The electric guitar is found to fulfill numerous roles in a wide spectrum of musical genres. This versatile instrument is among the most popular and, being electric, requires pickups and amplifications to reach its full potential.
The popularity of electric guitars has made a market for pickups, whether as stock components or upgrades. There are plenty of brand names to choose from when it comes time to pick up a new set of pickups.
Though the brand names aren’t the most critical factor to consider when selecting electric guitar pickups, knowing the top brands to look out for can be useful (and, at the very least, for a conversation with other guitarists). In this article, we’ll look at what I believe to be the best electric guitar pickup brands on the market.
The Top 11 Best Electric Guitar Pickup Brands Are:
- Seymour Duncan
- Lace Music Products
- Fralin Pickups
- Mojo Tone
- JBE Pickups
Let’s get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best electric guitar pickup brands. I’ll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable pickup, and a link to their official website.
Saying that Seymour Duncan helped shape the sound of a generation is not inaccurate. This man and his company enhanced the sound of classic Les Pauls, Stratocasters, and more, allowing the rocking spirit of the eighties and nineties to rise and roar.
Over the years, models like the JB, the ’59, the Pearly Gates, and Slash’s favourite, the APH-2 (which he plays on all his guitars), kept the rocking legacy intact. You have to check Seymour Duncan before buying; if they are good enough for the man in the top hat, they can easily rock your world, too.
Notable single-coil pickups: Seymour Duncan SSL-5 Custom
Guitar virtuoso, maestro composer, rockstar, and legend David Gilmour chose this medium-output single-coil for the bridge position in his famed black strat with maple neck.
This hand-wound pickup is the perfect choice to blend some of the edginess of a Strat with the creamy sound of distortion and get those bigger-than-life tones out of a fuzz pedal.
When in a clean setting, this pickup can take any amp to its sweet spot in which it overdrives naturally. Finally, with a compressor, you can get some serious funk out of it, too.
Notable humbucker pickups: Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded SH-4/SH-2n
The classic sound of a Les Paul with a little chilli sauce is what this set is all about. To begin with, the JB gives you enough punch with the kind of clarity you need to play a highly distorted chord and hear every note. Moreover, you can push it into solo territory and get some serious screaming vibratos and bends out of it.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Jazz pickup for the neck gives you a great bluesy, creamy tone that can tame the beast by flicking the pickup switch. If you want the best of both worlds, enhance your guitar with this set.
Fender didn’t only make the best-selling guitar of all time (the Stratocaster), but it also helped an entire generation shape their passion through music. When describing this brand, it is safe to say that much of the music we’ve heard and loved for the past decades involves them in some way.
Thus, if you are searching for a classic tone to enhance your instrument, you can never go wrong going back to the source where it all started. Fender is the soul and spirit of modern music, and you can add that to your instrument with a new set of Fender pickups.
Notable single-coil pickups: Fender Original Vintage Telecaster 2-piece Pickup Set
Snap, twang, and the cool sound of Alnico 3 are what made Keith Richards fall in love with the Telecaster and play it in his band for over 60 years. That classic tone, complete with the traditional steel base plate, is what Fender packed in this replacement set that can take any Telecaster on a trip to the past and the lucky player to total bliss.
Fender Pure Vintage pickups are exact recreations of the original ones that sound amazing without costing as much as a used car.
The 70s Telecaster Deluxe and Telecaster Custom resulted from a clash of titans: Seth Lover and Leo Fender.
Indeed, to compete with the high-gain rockers of the time, Fender decided to go for a full-on Humbucker approach on their guitars and was called the most prominent tone guru in the industry at the time.
For years, finding a rare vintage original CuNiFe Wide Range Pickup meant a significant investment. Nowadays, with this faithful recreation, that fat bottom end, razor-sharp highs, and balanced mids can take your instrument to the next level at a fraction of the price of an original.
When things got truly thrashy back in the eighties, EMG provided metalheads and rockers with the ultimate tool: active humbucking pickups. Two major qualities set them apart from the rest: they need a battery to operate (or two if you are Zakk Wylde), and instead of pole pieces, they work with a solid magnet bar.
