Best single coil pickups 2023: our pick of modern and retro p'ups


HomeHome / News / Best single coil pickups 2023: our pick of modern and retro p'ups

Aug 27, 2023

Best single coil pickups 2023: our pick of modern and retro p'ups

From Fender Telecaster twang to Gibson P-90 bite, we’ve compiled our pick of the best aftermarket single coils your money can buy right now There are many different reasons you might be considering a

From Fender Telecaster twang to Gibson P-90 bite, we’ve compiled our pick of the best aftermarket single coils your money can buy right now

There are many different reasons you might be considering a new set of single coils for your guitar: maybe you want to breathe new life into your guitar's tone? Perhaps you appreciate a single coil’s note articulation but need a bit more punch, or it could be that you’re looking for the best single coil pickups to hot rod that project guitar.

Either way, you’ll be happy to hear that there is a massive selection of aftermarket single coils to suit all kinds of player. If you’re a vintage-tone seeker, heavy metal chugger or a shoegazing alternate tuner, brands like Bare Knuckle, DiMarzio and Fishman have an overwhelming number of options that will get you closer to the tone in your head.

A staple in the industry since the electric guitar’s inception, the single coil pickup is more popular than ever. Largely owing its success to its versatility and unmistakable clarity, the single coil is present across a huge span of genres; from indie pop to funk and beyond.

In this guide, we explore options that will appeal to all tastes. Whether you dig Chic-sounding Nile Rodgers funk, face-melting J-Mascis fuzz or twinkling Midwest emo American Football style, there will be a single coil on our list that suits your modus operandi. Everything included on our list is currently available on the market, so don’t expect to see a set of original ‘63 Strat pickups here because, after all, who could afford them? Let's dive in...

Looking for epic guitar bargains? We're tracking all of this year's biggest savings over on our Black Friday guitar deals page.

Since choosing an electric guitar pickup is largely personal taste it can be tricky whittling the choice down to the best one. However, if we had to, it would be the Fender Hot Noiseless Strat single coil set.

While they may deliver the Strat’s iconic note articulation and bright spank, this set is a lot hotter and has a much punchier output than a stock set of Strat pickups. Ideal for the player who is looking for versatility across a wide range of genres. Fender’s noiseless technology means waving goodbye to that pesky 60-cycle hum that has plagued single coil pickups since their inception. This allows you to crank the gain as much as you like without sounding like a chainsaw.

If you prefer something a bit more raw, the Gibson P-90 single coil pickup is a traditional option based on an original design. Taking inspiration from their design of the mid-40s, the P-90 offers a spikey vintage tone that will cut through any studio or live situation.

Our expert review:

Any hard rock guitarist who has plugged a Stratocaster into an amplifier and punched on an overdrive pedal will be familiar with 60-cycle hum. It is a problem that has often dissuaded overdrive-loving players away from the trusty Strat. However, Fender has created the solution, the Hot Noiseless Stratocaster pickup.

But how does Fender eliminate that infuriating hum? Magic? Witchcraft? Not quite. The Californian guitar giants took inspiration from the physics of a humbucker. The hum you hear in a single coil is electromagnetic interference which is attracted to your pickup thanks to their inductance magnets and copper coils. To eliminate that interference you can introduce another coil wound in the opposite direction, making them electrically out of phase and cancelling that hum.

The boffins over at Fender realized this and introduced another coil stacked underneath the top coil in a Stratocaster pickup and hey presto, the Noiseless Pickup was created.

The Hot Noiseless Stratocaster pickups are overwound and have ceramic magnets, producing a much punchier bite than a standard set. Ceramic magnets are strong inductors, so if you have been struggling with note articulation through your collection of 4 stacked overdrive pedals, these pups will keep things crisp and help retain clarity.

Each pickup in this set has a DC resistance of 10.4k – a standard set of Strat pickups’ is usually around 6k – which will push your tube amp into the realm of overdrive very easily. The bridge pickup screams for attention and is perfect for hard rock, electric blues and metal thanks to its bite and clarity. Rest assured, they also sound great for clean tones and their midrange chirp is reassuringly Strat-like. Overall these pickups are a great all-rounder and will be a brilliant option if you’re looking to turbocharge your single coil tone.

Our expert review:

Seymour Duncan is no stranger to the world of pickups. Founded by luthier Seymour W. Duncan in 1976, the company produced signature pickups for guitar royalty like Dimebag Darrell. Seymour Duncan is best known for their high output humbucker pickups, but the Phat Cat P-90 set is a little different.

