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Renowned for producing full-bodied, thick tones, humbucker pickups are a popular choice for guitarists across every style and musical genre.
Originally designed to provide a noise-free alternative to single-coils pickups, humbuckers revolutionized the process of amplifying an electric guitar.
Due to the sheer volume of humbucker pickups available to guitarists, identifying the best match for your tonal needs and budget is no easy task. This guide includes the 6 best humbuckers available to help you make an informed decision.
What are the Best Humbucker Pickups?
Humbucker Pickups Review
With a decorated history going back to the mid-1970s, American pickup manufacturers Seymour Duncan are considered icons of the industry. One of their most popular humbucker sets is this SH-4/SH-2n combination.
Highly versatile, I believe this set of humbuckers can be used for almost any style of guitar playing. The high-output design of the SH-4 neck pickup is ideal for gain-heavy tones, with plenty of emphasis on the treble frequencies.
In the neck position, the smooth-sounding SH-2 Jazz humbucker contrasts the SH-4 beautifully. This pickup can be used to create pristine clean rhythm and lead tones.
Combining a high-output bridge pickup with a medium-output neck pickup was in my opinion, a very smart move by Seymour Duncan. Tonally and dynamically, the two humbuckers complement one another effortlessly.
I’d highly recommend these affordable humbuckers to guitarists who like to switch up their style, incorporating rock tones and techniques with jazzy elements.
- Versatile tonality and dynamic range
- Detailed treble frequencies
- Powerful harmonics
- Mounting screws are slotted and require a specific screwdriver
The 1959 Gibson Les Paul produced one of the most recognizable tones in the history of solid-body electric guitars. With the Pearly Gates humbucker pickups, Seymour Duncan has reproduced it with stunning accuracy.
I was particularly impressed by the way these humbuckers interact with the high-end of an electric guitar. They produce a decent amount of heat, whilst retaining the clarity of the treble frequencies.
With Alnico II bar magnets, the Pearly Gates humbuckers sound authentically vintage. I can also envisage them being compatible with semi-hollow and hollow body axes.
Another notable quality of these Seymour Duncan humbucker pickups is their classy aesthetic design. Made from nickel, they stay true to the vintage era and will slot onto any guitar without attracting too much attention.
These pickups produce rich harmonics, but when you dig in they respond by kicking out enough heat to push a tube amp into saturation.
- Warm, vintage tone similar to the 1959 Les Paul
- Rich harmonics and singing highs
- Long sustain
- Lack the output power for metal or heavy rock
The collaboration between metal guitarist Zakk Wylde and prolific pickup manufacturers EMG has resulted in a pair of energetic humbuckers, which produce a red-hot tone.
Both the EMG 85 bridge pickup and the accompanying EMG 81 neck pickup are active by nature. The former is intense in sound and dynamics, while the latter is slightly more refined.
These EMG ZW Zakk Wylde Active Signature Humbucker Set are very fairly priced, especially when you consider the tonal quality. With understated matte black aesthetics, the pickups will blend seamlessly with any style of electric guitar.
Due to the seething tonal qualities of these pickups, I think most metal guitarists will love the way they sound. I’d also recommend them to heavy blues or heavy rock guitarists who like to extract every last drop of overdrive from their amplifier.
Also included in the set are two volume pots, two tone pots, and all of the necessary hardware for hooking the pickups up to your guitar.
- High-gain, saturated tone
- Volume pots, tone pots, and hardware included
- Distinguished matte black design
- Hot tone may be too heavy for some styles of guitar playing
Seth Lover is considered a legend in the world of guitar pickups, mainly for designing the early humbucker used by Gibson in 1955. The Seth Lover Humbucker is a tribute to that iconic creation, with modern improvements.
Unlike most humbucking pickups made nowadays, this Seymour Duncan set is not wax potted, making them undeniably authentic. Tonally, I enjoyed the scratchy, vintage quality that the pickups produce, which is warm-sounding and rough around the edges.