EMG pickups are not for the faint of heart; they deliver pure gain and tone with clarity and loads of punch.
Notable single-coil pickups: EMG SA Active Strat
One of the biggest setbacks about single-coil pickups is the 60-cycle hum. On the one hand, you get the airy, twangy, sharp tone, but on the other, you’ll get the non-stop noise (which can be a nightmare at stage volume).
This set by EMG utilizes its quintessential magnet bar design to eliminate any hum, leaving you with pure single-coil magic and no hassles.
Notable humbucker pickups: EMG Fat 55 Active
For those searching for the perfect balance between the past and the present with a touch of the future, these humbuckers can be the Holy Grail of tone.
Indeed, the quintessential PAF tone from the 50s and 60s, Les Paul's is one of the most sought-after tones on the planet. What if you could have it in your guitar with none of the hassles (hum and buzz) of passive pickups? That is exactly what EMG achieved here.
Kurt Cobain moved a generation by channelling his teenage angst in songs like few other people in music history.
That rage that came pouring out of his amplifiers was coming from a DiMarzio Super Distortion, a pickup introduced by Larry to the world in 1971, and that continues to shape the sounds of rock to this day.
Later on, players such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Al DiMeola, Billy Corgan, Tom DeLonge, The Edge, David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, Frank Zappa, and Richie Sambora, among many others, continued marvelling the world with DiMarzio pickups in the studio and on stage.
With one of the broadest catalogues in the industry, DiMarzio is a brand that can push the sonic boundaries of any instrument.
Notable single-coil pickups: DiMarzio The Chopper Bridge/Neck
Sometimes, you need some extra gain in the bridge or neck position of your Stratocaster. That doesn’t mean you have to carve a hole and put a humbucker in; DiMarzio created a humbucking pickup with dual magnetic rails that can fit comfortably in the space occupied by a single-coil.
Furthermore, you can say goodbye to hum since the blades cancel it before it hits your guitar cable.
With a strong emphasis on the low and mid frequencies, this pickup by DiMarzio is the perfect choice for the neck of a humbucker-equipped Stratocaster or the bridge to take it up a notch.
Notable humbucker pickups: DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion Bridge/Neck
This pickup is the quintessential DiMarzio sound. Moreover, this pickup caused a sonic revolution that is still going strong over half a century later. But what is the secret behind its popularity?
Well, it features a particular voicing with a heavy low and mid-frequency boost and enough gain to take any tube amp into the overdrive zone.
This is the standard by which all other replacement humbuckers are measured. If you want the classic rocking tone of five generations, you have to give it a try.
Gibson guitars, together with Fender, are on the podium of the best-selling, best-known guitars in the world. There is little to say about models like the Les Paul, the SG, or the 335 that helped shape the sound of generations of musicians to this day.
That being said, the pickups on Gibson’s classic instruments, including the holy grail of tone, the 1959 Les Paul, were made in-house. Thus, the company owns the know-how and the leverage to sell a piece of music history to every lucky pickup buyer.
Notable single-coil pickups: Gibson Accessories P-94R
Most Gibson guitars come equipped with humbucking pickups; it is part of the brand’s mojo. But what if you want to take advantage of those heavy mahogany bodies, adding some snap and edge to the tone?
Well, this P-94R is a single-coil pickup voiced after the P-90 that made the brand famous in the fifties. It needs no special wiring or cutting to fit in the hole of a full-sized humbucker.
Voicing-wise, this pickup delivers serious rumble with full, fat lows but shines and sings in the higher frequencies, adding articulate, textured, and dynamic sounds to every guitar.
Burstbucker pickups made history because they could add some edge to the natural fat sound on a Les Paul guitar because of the Alnico V magnets in its interior.
The result of adding these pickups to your guitar is giving it a fresh vintage edge, harmonic complexity, and enhanced crystal-like clarity to the sound. If you want your guitar to sound powerful, vintage, and articulate, these pickups are your best choice.
