In this series, we have reviewed some of the most illustrious and sought after guitars in the industry. As every experienced player has found out, it is rarely the name on the headstock that makes or breaks your guitar, but the hardware around it. Rarely do experienced players ever keep all the stock options on their guitar straight out of the box. To find the ideal sound and tone, you must do a little customization, either DIY or have a professional builder do it for you. Today we’ll be exploring the best single-coil pickups on the market in 2018. The single-coil is one of the two most popular pickup types in all of guitar playing along with the humbucker. It was the first pickup prototype developed in the mid-1920’s and rose to popularity under Gibson’s legendary P-90 single coil. Then exploded on the scene as Fender Stratocaster rose to popularity.
Fender Tex-Mex Single Coil Pickups
The Fender Tex-Mex pickups are a blues player’s best friend. They offer increased output with a bright tone clean or distorted. They offer a deep, warm bass tone to complement the searing tone of a strat. These pickups are extremely versatile for any type of player, but these would be more geared for a classic or hard rock player and blues players. The Fender Tex-mex pickups use an Alnico magnet. They’re overwound so you can get the most out of them, with reverse polarity to minimize any hum or buzz that single-coils can be prone to. These pickups start at just under $100. Here's a video of what they sound like clean.
Seymour Duncan 11205-02 SHR-1b Hot Rails
As we previously stated, the single-coil pickups is an industry standard. Normally, Electric guitars will have a single-coil or a humbucker pickup. Humbuckers were created after the single-coil in order to eliminate the buzz and hum from within the pickup at the expense of the kick. This Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickup brings all the thickness from a humbucker to a single-coil pickup. It produces a heck of an output and has a crunchy tone that’s great for rock players. These pickups are best for rock and blues players. These pickups start at under $100. Here is a great video of a guy shredding
Musiclily Guitar Single Coil Tele Bridge Pickup
Now we’re on the more cost conscious end of the spectrum. At just under $20, these pickups are something you can take a chance on. They are designed for a Fender Telecaster, but reviewers are generally happy with the product. Reviews state there’s no unwanted buzz or hum on these after playing them on multiple guitars. There are negative reviews as well, stating problems with the craftsmanship on the pickups. This might be a difficult pickup to configure if you are not familiar with installing guitar hardware.
DiMarzio ISCV2 Evolution
These DiMarizio pickups are usually sold in a set in association with a DiMarzio Neck and bridge pickups. Usually, this consists of an H-S-S system (Humbucker- Single- Single) on an Ibanez or a guitar of that nature. They are extremely versatile, often having 5 possible positions and tones for a wide selection of sounds. The ISCV2 Evolution comes with schematics explaining how to wire and properly set the pickups. They are available for under $50 from online retailers. Here is a video showcasing the tones you can get when you combine this pickup with their bridge and neck pickups.
Fender Fat '50s Strat Pickup Set
These are the quintessential classic Fender pickups. For the longest time Fender has been a staple and leader in this industry and for good reason. The genetic make-up of these pickups is a huge part of why Fender was able to become the esteemed brand they are today. These pickups are on the premium end of the spectrum and are available for just under $200. The reviews are through the roof, and there are plenty of them to read through. Some highlights are these pickups give the exact stylish, bluesy sound that most guitarists dream of. Think Stevie Ray Vaughan or some of the other texas-blues legends, these pickups are perfect for that sound. The video below really showcases the great tones these pickups can produce.
Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster Pickups
These are the pickups that I personally have in my Japanese strat. They have a great clean sound, and through the gain channel they sound great. They are hot enough to hit pinch harmonics with. But don't just take my word for it.
If there’s one person to trust the signature model of, it’s Eric Johnson. Through a painstaking trial and error process, EJ has developed completely customized pickups that are exactly what he envisioned. EJ stresses the importance of balance in the electronics of guitars. He worked closely with one of the head researchers at Fender to have pickups that can play clean/ jazz style and then have some grit and bite to them as well. The reviewers are very pleased with this product on multiple different online retailers. It seems that these pickups have flown underneath the radar thus far, despite people loving them. Have a listen in the video below.
