerful and punchy tone. The downside of humbuckers is that they can lack the brightness and clarity of single coils.

Lastly, P90 pickups, introduced by Gibson, offer a versatile sound that falls between single coils and humbuckers. They’re larger and wider than standard single coils, measuring around 1.35 inches wide on average. P90 pickups have a softer and warmer sound compared to humbuckers, but still retain some of the bass response. They’re commonly found in vintage guitars and are favored by players looking for a unique and slightly grittier tone.

When choosing the right pickups for your playing style and genre, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of each type. Single coil pickups excel in clarity and articulation, but can be prone to noise. Humbuckers provide a powerful and punchy tone, but may lack the brightness of single coils. P90 pickups offer a versatile sound that falls in between the two. Experimenting with different pickups and listening to their sound characteristics can help you make an informed decision.

Identifying Pickups By Guitar Brand and Model

If you’re curious about the pickups in your guitar, one way to identify them is by looking at the guitar’s brand and model. Many guitar companies use specific pickups for their models.

For example, the Fender American Professional II Stratocaster comes with Fender V-Mod II single-coil pickups, while the PRS SE Custom 24 is equipped with 85/15 S humbuckers.

To identify the pickups in your guitar, you can research the pickup specifications for the specific make and model. Some pickups may have the manufacturer’s logo on the cover, allowing you to search the brand and model online.

If the pickups don’t have any labels, you can remove them to find a model number, brand name, or serial number on the back. Researching these markings online or in forums can help you identify the pickups in your guitar.

Identifying Pickups by Looks

When examining your guitar, you can identify the pickups by their looks and characteristics.

Identifying pickups by visual cues can give you valuable information about the type of pickups in your guitar. Single coil pickups are thin and small with visible magnet poles as small metallic dots or a thin plastic/metal bar. They’re screwed into the guitar’s body with two screws.

Humbucker pickups, on the other hand, are larger and wider compared to single-coil pickups. They often look like two single coils stacked together and feature three screws to hold them attached to the guitar’s body.

P90 pickups resemble single-coil pickups but are wider and are held down by two screws between the magnet poles.

Identifying Pickups by Sound

First, listen to the sound of your guitar pickups to identify their characteristics. Explore the tonal differences between single coil and humbucker pickups.

Single coil pickups produce a thin, bright, and twangy sound, making them well-suited for genres like country, blues, and jazz. On the other hand, humbucker pickups offer a fuller, warmer, and sometimes punchy sound, making them popular in rock and metal.

To choose the right pickups for your preferred music genre, consider the tonal qualities you desire. If you play country or jazz, single coil pickups may be a good fit. If you play rock or metal, humbucker pickups might be more suitable.

To choose the right pickup for metal, read this article.

Identifying Active or Passive Pickups

Look for a battery compartment to identify active pickups in your guitar. Active pickups often don’t have visible magnet poles.

Passive pickups, on the other hand, are the standard pickups for most electric guitars. They’ve a wide range of output levels and are susceptible to interference and humming noise.

It’s important to note that there are common misconceptions about passive pickups. Despite their susceptibility to interference, they’re the most common type of pickups and offer a broad dynamic range. They’re built by wrapping coils of copper wire around a magnet and can achieve different tones by adjusting volume and tone knobs.

In contrast, active pickups have a lower number of windings compared to passive pickups and lower output levels. However, they’re resistant to humming noise and feedback due to the built-in preamp that boosts the signal and applies effects. Active pickups are preferred for high-gain and high-volume tones, making them popular among metal guitarists.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Purpose of the Battery Compartment in Active Pickups?

The battery compartment in active pickups serves the purpose of powering the built-in preamp. It provides the necessary energy to boost the signal and apply effects. The battery life directly impacts the tone and overall performance of the active pickups.

How Can You Adjust the Tone and Volume of Passive Pickups?

To adjust the tone and volume of your passive pickups, you can use the controls on your guitar. The tone knob adjusts the high frequencies, while the volume knob controls the overall output. Additionally, pickup wiring options can affect the tone and volume.

Are There Any Other Types of Pickups Besides Single-Coil, Humbucker, and P90?

There are other types of pickups besides single-coil, humbucker, and P90. One example is piezo pickups, which use crystals to convert vibrations into electrical signals. Additionally, pickup height plays a crucial role in tone production.

What Are the Benefits of Using Active Pickups Over Passive Pickups?

Active pickups offer benefits such as resistance to feedback and noise, consistent output levels, and the ability to boost and shape the signal with a built-in preamp. However, they have less dynamic range and require a battery for operation.

How Do Different Factors, Such as Magnet Type and Isolation Type, Affect the Sound of Single-Coil Pickups?

Magnet type and isolation type greatly impact the sound of single-coil pickups. Additionally, pickup height and wiring configuration also play a role in shaping the tone. Adjusting these factors can result in different levels of clarity, brightness, and overall character.


In conclusion, identifying the pickups in your guitar is essential for understanding its sound capabilities and making informed decisions about upgrades or replacements.

By familiarizing yourself with the three main categories of electric guitar pickups, as well as the characteristics and distinguishing features of each type, you can confidently determine the pickups in your instrument.

Whether you rely on the guitar’s brand and model, its physical appearance, or its sound characteristics, this knowledge will enable you to unlock the secrets of your guitar’s pickups and fine-tune your tone to perfection.

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