One of the finest and simplest ways to enhance guitar tone is to upgrade your pickups.
Those pickups that many guitars are equipped with are pretty low quality unless you’re at the very top end of the guitar spectrum.
The pickups play a major role in determining your guitar’s overall tone, second only to your amplifier.
Most guitar players are already familiar with Seymour Duncan pickups.
You might wonder why these pickups are so popular and what types are available.
Seymour Duncan is the most well-known guitar pickup manufacturer, with a huge selection of great-sounding electric, acoustic, and bass pickups for every style. They are designed and handcrafted in the United States. They can be built into many guitars by major brands, which is a testament to the pickup’s quality.
If you replace the cheap factory pickups, you can raise the sonic quality of an entry-level or intermediate guitar.
This guide goes over the pros and cons of Seymour Duncan pickups and explains why they’re some of the best on the market.
What are Seymour Duncan pickups?
Seymour Duncan is an American company best known for manufacturing guitar and bass pickups. They also manufacture effects pedals which are designed and assembled in America.
Guitarist and luthier Seymour W. Duncan and Cathy Carter Duncan founded the company in 1976 in Santa Barbara, California.
Starting around 1983-84, Seymour Duncan pickups appeared in Kramer Guitars as standard equipment along with Floyd Rose locking vibratos.
They can now be found on instruments from Fender guitars, Gibson guitars, Yamaha, ESP Guitars, Ibanez guitars, Mayones, Jackson guitars, Schecter, DBZ Diamond, Framus, Washburn, and others.
Seymour Duncan pickups are high-quality guitar pickups designed to provide a range of tones and styles.
They are renowned for their clarity, warmth, and responsiveness.
Seymour Duncan pickups are guitar pickups designed to amplify the sound of an electric guitar.
The JB model is world-renowned, and many of the most famous guitarists choose them.
They’re made from a coil of wire wrapped around a magnet, and they come in a variety of styles and sizes.
They’re used in both electric and acoustic guitars, and they’re known for their clarity and responsiveness.
Seymour Duncan pickups are renowned for their ability to capture the nuances of a guitar’s sound, and they’re used by some of the world’s best guitarists.
They’re also popular among hobbyists and professional musicians alike.
These pickups come in single-coil, humbucker, and P-90 styles, and they can be used to create a variety of tones.
They’re available in both passive and active designs, and they’re designed to work with a variety of amplifiers.
Seymour Duncan pickups are known for their high-quality construction and reliable performance, and they’re a great choice for any guitarist looking to get the most out of their instrument.
Randy Rhoads of Quiet Riot was known to love the Seymour Duncan pickups and used them all the time.
What makes Seymour Duncan pickups special?
Seymour Duncan pickups are known for their high-quality construction, unique tonal characteristics, and versatility.
They are made with carefully selected materials and hand-wound coils to ensure consistency and durability.
The company offers a wide range of pickup options to suit different musical styles and preferences, including classic models as well as more modern designs.
SD produces a wide variety of pickups for electric guitars and bass guitars, including humbuckers, P90s, and single coils.
The thing is that there are so many options available; it’s no wonder Seymour Duncan pickups take up so much of the market.
Their reputation and popularity among musicians make Seymour Duncan pickups a sought-after choice for many guitar players.
Types of Seymour Duncan pickups
You’re likely wondering what types of pickups does Seymour Duncan make?
Seymour Duncan makes a wide variety of pickups, including single-coil, humbucker, and P-90 pickups.
They also make active pickups, which are designed to provide more output and clarity than traditional passive pickups.
They also make a variety of specialty pickups, such as the Hot Rails and the Cool Rails, which are designed to provide more output and clarity than traditional pickups.
But let’s examine the brand’s most popular pickups and their bestsellers.
Seymour Duncan JB Model Humbucker
- offers clarity & crunch
Players rely on the JB Model humbucker more than any other pickup to take their tone to the limit.
The JB Model produces just enough output to let your amplifier sing while maintaining the ideal ratio of clarity and grit.
The JB Model humbucker is known for modest-to-high gain performance, offering clarity and crunch.