Perhaps Fishman is better known for its acoustic rather than its electric guitar pickups. Nevertheless, they are built under the same passion for excellence that drove companies like Martin, Taylor, and Guild, among many others, to include them as standard in their models.
All the know-how and the leverage from excelling at such a difficult territory as amplifying acoustic instruments served Fishman very well, and the electric line is just as amazing as the acoustic one. These are, perhaps, some of music’s best-kept secrets that you have to try for yourself.
Notable single-coil pickups: Fishman Fluence Greg Koch “Gristle-Tone” Signature Telecaster Single Coil 2-piece
Speaking of best-kept secrets in music, Greg Koch is one of those players that you heard a million times as a hired gun without knowing his name. He is also an author of countless guitar books and a guitar virtuoso who travels around the globe teaching master classes with his beloved ’53 blonde Fender Telecaster equipped with these pickups.
Fishman set on a difficult mission: create a pickup set that would outdo his original ’53 ones. They achieved that and created a hum-free, active set that can be charged with USB and offer many different tones with the flick of a switch. Furthermore, it comes complete with the control plate to swap out your current pickups without much effort.
Notable humbucker pickups: Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker
Like the above set, these humbucking pickups can be wired as a standard humbucker or to include more than one voice accessible through a switch. This way, you can toggle between a full, round, vintage sound and a more modern, meaty, throaty tone that can cut through any mix. Plus, they come in a variety of colours and with ceramic or Alnico V magnets.
Lace Music Products
Don Lace Sr. was working at Fender when he realized the gap in the industry: pro musicians loved the tone of old Stratocasters but couldn't handle the noise. He then founded Actodyne General Inc., intending to close that gap, and after hard work at the family garage, he presented Fender with a solution.
His pickups were so outstanding that Fender used them exclusively for their professional, top-tier models from 1987 to 1996. Nowadays, the company is a synonym for performance, great sound, and perfect craftsmanship. If you want the best Strat sound with none of the hassles, give this company a try.
Notable single-coil pickups: Lace Sensor Ultimate Triple
Lace Sensor single-coils are divided into four colours resembling four different eras of the Stratocaster. Gold is for 50s glass-like transparency, silver is for 70s edge and punch, blue goes into warm P-90 territory, and red represents the hottest output. This cleverly designed set includes a blue one for the neck to get instant bluesy tones, a silver one in the middle for that cutting-edge rhythmic sound, and a gold one in the bridge position for screaming solos and riffs.
Notable humbucker pickups: Lace Alumitone Deathbucker
With a coil-splitting option, this versatile state-of-the-art humbucker pickup is capable of some serious metal with none of the hassles of an active circuit and a resembling tone. What Lace achieved with the Alumitone design is a dead-quiet pickup capable of handling high gain and creating a believable single-coil sound with virtually no volume drop. Yes, they did it again; these are wonderful pickups for any guitar.
Fralin pickups are the go-to option for professional guitar players setting feet on the biggest stages in the world. Indeed, some players have claimed that they can get hotter tones while retaining the warmth and tone of their pricey vintage instruments. That is because Lindy Fralin manufactures all products using USA-sourced materials exclusively and has been winding pickups for several decades, looking for perfection. Trying this brand before you buy is a must.
Notable single-coil pickups: Fralin Vintage Hot
This was Lindy Fralin’s first creation and is still the company’s best-selling unit. They have the character and tone of a vintage Stratocaster pickup with a slightly different equalization curve and added gain. In other words, the top-end, sparkle, and clarity are preserved, and you’ll add some warmth and mid-range push to the overall sound.
Notable humbucker pickups: Fralin Pure P.A.F.
If you go online and search for an original 0s P.A.F. pickup (like the ones in early Gibsons), you’ll be amazed by the astronomic prices. Fralin manufactures these clones utilizing real butyrate bobbins, which help to achieve the clear tone, extended versatility, and dynamics that made them famous in the first place. If you want a truly vintage tone for your Les Paul, you can never go wrong with a set of Fralin PAFs.
