The Humbucker. Even the word brings visions of great rock bands and their guitarists. Some of these visions though are misplaced and inaccurate.
The Humbucker was not designed as a pickup to create distortion. It wasn’t first used on a Les Paul. It wasn’t even used at first on a Gibson. Its derivation was much less glamorous, being designed because single coil pickups were notorious for having a ‘hum.’
The ‘hum’ bucker was simply a way of getting rid of it. Much more on that later on.
It is also wrong to assume that all humbuckers sound the same. So, let’s have a look at some of the best Humbucker pickups on the market today and consider the differences. And see which one would be the best fit for your guitar…
- Top 7 Best Humbucker Pickups To Buy In 2021 Reviews
- 1 Gibson ’57 Classic Plus Humbucker Pickup
- 2 EVH Frankenstein Humbucker Pickup
- 3 EMG 85 Active Guitar Humbucker Bridge/Neck Pickup
- 4 Seymour Duncan 11205-02 SHR-1b Hot Rails Strat Guitar Pickup Bridge
- 5 Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader Humbucker Bridge Pickup
- 6 Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker
- 7 DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion Humbucker
- So, You Want To Crank Up The Volume
- What Is Best For You?
- What Are The Options?
- Our Choice
Top 7 Best Humbucker Pickups To Buy In 2021 Reviews
1 Gibson ’57 Classic Plus Humbucker Pickup
As we said in our introduction, not all humbuckers sound the same. This is an attempt at recreating the distinctive sound of a late 1950’s model.
During this period the pickup was made with an extra few turns of wire. This was labeled as being ‘overwound.’ Having those extra turns created extra ‘punch’ to the sound without losing the warm, rich tone it was noted for.
What it does do is allow you to get ‘that’ sound when driven through a tube amp. The output is powerful but balanced with the bottom end not overpowering.
Designed for use in the bridge position, it will drive a sound that those seeking a return to the early humbuckers, will appreciate. It has a classic feel to the sound, almost recognizable in its output that is imposing without being overpowering.
No mass production with this pickup, they are produced to a strict design spec to ensure they sound correct, slightly overwound.
There is very little more we can say about this pickup. When mounted in the bridge position it is the real deal and produces a great sound, reminiscent of the early versions.
The pickups have a nickel cover. One thing that probably ought to be said is that when you check the price make sure you are sitting down. I’ve seen decent guitars that cost less. But if you want ‘that’ Gibson overwound sound then it’s all here and well worth the investment.
2 EVH Frankenstein Humbucker Pickup
Yes, you will guess from the name, that this is a monster of a humbucker.
We will act as devil’s advocate here and just say that we are not sure this pick up is the actual version used by Eddie Van Halen, but whether it is or isn’t, it does create a sound which is remarkably similar to his, especially in his early days.
This is no quiet sit in the corner and play some blues pick up. If you let it, it will blow you off your stool. The bottom end is clear and resonant, the middle powerful and full of what you would expect and the top end sings, with its ability to hit those tonal harmonics and hold them.
It is though, reminiscent of a past era of guitar sounds and some may find that to be negative, but there are things you can do to alter the sound to what using your own effects.
It’s true you are getting a sound, but as with all sounds, they can have subtleties applied.
It is, however, one of the most respected humbuckers on the market and used extensively by all and sundry.
It is not all one application pick up though. Yes, it will deliver those screaming harmonics, assuming you know how to do them, but it will also provide big power chords with a dynamic sound. A powerful pick up dedicated to the early EVH school of rock, it will give you a lot of very powerful options. It is though, not a cheap option if you want a replacement pick up
3 EMG 85 Active Guitar Humbucker Bridge/Neck Pickup
The EMG 85 humbucker is a companion pick up to the well respected EMG 81. The 85 though features quality and versatility in its tone options and can be adapted for many styles of playing.
Not everyone wants to thrash the life out of every solo or chord played, sometimes a moody feel is required with just a little distortion and sustain, and this pick up will give you that option.
It will sound good in either the neck or bridge position.
Delivering a warm sound with a clarity some humbuckers do not offer, but it can also be very powerful when it is driven a little harder. It is not a pick up for just one sound and offers a variety which makes it popular with many players. This variety is assisted by the Alnico magnets loaded in two coils which will give you the power option but also can be played smoother if required. This is a pick up that is not just for heavy metal.
If you are considering a change of pick up but are wary of the practicalities of the change, then EMG has simplified the process making it very easy to install.
They include a conversion kit which includes a quick installation cable and pre-wired volume and tone controls and output jack socket. They also provide a diagram schematic to assist.
This is a humbucker that will give you variety. It can be dirty, but it can give you soft and warmer tones and at a price that is significantly less than pickups of similar quality.
4 Seymour Duncan 11205-02 SHR-1b Hot Rails Strat Guitar Pickup Bridge
In some quarters there was a certain amount of musical snobbishness, almost elitism. Before the advent of some very good alternatives, you were either a Gibson or Fender fan, and the humbucker was the domain of the Gibson, the Les Paul, and SG et al. and Fender, with its Strats and Teles, can leave it alone. Not to be.
The Fender boys wanted a piece of the humbucking action, and the sound that went with it and the ‘fat strat’ was born. Fat not referring to its size but to the thickness of the tones produced.
Seymour Duncan has produced such a pick up designed especially for the Stratocaster.
It is different, being a single coil pick up rather than a twin, so the purist might argue it’s not a humbucker at all, but then just listen to it.
It provides great harmonics and an aggressive sound. Chords are powerful, and it changes your Strat into something else altogether.
