Other Pickups – What Are They And What Are They Used For?
Author: Rory W Date Posted:9 June 2022
We’ve covered the differences between Single-Coil and Humbucking pickups in our other blog post, as well as an explanation of Coil Splitting and Coil Tapping here, but what about the various other pickup types?
Aside from humbuckers and single-coils, there are a number of other pickup types. Although they are less common and can use slightly different technology, they’re all designed for the same purpose. I’ll outline below a few other pickup designs and styles, and some of their main characteristics.
This is an iconic early pickup design, made famous by Gretsch back in 1957. Although they have been changed and updated, they remain largely the same and are instantly recognisable as ‘Trons.
Filter’Trons have a distinctive tone. Their construction and technology is very similar to standard humbuckers, but with the pole pieces spaced closer than normal, a larger base magnet and taller bobbins. They provide a rich bell-like tone, with low output and a warmth whilst retaining twangy high-end. Their tone is often referred to as somewhere in between single-coils and humbuckers.
Filter’Trons are probably the most common, although these are also available as Full’Trons, Broad’Trons, and a few other variants.
Gold Foil pickups are a particularly distinctive and super stylish-looking pickup, and they probably have the most diverse range of styles and types on this list.
These are another early design, initially featured on more affordable US brands such as Tiesco and Harmony throughout the 50s. The exact origin and first designs of Gold-Foils are unfortunately lost to time, but they appear on various vintage guitars and have become a boutique option for some modern brands also.
It is worth noting that there is a massive amount of variation between Gold-Foil pickups, and being such an early take on electric guitar pickups there doesn’t appear to be any single standard definition. They come in single coils, double “humbucking” coils, and have a variety of sizes, shapes, mounting styles, and some are built with and some without pole pieces.
As such we cannot accurately say how these are built, but the single defining factor of a Gold-Foil pickup is the very distinctive “gold” leaf covers (these are more often than not actually Aluminium, coloured gold!). The tone varies a lot between designs, but they tend to sounds crisp, clear and bright, with quite a low output.
P90 Pickups are by far the most common on this list, and although they were introduced nearly 80 years ago they are still commonplace today. The original Gibson P-90 was released in 1946 as an affordable new single-coil style pickup, with extra output. These are in essence exactly that, a normal single-coil pickup, wound hot, with a wider and shorter bobbin. This provides a much warmer tone than standard single coils, with some extra bite and higher output. As such, they became popular very early on with Jazz players, who could make use of their volume and tone controls to roll off a bit of that harshness, whilst keeping the single-coil tone with some added warmth.
These are still a very popular and easy to find pickup, and they come in a few different shapes. The most common are “dogear” and “soapbar”, which have been used on different LP-style guitars for decades, but different brands have created other styles also. These are not too far from standard humbucker size, and just a little bigger than a normal single-coil, so with little modifications to the body of your guitar these can be a really fun, easy mod. They’ll provide a completely new tonal palate if you’re used to normal humbuckers or single-coils, and there’s a reason we include these in our famous Grungemaster guitars!
Blades and Rails
Like P90s, Blade or Rail pickups are also very common today, and are favoured in particular by high-gain players. These came about in the mid-80s, when if your amp wasn’t cranked loud enough to blow like an industrial fan over your feathered hairstyle you were doing it wrong. With the emergence of heavy-, hair- and prog-metal, guitarists needed a reliable high-output pickup, and the Blade was born!
These pickups replace the traditional one-per-string pole-pieces on a pickup with a single metal bar that runs across all the strings. This provides massive sustain, and means that with large bends there is no loss of signal as the string is pushed farther from the magnetic field of its pole-piece. The clever design makes these very compact, so you can fit a humbucker Blade pickup into a single-coil sized routing, and there are even double and triple humbuckers in this style! This design is ideal for loud, high-output playing, however, this also means that you cannot adjust the individual volume of each string by raising or lowering the pole-pieces.
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