If your guitar sounds naturally bright, I think you’ll love the effect that the Seth Lover Humbucker set has on its frequency output. Both the neck and bridge pickups are perfect for taming harsh-sounding tones that often plague solid-body guitars.
Another benefit that these vintage-style PAF humbuckers offer is the ability to mix smooth-sounding clean tones with vintage grit when you increase the velocity of your playing.
- Ideal for naturally bright-sounding guitars
- Warm, vintage PAF-style tone
- Authentic, not wax potted design
- Less suitable for high-gain valve amplifiers
The Fluence Modern Active Humbucker Set by Fishman is a unique offering from a brand that is known for its attention to detail.
When analyzing these humbucker guitar pickups, I was intrigued by the fact that they have two separate voices which can be toggled using a simple switch.
In the bridge position, Fishman has included a classic active humbucker with an Alnico V magnet. In the neck position, there is another active pickup, except with one key difference – it has a ceramic magnet.
If you’ve used both Alnico and ceramic humbuckers before, I’m sure you’ll know that the different magnet types have a significant impact on output and tone.
By allowing you to switch between these two voices, Fishman has expanded the sonic possibilities exponentially.
When using the alnico humbucker voice, you get a smooth, thick tone that is perfect for clean chord sequences. The ceramic voice, on the other hand, is higher in output and therefore cuts through the mix with ease.
- Choose from Alnico V and ceramic humbucker voices
- Classy aesthetical design
- Includes all of the necessary wires and hardware for installation
- Voice switching may take some time to get used to
The final addition to our list of the best humbucker pickup sets is the affordable Invader set by Seymour Duncan. With a striking all-black design and incredibly high output, these pickups are not for the faint-hearted!
Due to their aggressive, powerful tone, I’d highly recommend the Invader humbuckers to guitarists who love distortion and use high-gain guitar amps. They’re ideal for pushing a tube amp into overdrive, and when paired with a gain-based pedal like fuzz, they sound huge.
By using a wider magnetic field than is featured on most humbuckers, along with over-wound coils, Seymour Duncan has ramped up the heaviness of these pickups remarkably.
They also include a trio of ceramic magnets, which combine to create seething tones across the frequency spectrum of an electric guitar.
If you use drop tunings, pitch-shifters, or octave pedals, these humbuckers will ensure that the low-end frequencies are prominent and full-sounding.
- Perfect for high-gain styles of guitar like metal, heavy rock & heavy blues
- Easy to install on any electric guitar
- Understated all-black design
- Not suitable for a predominantly clean style like jazz or pop
Humbucker Pickups Buyer’s Guide
The invention of humbucking pickups allowed electric guitarists to forget about the humming and buzzing noises that were problematic when using single coils.
As pickup manufacturers perfected their designs, humbuckers grew in popularity. Let’s explore some of the key factors that make these pickups so unique and versatile.
Before a guitarist chooses the best humbuckers for their style of playing, they need to understand the relationship between output and tone.
Simply put, a high-output humbucker set such as the Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded SH-4/SH-2n and the Seymour Duncan Invader will produce a stronger signal. This signal is then transmitted to the amplifier, causing it to distort more easily due to clipping.
Medium-output humbuckers like the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates are less likely to push an amplifier into distortion, but when the guitarist increases the velocity of their strumming or picking overdrive can occur.
Therefore, high-output humbuckers are generally considered a better choice for styles that require plenty of gain and distortion, while moderate-output alternatives are better suited to styles that combine clean and slightly overdriven tones.
The two types of magnets you’ll find in humbucker pickups are alnico and ceramic. There are several varieties of alnico magnets, such as Alnico V or alnico II, each of which produces slightly different results.
On the whole, ceramic magnets will evoke a hotter tone from a set of humbuckers, with plenty of high-end clarity and power. Alnico magnets like the ones in Fishman Fluence Modern Active Humbucker Set and the Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbucker Pickup Set tend to sound smoother, and more refined.