I have been always a firm believer that the tonewood of the guitar is the most important part of its sound and I can comfortably say that without a good tonewood it really doesn’t matter. However, I have been wrong about one thing, your guitars sound can change significantly with the right set of pickups. They are the brains of your guitar and without them, the guitar is just a piece of wood with some strings tied to it.
While all-electric guitars have pickups already you may ask what this all is about. Well, for starters, a good set of pickups can make a good sounding guitar sound perfect. It will definitely add to the character and spice things up, and if you opt for a high-quality item it will definitely sound much better. For those that already don’t know electric guitar pickups go into two major categories, humbuckers, and single-coil pickups. We are going to talk about the latter today.
For those that are looking to invest in a new and improved single-coil pickup that will produce those bright, crispy and expressive sounds, you are in the right place. As today we will check out the very best single coil pickups in the market, whether you are a looking to swap with a different pickup say a humbucker or a P90, or you want to add some new ones to your trusty old Strat or Tele you are in the right place.
I will reveal the top single coil pickups, things that you should look out for before buying a single-coil pickup and much more. So you will make a more informed decision and know whether or not you should get one. Now without further ado, let’s get on with it.
Table of Contents
Which Are The Best Single Coil Pickups?
5. Fender Tex-Mex
We are going to kick off this list with a pickup, or shall I say a set of pickups that will deliver you amazing value for their affordable price, the Fender Tex-Mex Stratocaster Pickup Set. These pickups will definitely add some 60s vibe to your sounds and allow you to play the vintage sounds that have made this instrument famous all along. Let’s take a deeper dive into them.
These three single-coil pickups come with the super classic design with the white vinyl that looks pretty much excellent on every Stratocaster guitar. Under the covers, these are equipped with Alnico V magnets that are covered with the special Formvar wire which delivers great output. On top of all this to make things all the better the bridge pickup has more coverage with the wire to give it a larger and livelier output.
I should mention that the Fender Tex-Mex delivers a pretty bright tone that is also extremely balanced and focused like a true Stratocaster. The cleanliness is apparent all through the sound, and tones are beautiful overall with a bit of Texas crunch on it to make things a little spicier. In addition to this in the package, you will find everything needed for installation, for the price you can’t go wrong with these.
4. Seymour Duncan STR-3
Moving on with our list we have a superb pickup coming in from Seymour Duncan, the STL-1/STR-3 Quarter Pound Neck Pickup, simply called Seymour Duncan STR-3. This pickup is designed for the neck position at Telecasters but it delivers more bite and strength than you would ever imagine, it really inspires you to let it loose and go wild, it does that perfectly though.
The Seymour Duncan STR-3 is packed with larger than normal magnets and special windings that are designed specifically to provide the most performance, which impressed me with the bite in the highs and a mid-range that is more expressive than your average. Then again, I don’t know why the company has designed this for Telecaster’s necks since it produces similar tones as the Tele bridge pickups.
However, I figured out that it does this to deliver power and bite to the sound, allowing you to push the limits of your amplification with plenty of gain and volume. It definitely replicates the sound of some humbucker pickups and I think that everyone should have one of these in their lineups definitely marvelous.
3. DiMarzio DP172C Twang King
Let’s continue with one of the more exceptional brands in the market when it comes to guitar pickups Dimarzio and its superb DP172C Twang King single-coil pickup. For owners of Telecasters, regardless of it is from Fender or Squier, I got the best replacement here, it is definitely much better than the stock ones and you will see it right from the get-go.
I should mention that this is unofficially called Twang King and it is designed for the neck position at Telecasters. Also, you will definitely notice that it sounds pretty much excellent overall and it will recreate the retro vintage sharp sound that you have heard in vintage telecasters.
It delivers a hard, sharp, aggressive sound with tons of cleanliness in the tone, it is perfect for players that want to push the limits of amplification and for those smoother ones that prefer clarity, the Alnico V magnets have definitely surprised me here. This pickup has been used by many guitarists in the past and if you have a Telecaster it is your best bet.
2. Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD
As the second-best replacement single-coil pickup in the market, I have none other than the Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD Jerry Donahue Model Telecaster Bridge Pickup. Yes, its mane may be a mouthful but this Tele pickup was built specifically for the needs of the virtuoso Jerry Donahue, which wanted to have the same ’52 Telecaster sound on all his guitars while touring.
This is the perfect single-coil pickup for those that are looking to add some powerful and sharp lead guitar tones that are a little vintage but can hang on with modern tunes as well. If that description fits you then look no further. I should mention that like its name implies this pickup is designed for the bridge.
