Single Coil vs Humbucker: Everything You Need To Know

The debate between Single coil pickup and Humbucker is synonymous with comparing two goated sports stars that plague various social media platforms (similar to the Lebron and Curry’s of basketball). 

Each is unique with its special properties, creating an eternal debate for guitar lovers.

Let’s begin this discussion from the basis of ‘what is a pickup?’ before we go into why you might choose either of them.

What are pickups?

It is an understatement to regard pickups as the soul of an electric guitar. They are transducers that convert the mechanical vibration of the guitar strings into electrical signals, which are then amplified through the instrument amplifier to produce musical sounds into a loudspeaker. 

For a layperson, those raised areas made of plastic have circles of metallic material and sit underneath the strings (take your guitar and follow this description).

They are inanimate materials with a personality of obeying the player tuning and tweaking; with the perfect adjustment, you can transform the sounds your guitar produces.

What are Single coil pickups?

Single coils are popular pickup types you can find on regular Fender guitars and have been in use as early as the late 1920s. They have their only coil positioned on one line of individual magnetic poles wrapped in layers of copper wire. 

Gibson P-90, Telecaster, Stratocaster are some of the popular designs of a single-coil pickup.

What is a Humbucker?

Humbucker or double coils are pickups that use two coils to cancel out the interference picked up by the coils caused by electromagnetic interference. 

The history of the invention has been a topic of confusion, but it was finally agreed that Gibson’s Seth Lover perfected what we now know as the Humbucker pickup in the 1950s.

Humbuckers work by pairing a coil with its magnet in the north pole phase, and a coil with the magnet of its south pole oriented up. This connection of coils with magnets in different poles leads to the cancellation of the interference instead of adding up, creating an electromagnetic hum. 

Compared to single-coils, humbuckers reduce hums (especially when connected in series as parallel connections produce a lesser humming-deafening effect) and make a louder signal with more mid-range presence.

The difference between Single coil pickups and Humbuckers every guitarist should know?

For new and existing guitarists who are having a hard time choosing between the two coils, here are some of the differences you should know (i.e. single coils vs. Humbuckers);

Number of Coils

As aforementioned, the number of coils differs from each other. As its name suggests, single coil pickups have single coils while humbuckers have double coils. The single coil is placed on a single magnetic pole while the dual coil is opposite.

Sound

Single coil pickups produce a brighter sound as it has no other coil to cancel its interference. 

Most guitarists describe this sound as twangy with an after-bite sound and can be tuned with an overdriven valve amp to produce a gritty sound or a chiming glassy tone similar to the sound of a 60s guitar.

Humbucker produces a fuller-sounding as the opposite coils cancel out the interference. The sound it produces is thicker, heavier with no aftermath of the cutting or biting sound that comes with the single coil.

Wide Usage

Most single coils sounds are noticed in classic country music, blues, and old surf rock bands because of the twangy and crispy aftersound it produces.

Humbuckers coils are used by guitarists that play heavy sounds such as Jazz, Hard Rock, and Metal guitars because of the more profound and louder sound they produce.

Distortion

Using single coils makes it easier to manipulate the effect of distortion because you can hear each tone struck distinctively and adequately. This ability of easy crunch control gives a single-coil an edge over humbuckers.

Tone Clarity 

Single coils are known to produce a more precise sound devoid of distraction.

This clarity in its sound is due to the lack of enclosure or inhibitor that cuts off the bite. 

The sound produced by the snap and movement of fingers on the chords moves directly to the transmuter and produces the same tone.

Humbuckers have a lesser tone clarity as the opposite winding chord cuts off the overall tone formation. The cutoff sound affects the clarity and slightly swallows the note, and deadens the chime.

Frequency response

Due to the way they are constructed, single-coils close in on the frequencies during plucking and are more responsive. The produced sounds are the exact amplified sounds your artistic fingers create; they are clear, direct, and with zero altered frequency.

Humbuckers produce a less responsive note when the strings are plucked and the tones are altered due to the additional frequency the double coils add to the overall tone formation.

Thicker and more fulfilling sounds

The thick, complete, and warm sound of the coils is the signature feature of humbuckers. Each pluck and stroke resonate throughout the body creating a non-distorted effect. 

These features the Humbucker possesses makes it the go-to choice for metal and jazz guitarists. Single coils produce a less fulfilling sound, the perfect twangy sounds in country and blues music.

Which coil should I pick?

If you are here to choose a coil and not pick points for a comparison debate of single coils vs. humbuckers, there are several things you need to put into consideration.

If you want a country-like sound that is calm with less reverberation, then the single-coil is perfect. But if you intend to dive into the jazz, rock, or metal genre, the humbuckers are the ideal set. 

You should experiment with both sets of cords and pick a natural balance before making a decision. Many popular Jazz and hard rock musicians use single coils to produce an almost similar effect with just minor alterations.