In order to help you in choosing the best one for your setup, we will be comparing cheap vs expensive guitar pickups to see if they do make a difference. We will also explain why some pickups are more expensive than others and if the price for upgrade is justifiable.
We all know that a vast majority of beginner guitarists, as well as professional musicians, aren’t cash-strapped enough to acquire top-of-the-line equipment. However, even though ordinary guitar players can only afford instruments and gears at a much lower price range, they still deserve to sound just as good, or even better than those rich rockstars.
Whether you are buying your first guitar or seeking a better pickup to replace your old one, it is crucial that you set your expectations based on your budget. No matter how much money you are willing to shell out on a guitar or a guitar pickup, make sure that what you will be buying is worth your hard-earned cash.
The pickup plays a vital role in shaping your sound and should never be overlooked by guitarists. Knowing the specific characteristics and capabilities of various types of guitar pickups, can aid you in finding one that perfectly suits your musical style and taste, as well as the tone that you have envisioned for yourself in the near future.
Aside from being aware of what various pickups can do, it is also important to know the different pickup brands in the market to give you a wider selection. If you can’t afford a more well-known brand of pickup, there is always a possibility that a reliable alternative will save the day and you won’t have to limit yourself to the more popular names.
Types of pickups
There are several variations of guitar pickups but the three major ones are single coils, humbuckers and P90s.
All of them are split into active and passive categories. Passive pickups comprise all of the first pickups to ever exist and they are favored for their more organic tone. On the other hand active pickups are the perfect choice for modern metal, as well as other heavy genres that need tons of distortion.
Here are the main types of guitar pickups:
Single coil pickups
Single coil pickups are commonly installed in Fender Stratocasters. They are iconic for their brilliant and presence-filled sound that you often hear in the blues, country, funk, soul and rock and roll. It is safe to say that single coils are the most recorded pickups in history.
Humbuckers are actually just two pickups working together to create a warm, fat tone that jazz musicians love. Humbucker pickups are also preferred by guitarists such as Slash and Toni Iommi, for the thick sustain that it can produce.
P90 pickups are a combination of single coil and humbucker in terms of sound characteristic. The versatile P90s can often be found in earlier Gibson guitars and has been used by legions of blues and rock and roll players.
Popular guitar pickup brands
Although the market is awash with countless brands dedicated to manufacturing pickups, some of the biggest guitar companies also produce their own sets.
Here are some of the most recognizable names in guitar pickup-making:
- Seymour Duncan
- JBE Pickups
- Jackson Guitars
- Bartolini Pickups and Electronics
- Lundgren Guitar Pickups
- Bare Knuckle Pickups
- Lace Music Products
- Nick Silver Pickups
- Kinman Guitar Electrix
- Fralin Pickups
Cheap vs expensive pickups
There are many facets to consider why some guitar pickups are so expensive and labor cost is one of them. Worker salary and other production costs are cheaper in countries like China or Indonesia and this contributes a lot to the pricing.
Suspicious guitar players would often claim that there is no difference in quality when cheap and expensive pickups are tested side-by-side. This is a little bit exaggerated since some high-end pickups really do sound better compared to their overseas counterparts. Besides, the cheaper ones that were manufactured in the east might have suffered from lower quality control, while the boutique pickups made in Europe or the United States, are hand-wound with utmost care and produced in limited numbers.
In this battle between cheap vs expensive pickups, you can find the suckiest-sounding ones in all price brackets. The same thing goes for guitar pickups that have varying price tags but with very little dissimilarities in sound quality.
Do guitar pickups make a difference?
Guitar pickups are vital to the overall sound that you wish to achieve. Factors such as brand, price and type of pickup, can all influence the quality of your tone, but not too much.
Bigger brand names have the advantage of owning more advanced facilities that can produce time-tested designs. Because of this, it is expected that Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio pickups are superior in quality and worth every dollar that you would spend.
But that doesn’t mean that lesser-known pickup companies such as Fralin Pickups and Mojotone can’t deliver great-sounding products. In fact, there are a number of underrated independent pickup companies out there that have a tremendous following and they can certainly give the EMGs and the Fenders a run for their money.
Even though guitar pickups are largely responsible for bringing out the sound of your guitar, there are other components that contribute to tone-shaping. However, amplifiers and effects pedals are also very powerful tools and with the technology that we have today, it is even possible to emulate the sound of other guitars and amp models with a press of a button.
Guitar pickups do make a difference and can definitely impact your sound. Moreover, using a cheap or an expensive pickup is also a crucial aspect of finding the perfect tone, although amps and stomp boxes nowadays play a bigger role in improving your sound quality.