Railhammer is the youngest company on this list. Speaking of young ages, Joe Naylor started overhauling guitars at age 19 and never stopped doing it.
He founded Naylor Amps to critical acclaim. After successfully producing boutique amps, he decided to go for guitars and founded Reverend Guitars. Finally, as he couldn’t find pickups to satisfy his needs for dynamics, he designed his own and founded his third company, Railhammer.
What sets Railhammer pickups apart from the rest is that they employ a magnetic bar for the wounded strings and poles for the plain ones. Thus, you get this super tight bottom end with singing mids and highs. Guitar legends such as Billy Corgan, Reeves Gabrels, and Greg Koch use them live and in the studio.
The P-90 can be considered a single-coil on steroids with a rounder sound, slightly less attack, and a much wider body. This recreation by Railhammer retains the grit, raw power, and cutting mids from the original design and adds some creamy lower mids, making it suitable for any guitar and style. If you want to beef up your tone, this is a great choice.
The percussive tone and clean dynamics of traditional PAF pickups are what made them famous and sought-after as the holy grail of Les Paul’s tone. This recreation retains the openness and percussiveness of the originals, adding some chimey highs and a slightly more relaxed midrange. Those looking for the quintessential Alnico V sound might find it here.
What do Green Day, Joe Bonamassa, Pete Townsend, Lenny Kravitz, John Mayer, and ZZ Top have in common? All of them (besides millions of people around the globe) trust Mojotone to help them on their musical journey. This company manufactures parts and accessories for the most discerning artists in the world and also as OEMs with different names for over 250 top-notch brands in the world.
Notable single-coil pickups: Mojo Tone Broadcaster Quiet Coil Telecaster 2-piece
Before being called the Telecaster, Leo Fender’s groundbreaking guitar design was called the Broadcaster. Because Gretsch already patented it, he changed its name in ’52 to Telecaster.
Why is this important? Because these pickups recover the original broadcaster tone of ’50 and ’51 models by utilizing the same original materials: 43-gauge coil wire, black fireboard bobbins, lower Gauss Alnico magnets, and cloth-covered leads.
That being said, the company also managed to eliminate hum, and thus, with no extra wiring or routing, you can achieve every Tele-lover dream: a quiet guitar with the quintessential Tele tone.
Notable humbucker pickups: Mojo Tone '59 Clone
Another set of pickups that changed the world was the original PAFs in vintage Gibson guitars, especially in ’59 Les Pauls. With these pickups, just like with the Tele set, Mojotone took it to the next level and, utilizing the original parts and specs, recreated a legendary tone. Moreover, the plain enamel wire, butyrate bobbins, and custom Alnico IV magnets are something you don’t see every day.
If you want the clarity, dynamics, and top end of classic early Gibson tone without breaking the bank, this might be your best choice.
Joe Barden had been making pickups for celebrities the size of Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, and perhaps his most famous customer, Danny Gatton, for years before founding his own business. Once he did, the company managed to remove the 60-cycle hum from single-coil pickups while keeping gain and tone intact.
This granted them a huge reputation among top players in the scene. If Danny Gatton said these were the best pickups on the planet, it is high time you give them a try.
Notable single-coil pickups: JBE Danny Gatton T-Style Tele Pickup Set
This is, perhaps, the most balanced set of Tele-style pickups you’ll ever try. Going for blades instead of poles allowed the company to get an even, vintage tone, reducing the possibility of thin, tinny sounds coming from some strings. Finally, the bridge pickup is adjustable in height, making it possible to solve the decades-old problem of not having the same volume on both pickups.
For many players, the biggest drawback with humbucker pickups is the muddiness that the extra gain generates. This pickup set by JBE set out to do the exact opposite, granting the owner a dynamic, clean-sounding result with maximized tone sensitivity even in high-gain settings.
Furthermore, the increased sustain doesn’t rival low-end clarity. Thus, you get a pickup that’s hot enough for rocking tones and clean enough to play jazz.