Guitarists are always faced with some difficult choices when they are trying to shape their tone and sounds. Essentially the biggest thing you can do to change the sound of your guitar, besides swapping it completely is changing the pickup of your guitar. But there are just so many of them, each delivering different qualities and sounds.
However, if you are chasing power, grind, and meat, without any hum, then you should definitely invest in a humbucker guitar pickup that will deliver you all the features and tones contemporary guitars have. Humbuckers are actually the most popular pickup type, especially in genres like modern rock and heavy metal, however, they have been around for even longer.
They date as far as the 1930s however, the modern humbucker pickup is designed based on the hum-canceling PAF pickup that was present in the 1955s Gibson Les Paul model, which made it extremely popular. Since then they have become an occurrent piece of tech in most guitars around the market, including Stratocasters and Telecasters by Fender.
Today we are going to talk about the best humbucker pickups in the market, as I will present you the best modes, and a bit extra about things that you should know before buying a humbucking pickup. I have written this guide based on my personal experience, expert consultation, countless hours of market research and buyer feedback. Now without further ado, let’s get on with it!
Table of Contents
Which Are The Best Humbucker Pickups?
5. Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader
I will start the list with the most popular humbucker pickup in the market the Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader. It is no surprise though as this one is the definite king when it comes to delivering balance, between performance, output, tones, and price.
This humbucker like its name implies it is ready to get its hands dirty producing, super thick, meaty and dark sounds, which are perfect for heavy metal. I should mention that there is nothing subtle with this beast as it doesn’t deliver anything clean, but masters in dirty tones.
It has one of the best low-ends I have ever seen delivering great heavy face-melting riffs for high gains. It is made in California and it is made from three ceramic magnets and overwound coils that deliver a superb performance overall. Definitely, a must consider if you need power and punch.
4. EMG 85 Active
I wouldn’t consider this humbucker list complete without adding an active pickup, namely the EMG 85 Active Guitar Humbucker. This pickup is one of the most popular pups for a lot of guitarists, but especially heavy metal ones that require very large output and natural tones to deliver performance.
The EMG 85 Active is packed with Alnico V magnets that are inside close aperture coils, which are responsible for providing punchy bass, an enhanced mid-range and some thick trebles that are exceptionally desirable for listening. On top of that, these pickups are not very expensive and deliver great value for their price.
I have to say that these pickups are extremely loud, however, they still don’t sacrifice a lot of clarity, something pretty rare for its nature. Also, it remains perfectly silent when not in use. I would consider it great in the neck position and it is perfect overall, well worth for your arsenal.
3. Gibson ’57 Classic Plus
Next on the list, we have my personal favorite the Gibson ’57 Classic Plus. This pickup is a great humbucker but is a bit more subtle than the other pickups on this list. It is a great bridge pickup that delivers some perfect vintage and rich tones that will make most of us happy, let’s take a closer look.
The Gibson ’57 Classic Plus pickup comes with super special Alnico II magnets that deliver a great balance and performance for all the possible tones. But to add a bit more bite and crunch for high gain performance it also has extra windings that give a hotter signal, which is exceptional.
I should mention that while the output is super high it isn’t anything that will crave attention, just a bit tastier bite and more aggressiveness. On to of that the cleanliness on this pickup is something unseen on most humbucker pickups, thanks to the enamel-coated wires and maple spacers.
2. Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker
The runner up in this list comes from Seymour Duncan. A special edition humbucker pickup coming in from Dimebag Darel’s special pick the SH13 Dimebucker. This is the perfect high-end focused Dimebag tone that is perfect for heavy metal. The best for that purpose without any doubt.
The Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker uses a super-powerful ceramic magnetic with two stainless steel blades in its body to deliver the performance. The biggest selling point of this pickup though is the small metal mass that is located in its core. This, in turn, delivers high resistance and a high resonant peak.
This means that the pickup sends more and stronger signals to your amp resulting in thicker and heavier sounds. On top of that this delivers an aggressive tone with a biting tone that is perfect for thrash and heavy metal. The treble though is what surprised me as it was a bit tight and super responsive making this one of a kind.
1. DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion
Coming up to the top of the list we have a superb humbucker pickup coming in from DiMarzio, the DP100 Super Distortion, and I have to say that you can’t name a pickup like that if you can’t back it up, and this one stays true to its promise, without any problem.
Without skipping a beat I should mention that the DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion is the first pickup that is manufactured and designed specially to make a tube amplifier go into complete overdrive, it has the highest output that I have ever seen from a pickup, super powerful.