These P-90s are humbucker sized so you can fit them in a humbucker-routed guitar. If you are looking to achieve an authentic single coil tone in your Gibson Les Paul you can do so. Be warned, due to their bigger chassis they will not fit into a single coil routed guitar, you’ll need another set of P-90s for that job. The Phat Cat delivers that authentic P-90 growl and in our opinion has more bite than a traditional Gibson P-90.

Thanks to the Alnico II magnets inside, the pickups have a very thick tone since they sit so prominently in the midrange and will cut through a mix or a band scenario with ease. Alnico II magnets are usually described as producing a ‘vintage’ sound and the Phat Cat is no exception. The low frequencies are less tight than a modern pickup and have a loose bass response that produces a vintage tone to our ears.

The Phat Cats are a lot less shrill and snappy than a Fender single coil so if you’re looking for something a bit warmer you should certainly consider these. Although they give you more oomph than a standard single coil they still clean up very well. We found the neck pickup through a clean amp to be very rounded and smooth with a lovely bloom as the note decays.

The neck pickup has a reverse wind from the bridge resulting in a reverse polarity, so don’t be afraid to get dirty with these P-90s as they are completely hum-free. Looking to ‘phatten’ up your tone? These cats have an excellent purr.

Our expert review:

Have you ever wondered how David Gilmour manages to get his iconic tone and note sustain on legendary solos? Although a lot has to be said for the guitarist’s talent, the Seymour Duncan SSL-5 Custom Staggered pickups certainly assist. These pups were implemented on Gilmour’s black Strat in the late 1980s and the Pink Floyd man has used an SSL-5 religiously since then.

The SSL-5 is an overwound single coil pickup and as a result, has much more output than a standard Fender single coil. This helps Gilmour achieve beautiful note sustain and some extra zip when he needs it during his many virtuosic solos. Since Pink Floyd’s music is so dynamic, the SSL-5 needed to be versatile, therefore if you back off the volume ever so slightly the pickups are mellow and responsive.

The increased winding on this pickup sounds incredibly full and striking big chords will put a smile on any guitarist’s face. Although very full sounding, there is still plenty of single coil zing and note articulation remains constant and present no matter how many pedals you throw at it.

The pole pieces in this pickup are staggered, meaning they protrude at different lengths. This helps balance the output but works particularly well on a vintage fingerboard radius – 7.25” – but isn’t ideal on a modern radius – 10”, 12”, 14” – so bear that in mind if you’re considering this pickup for your axe.

Our expert review:

If you are a Telecaster fan, let us introduce you to MojoTone. Far from being new kids on the block, MojoTone has been operating for over two decades out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Better known for its vintage amp restoration, the small company entered the world of pickup construction with a bang. If nothing appeases your appetite like a vintage Telecaster’s twang, this set of ‘52 Quiet Coil Telecaster pickups will be to your taste.

Based on the most revered Telecaster Fender ever produced – the ‘52 Telecaster – this pickup set provides a pure vintage tone as authentically as possible. MojoTone has achieved this by using period-accurate materials like black fiberboard bobbins, 42 and 43-gauge coil wiring and waxed cloth-covered leads. Perfect if you’re a Telecaster traditionalist.

Pairing vintage appointments and low-gauss Alnico V magnets have resulted in a glassy top end with a tight bass response and a sharp attack. These pickups could have easily come from 1950s Fullerton, California for all we know. The Tele’s single coil twang and sparkle are present and warmly familiar. MojoTone has gone to great lengths to provide the most dynamic response possible and these pickups respond very sensitively to your touch.

MojoTone approaches noiseless pickups a little differently. Instead of using stacked coils like Fender, they manage to eliminate 60-cycle hum by utilizing side-by-side coils. Keeping their Quiet Coil pickups passive and not having to stack coils really preserves a vintage tone and it's great to see a company doing things differently. However, with a DC resistance of 6.7k at the neck and 7.5k in the bridge we don’t recommend this for the player who wants a high output punch.

Our expert review:

Hand-wound in the USA, this Lollar J-Master pickup set has taken inspiration from a vintage Jazzmaster. The pickups are based on Jason Lollar’s personal ‘59 Jazzmaster and you can certainly hear that venerated Jazzmaster jangle and straightforward bell chime within the pickups. However, there are a few modern twists.

