Pro Audio Files

Guitar Pickups [Course Excerpt]

Let’s talk about guitar pickups. Now, this could get into deep water here, because there’s a lot of variations in pickups. I’m going to try to keep this as simple as possible and not get too deep into the history of it, because you can look this up online. What’s more important is that you have a basic understanding of what the tone is and how certain pickups are associated with certain types of music.

This is a Gibson Melody Maker that I’m holding now, and this is a solid body guitar. The simplest of them all has a single pickup on it and a single tone and volume knob. The P90 is something that’s known as a single coil pickup. It was kind of the first single coil pickup, and to me, it’s one of the most magical sounding pickups.

Now, they tend to be a little noisy, so if you’re in an environment where the power isn’t very clean, then they could pick up a lot more noise than what I’m about to tell you in a minute, it’s a humbucker pickup, but they have a chime to them and a mid-range quality to them that’s really magical. They push a fair amount of output into it, so they can work your amp really hard, and their just bell-like quality is just really, really lovely.

You’ve heard them on things like Aqualung, if you know Jethro Tull. That’s the sound of a P90. P90s tend to be really fabulous for all forms of rock, alt country, punk they work really well in. They don’t seem to perform so well in more metal-like situations. They don’t handle uber amounts of gain super well. I mean, you can do the punk thing with them, but once you start getting into the metal stuff, I think that amount of gain and stuff, the noise really really comes out in an extreme level.


So they’re not going to be really appropriate for that. They do sound really great on some Jazz if you’re on a hollow body guitar, they tend to be really magical. So they do cover a lot of ground I would say, just not into the super industrial and heavy, heavy music.

Remember from before, this is a Fender Stratocaster. This has single coil pickups in it as well, but these pickups are considerably different than the P90 pickups. I would classify them as having a little less of that mid-range detail. They’re not as punchy and they’re not as bell-like, but that’s not a minus. That could be a plus depending on your perspective, and I guess I wouldn’t say the mids aren’t so scooped as much as they aren’t embellished at all.

A lot of people like them because they have a nice quack to them and they tend to be clean. The humbuckers, which we’re going to talk about, tend to be a little muddier. So the single coil pickups in the Fender guitars are really awesome for clean sounds, and some great examples would be like David Gilmore, and Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton from the Layla era. Matter of fact, there’s been so many people using Stratocasters, it’s possible it’s the most widely used guitar, so you don’t have to search too far to figure out what is what.


Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at

Free Video on Mixing Low End

Download a FREE 40-minute tutorial from Matthew Weiss on mixing low end.

Powered by ConvertKit
/> /> /> /> /> /> /> /> /> />