It is a pickup that works very well in any case, but especially at the bridge position. It delivers great balance and it is great for delivering thick lows, boosted mids, and full highs. Exceptional for all genres, especially for classic rock and metal. It is extremely worth the price, and it will be a perfect addition.
Things You Should Know Before Buying a Humbucker Pickup
Like anything around, you should know a few things before investing in a humbucker pickup. It is better to be informed about the product as well as you can so you know it is the right thing for you and know that you get the right piece of equipment for your needs. Let’s take a closer look.
How do Humbucking Pickups Work?
As you already know single-coil pickups deliver some desirable qualities such as clean, sharp, and bright sounds, but they also come with a slight problem that makes them a little undesirable. When you increase the gain or the volume of your output the interference with the magnetic field of the ambient increases and results in an undesirable hum that makes the sound a little annoying. On the other hand, humbucker pickups are created to get rid of this issue as their name implies, they buck the hum. I have to say that even the overall build of these two different pickups is not so different as both of them have magnetic poles wrapped with super-thin wires that are also inserted between two flats.
There is a catch though, they have a difference. While single coils have, one coil as their name implies, humbuckers have two coils, resulting in two sets of pole pieces. These work as one of them is wired to phase with the other, so when one creates hum the other one cancels it and vice versa, so resulting in no hum. Meaning that you can pump up the gain and volume to your desire without any undesirable hum in the process.
What are the Sound Characteristics of these Pickups?
I have to say that I love a guitar packed with humbucker pickups since they deliver some beautiful sounds. If you want to know the exact sound of the pickup you should look at different brands, as each one has different characteristics, which will also combine with the tonewood and amplification of your setup. However, in general, good humbucker pickups deliver a thick, rich and a bit warmer sound, that is focused on the mid-range, with punchy low-end and a bit blunter trebles. This means that the sustain is better as well.
In modern rock and heavy metal, the humbucker pickups are pretty much essential and they deliver plenty of desirable qualities. I should state that jazz players are fans of their warm tones. Also, heavier music styles that are focused on rhythms and lead guitars, for example, punk, heavy rock or classic rock are great with humbucker pickups. Then again they are the perfect match for metal and different subgenres. If you doubt any of this just consider the list of legendary guitarists who have used humbucker pickups, a list that includes my favorite Jimmy Page, Dave Mustaine, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Tony Iommi and so many more.
Are there any Disadvantages?
Like anything good in life, there are some bad things that come with it. For example, humbucker pickups might sound perfect and thick and without any interference in the sound, they have some disadvantages that come with them. For example, they don’t have any brightness and clarity, at least compared to single-coil pickups, making them not the best choice for more classic musical styles such as surf and country music. But then again you have to check out your needs and preferences to see if this is a drawback or not.
Should I get Active or Passive Pickups?
Before buying pickups of any kind you are always faced with the choice between passive and active pickups. Most of the pickups on guitars have passive pickups which are the popular type and are used for most styles of music in the market, including blues, jazz, classic rock, and even punk. Then after the 1980s, active pickups have become more common for more havier genres such as heavy rock and modern metal genres and subgenres, which delivered plenty of power and no hum at all. There are several pros and cons to each so you have to choose the one that fits your needs the most.
Is it a good idea to replace your pickups?
This is a pretty interesting question that I hear very frequently in guitarist circles. I have to say that some guitarists don’t replace the pickups on their guitar at all, and keep the stock pickups for super longer times. But then again if you want to give your good old trusted guitar a bit more depth, power, and character, humbucker pickups are a nice idea and will do plenty of work there.
This is especially true for budget guitars that have stock pickups of the lowest quality on their guitars which don’t sound as good, and you can easily change this by investing in a quality pickup. While there might not be a bad thing about your stock pickups, if you want to take your sound to another level of power, then you might want to get a good quality pickup from a trusted guitar equipment maker, such as Gibson, Seymour Duncan, EMG, and DiMarzio among others.
Other Pickups To Look At
There you have it, folks! I hope that I have given you a good idea of how to buy your next humbucker pickup. I think that now you are ready to get your hands dirty and dive into those thick and meaty tones that humbuckers deliver. Now don’t forget to check out the top picks that I have provided so you can check the best ones in the market, and even if you don’t pick them, they would give you a good idea about what a good humbucker pickup is, as a kind of benchmark. Also make sure to check out how the pickup sounds, as there are a million YouTube videos showing how each one sounds. Until next time!