Instead of using traditional Alnico II magnets, Lollar decided to use modern Alnico V magnets. As a result, the midrange content in the Lollar pickups is even more pronounced and very attacking compared to vintage Jazzmaster pickups.

Lollar has done a great job at balancing the frequencies and although the pickups retain a bright sparkle they are much beefier. If you have ever considered a Jazzmaster’s pickups to lack definition in the low frequencies, these will settle that gripe.

Lollar’s bridge pickup deviates most drastically from a vintage Jazzmaster. It is overwound and has a higher output with a DC resistance of 8.8k. To put that into context, a standard Jazzmaster bridge pickup usually measures in at around 6.5k. The punchier bridge pickup is not a million miles away from a P-90 and we think this modern appointment will make a versatile guitar even better.

Our expert review:

We mentioned earlier that we will not be including a set of original ‘63 Strat pickups, however, this set from Bare Knuckle pickups will get you darn close.

Coming out of the UK, Bare Knuckle Pickups has released a collection of single coils which are based on the most sought-after era of Fender guitars. As part of Bare Knuckle’s ‘PAT Pend’ series, this set of single coil pickups is based on a 1963 Stratocasters’, and boy do they sound good.

In 1963, Fender changed their ‘slab’ fingerboard construction to a thinner veneer board in an attempt to save rosewood. An outcome of this design change was a slightly brighter tone, so to compensate, Fender increased the output of their pickups for more body and bottom end.

Bare Knuckle decided to go with a vintage correct 42-gauge heavy Formvar coil wire resulting in a fantastic-sounding warm pickup with a rich articulated timbre. Although quite prominent, the heavy Formvar results in a loose low end which fills much of the lower frequency spectrum. However, the more you increase the tone, the more vintage spank you’ll begin to hear. The bell-like high end is never a million miles away.

For all of their PAT Pend Series products, Bare Knuckle have scatter-wound their pickups which is a more human approach to hand-wiring. This does mean that each pickup will be slightly different from the rest, offering unique individuality for every set created. Although tonal differences will be quite small, you can be pleased that the extra expense has earned you a unique item for your guitar. After all, guitar players love being unique.

Our expert review:

Fishman has released a super unique single coil pickup in their coveted Fluence range. The Multi Voice Single Width Strat pickup is constructed differently from a traditional coiled pickup. Although there is still a magnet at the core – in this case, an Alnico IV magnet – rather than copper winds surrounding it, there are thinly stacked layers of printed circuit board.

Although we can hear the pickup traditionalists squirm, it does come with a few handy benefits. Firstly, the printed circuit board is a lot more stable than copper wiring and will give you consistency without any hum. Secondly, it has allowed Fishman to implement two different voices within these pickups. That’s right, two for the price of one. Changed by a push-pull pot, the two voicings on offer are a sweet vintage tone and a beefy hot Texas tone.

The vintage tone delivers where it needs to, a bell-like warmth that is tremendously clear and sounds very classic Stratocaster. The hot Texas tone is a lot more aggressive and Fishman is trying to emulate an overwound snarling Stevie Ray Vaughan style.

The obvious detriment to these pickups is the battery life. They are quite power-hungry and you will have to make sure you don’t leave your guitar plugged in otherwise it’ll drain the battery. Fishman claims that the battery has over 250 hours of playing in them, which may sound like a long time, but in real-life situations this might get away from you. Overall, these are very unique and versatile pickups and those trailblazing guitarists will enjoy what Fishman is doing. Keep scrolling traditionalists.

Our expert review:

The P-90 was one of the first mass-produced single coils when Gibson released it in 1946. Gaining favor with guitarists across a wide range of genres, the P-90 provided plenty of variety across the frequency spectrum with a pronounced bass, clear highs, and a stinging midrange. Today, Gibson is replicating their popular pickup at a surprisingly affordable price.

Single coil pickups are often critiqued for their lack of oomph, whereas humbuckers are viewed as being murky at times. What we love about Gibson P-90s is that they offer the best of both worlds without the shortcomings.

The coils under this P-90s hood are quite chunky, with a muscular winding, making it capable of a meaty output. However, being a single coil there is still a large frequency response and the notes are surprisingly eloquent, even when driven. So if you’re struggling to decide between Fender-style single coils or humbuckers for your next pickup upgrade, the P-90 may be the answer.