Lace Sensor Blue-Silver-Red S-S-S Pickup Set
This Lace Sensor pack of Single Coil pickups might be the best reviewed item I’ve come across. This pack offers 3 astounding pickups, all for under $200. They are extremely aesthetically pleasing, featuring a red, white and blue color scheme. The blue pickup emulates for 50’s humbucker, the silver aims for the 70’s and the bridge satisfies that fat, punch humbucker sound that is so often required in guitar playing. The red holds the biggest output of the bunch, ready to wail when you are. These pickups come with a CD detailing the installation process as well as diagrams and Lace Sensors guitar catalog.
DiMarzio DP419 Area 67 Pickup – White
The biggest drawback or limiting factor of single coil pickups is the hum, by creating such a bright and clean tone, the pickups would naturally attract a bit of buzz through the electronics. Jimi Hendrix was the figurehead for the Fender Stratocaster, which exclusively uses single coils. Ever since the late 60’s, players have wanted that single-coil sound but without the drawback. Using patented technology, DiMarzio has achieved this task. These pickups have achieved a 5 star rating with almost every online retailer. Reviewers say these pickups are the way of the future, all the brightness with none of the fragility. These Area 67’s are available in numerous different colors and they are readily available for under $80.
Seymour Duncan SL591 Little 59 White Bridge Strat Pickup
The Seymour Duncan SL591 is a great perfect for any suitable guitar. These are utilitarian pickups that do nearly any job asked of them. So far, we have specialized in hard rock set ups. These pickups can do it all, and do it all extremely well. Jazz, funk, country players will all be happy with the clean tones these help produce. The SL591 is highly rated across the internet. Reviewers say these pickups are a breeze to install and have the fullest humbucker-esque sound on the market. They are available for under $90 from selected online retailers.
Seymour Duncan California '50s Strat Pickup Set
These Cali 50’s pickups are designed for the class Fender tone. They promise to hold the bouncy, light tone that made Fender who they are today. They’re designed with Alnico 5 magnets and wound to perfection to get every tone of the spectrum. The treble has the clean and bright sounds that every player looks for. Reviewers say the description and pictures don’t fit the bill. These pickups are every bit as epic as one would hope. Some call them the best Strat (single-coil) pickups to ever be designed. These pickups are available for under $160.
DiMarzio DP 218
The DiMarzio DP 218 Super Distortion is a pick-up designed to match the raw power of a humbucker. The DP 218 is a perfect, smaller fit for a stratocaster or any comparable guitar. DiMarzio, Fender and Seymour Duncan all contribute to create a fuller, more powerful sound for guitars that are traditionally thinner and lighter. It will give you a fatter sound, which fender players often crave. The DP 218 is available for under $100 and will fatten up the bridge pick-up like no other. Reviewers love the pickup and the tone it allows them to have but still say that it’s not exactly like a humbucker, which is to be expected.
Fender Vintage Noiseless
To end on a great note, the Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups are the ticket. These are cutting edge pickups made with the best tech available. The Vintage is crafted from Alnico 5 magnets and enamel coated magnet wire to produce a crystal clear and bright sound that every Strat player dreams about. No hum, no nothing. On the online retailer, Sweetwater, they have a perfect 5 star rating with 9 reviews. All reviewers are shocked with how full these beauties sound. Some reviewers even say that these are the best pickups ever made for a Fender. These pickups are at a premium price, but worth every penny according to guitar peers on the ‘net. They are priced at a little under $200.
So there we have the best single coil pickups in the market. Single-coils have been a long lasting staple in this industry. Guitars would not be where they are today and never would’ve had the rise they did without the single-coil. Companies are still—almost 200 years later—are still striving to improve on this technology. Single-coils really mean something to guitar players. There is a process to creating a sound, a tone. It meets halfway in between art and science. Every turn of the wiring or the magnet position will alter your tone. It’s a very personal thing, building your guitar to fit you. Single-coils are the best for some and they’ll never play anything else.