This pickup is a great choice for rock and metal styles but also works well in blues, jazz, country, hard rock, and even grunge.
With its upper midrange presence and expressive high end, the JB Model has consistently powered some of the most electric guitarists in all genres.
The JB Model’s Alnico 5 magnet and 4-conductor lead wire make it simple to dial in a diverse collection of sounds with optional series, parallel, or split coil wiring, regardless of where you place it.
Therefore, there’s a reason the JB Model is the best hot-rodded humbucker for a reason—it effortlessly adapts to any sound or aesthetic.
The JB Model gives single notes an expressive vocal sound with moderate to high amplification.
Complex chords still sound accurate even when distorted, with a strong bottom end and crunchy middle that are ideal for playing chunky rhythms.
Players are saying that the pickups fall in the sweet spot between dirty and clean for most amplifiers and clean up well for jazz chord melodies.
Alternatively, they may be driven into overdrive by turning the volume knob.
Installing the JB Model with a 500k pot can improve the voice of a warm-sounding guitar by giving it the clarity, punch, and harmonic edge it needs to sound its best.
Treble frequencies are lowered with a 250k pot to match brighter guitars better, especially those with maple fretboards or 25.5″ scale lengths.
The JB Model offers a bright and glassy top-end, along with a tight low and mid for great definition.
When both the bridge and neck pickups are used together, the JB Model Humbucker offers a fat and chunky tone.
- Best for classic Fender Stratocaster tones
Fender’s Stratocaster guitars are known for their signature sound and tone.
Fender’s custom-designed Stratocaster single-coil pickups are designed to capture the best of all worlds—warmth, sparkle, and growl—and deliver that tone to you.
Fender’s original Stratocaster pickups are designed for a rich and wide-ranging tone that can go from clean and articulate to distorted crunch.
It includes Alnico 5 magnets, but Seymour Duncan makes some really good pickups designed specifically for Stratocaster guitars.
Seymour Duncan offers about 30 passive pickups made for Stratocasters. They make use of ceramic, Alnico 2, and Alnico 5 magnets.
True single-coil pickups, noiseless single coils, and humbuckers in single-coil form are all different types of pickups you can get from this brand.
Some of the most popular Seymour Duncan pickups built for Strats include:
- Scooped Strat pickups which offer clean, high tones
- Psychedelic pickups that offer vintage rock tones and are used for extended solos
- Hot Rails Strat pickups which is the most powerful Strat pickup
- The JB Junior Strat pickup, which is a single-coil version of the humbucker
- Little ’59, which is known for warm and smooth P.A.F tones
- Cool Rails Strat pickup, which is smooth, balanced, and gives blues tones
- Hot Strat pickups are best if you like your guitar loud and bold
Check out my roundup review of the top 10 best Stratocasters on the market today
The ‘59 model
- P.A.F style tones, clean sounding
No doubt one of the most popular Seymour Duncan pickups, the ‘59 is the go-to for P.A.F tone (P.A.F is the original Gibson humbucker that brands try to copy).
With beautiful sustain, full-sounding chords, and a clear and bright assault, it is built in the style of the original P.A.F. humbuckers from the 1950s, but Duncan made some adjustments to the design to update it and make it more versatile slightly.
Seymour Duncan SH-1 59 pickups are a sweet, clean-sounding PAF-style humbucker.
They feature an Alnico 5 magnet and 7.43k resistance to give them warmth, clarity, and great sustain.
The ’59 Model provides vintage rock tones with a slightly more pronounced attack compared to the JB Humbucker.
These pickups are wax potted to reduce squealing from the high output of the pickups.
Due to its versatility, Seymour Duncan’s ’59 Model neck pickup is one of their most popular models.
The ’59 has a rich bass end that is excellent for giving your clean sounds character and your leads sustain.
The mids are gently scooped for an open, fluid sound that’s perfect for maintaining the clarity of the individual notes in a chord, while the high end is slightly enhanced for improved pick-attack clarity.
When you play softly, the mids and highs appear to drift away; however, if you pick vigorously, the note will sound confident and clear.