This P-90s midrange is very driven. It attacks the amp head-on and sounds great when you are getting into overdriven territories. It is super responsive and will react very succinctly to your volume and tone knobs, allowing you to sculpt the sound as you like. The breadth of genres that you can play with this pickup is admirable and it will suit a session musician to a T.

However, since this P-90 is a single coil you will experience some hum and buzzing when kicking things into overdrive. If you use distortion pedals be aware this P-90 will remind you there are no reverse polarity coils to buck that hum. Let it inspire you, it does add a little bit of mojo.

Our expert review:

If you’re unhappy with the neck pickup in your Telecaster, TV Jones has the solution. A Telecaster’s bridge pickup has that characteristic Tele Twang and in comparison, the neck pickup can feel a bit anaemic. Well, that’s if you’re not using the TV Jones Starwood neck pickup.

Best known for their vintage-style Filtr’ Tron pickups on high-end Gretsch, TV Jones has expanded their scope into the world of single coils. The result is the Starwood series which is their attempt to improve on infamous pickups, TV Jones style. We will say one thing, they have certainly hit the mark.

Thanks to the oversized pole pieces and the T-Armond magnets, this neck pickup produces a macho sound. A common annoyance of the Telecaster’s neck pickup is the lack of bass and TV Jones has seriously improved the low end without making it muddy. Similarly with the high-end sparkle, it is much more present without becoming too shrill. They have successfully retained everything we love about the Telecaster and made it more ‘boutique’, for lack of a better term.

The pickup is drop-in and play, so you won’t have to complete any modifications on your current Telecaster to get it up and running. If pickup modification frightens you, fear not, this is a relatively simple setup. Currently, you have to purchase the Starwood bridge pickup separately as they don’t come in a set. This is a minor inconvenience for a fantastic Tele upgrade we know you’ll love.

Our expert review:

The Lone Star state has gifted us with many fabulous blues guitarists: T-Bone Walker, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Albert Collins, and of course, Stevie Ray Vaughan. If you are after that famed Texan sound, Fender’s Texas Specials is the pinnacle of that tone.

There are few pickups out there that will sound better through a Marshall Bluesbreaker than the Texas Specials. The pickups have been overwound for that extra punch and are very pronounced in the midrange, driving a tube amp with these pups is a breeze.

If you’re wanting a bit of attention in the mix, flick the selector switch to your bridge pickup and the screaming high frequencies will turn a few heads. Be warned, however, they can be a little tricky to control and the high end may be too overbearing for some.

The middle pickup is reverse wound meaning you don’t get any hum in positions 2 and 4, which is a relief considering they come alive with heaps of overdrive. They also clean up very well and easing off the treble with the tone knob will activate a tantalizing bell-like chime that has a rather woody character. In conclusion, the Texas Specials will offer you a versatile upgrade that can be as aggressive as you need for those bluesy Texan tones.

Although most guitarists can quickly identify a single coil pickup, fewer will be able to tell you its construction. Acknowledging how a single coil is constructed will make it easier to understand what influences the tonal differences between different pickups.

Generally speaking, a pickup is made from 2 things; transducer magnets and copper coils. The transducer magnets create a magnetic field and when you hit a guitar string it disturbs that magnetic field, moving it up and down. The moving magnetic field then induces a current in the copper coil and that current travels through a series of wires to your amplifier and, bang, you have just made a sound.

Single coils are so-called as there is only one copper coil in the pickup, as opposed to two coils like a humbucker. Overwound coils can produce more output as the current it induces is stronger. So, when guitarists talk of overwound pickups, it specifically relates to how many times the copper coil has been wound around the transducer magnet.

The strength of magnets will also affect how the pickups react. Single coil pickups most commonly use Alnico magnets which are a blend of aluminium, nickel, and cobalt. They tend to be on the weaker side creating a lower output. Pickups that are designed to have a meatier output often utilize ceramic magnets, which are a lot harsher and louder. So bear this in mind when choosing your next pickup.

Single coils are usually most at home playing rock, blues, indie, pop, funk, and emo. These genres of music tend to be more dynamic than heavier styles like metal. Since single coils are very articulate, bright and crisp they work well with softer genres of music that use less distortion.

Since single coils are susceptible to 60-cycle hum, which is made ten times worse when distorted, so most metal players will use humbuckers. Humbuckers cancel hum by having reverse polarity coils, meaning they don’t buzz under high-gain situations.

