What Are Electric Guitar Pickups & How Do They Work?

By its appearance, the guitar doesn't look like a complex instrument. You strum the strings and get the sound. But, there are a lot of things at play that gives guitars their unique sound.

A guitar's pickups are one of the most critical parts of the instrument. But, do you know what they do or even know where on the guitar they are? Read on to learn more about how the pickups affect the tone of your guitar.

What Are the Pickups on an Electric Guitar?

If you're just starting to learn the electric guitar, there may be some parts of the instrument you're not familiar with. The pickups are one part of the guitar that not every musician understands.

The pickups are the bar-shaped mechanism under the strings of an electric guitar. Along with the tonewood used to make your guitar and its build, the pickups are one of the most critical parts of the guitar when it comes to its tone.

There are two main types of pickups:

  • Single Coil Pickups: This type is simply a single magnet wrapped with a copper wire. Single coil pickups give your guitar a brighter tone.
  • Humbucker Pickups: Humbucker pickups have two magnets wrapped with copper wire, positioned right next to each other. This type gives a more powerful sound by removing some of the humming sounds, giving it its name.

In addition to these two types, pickups can be either passive or active. Passive pickups are the more common of the two, but the main difference is the number of coils. Active pickups will use fewer coils around the magnet. Active pickups also rely on a preamp, powered by a battery, to work.

You can also change the pickups — the ones that are on your guitar when you buy it aren't permanent. Now that you know where the pickups are and what their basic structure is, we'll discuss what the pickups do on an electric guitar.

 How Does an Electric Guitar Pickup Work?

Like we mentioned above, pickups are made from magnets and a wire coil. They work because of magnetism, which creates a field around the pickup.

When the strings are plucked or strummed, the field around the pickup moves. The pickup hears that vibration — or picks it up, which gave the piece its name — and turns it into an electric signal. That signal moves through an amplifier and is pushed out of a speaker. Then, the speaker and amplifier translate those electrical signals to us as music.

Basically, the pickups act as receivers and transmitters on your guitar. They pick up the vibrations from the strings and change those vibrations into something we can understand.

Understanding the science behind your pickups won't make you a better player right off the bat, but they help you better understand your instrument overall. When you know what affects your tone, it gives you the power to make adjustments to make the exact sound that you're looking for.

Shop our large selection of Supro Electric Amps and Electric Guitars online.  To learn more about pickups on an electric guitar, stop by one of our two locations in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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