Single Coil VS Humbucker

Close-up of electric guitars in a music shop

This is a battle that is as close as your favorite teams in the NBA Finals. When choosing between these two pickups, it’s crucial to have a decent understanding of what sound you want to go for, and what type of music you want to play.

Overview (Single Coil Pickups vs Humbucker Pickups)

There’s no denying that the guitar sound is music to a lot of listeners’ ears. The instrument has been a creative outlet for a lot of artists out there, and is responsible for producing some of the most iconic songs we all know and love to this day. You may have even started out with an acoustic guitar before transitioning to electric.

This really depends on the type of music you are into. You can be into twangy hooks and blues licks like tones from John Mayer or Jimi Hendrix. You can also be into chugging power chords or warm riffs like styles from Slash and James Hetfield.

When you’re only just starting out with the electric guitar and you’re transitioning from an acoustic, you will find that it’s not that hard incorporating what you know in terms of chords and notes.

Of course, there will be differences in hardware, electronics, feel, and weight, but you can still apply almost everything you learned from music theory and scales and all that exciting stuff to learn *wink wink*.

But with all of that being said and known, it’s important to understand that not all guitars sound the same. Some may sound “glassier”, and can have more bite and punch to them, while some guitars can be more heavy, tight, and dark sounding.

When I use single-coil pickups, I often play John Mayer tunes or even B.B. King. Whenever I go heavier though, like Foo Fighters or Metallica, I rely on my trusty humbuckers. Now you’re probably already thinking to yourself, aren’t they all just the same guitars? Aren’t they all similar stringed instruments?

The simple answer is no, and no matter how you look at it, different guitar types are equal to different sounds. One key factor that makes these instruments sound different is the pickups.

Before you raise an eyebrow, I’m here to let you know that we are going to be discussing a simple explanation of what pickups are, what do they do, and what to go for should you decide to purchase a guitar.

Let’s get right into it!

How does a pickup work?

Before we go on further, it’s important to understand that pickups affect your tone and sound in more ways than you can imagine. It just doesn’t work as single-coils are lighter sounding are humbuckers are heavier, although we understand why you may think that.

In terms of the technical side of things, these magnetic guitar pickups (usually found in the bridge, middle, and neck position, depending on what guitar type or body you are using) work similarly. These pickups contain magnets that are wrapped with wire coils. These coils are the ones responsible for reacting to changes and movements in your guitar strings. 

These pickups also include six poles in them that are focusing on the dedicated string above them.

Once you strum or pluck, the pickups will then produce an electronic output that relies on the vibration of the strings. This is where your speakers and amplifiers come in!

They sort of “translate” the signal that your strings transfer to the poles and magnets, and these sound waves help convert the electronic signal into audible energy.

Pretty simple, right? Think of it as sort of an interpreter, capable of understanding your string nuances and transfers them to the amplifier for the world to hear your beautiful music.

Which pickup is right for me?

This can be pretty easy to understand. Although there are a lot of terminologies out there that seem daunting, it’s important to know that it all boils down to the sort of sound you’re into.

If you’re pretty much into the Fender sound (think Stratocasters, Telecasters, and Jazzmasters), then chances are the single-coil option is the one to do the trick for you. 

Popular Stratocaster users are Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. If you’re however into the heavier Gibson and Epiphone sound (think SGs and Les Pauls), then a humbucker can be the thing for you! Popular Les Paul users are Jimmy Page, Slash, Mark Sheehan (The Script).

Coil Splits & Taps

Sometimes, guitarists and musicians would want the best of both worlds. Thanks to today’s modern technological advancement, it’s possible to achieve these said tones in one guitar!

Coil splitting pertains to your humbucker having the option to split between its two coils. This allows you to have a single-coil tone while sporting humbuckers. A coil tap on the other hand involves a specific wiring in the coil into a dedicated switch that allows the player to control the desired sound that the musician prefers.

Single Coil Pickup: Pros & Cons

Right off the bat, one of the main advantages of single-coil pickups is enhanced clarity and brightness. If you’re into cleans and reverbs and delays, the single-coil shines a little bit more than the humbuckers. They are less muffled, making them a perfect option for the low to medium gain player who relies on stage one overdrives or light distortion.

For its downsides, however, single-coils can be much more prone to feedback and noise. 

These unwanted hisses can be however cured a little bit by using isolated power supplies or good patches and instrument cables.

Humbuckers: Pros & Cons

One of the most outstanding advantages of the humbucker pickup is that it allows the player to dial in deeper and darker tones compared to single-coils. This is the reason why a lot of heavy rock to metal players prefer the humbucker option. Think Foo Fighters, and think Metallica.

Another advantage is that these pickup types offer more power since they are two single-coils wound together.

But of course, almost everything has its downsides. In terms of clarity, the single-coils get one up ahead over the humbuckers, but they still can be manageable thanks to a few amplifier and equalizer tweaks.


Learning the electric guitar is fun. It’s even more fun if you’re aware of what you should be getting! It all starts with the sound you have in your head and in your ears, Once you know what type of music you want to play, then you’ll always have this guide whenever you want to purchase your new (or your next) guitar.

Have fun exploring!