The ’59 is capable of working in any genre. It works well with a high-output bridge humbucker but also works well with vintage-style pickups with moderate output.
Four-conductor wire is included for flexible custom coil-tapping, series/parallel switching, and phase switching. It has an incredibly clear single-coil mode.
The Seymour Duncan ’59 pickups are a popular choice for guitarists looking for a classic, vintage tone.
Some of their notable features are:
- Alnico 5 magnet: provides a warm and smooth tone with clear highs and defined lows.
- Vintage-style wire: replicates the sound of the original PAF pickups of the late 1950s.
- Vintage-correct wind pattern: reproduces the same number of turns and coil wire spacing as the original pickups.
- Wax-potted: reduces unwanted microphonic feedback for a consistent tone.
- 4-conductor wiring: allows for a variety of wiring options and coil-splitting.
- Available for both neck and bridge positions: designed to work together for a balanced and harmonious tone.
- Suitable for a variety of musical styles: provides a versatile tone suitable for blues, jazz, rock, and more.
Hot Rod pickups
- High output, smooth, vintage tones
One of Seymour Duncan’s original pieces and now a highly sought-after humbucker pair is the Hot Rodded set.
It creates a wonderfully rich harmonic sound with a glassy high-end that nevertheless sounds smooth, making it especially well-suited for a tube amp profile.
These pickups are known for high output, vintage tone, smooth EQ, and they also have the Alnico 5 magnet.
The hot rod pickups are quite versatile, but they’re still best for vintage-style tones and best for rock and blues.
I find them a bit too old-school for some modern genres.
They offer pretty good sustain, rich harmonics, and they have the 4-conductor wiring Seymour Duncan is known for.
Although they are adaptable, these humbuckers work best with a lead playing style or a more subdued vintage tone profile, such as a blues.
If you’re unsure of the tone you want to use, these are terrific places to start. Build your setup around the Hot Rodded set as a starting point.
So, I recommend the hot rod pickups for beginners looking to discover their sound.
Seymour Duncan makes some amazing distortion pickups.
Their most popular model is the Distortion pickup, which is designed to produce high output and maximum sustain with strong mids and a harmonically rich treble response.
The pickups feature ceramic magnets for increased output and more harmonic complexity making the tone a bit rougher.
These pickups are great for metal, hard rock, and aggressive playing styles.
The Seymour Duncan pickup lineup also includes their Full Shred humbucker, which is designed to provide tight lows, crystal-clear highs, and a balanced mid-range, and their Black Winter pickup set, which features ceramic magnets for high output and maximum aggression.
The Distortion pickups
- High-output, bright, high-mid focused
Seymour Duncan’s bestselling distortion pickup is, of course, the Distortion.
The Duncan Distortion is a High Output humbucker with a big Ceramic magnet, similar to their Invader.
It gives the guitar a high-gain tone with a tight and controlled bass end.
This is the advantage over the alnico magnet pickups, where the low frequencies are usually less focused with high gain.
Many well-known guitarists, including Max Cavalera of Sepultura and Soulfly, Wayne Static of Static X, Karl Sanders of Nile, Ola Englund, Phil X of Bon Jovi, and Limp Bizkit currently use or have used this pickup.
It is widely regarded as a standard for rock and metal, particularly for a particular style of ’90s distortion.
The pickup is typically used in the bridge position, but some players also use it in the neck position to enhance the clarity of their solos.
This pickup sounds bright, doesn’t have a huge amount of low end, and is quite high-mid focused, which is good.
But, the highs can become “ice picky” on light guitars, which is problematic if you use palm muting sounds.
This pickup is great for hard rock, grunge, punk, and a lot of ’90s metal because of its beautiful (slightly scooped) mid-range, good (but not too high) output, scratchy attack, and controlled bass end.
- Best for high-gain settings and modern genres
The Seymour Duncan Invader pickups are high-output humbucker guitar pickups designed for heavy metal and hard rock styles of music.
They’re commonly equipped on PRS guitars.
