How Does An Electric Guitar Pickups Really Work?

That’s being said; pickups are the core of electric guitar, actually any guitar. The pickups are what make your guitar capable of being heard. They are as important as the body, strings, and amps in your electric guitar.

In view of this, a common question arises that how do electric guitar pickups work? People take it as mystique for no reason. However, the truth is, it works quite straightforward. Pickups, in a word, are the main ingredient to the tone.

This is what brings life to any dead-sounding guitar. It can turn your favorite electric guitar into a great one. These come in various sizes and shapes to justify different purposes.

If you prefer sustainable and vintage sound and blooming harmonics, you should know how electric-guitar pickups work. Understanding this will help to have a better impact on getting better sound.

Most importantly, it allows you to customize the guitar to create a sound that you desire. That’s what we are going to include in this article. Hence, without further ado, let’s get started!

electric guitar

What is an Electric Guitar Pickup?

The pickup in an electric guitar is a magnetic transducer. It’s a generic word in a guitar that converts energy from one form to another. Technically speaking, it’s a part of an electric guitar that converts string vibration in an electrical signal.

By structure, the pickup includes a bar magnet that has wire wrapped around. Almost 7000 turns of fine wire are wrapped in a pickup. The combination of coils and magnets can transform the string vibration in an electrical signal.

Then, the signal goes through an amp or mixer, and finally, you hear through a transducer or speaker. Electric guitar pickups come in three types; single-coil, humbucker, and P90.

  • Single Coil

Single coil pickups are those kinds that use a single magnet. These extend a single magnet under all six strings. They are widely used and do not have any easy to define tone. Single coil pickups are brighter than the other two.

The genres, such as surf and country, mostly use single-coil pickups. However, it sounds excellent in any genre. The Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster use a single-coil pickup, though there are more guitars with single-coil pickups.

Anyway, the only issue is that they cannot withstand high distortion levels.

  • Humbucker

When two single-coil pickups are working together, it forms humbucker pickups. It includes two coils along with steel poles that are made of metal slugs and screws. The time it comes in contact with the magnet creates a magnetic field.

In a single-coil pickup, there is about 60 cycle hum. Here background noises also shifted to the amp along with string vibration. While the humbucker pickups have “buck” hum. These produce a warm tone compared to the single-coil pickups.

Probably that’s the reason; guitarist chooses this for jazz. It works excellent in genres where there are high levels of distortions. Though humbucker outperforms single-coil pickup in many genres, they don’t perform well in country and surf.

  • P90

Lastly, P90 pickups are something in between single-coil pickup and humbucker. They provide output better than single-coil pickups but not as humbuckers. It generates the tone somewhat deeper than the single-coil pickup. P90 pickups are versatile, and they suit blues and rock.electric guitar pickups

Functions of Electric Guitar Pickups

Electric guitar pickups function relies on magnetism. We can say, it’s an inductive sensor that sits below the ferromagnetic string. Earlier, we mentioned, the electric pickup has a coil wrapped around magnetic pole pieces.

The Coil Mechanism

This coil includes a very thin wire that is wounded around. It uses thin wire so that the coil stays close to the magnet. Since it will likely not carry too much current, so thin wire is not an issue here.

With the number of windings, the voltage across the coil’s end also increases. So, the more loop of wires, the better the pickup works. If there are only 100 turns of wire, this will definitely not work.

Do you even read Faraday’s law? The magnetic field and coil actually act according to Faraday’s law. When the magnetic field in the coil changes, there will be an electrical current in the wire.

The vibration in the steel-string in an electric guitar changes the magnetic field so slightly. However, this small change is good enough to produce a weak current in the coil. An electric guitar pickup works with this in mind.

How Electric Guitar Pickup Works?

When you make a buzz in the string, it starts to vibrate. The vibration then disturbs the magnetic field, which excites the electrons in the coil. After that, the coil wore generates an AC voltage in the form of electric signals.

Then, the signal is being sent to the amplifier. The amplifier boosts the electrical signal and makes it a larger current to transfer to the speaker. Finally, it is pumped to the speaker or transducer that converts the electrical signal into sound. That’s how electric pickup works.

However, there is another perspective on signal generation on pickups. In this perspective, electric guitar’s string itself acts as a magnet. The magnetic field in the pickups generates a magnetic dipole above the pole piece in the string.

The vibration in the string becomes a source of flux. It is actually a magnet that is moving around the coil. Here, the coil act as the receiver of the magnetic flux. The moving magnetized part of the string generates the magnetic flux.

How does a electric guitar pickups really work

What Affects The Outcome Of Electric Guitar Pickups?

The final tone you get through a speaker may not always perfect. There are loads of things that can affect the final result from an electric pickup — for example, coil shape, the number of winds, materials, and magnet strength. The error in any of these will result in unexpected feedbacks.

What Is the Perfect Electric Guitar Pickup?

The perfect pickup, in short, is what gives you the tone you want. You cannot even imagine how dramatically the perfect pickup can improve the sound of any guitar. If your guitar sounds huge in the studio but feeble onstage, it means the pickup is problematic.  

Or if the sustained notes are dried up when you expect better feedback, the pickup is not right. So, you need to change the current pickup in the guitar. Even though your guitar sounds perfect, yet it is worthwhile to try out different pickups. Whichever sound great is the perfect pickup for your guitar.

Final Words

Voila! We are at the end of our article. Now you know how do electric guitar pickups work? We believe there shouldn’t be any confusion. Thus far, all we wanted to say that pickups are the heart of your electric guitar.

Basically, it’s a medium between your hard work and the outcome. So, it deserves the same attention you give to other parts of an electric guitar.

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