What is the difference between a humbucker and single coil Electric Guitar Pickup

Author: Ian-Bush  Date Posted:20 January 2012 

So what is the difference between a Humbucker and a single coil?

How did pickup design all start?

The first commercial pickup design went into mass production in 1932 by the company that would end up becoming Rickenbacker Guitars. Many people had experimented with pickup design, Les Paul (the inventor of the famous Les Paul Gibson guitars) had experimented with microphones but nothing had achieved mass production status until Rickenbacker.
Guitar pickups were designed as the big band era came into life and orchestras became bigger and it became too difficult to hear the guitar (little did they know how it would turn out years later with the birth of rock and roll).

Humbuckers were invented in 1934 by Electro Voice (the people who these days make speakers) but it wasn't till 1955 that they were used in a guitar by Gibson.

 Enough of the history - What is the difference between a single coil and a humbucker?

The first pick-up designs were single coils. Basically these are magnets, pole pieces and lots of wire. People have experimented with the magnets, pole piece size and number of winding for years to get different sounds. But these pickups have 1 big disadvantage. When used with a high gain amp or a distortion pedal they get really noisy. The noise comes from the fact that the pickup will find any magnetic, electrical source nearby and try and amplify it.

A humbucker pickup uses 2 pickups (basically 2 single coil pick-ups) and puts them back to front. This combination reduces the noise signal. A side effect of this design is more output, distortion and what would lead to guitars being played with distorted sound as normal (at the time it was a side effect that was actually considered a design flaw)

Single Coil Single Coil

This is a single coil Wilkinson pickup; we use these on our ST and TC Range of guitars   


This is a humbucker Wilkinson pickup; we use these on our LP and SG Range of guitars. Some humbuckers have chrome covers on them that make them look like a big single coil pickup.

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Comments (1)

humbucker vs single coil

By: Anonymous on 23 January 2012
nice clear explanation with a bit of history thrown in.

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