But then again it is responsible for delivering warm and super balanced tones that are perfect for every genre ranging from country to classic rock, and even with the highest gains possible. It uses the classic Alnico II magnets that are accompanied by coil winds, so as a result, it delivers proper output, great delicious sustain, and sharpness, amazing overall.
1. DiMarzio DP419 Area ’67
On top of this list, we have our best single-coil pickup in the market, the DiMarzio DP419 Area ’67. This pickup comes from a company that has delivered one of the very best replacement pickups ever, and it is a company known by its humbucking Super Distortion pickups but with the DP419 they have hit the sweet spot let’s take a closer look.
This pickup comes as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix for its 1967 Strat that had a clean and sharp sound. Surprisingly this single-coil pickup doesn’t have that humming sound that bothers all of us. While you might think that the hum-canceling might make it lose the single-coil magic sound, you are wrong since with the use of Alnico II magnets it delivers sharpness and brightness.
It is also pretty attractive in terms of price and delivers plenty of value for it, so you aren’t paying for the name but for the performance. I should also mention modern single-coil pickup is definitely the best you can get if you want to enhance your Stratocasters or Telecasters sound, marvelous in every aspect.
Things You Should Know About Single Coil Pickups
What is a Single-Coil Pickup?
While you might not be interested as to how to their pickups work, there is a group of us that are pretty interested as to why they do what they do. So to satisfy the curiosity of most of us, I wanted to clear up some air on what is a single-coil pickup and how do they work. Let’s see.
First, off you should know that single-coil pickups are pretty simple in terms of their construction and their build, but then again it will depend on the model and the brand of the pickup in question so it will depend. To explain things as simple as possible I will take the traditional Stratocaster single-coil pickup, which is one of the most impressive and most respected for its sound and tone performance.
The Stratocaster pickup is packed with a set of magnetic poles that are wrapped with a super-thin wire that is placed between two flats, compromising of a base plate and top plate. That is the base construction which is then accompanied with a vinyl, brass or chrome bodies depending on the design, model, and brand of the pickup. I should also say not all single-coil pickups come in the same size and they are all not the same. For example, a Tele bridge pickup is bigger than a Tele neck pickup regardless of them being both single-coils.
What Does it Sound Like?
On the sound of your guitar, a lot of things will play a part. It is a long list that includes tonewoods of your guitar, EQ controls, accompanying pedals, amplifiers, the pickups and the guitarist itself. For the sake of answering this question and generally speaking single-coil pickups deliver a tone that is known as bright, sharp, crisp, clear and when overdriven to its limits gritty, which is why we love them. Also, you can get a lot of twang from single-coil pickups, and as you have seen on our top picks we have the Twang King there.
This quality has made these pickups and guitars carrying them the favorites of many musicians from different genres especially surf and classic rock musicians, but they have been utilized in different genres as well. Just take a look at the list of famous guitarists that have preferred single-coil pickups, a list that includes legendary guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Donahue and so much more.
What Are the Disadvantages?
Like with anything in life that offers something good, there has to be a little disadvantage coming along. The weak point of single-coil pickups is that they deliver a bit more hum, which is more apparent when you push the volume and distortion near to the max. However, most of the guitarists that use these pickups have already accepted that and aren’t bothered by it one bit, but then again if its no good for you, a humbucker might be a better pick for you.
Then again stacked humbuckers deliver a quality that is best of both worlds but with a bit of sacrifice to the trademark tones that one or the other delivers. The other notable advantage of single-coil pickups is that they don’t have as high output as their humbucker counterparts which might be an issue for some styles of music. So if you plan on opting for single-coil pickups take a look at the style of music you are playing and what you want from your pickup.
Why Should I Replace my Pickups?
This a pretty objective question and it will mostly depend on what you are looking for. While many guitarists are pleased with their stock pickups, some might think that swapping them might add a bit of life to them. Then again guitar manufacturers fit their budget models with lower-quality pickups so it is wise to invest in better pickups for them. But like I said it will depend on your personal opinion, style, taste, needs, and budget.
Other Pickups To Look At
- Jazz Bass Pickups
- Passive Metal Pickups
- P Bass Pickup Reviews
- Acoustic Guitar Pickups
- Humbucker Pickups
- Telecaster Pickups
There you have it, folks, your guide on how to buy the top single-coil pickups in the market. I hope that I have informed you properly here so you are ready to go get the best one for your needs. Don’t forget to check out the top picks which are all hand-picked models chosen by me based on their performance, value, character and buyer feedback. Have fun with your new single-coil pickups!