The best guitar pickups (review) in 2021
For convinced guitarists, sound is essential. So, we are constantly on an exciting and sometimes frustrating journey to acquire the perfect tone. We experiment, try a variety of equipment like amps and pedals, and replace our old strings with new ones that are rumored to give our overall sound output that edge. Then there are the daredevils who go further to refurbish their guitars using microphones.
Many guitarists tremble at the thought of taking their precious guitar apart just for a mic, but the truth is, for those who do, the benefits can be overwhelming. Guitar pickups serve as the foundation for producing a reverberating rich sound that can fill the room and the heart.
This guide covers everything you need to know about guitar pickups and how to make a great choice regardless of your playing style and type of guitar.
Do i need a guitar mic?
Put simply, a guitar pickup typically consists of one or more magnets wrapped several thousand times in copper coils that transmit vibrations to your amplifier. These signals end up coming out as whole, captivating sounds.
Depending on their preferences and style of music, guitarists (casual or professional) can choose between two types of pickup setups, namely single coils and humbuckers, commonly referred to as humbuckers. The single-coil pickups sound crisp and bright, with a complex and somewhat tangy definition, suitable for blues, country, and alternative genres. The humbuckers have a deeper, thicker, smoother, sizzling beat that sounds amazing with intense styles like metal and classic to hard rock.
Getting back to the original question: if you plan to enjoy the sonic benefits mentioned above, you need a guitar pickup! Unlike the intuitive concept, it’s absolutely not rocket science to buy one either, let’s help refine that.
What should i watch out for before buying a guitar pickup?
Both types of guitar pickups we discussed above have their distinctive sonic advantages. Despite this fact, virtually any sound can be obtained from any microphone, with the right settings! We’ve put together a list of things to review to help you find the best guitar pickup alternatives on the market.
Determine your style of play
Realistically, no brand of guitar pickups is exclusively developed for a specific musical genre. Even so, some mics deliver better with certain tones. Therefore, your choice of pickups will significantly determine the tonal output level. The lower outputs serve well for clean, crisp sounds, while a higher output is perfect for full, deep, and heavy sounds. Single coils work for the former, and the latter is best done with a humbucker.
In this context, compatibility simply means finding what fits. Whether your guitar is equipped with single coils or humbuckers, its cavity is more than likely shaped to house a specific type of pickup.
Compatibility is usually not much of a dilemma, unless you want to switch from one type of mic to another. Fortunately, nowadays there are single coil shaped humbuckers available and vice versa. Stacks, reverse single coils, and rail humbuckers are good choices for single coil cavities. For humbucker cavities, you can get the single coil effect from split coil humbuckers, threaded coil humbuckers, or single coils placed in a humbucker sized housing.
Get inspired by your favorite artist / guitarist
If you don’t know where to start, making the sound you love from your favorite artist takes more than half the problem. With a little homework, you can quickly find out which mics they are using for which songs and act on them.
Choose between active and passive circuits
Until a few decades ago, all guitar mics were passive, and most guitarists still prefer passive mics today. Ironically, active mics have more advantages over passive mics from an objective point of view.
Additionally, active pickups give more clarity and tonal consistency at varying volumes, a clearer signal over a wide range of frequencies, and do not need strong magnets like their passive counterparts. Bassists usually can’t get enough of active pickups as it best suits their sound. In the end, it all comes down to the taste of the player.
Pickup Magnet Type
Your type of mic, whether passive or active, determines the type of sound it produces, and its magnetic setup plays a bigger role than you might think. The types of magnets used in guitar pickups are limited, and knowing them can help you determine which one works best for the sound you’re looking for. Pickup magnets range from Alnico III to Alnico VIII. The first is common and has the weakest magnetic attraction. On the other hand, the latter is remarkable and has the power of a ceramic magnet and the same harmonics as the Alnico V.
Then there is the real gem, the more modern ceramic magnets. Ceramic pickups have a higher output than their Alnico counterparts. As a result, they are quite powerful and sound especially fierce between midrange and upper midrange.
Are you an electrical or acoustic user?
Installing a microphone in an electric guitar is a snap. Even if you don’t have the expertise, finding a specialist or a reliable YouTube video is no longer a problem these days.
The real challenge, however, is amplifying an acoustic guitar. The beauty of an acoustic room is its sound, without the use of an amplifier or microphone. When strummed, the acoustic guitar resonates from within, creating the most beautiful sounds. Using a pickup can still work if done right. The most common type of acoustic guitar pickup is the Piezo, which emits a noticeable fake sound that some find tolerable while others just can’t stand it!