A single coil pickup is a type of magnetic transducer, or pickup, for the electric guitar and the electric bass. It electromagnetically converts the vibration of the strings to an electric signal. Single coil pickups are one of the two most popular designs, along with dual-coil or “humbucking” pickups.
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Single coil pickups are one of the two primary types of pickups installed on guitars. The other type being humbuckers which is a pickup consisting of two coils by contrast. Single coils pickup provide a brighter sound while partaking in crystal-clear highs and strong mids, versus humbuckers that provide fuller-bodied warmer tones.
Single Coil pickups are renowned for their classic sound as they are favored by many genres such as Pop, Rock, Blues and Country music. Especially during the 1950s and 1960s when the single coil era was beginning to be developed. Some iconic single coil guitars include Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Standard and the Telecaster.
To give a basic understanding of how single coil pickups work on an electrical engineering level, it’s beneficial to note that when strings move through a magnetic field due to vibration upon playing a guitar – electrical signals are generated by the interactions between these strings and magnets from within the pickup(s). Consequently these electric signals then become amplified so that can be heard with sound equipment or speakers.
What Are Single Coil Pickups?
Single coil pickups are one of the most popular types of pickups for electric guitars. They offer a bright, punchy tone that is ideal for styles such as country, blues, and rock. Single coil pickups are known for their signature sound and are used in many iconic guitars throughout music history.
Let’s explore what single coil pickups are and how they can be used to make great music.
Advantages of Single Coil Pickups
Single Coil pickups are one type of electrical guitar pickup, and they offer several advantages over the other types. Single coils have a bright, cutting tone that is full and clear while also having a lower output level than humbuckers. This allows them to be used in most styles of music without over-powering the signal. They are often used for classic rock, country and blues because of their natural sound.
Because single coils use magnets made from Alnico or ceramic, they can produce more diverse tones than humbuckers. They don’t tend to muddy up the bass frequencies as easily, so low-end rumble is kept at bay even when turning down the gain levels. Many designs feature adjustable pole pieces for better control and more precise stepping for altering your sound further.
Single coils are also popular in guitars that are played with guitars set to coil splitting modes because they provide a single coil sound when switched off; this is sometimes appropriate since switching on can cause too much distortion or too much background noise as opposed to using two different sounds with each position in a humbucker setup. For this reason many players will switch to single coils on occasion depending on what type of playing style they’re wanting to achieve at that time. Additionally, since single coil pickups allow strings vibrating close by not to interfere with each other their clarity makes them great candidates where large chords are regularly played; playability may be improved by having less interference between individual notes when chords or riffs consisting of numerous strings being used simultaneously.
Disadvantages of Single Coil Pickups
Single coil guitar pickups have certain advantages such as clear tone and light weight, however they also have some distinct disadvantages.
The main issue with single coils is that they are susceptible to a phenomenon known as ’60-cycle hum’. Due to the proximity of their pickup winding to the electronics of an amplifier, it can cause interference resulting in a humming noise particularly when using overdrive/distortion. Another disadvantage is that single coils tend to be less powerful than humbuckers or stacked pickups, resulting in less output when playing at high volumes. Additionally you will find single coil pickups cannot cope extremely low tunings as well because of their lower outputs.
Finally, single coils are noisier than dual coil (humbucker) pickups since they lack the necessary shielding for eliminating external electromagnetic interference. For players who enjoy distortion and overdrive tones within their music this often requires additional costs for purchasing noise suppressors or using live sound filtering equipment on stage.
When to Choose a Single Coil Pickup
Single coil pickups can be great for a wide range of musical styles. They provide a bright, glassy tone that works well for genres such as rock, blues, and country. Single coil pickups tend to have less output than humbuckers, which makes them great for achieving a bit of a cleaner sound.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of single coil pickups and when you might choose to use them:
Single coil pickups are defined by the distinct tone they produce and the range of genres in which they can be used. Although single coils can give excellent tone in a variety of musical styles, there are some genres that employ them more than others.
