The Humbucking Pickup and Dialing In Tones

Humbucker Pickup

The Humbucker Pickup: To Buck The Hum

Seth Lover of Gibson invented the first successful humbucker pickup in 1955. The motivation for this invention was to overcome the hum problem for guitars, associated with single coil pickups. Ray Butts developed a similar pickup for Gretsch guitars. In 1953 Rickenbacker invented a humbucker type pickup. Due to the perceived distorted sound of the pickup, Rickenbacker dropped their design in 1954. The Gibson Les Paul was the first guitar to use the humbucker design in substantial production.

Humbucker designs

Some different humbucker pickup designed are the Gibson “PAF,” the Gretsch Filter ‘Tron, the Fender “Wide Range,” Epiphany “mini-humbucker,” Gibson “Firebird” pickup, and EMG pickups. Companies like TV Jones and Fishman with the Fluence models take the classic design of the humbucker and modernize them. Some classic humbuckers, like P.A.F. pickups, were inconsistent in tone. When people talk about the classic tone of the PAF pickup, they are talking about the rare “great” one. Since machines were less consistent compared to machines of today, it is now more likely to get a great sounding pickup over and over again.

Characteristics of humbucker pickups

Humbucker type pickups emphasize the midrange frequencies making them work very well with distortion effects. Ceramic and magnetic metal alloys in humbucker pickups deliver the high-energy signals demanded by sonically intense genres such as metal. The most common magnet used in humbucking pickups is AlNiCo. This is a blend of Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt. The number that follows AlNiCo is the blend of metals like AlNiCo 2 and AlNiCo 5 and these are the most commonly used versions. Active humbucking pickups contain their own preamps producing a hot output signal, great for feeding high-gain amps. Active electronics also give you the ability to boost or cut frequencies and passive pickups only allow you to cut frequencies.

Who plays Humbucker pickups?

Humbucker pickups tend to be more popular with jazz, heavy rock, and metal players. With their emphasis in the midrange and a broader spectrum of distortion effects, humbuckers are also popular with blues players seeking overdriven tube sounds. Humbuckers are ideal for warm mellow clean tones. They are not a bright as single coil pickups, which makes it easier to avoid unwanted shrill frequencies. This characteristic is essential for the jazz guitarist. Metal guitar players depend on a thick saturated sound for the “chugging” and “palm muting.” Humbucker pickups doe this the best, as they work wonderfully with high gain rigs. Here is a short list of some legendary players, who are known for using humbucker pickup: James Hetfield, Eddie Van Halen, Billy Gibbons, Zakk Wylde, Paul Kossoff, Angus Young, Dave Mustaine, John Petrucci, Dimebag Darrell, Toni Iommi, George Benson, and Al Di Meola.

Shopping for a new Humbucker Pickup

When shopping for pickups, here are a few things you should consider. First, does my guitar have the room for these pickups? Do I need to get a full-size humbucker or a stacked humbucker to fit in a single coil slot? Do I have the right value pots to install these new pickups? Is this an active system and will I need room for a battery? Humbucker pickups come in a few different shapes and sizes, so you should be able to find one that fits your needs. And when all else fails, bust out the Dremel and make it fit.


Looking for a new Humbucker Pickup? Shop Here. 

Looking to learn about Single Coil Pickups? Check out this post.


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