They feature a ceramic magnet and large DC resistance, producing a powerful and aggressive tone with enhanced mid-range frequencies.
Unlike many of the other pickups, the Invader humbuckers have a ceramic magnet which means cleaner, deeper tones.
That’s why some players will only use these humbuckers if they play heavier musical styles.
The pickups are known for their tight, punchy low-end, and high-end definition and are favored by many metal guitarists for their ability to handle high levels of distortion and sustain.
These humbuckers were designed in 1981 with the need for more distortion.
The Invader pickups are much brighter than you’d expect due to the strong output, especially at the bridge.
But still, they’re not very harsh or high-pitched. These pickups are what I’d call rich and crunchy!
Common pickup combinations
Best overall: JB humbucker and ‘59 model
The pairing of a Seymour Duncan JB with a 59 has to be among the all-time greats of pickup combinations.
These two are a popular combination for guitarists because they complement each other well and offer a wide range of tonal options.
You will have a highly versatile axe that can produce both powerful piercing tones from the JB and soft clean tones from the 59.
The JB-59 duo can play anything from traditional country and blues to modern rock, punk, and even heavy metal.
Each of these pickups has a lot to offer guitarists, so anyone with a guitar that can accommodate humbuckers should experiment with both of them.
The JB pickup is a high-output pickup with a bright and aggressive tone, while the 59 pickup is a vintage-style pickup with a warm and round tone.
By using the JB for the bridge position and the 59 for the neck position, guitarists can get the best of both worlds: a tight and crunchy sound for lead playing and a warm and smooth sound for rhythm playing.
This combination allows for versatility and versatility in playing different styles of music.
Additionally, the JB and 59 pickups are well known for their clear, articulate, and responsive playing experience, making them a favorite among many guitar players.
Best for high-gain clarity & jazz: Perpetual burn & Jazz
If you need a humbucker with a rolled-off bass and more prominent highs, the Seymour Duncan Jazz Model humbucker at the neck position would sound great for you.
Though it produces sound in a similar vein to a PAF-style humbucker, the Jazz has its own unique character.
The Jazz easily cuts through high-gain tones thanks to its tightened bass end and the purity of its vintage humbuckers.
Its liquid-sounding distorted tones nevertheless communicate picking nuance quite effectively.
Perpetual burn is one of the pickups are very balanced, offer less output, and their sound is more open. Thus they’re excellent with chords and sound warm and clean.
The Jason Becker Perpetual Burn pickup is designed to deliver a modern, high-gain sound that is ideal for contemporary metal and hard rock styles.
So, when it’s combined with the Jazz, you get the high-output that will not turn mushy as you play.
Best for modern metal: Perpetual burn & Sentient
It’s no secret that metal guitarists are crazy over their amplifiers. However, even within metal, trends come and go.
High-output active pickups were the norm for a while. Many of these pickups are still the best sellers after all this time.
However, with the rise of progressive metal, musicians felt the need for new tools.
So they resorted to low-power systems that focus on a narrow range of frequencies. This provides them with high-gain clarity and a crushing tonal punch.
Progressive metal and hard metal are all about full-throated attack. That’s where the combination of the Perpetual Burn and Sentient comes in handy.
This pickup combination is ideal for modern metal.
The Perpetual Burn bridge pickup has a ceramic magnet and is designed to provide tight lows, crystal-clear highs and punchy mids.
The Sentient neck pickup compliments the Perpetual Burn with its Alnico 5 magnet which provides dynamic harmonics and increased sustain.
This combo is perfect for modern metal music styles that require aggressive tones.
Some other combinations to consider
- Neck/Middle: Seymour Duncan SHR1N Hot Rails Strat Single Coil Neck/Middle Pickup
- Bridge: Seymour Duncan JB Model Humbucker
- Both pickups: Seymour Duncan HA4 Hum Cancelling Quad Coil Humbucker Pickup
- All three pickups: Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Surfer Strat Pickup
- SH-4 JB/SH-2 Jazz
- 59/Custom 5
- ’59/JB Model
- Custom 5/Jazz Model
Pros and cons of Seymour Duncan pickups
- Excellent sound quality with a clear and balanced tone
- Wide variety of pickup types to choose from
- Built with durable components for long-lasting life
- Wax potting process that eliminates microphonic feedback
- Expensive compared to generic pickups
- Can be difficult to install in some guitars
- Certain models can be overly bright or dark for some genres of music
So just to get a bit more specific, the models like the JB can sound too bright in some ash or alder body guitars, and the treble can be too extreme.
