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What Is A Humbucker? And Top 5 Advantages Of A Humbucker Pickup (2023)

A simple guide explaining what is a humbucker pickup, including active vs passive humbuckers, the difference between single-coil pickups, and more.

Quick Summary

A guitar humbucker is a type of pickup commonly used on electric guitars. It’s designed to reduce the hum or unwanted noise produced by single-coil pickups. A humbucker has two coils of wire wrapped around a magnet, which are wired in a way that cancels out the noise caused by electromagnetic interference. This results in a cleaner and quieter sound, with a thicker and more robust tone compared to a single-coil pickup. The humbucker pickup was invented by Seth Lover in the 1950s and has since become a popular choice among guitar players in various genres.

Let’s get into it!

What is a humbucker?

If you’re new to the exciting world of electric guitars, then this simple guide will help you understand what a humbucker pickup is and how it differs from other types of pickup.

Humbuckers are used in many different styles of music including rock, blues, country, jazz, folk, metal, and more.

What Is A Humbucker

They can be found in acoustic guitars, but are more common in electric guitars – often appearing in pairs.

In general, there are two types of pickup designs: humbuckers and single-coil. Both offer a different tone, output, and appearance, used across a variety of electric guitars. 

Below, find out everything you need to know about humbuckers, including what humbuckers are, the difference between humbuckers and single-coil pickups, active vs passive humbuckers, and more.

Humbuckers Explained

A humbucker is an active pickup that has two coils wound on top of each other. The first coil is usually called the “hollow” or “body” coil while the second coil is called the “voice” coil. 

These terms can be confusing because they do not refer to where the voice coil is located within the guitar body.

In fact, the voice coil may actually be located inside the neck or bridge of the guitar.

The purpose of the humbucking pickup is to provide a wider range of tonal variation than traditional single-coil pickups.

This allows for greater flexibility when playing chords and melodies. A humbucker also provides a more even tone across all frequencies.

Related Article: How to change a guitar pickup

Humbuckers vs Single-Coil Pickups

In general, a single-coil pickup produces a brighter sound with a higher output level.

Humbuckers, on the other hand, produce a warmer, fuller-sounding tone with lower output levels compared to single-coil pickups.

There are several advantages to using a humbucker, and these include:

  1. More sustain. With a humbucker, there is less tendency to lose the note due to string breakage.
  2. Better intonation. Since humbuckers have two coils, they tend to be better at maintaining proper intonation.
  3. Lower noise. Because humbuckers use two coils instead of one, they generate less noise.
  4. Greater versatility. Since humbuckers allow for a wider range of tones, they are useful across various music genres.
  5. Increased volume. Humbuckers generally have a louder output level than single-coils.

The advantages of humbuckers do not necessarily mean they are better than single-coil pickups, however. Single-coil pickups also have advantages, which include:

  1. Less distortion. Single coils typically create a cleaner, tighter sound.
  2. Faster response time. Single-coils respond faster than humbuckers.
  3. Easier access to low notes. Single coils are easier to play in the lower registers of the instrument.

Active Humbuckers Vs Passive Humbuckers

An important distinction between active and passive humbuckers is whether or not the humbucker’s signal is amplified by the guitar amplifier.

An active humbucker requires amplification to work properly. On the other hand, a passive humbucker does not.

Overall, passive humbuckers are more widely used. This is because they require no additional equipment such as amplifiers, preamplifiers, or power supplies.

Active humbuckers are typically only used if the guitarist wants to amplify their signal without having to purchase extra equipment.

Electric Guitars That Come With Humbuckers

Most electric guitars come with either single-coil or humbucker pickups, exclusively. But for electric guitars that typically feature humbuckers, these include:

  • Les Pauls
  • SGs
  • Gibson ES-335
  • Fender Jazzmaster
  • Gretsch Guitars
  • Ibanez Guitars
  • Jackson Guitars
  • ESP Guitars

By default, most electric guitars designed for heavy rock music, such as heavy metal, will come pre-fitted with humbucker pickups.

These include Ibanez, Jackson, ESP, Dean, and Schecter guitars, and more. This is because humbuckers provide higher output, which is ideal for achieving a thicker, warmer tone.

Some guitars, however, such as several Ibanez models, do feature both humbucker and single-coil pickups.

Changing between pickups is done by adjusting the pickup switch, located near the tone and volume controls of most electric guitars.

How Do I Know Which Type Of Guitar Pickup To Use?

If you want to know how to choose the best type of guitar pickup, it helps to understand what makes them different, which includes taking into account the advantages of each type of pickup. 

What Is A Humbucker

Typically, the best way to choose your ideal guitar pickup arrangement is by tone.

Since humbuckers provide a thicker tone with a high output, they are an ideal choice if you play heavier music genres, such as rock, heavy metal, power chords, and so on.

For jazz, mellow rock, folk, etc., single-coil pickups can provide a cleaner, softer sound with lower output that’s less likely to be affected by feedback and unwanted noise. 

Despite that, it’s still possible to achieve a heavy rock tone with single-coil pickups by using guitar pedals and adjusting amplifier settings.

Can I Change Single-Coil Pickups To Humbuckers?

If you have an electric guitar with single-coil pickups and want to switch them for humbuckers, it is possible to do so. However, this is usually a long process, requiring technical expertise.

This is because, in addition to changing the pickups, it involves changing the electrics, pickguard, and, in some cases, the tone controls.

So, if you decide to go ahead with changing your pickups, it’s best to seek the help of a professional.

In addition, you would also have to choose which humbucker, or humbuckers, you want to install in your guitar.

All humbuckers are different and offer different tones and output levels, but for the most popular pickup brands to choose from, these include but are not limited to, Seymour Duncan, Hellfish, Gibson, Fender, and Bare Knuckle.

Related Article: How to clean guitar strings


Humbucker pickups are one of the most popular types of guitar pickups available today. They’re also among the most versatile. Due to this, there’s a reason why many guitarists prefer them over single-coil pickups.

Humbuckers are an important part of electric guitars that produce sound.

They work by producing a magnetic field around the strings, which creates a low resistance path for current to flow through the string. 

In addition to providing a deeper, richer tone—as opposed to single-coil pickups—humbuckers are also great for playing through loud, heavier music genres. This makes them a popular choice for heavy metal guitarists.

Happy Playing!

Passionately invested in the music world for over 20 years, Jake studied music for 14 years at the Royal Conservatory Of Toronto. He has a degree from Champlain College & Bishop’s University in Business & Music. He is the owner of Fly Away Music & Media Studio in Montreal since 2014, with over 500 happy artists recorded, mixed and mastered.

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