I suppose then the question must be asked why would you want to change it into something else? Why did you buy a Strat in the first place? If you want the humbucker sound why not just buy a Gibson?
The answer to that is simple. Some people just prefer playing a Fender. It feels different, and they like it. So why not have its own humbucker?
The Seymour Duncan Hot Rails, in its unconventional way, does that. A heavy distortion if you want it, powerful chords and when you drive the volume it will scream at you.
If you think though, you are buying a Gibson sound to fit on your Strat you’re not. The sound is different, but it still sounds great and is realistically priced. A worthwhile option that will fit neatly on the bridge pick up on your Strat.
5 Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader Humbucker Bridge Pickup
The idea of adding a humbucker is to create a rich, thick, sometimes distorted sound that gives a lot of sustain. This pick up from Seymour Duncan goes a bit further than that.
The SH8 is deliberately overwound and with three magnets, creates a big sound like very few other pickups achieve.
This can be nasty, to say the least. It is powerful and loud, very loud indeed and takes your guitar to a totally different place. Quite simply it is designed and built for overdrive and distortion. It does not take prisoners.
You could argue that it is a one-dimensional pickup, with one purpose and one purpose only and you might be right. But the essence of the SH8 is in your face metal and if that is not what you are looking for you might be disappointed.
However, it does the job it is designed to do brilliantly. It is loud and gives a performance that is what you might expect. The tones are rich and warm when you are pushing it hard, and that is how it is supposed to be used.
It is essentially a bridge pick up, and it is in the position it will perform best. It is a little bass heavy so tone adjustments might have to be made to get the sound you want, but when you’ve found it, sit down and strap in.
Expensive? Not at all. Good value for money if this is the kind of humbucker you want.
6 Seymour Duncan SH13 Dimebucker
Another product from whom some might call the ‘masters of metal.’ The SH13, Dimebucker is another powerful addition to their range.
It has a thick crunching sound full of attack and sustain and makes a whole lot of noise. Not a pick up for the purist we would think.
The SH13 though is a little different in that it can handle rock sounds very well. It is not all sustain and distortion, and there are options for a clearer punchy more conventional sound.
Having said that, metal is what it was made for, and metal is what it does best. And it does do it very well. It was never designed to be sweet on the ears; it was designed to attack them. The bottom end is solid and clear and the high end shrill and screams at you. As with all things, the final adjustments to get that sound will be your own, and it does offer a few options as mentioned.
Once again a pick up that will suit those who want this kind of sound. It will not suit everyone.
Seymour Duncan though has a way of creating just what some players look for, and this pick up does fit the bill. If you want a heavy, crunching sound with lots of drive and sustain then the SH13 is certainly worth considering. It’s not subtle at all, but it’s not supposed to be.
Once again a realistic price makes it good value if this is the sound you are looking for.
7 DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion Humbucker
The famed DP100 from DiMarzio. Was this the first humbucker designed to replace existing units on your guitar?
It arrived in the early seventies like a breath of fresh air. Suddenly the guitar players had options. Fit this to whatever you had, and the difference was amazing, and your guitar took on a whole new identity.
Super Distortion in the name might not be such a good description because that is not all this great little pick up can do. It is not one-dimensional. Yes, it will kick in and drive a hard sound through a tube amp, but it is so much more, offering tones that give you options.
It’s been a popular choice by players since the seventies and was heard on a lot of classic rock songs from that period. The sound still stands up today as a classic.
Its tone is thick and warm and works for both single notes and chords, giving you a powerful, punchy sound that will cut through without shattering the windows.
It is a high output pickup with a great feel to it. It is designed to be used at the bridge and when done so gives a typical hard rock sound that falls just a little short of out and out metal. No bad thing for players who don’t want their pick up to go that far.
It is still a classy pick up with great sounds. Some may say it is a little dated, but we would prefer to call them classic sounds, and with a price that is inexpensive, to say the least, it is great value.
We have reviewed some of the best examples of humbucker pickups currently on the market, but before we let you know more about buying a great pickup and revealing our winner of the best humbucker pickup, let’s just turn the clock back on the humbucker.
Designed initially because single coil pickups produced a hum, the double coil was created to stop or, ‘buck’ the hum. It did just that. Nearly 70 years later if you say humbucker, many people think Les Paul and Gibson, understandable, but they didn’t use it first as a standard pick up. That honor went to Rickenbacker, who installed it on one of their guitars but couldn’t make it work because it distorted, so it was discontinued, and the guitar was withdrawn. No comment. Cue Gibson and the rest is history.
The humbucker revolutionized the guitar, the sounds, created a genre or six and elevated some guitar players to immortals as their use of this simple idea rocked, literally, the music world.
Only you can decide that, but the starting point is just how much distortion, sustain, etc. do you want. We have reviewed units that give you sounds at every level on the humbucker scale. The basic sound of the humbucker has changed so much over the years with new developments that they hardly seem the same thing. But the originals are still around and still sound great.
There are options. As we say, it is really a case of what you want. There are a tremendous amount of varied sounds from some and dedicated sounds from others. Whatever you choose all of the pickups reviewed are quality units — the best humbucker pickups.
Personal of course, but we looked at all the options and then thought about exactly what we would want to do with it. Did we want a pure ‘original’ humbucker sound, of which there are a few options, or did we want to have the guitar scream and pummel the senses?
It was a hard decision because quality is quality, and they all have that in common, whatever price range they fit in. In the end, we decided we wanted that pure humbucking sound that is just legendary.
We, therefore, decided on the
Iconic sound with options, you can drive it hard or lay back a bit, and it still sounds great, it’s the very best, even among the best humbucker pickups.