Overall, Seymour Duncan pickups offer excellent sound quality and durability that makes them worth the investment.
They provide a wide variety of pickup options so there is something for everyone depending on their tone preferences.
While they are more expensive than generic pickups, the superior sound quality and construction make them well worth it.
With the right combination of pickups, you can take your tone to the next level!
Why are Seymour Duncan pickups important?
Seymour Duncan is important because it’s one of the most popular and reliable brands of guitar pickups.
It’s known for its high quality and consistency, and its products are used by some of the biggest names in music.
Its pickups are used in a variety of genres, from classic rock to metal, and its products are used by both professional and amateur musicians.
Its pickups are also used in various guitars, from Fender to Gibson and beyond.
The company has been around since 1976, and its pickups are renowned for their clarity and tone.
Seymour Duncan pickups are designed to bring out the best in any guitar, and they’re popular among guitarists who want to get the most out of their instrument.
They’re also known for their durability and reliability, and they’re often used in high-end guitars.
Seymour Duncan pickups are also popular because they’re relatively affordable.
They’re not the cheapest pickups on the market, but they’re still affordable for most guitarists.
They’re also easy to install, and they don’t require any special tools or knowledge.
Finally, Seymour Duncan is important because it’s one of the most trusted brands of guitar pickups.
Its products are used by some of the biggest names in music, and its pickups are used in a variety of genres.
They’re also affordable and easy to install, and they’re known for their clarity and tone.
All of these factors make Seymour Duncan an important part of any guitarist’s setup.
What is the history of Seymour Duncan pickups?
Seymour Duncan pickups have a long and storied history. They were first invented in 1976 by Seymour W. Duncan, a guitar repairman and pickup designer from California.
He had been designing pickups since the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1976 that he founded his own company, Seymour Duncan Pickups.
Since then, Seymour Duncan pickups have become renowned for their quality and craftsmanship. They are used in a variety of musical genres, from rock and blues to jazz and country.
Over the years, Seymour Duncan has released a number of different pickups, including the popular SH-1 ’59 Model, the JB Model, and the Little ’59.
In the late 1980s, Seymour Duncan released the first of its signature pickups, the JB Model.
This pickup was designed to emulate the sound of a vintage Fender Stratocaster, and it quickly became a favorite among guitarists.
Since then, Seymour Duncan has released a number of signature pickups, including the ’59 Model, the ’59 Model Plus, and the ’59 Model Pro.
In the early 2000s, Seymour Duncan released the first of its active pickups, the Blackouts.
These pickups were designed to provide a higher output than traditional pickups, and they quickly became popular among metal and hard rock guitarists.
Today, Seymour Duncan pickups are used by some of the world’s most renowned guitarists, including Eddie Van Halen, Slash, and Steve Vai.
They are renowned for their quality and craftsmanship, and they continue to be a favorite among guitarists of all genres.
Seymour Duncan pickups vs other brands
Seymour Duncan is just one of the many brands that make guitar pickups.
But there are plenty of other good brands and products, so let’s see how Seymour Duncan pickups compare to these.
Seymour Duncan pickups vs EMG pickups
Seymour Duncan pickups are passive pickups, meaning they don’t require a battery to operate.
They produce a warmer, more vintage sound than most EMG pickups, which are active pickups that require a battery to operate.
EMG also makes passive pickups but they’re not as popular as their innovative active pickups.
EMG pickups are known for their bright, modern sound and higher output.
They are also more durable than Seymour Duncan pickups, which can be prone to microphonic feedback.
Seymour Duncan pickups vs DiMarzio pickups
Seymour Duncan pickups are known for their vintage tones and smooth response. They are also quite versatile and can be used in a variety of genres.
