You probably have some idea of the type of music you want to play, so it’s worthwhile to take a moment and consider how various components of a guitar shape its tone. In this regard, it’s important to know how different types and combinations of pickups can impact the tone of your beginner’s electric guitar.

What is a Guitar Pick Up?

In the simplest terms, pickups are magnets. But, unlike the magnets on your refrigerator, the pickups in your guitar are finely tuned to capture the magnetic fluctuation created by your strings. As the guitar strings vibrate at different frequencies, the different fluctuations created will be translated into electronic signals and passed from the pickups on your starter guitar to your amplifier; which will then translate the electronic signal into audio that you can hear. Many factors, from the type of pickup to where on the body of your starter guitar it’s located, can affect the sound.

Fortunately, it’s not absolutely necessary to understand the science behind a pickup. Instead, when looking for a starter guitar we can simply examine how the various types and combinations of pickups sound in order to make an informed choice.

Types of Guitar Pickups

Single coil – A single coil is considered the most common type of pickup and is found on many starter guitars. Although it’s possible to get a wide range of tones from any type of pickup, the single coil is best known for its ability to produce a bright and clear tone.

The classic Fender Telecaster, for example, uses two single coil pickups spaced out across the guitar’s body to produce everything from warm, mellow tones to exaggerated twangy sounds. The Telecaster quickly became a favorite for musicians playing everything from country music, to blues, to rock. Some famous Telecaster players include Bruce Springsteen, Danny Gatton and Joe Strummer.

If you’re looking for the classic Telecaster sound, then the Squier Affinity Tele Electric Guitar is a great starter guitar. With two single coil pickups strategically placed along the body of the guitar, you’ll be able to play with stunning clarity and bright tones on your beginner’s electric guitar.

Humbucker – The humbucker is considered to be a more powerful pickup, and can also be found on a wide variety of starter guitars. These pickups rely on two magnetic coils in order to capture the electric currents created by the guitar strings. The coils are wound to cancel out unexpected noise or hum that can sometimes be captured by single coil pickups; hence the name Humbucker. The sound of these pickups is usually described as rich and deep.

Classic Gibson Les Pauls typically use two sets of humbucker pickups to create the vibrant, warm sound associated with these guitars. The Les Paul has been used by popular musicians for decades now, including Jeff Beck, Bob Marley, Keith Richards and Carlos Santana.

The Ibanez GRX20 Electric Guitar has a similar pickup configuration to the Les Paul and makes an excellent starter guitar. With one humbucker near the neck of the guitar and another near the bridge, the Ibanez GRX20 allows for anything from deep and colorful to bright and warm tones. Plus, the onboard controls let you switch between the two pickups to further define your sound.

Mixed pickups – Some guitars rely on a combination of single coil and humbucker pickups to get their specific sound. A Starter guitar that offers a combination of pickups will often provide the widest range of possible tones. However, just as important as the pickup configuration on your starter guitar are the controls that come with it. Some starter guitars will allow you to adjust the volume between multiple pickups, and some will even give you the ability to tweak your sound through an onboard equalizer.

For example, the Brownsville LC33 Electric Guitar has a combination of two humbuckers and one single coil pickup (referred to by some aficionados as an H-S-H configuration). With the single coil pickup in the middle of the body, and the two humbucker pickups on either side, the Brownsville LC33 is designed to produce a wide range of rich and vibrant tonal possibilities, making it an all around great starter guitar.

When considering the pickup configuration that you want for your guitar, first consider the sound and play style that you want to have. Many new players like single coil pickups because their clear and bright sound makes hearing oneself easier while practicing. Other beginners like humbucker pickups because of their ability to reduce background noise and for their thick sounding tone. Still others choose a combination of the two for their starter guitar in order to maximize their tone options and find a sound that is unique to them. Remember, every element of a guitar contributes to its overall sound, and the pickups you choose are only one piece to the puzzle.