7 Common Pickup Configurations
Author: Rory W Date Posted:29 April 2022
The world of guitars is filled with abbreviations and lingo used to quickly describe the configurations and set-up of a guitar. This comes in handy as guitarists love to experiment with different sounds, often swapping out different bits of hardware, pickups, and even whole bodies or necks in the pursuit of their ultimate tone, so the shorthand is worth learning!
When it comes to pickups, there are loads of variations and configurations that can be used to experiment with different sounds. Outlined below are examples of the 7 most common pickup configurations, and where you might find them.
“S” = Single-Coil
“H” = Humbucker
Positions on the selector switch start with Position 1 in the neck, and then move up as they go towards the bridge.
Single-coil in the bridge, middle and neck positions. Most commonly found on “classic” S-style guitars.
- Position 1 provides a rounded, silky tone, which is very mid/bass heavy
- Position 2 is slightly thinner than other positions and is often used for funk/disco
- You will get more punch and throatiness in Position 3, adding more body to your tone
- Position 4 will provide a high-mid tone and is often the position used for wiring modifications
- Position 5 brings in a lot more twang and treble attack often used in rockabilly, country or rock
Single-coils in the neck and middle positions, humbucker in the bridge. Most commonly found on S-style guitars
- Position 1 provides the classic single-coil neck tone, tight and responsive
- Positions 1, 2 and 3 work exactly the same as an SSS configuration
- Positions 4 and 5 bring in half or the full humbucker in the bridge for a much higher output to push your amp
- There are different common wiring modifications with this pickup configuration
Humbucker in the bridge and neck positions, single-coil in the middle position. Most commonly found on S or Super S-style guitars.
- A rich-sounding Humbucker in position 1 will provide you with a very full tone
- Positions 2 & 3 can blend in the single-coil, adding a throaty mid-range great for rhythm playing.
- Position 5 will have a significant output and can push an amps front end and respond to your attack
- Position 4 can balance the middle single-coil and output of the bridge humbucker beautifully
- This pickup configuration is highly customisable and will vary from guitar to guitar
Humbucker in the bridge, humbucker in the neck, no middle pickup. Most commonly found on Super S and LP-Style guitars
- Usually 3 Positions, with dedicated tone and volume for each pickup providing a broad range of tones from two humbuckers
- Position 1 engages the neck pickup which will usually have great bass response for Jazzy or Bluesy tones, and at high volume pushes into very creamy distortion
- Position 2 blends both pickups and accents every note of a chord, balancing the pickup volume levels is key here for a full and complex tone
- Position 3 engages the bridge for a higher-output and provides a thick tone with plenty of response to your pick attack
- Dual Humbuckers are popular with everything from blues to metal due to their higher output, pushing amps to earlier break-up and cancelling unwanted hum from single-coils
A single-coil in the bridge, and a single-coil in the neck. Most commonly found on T-style guitars.
- Position 1 provides a clean warmth for Jazz players and also takes the sharp edge off a scooped High-Gain tone
- Position 2 is a fantastic all-rounder, engaging two single coils for a very popular rhythm tone
- Position 3 cuts right through the mix, producing the classic twang and tightness popular with Country, Rock and Pop players
Just one single-coil, usually in the bridge and often a p90 pickup rather than a standard single-coil. Most commonly found on Esquire T-style or LP Jnr Style Guitars
- Classic, hard-hitting treble tones from a single-coil, used in everything from blues through to punk and metal
- If a single-pickup guitar has a selector switch, they are often modified or customized to roll off treble using a capacitor, wire the pickup directly to the output jack (bypassing tone/volume controls for increased output), or even cut the signal entirely like a kill-switch
- Switches are most popular on Esquire (Single pickup T) style guitars, which have lots of popular wiring modification options
Just one Humbucker, usually in the bridge. Most commonly found on Esquire T-style or LP Jnr Style Guitars
- Higher-output Humbuckers are popular for these, and single-humbucker guitars are most common with heavier music styles
- If a single-pickup guitar has a selector switch, they are often modified or customized to roll off treble using a capacitor, wire the pickup directly to the output jack (bypassing tone/volume controls for increased output), or even cut the signal entirely like a kill-switch. Single humbucker guitars with a switch can provide options such as coil-splitting also, which can make these simple instruments very versatile
- Switches are most popular on Esquire style guitars, which have lots of popular wiring modification options
Remember, there is no wrong answer when crafting your own tone - experiment with the pickup selector options and volume and tone controls on your own guitar and see what sounds you discover!
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