DiMarzio pickups, on the other hand, are known for their bright, modern sound and higher output.
They are also more durable than Seymour Duncan pickups, which can be prone to microphonic feedback.
DiMarzio pickups are also more versatile than Seymour Duncan pickups, as they can be used in a variety of genres.
Seymour Duncan pickups vs Fender
Seymour Duncan and Fender pickups both have their own unique tonal characteristics.
Seymour Duncan pickups are known for their versatility and ability to deliver a range of different tonal options from vintage warmth to high-output modern tones.
They are favored by guitarists who want to achieve specific sounds or tweak their tone in specific ways.
Fender pickups, on the other hand, are known for their signature bright, articulate, and spanky tone.
They are favored by guitarists who want to capture the classic Fender sound and are popular for their use in a wide range of musical genres.
The choice between Seymour Duncan and Fender pickups is largely a matter of personal preference and the specific tone you’re looking to achieve.
Both brands make ceramic and Alnico magnet pickups.
Seymour Duncan pickups vs Gibson
Seymour Duncan and Gibson pickups both have their own unique tonal characteristics and are favored by different types of guitarists.
Gibson pickups, such as the PAF humbucker, are known for their warm, rich, and vintage tone.
They are favored by guitarists who want to capture the classic Gibson sound, which is often associated with blues, rock, and jazz music.
Seymour Duncan pickups, on the other hand, are known for their versatility and ability to deliver a range of different tonal options from vintage warmth to high-output modern tones.
They are favored by guitarists who want to achieve specific sounds or tweak their tone in specific ways.
What are Seymour Duncan pickups good for?
Seymour Duncan pickups are great for a variety of genres and playing styles.
They’re particularly well-suited for rock, blues, and metal, as they have a strong, powerful sound that can cut through the mix.
They’re also great for jazz, as they have a smooth, warm tone that can add a lot of depth and character to your playing.
SD pickups are also great for country music, as they have a twangy, bright sound that can really bring out the nuances of the genre.
How are Seymour Duncan pickups different from others?
Seymour Duncan pickups are designed to provide a powerful cutting tone that can cut through the mix.
They also have a smooth, warm tone that can add a lot of depth and character to your playing.
They’re also designed to be very versatile, so they can be used in a variety of genres and playing styles.
These pickups are also made with high-quality materials, so they’re built to last.
If you install Seymour Duncan pickups into your guitar, they’re likely to last longer than the ones that come with the instrument.
Are Seymour Duncan pickups expensive?
Many of the brand’s most popular pickups cost around $100 or more so yes, they are pricy but worth it because they offer great sound quality and build quality.
While some boutique pickup makers might have a higher price tag, Seymour Duncan pickups are very competitively priced for the quality they provide.
These pickups will also last longer than most generic models due to their strong construction and wax potting process that protects against microphonic noise.
Are Seymour Duncans good for metal?
Yes, several of the brand’s pickups are good for both old-school heavy-metal and the more modern progressive kind.
The Seymour Duncan Invader pickup is the most popular for metal because it’s known for massive output and the low-end punch you need for great-sounding metal solos.
Are there any accessories available for Seymour Duncan pickups?
Yes, Seymour Duncan offers a range of accessories that are designed to help guitarists get the most out of their pickup combinations.
They include replacement covers, mounting rings, and wiring diagrams to help you get the perfect sound.
In addition to these accessories, Seymour Duncan has its own line of guitar strings that are designed to match the pickups for optimal performance.
They also offer a variety of cables in various lengths and gauge sizes so you can find what works best for your setup.
In conclusion, Seymour Duncan pickups are a great choice for guitarists looking for a reliable and versatile sound.
They offer a wide range of tones, from bright and twangy to warm and smooth.
With a variety of models to choose from, there’s sure to be a Seymour Duncan pickup that suits your style and budget.
If you’re looking for a great-sounding pickup, Seymour Duncan is definitely worth a look.
Read next: What are the knobs and switches on a guitar for? Control your instrument
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe