Gibson guitars get their legendary sound in large part from the humbucker, so it makes sense you’d want to have the best humbucker pickups on the market on your guitar, right?
Buying a stock guitar, especially an entry level guitar, will generally leave you with cheap pickups that have a thin, tinny sound that don’t lend much to the guitar’s overall tone. By upgrading your pickups with something better, you will end up with a more rounded tone that will cut through the mix. You’ll also increase volume and sustain.
In this article we’ll cover our top 4 picks for aftermarket humbuckers, with picks for pros as well as budget conscious people and then dive into what makes a good humbucker in the first place!
Table of Contents
Best Humbucker Pickups
We scoured the hundreds of humbucker pickups to find the best ones, and we have four picks that will improve the sound of your guitar and leave you smiling as you shred through metal, rock, or blues tunes.
Seymour Duncan Vintage Blues Humbucker Pickup Set
The Seymour Duncan Vintage Blues Humbucker Pickup Set is a step down from the EMG set below, but still are top notch quality. They’re more geared towards bluesy tones, which makes them less versatile than the some of the other sets we’ve listed, but still fit the niche of most hard rock and metal players.
Like the EMG’s, they’ve got a push-pull tone knob on each pickup that brings out some piezo-like clang to your notes. They do belong to the PAF family, which means they will have an old-school tonal range, but with a brighter top end and more compression.
The vintage touches on these pickups make them some of my favorites, especially the lack of the logo. If Jazz or Hard Rock are more your style, Seymour Duncan does have options for you as well!
- Perfect for Blues and Jazz
- Vintage Style Sound
- Alnico 5 Magnet
- Push-Pull Tone Control
- Amazing Quality for Price
- Not as Versatile as EMG’s
EMG KFK Kerry King 81/85 Active Guitar Humbucker Pickup Set
EMG is known for their top of the line signature series humbucker pickups , which are also the best in the industry. That said, they’ve also got a humbucker set that will work with virtually any electric guitar and has been hailed as the best entry level pickups.
The KFK set is for hard rock and metal tones, while the 81 is for bluesy sounds and the 85 for dirty thrash metal crunch. The KFK has a bit more of a back end to it, but you can lose some of that with your outboard effects, if need be.
The combination of the 81 and the 85, along with the PA2 gain boost switch make these pickups able to sound amazing, regardless of the genre of music you’re playing. If money isn’t an issue, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better set of pickups than these!
- Kerry King Signature Set
- EMG 81 and 85 Active Pickups
- EMG PA2 Gain Boost Switch
- Solderless System
- Top Notch Quality and Versatility
Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker Ceramic Pickups
Another pro level pickup, the Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker Ceramic Pickup Set will take your sound to the next level and allow you to chop on the fly, no matter how good or bad your gear is.
The pickups feature Ceramic magnets and a proprietary ceramic ferrite core element that produces both high output and extended frequency response. These pickups are made for not just classic rock or metal, but also for a wide range of modern guitar sounds thanks to their components and active pickup setup.
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These are one of the most advanced and innovative pickups on the market today. Powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery pack, you will turn heads with these pickups.
- Alnico Neck, Ceramic Bridge
- Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
- Fluence Core
- Huge Range of Tones
- Hum, Noise and Inductance free Sound
- Bigger than standard Humbuckers
Wilkinson Classic Tone Ceramic PAF Style Humbucker Pickups Set
The Wilkinson pickups have been our choice for budget pickup in each style, so why not humbucker too?! These low profile pickups are perfect for those who want to just put in some mid, but not spend a ton of money.
The Wilkinson Classic Tone Ceramic PAF Style pickups are the closest you can get to the real thing, without shelling out quite as much. You’ll get great sound with high output and good sustain.
As a PAF pickup these will have a vintage sound and feel and might not be for everyone, but are a great option if you are on a budget or just need an upgrade from a poor set of stock humbuckers!
- Classic PAF Style and Sound
- Clean Neck with deep bass sound
- Bridge is extra hot
- Great Value Option
- Ceramic Magnet
- Wiring is weird
Humbucker Pickup Buying Guide
Not everyone wants to just grab what we recommend and we get that, part of the fun of having a guitar is experimenting with different components, sounds, and setups to find what you like most!
With that in mind, here are some things to consider when shopping for the best humbucker pickup for you!
Active vs. Passive
What’s the difference between active and passive pickups? Most humbucker pickups are passive, meaning they don’t need a battery to work. A passive bridge pickup gives you a fuller, more robust sound and generally has a warmer tone.
Passive pickups are also easier to repair and can be retrofitted with electronics for newer models.
Active pickups, on the other hand, use an internal preamp that will boost the signal from the guitar to make it more powerful. Active neck and middle pickup models offer more versatility, but require additional electronics like a preamp or perhaps an effects pedal.
It is common to find one of the Alnico mixtures in humbucker pickups, although ceramics have gain popularity recently. The standard is Alnico V, which offers a clean and clear sound although Alnico 2s are still commonly used for a warmer sound, especially on pickups going for a vintage sound.
Ceramic magnets are considered to be brighter and more aggressive sounding than Alnico magnets. They are also more responsive and permit a wider variety of bends. Ceramic magnets also tend to produce a brighter upper range than Alnico models. Maybe the best part, these tend to be less expensive than Alnico so many budget models will use them.
Set or Individual
All of our picks for the best humbucker pickups are sets, but you can buy them individually as well. Individual models are often chosen by people who want to experiment with different pickup types, combinations and sounds.
Selecting individual pickups is a skill to leave to advanced players, so intermediates and beginners should focus on improving, not the nuances that come from pickups!
The Final Note
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and have found it helpful in your search for the best humbucker pickups. Whether you’re a beginner, pro or someone who just wants to experiment, we have a style for you!
Last update on 2021-07-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API