Types of guitar pickups explained: learn the difference between single coils, humbuckers, P-90s and active designs

Fender Strat single-coils
(Image credit: Future)

GUITAR SHOWCASE 2023: Today, it’s harder than ever to describe the sonic characteristics of electric guitar pickup types – there are so many configurations, both stock and aftermarket, that blur the lines of each core design. 

For every classic single-coil pickup there’s a stacked noiseless unit; for every vintage-voiced humbucker, there’s a high-output face-melter for metal. However, there are a few key categories of pickup to know about.

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Chris Bird

Chris has been the Editor of Total Guitar magazine since 2020. Prior to that, he was at the helm of Total Guitar's world-class tab and tuition section for 12 years. He's a former guitar teacher with 35 years playing experience and he holds a degree in Philosophy & Popular Music. Chris has interviewed Brian May three times, Jimmy Page once, and Mark Knopfler zero times – something he desperately hopes to rectify as soon as possible.