- Jazz: Single coils offer a bright and clear sound that excels for nuances within Jazz which makes it popular among the genre’s players. The combination between softer winds and alnico magnets provide the smooth sound not only for chords but also solo work – allowing guitarists to really shine through.
- Rock: Humbucker vs single coil pickups is a debate among rock guitarists as both can cover a wide range of tonal possibilities. Many ‘80s rockers used single coil guitars in combination with moderate amounts of distortion to obtain their signature sounds while other hard rock bands have opted to switch out their humbuckers with custom shop Fender Stratocaster pickups to give them more bite and nuance in the mids.
- Country: Similar positions on the steeple set-up where hum buckers use long neck positions and bridge pickups – country music often employs simple chord progressions and humble strumming patterns so players will want something that gives them an airy twang from an electric guitar rather than a rich chime or honk from a humbucker pickup combination. Strats are often seen as the cornerstone when it comes to this genre, particularly when it comes to clean tones which single coils thrive on depending on where you crave more midrange or even crunch!
- Blues: The floating bridge design found on many Fender models featuring Stratocaster or Telecaster body shapes help create traditional glassy blues sounds played by some of today’s most prominent artists like John Mayer and Eric Clapton – as these guitar markers such for an articulation that’s difficult to find with any other design philosophy.
Types of Guitars
Guitars are divided into two categories – acoustic and electric. Acoustic guitars require no external amplifier because they produce sound by vibrations of the strings through the hollow resonating body. Electric guitars require an external amplifier in order to make sound loud enough to be heard, because they produce sound electronically by a pickup transferring the vibrations of the strings into an electrical signal which it then sends through a speaker.
Pickups are divided into two main types – single coil and humbucking pickups. Single coil pickups use one coil to pick up signal from each string as it vibrates and humbucking pickups use two coils connected in series, canceling out any interference from surrounding magnets or electronics (known as “humbucking”). Each type of pickup has its own tone and can have different benefits when used for certain applications.
Single coil pickups are known for their bright, twangy sound that works well with clean tones or light overdrive, though in some cases they can be too bright for certain situations due to their narrow frequency range. They are often considered best for blues, country, jazz and classic rock playing styles because they provide clarity while remaining dynamic without muddying up tones when multiple notes or chords are played together at once. Additionally, many people prefer single coils due to their appearance – the classic Telecaster or Stratocaster look is typically attributed to single coils along with Fender style tonal spank.
Single-coil pickups are recognizable by their distinctive, bright and snappy tone. As the name suggests, a single-coil pickup is made with a single wire coiled around magnets, giving the single-coil pickup its signature treble boost. It has a vintage tone, often referred to as the ‘quack’ sound favoured by some jazz and blues guitarists.
The classic single-coil pick up produces bright, articulation tones that can be easily distorted when overdriven – providing more than enough sustain for solos. Single-coil pickups are particularly prone to noise issues with they lack any kind of shielding or humbucking technology compared with humbuckers.
If you prefer a cleaner sound or have trouble getting your amp loud enough for rehearsal, you may prefer the regular sweet tones of an HSS pickup (Humbucker/Single Coil/ Single coil) setup over single coils when playing solos.
The typical single-coil user will be seeking a warm jazzy rock sound – such as a Telecaster or Stratocaster – for which the traditional single coil is perfect for producing ‘sparkling’ highs without being too abrasive The character of this tone allows you to get a good range of attack from both lead and rhythm playing but it is not necessarily suited to high gain playing in punk and metal genres which would benefit from using thick high output humbucking pickups instead.
Ultimately, the choice between single coil and humbucking pickups will depend on the individual player’s needs and preferences. Single coil pickups are best used to achieve a classic, vintage sound when playing clean or lightly distorted tones. Pickup selection can affect playability, tone and overall sound of an electric guitar. In general, most guitarists will likely use both single coil and humbucking pickups depending on the type of music being played.
With that said, if you’re looking for a true single-coil-style tone with all its warmth and brightness, then single coils offer the perfect platform for achieving those sounds.
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.
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