However, this is not a hard and fast rule and there have been numerous heavy metal players to embrace the single coil like Dave Murray, Ritchie Blackmore, and Yngwie Malmsteen. Of course, Jimi Hendrix wasn’t afraid of 60-cycle hum when kicking on his fuzz face, so if it works for him it will work for you.

Although there are many things to love about single coils there can be a few drawbacks depending on your playing style. 60-cycle hum is the immediate disadvantage that springs to mind. This hum you hear through single coils when plugged into an amplifier is electrical interference.

The magnets in a single coil act as an antenna and can pick up interference from unexpected things like lights, amplifiers and sound, basically anything electrical you can find in a gig venue. This also makes single coils susceptible to feedback. Although some players love utilizing feedback, it can get a bit frustrating if it's unintentional.

Some may find that single coils are too thin or harsh for their tastes preferring to go for the thicker sound of a humbucker. If you want a beefier sound and need a much higher output, then you may view the single coil’s bright chime and relatively low output as a disadvantage.

You can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing guitar products so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

P-90s are sometimes mistaken as a humbucker because of their higher output and pronounced growl but this is not the case. Like the pickups you traditionally find on a Stratocaster or Telecaster, the P-90 is also a single coil. So what makes them different? How does a P-90 have more output than its single coil brethren?

The answer to both of those questions lies in the P-90s construction. Unlike the Stratocaster pickup, the P-90 traditionally has two stronger bar magnets for induction instead of 6 magnetic pole pieces. The bar magnets are housed underneath the copper coil and in a P-90 the coil is larger, with 10,000 turns of wire instead of around 8,000. Although larger, there still is only one coil in a P-90, hence making it a single coil.

A larger coil with more copper results in a higher inductance and more output, thus making the P-90 louder than a Strat-style single coil. A P-90 also uses screw pole pieces, which are useful as you can individually adjust their height if you need to balance the output. The P-90 has a much wider but shorter bobbin than traditional Fender single coils making them a lot chunkier in appearance.

Here at Guitar World, we are experts in our field, with many years of playing, creating and product testing between us. We live and breathe everything guitar related, and we draw on this knowledge and experience of using products in live, recording and rehearsal scenarios when selecting the products for our guides.

When choosing what we believe to be the best single coil pickups available right now, we combine our hands-on experience, user reviews and testimonies and engage in lengthy discussions with our editorial colleagues to reach a consensus about the top products in any given category.

First and foremost, we are guitar players, and we want other players to find the right product for them. So we take into careful consideration everything from budget to feature set, ease of use and durability to come up with a list of what we can safely say are the best single coil pickups on the market right now.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

All the latest guitar news, interviews, lessons, reviews, deals and more, direct to your inbox!

Ross has been a music lover and guitar player since the age of 8. He has spent the five years since graduating from university working in music retail, selling guitars, amps and more. Ross is particularly interested in electric guitars, pedals and amplifiers and his current rig includes a trusty 2009 American Standard Stratocaster and Vox AC30S1 with a few Walrus Audio and Way Huge pedals in between.

“I hadn’t played bass to any great degree before I tried out for Oasis. When I was invited to come out and got on the plane, I didn’t have a bass”: Andy Bell looks back on crafting Ride’s mind-expanding shoegaze sound and playing in Britpop’s biggest band

Used by everyone from Kurt Cobain to Ace Frehley, the DiMarzio Super Distortion pickup changed the sound of rock – and the future of electric guitar tone

"Stick to the pick!" Kirk Fletcher's blues masterclass

By Jamie Dickson11 October 2023

By Ellie Rogers11 October 2023

By Andrew Daly11 October 2023

By Alex Lynham10 October 2023

By Jon Wiederhorn10 October 2023

By Ellie Rogers10 October 2023

By Justin Sandercoe10 October 2023

By Andrew Daly9 October 2023

By Alison Richter9 October 2023

By Andrew Daly9 October 2023

By Jenna Scaramanga9 October 2023

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**Join now for unlimited accessThank you for reading 5 articles this month**Join now for unlimited accessThank you for reading 5 articles this month**Join now for unlimited accessThank you for reading 5 articles this month**Join now for unlimited accessThank you for reading 5 articles this month**Join now for unlimited accessThank you for reading 5 articles this month**Join now for unlimited accessSign in hereSign in here