Want some recommendations for choosing a pickup?

Well, I’m not your guy.

Sorry to get all negative right from the start but I often get asked to advise on pickup choice and my answer (now) is always a friendly no.


Looking for help choosing a pickup to get that tone you want? Sorry…


I’ll happily discuss my experience of whether or not your choice is a well-built pickup that’s likely to be reliable, but no tone advice.

You’re looking for a warm and jazzy feel in the neck? Great. You should do some research on that and see what you can find.

You want something that keeps definition in chords and cuts in a mix? Fantastic. You should definitely do some research on that and see what you can find.

My ears and brain are different to your ears and brain. My warm and jazzy might not be the same as your warm and jazzy, even before we put it in your guitar and play it with your fingers, though your amp and effects.

It’s all too personal. Too subjective.

I can’t give tone advice beyond the generic. I can tell you that an AlNiCo V magnet can tend to have a bit more bite and tightness that an AlNiCo II. But then I’ll temper that advice by telling you that wire gauge, winding methods, the number of turns, and a dozen other things will impact that pickup’s tone as well as the magnet.

In short, there are too many pickups, pickup variables, and ears and brains for anyone to reliably advise.

The good news

Turns out there’s this “internet” thing. It makes it really easy to get a much better feel for whether a pickup is right for you. YouTube is full of players showing off their new AlnicoSuperBuckers. Loads of them even record a before and after.

And pickup manufacturer’s web sites are usually really helpful these days. Not only can you get little diagrams showing the relative lows/mids/highs but you can often get clean and dirty sound samples too.

It’s a golden age for the intrepid pickup-buyer. Go… Google your way to a new pickup.

The even better news

There’s still a risk, though, isn’t there? What if you get the damn pickup installed and you don’t like it? Gah! What a waste of your hard-earned cash.

Not necessarily.

Heaps of pickup manufacturers will take it back.


Pickup companies often offer return polices. And not just for this-doesn’t-work problems. If you don’t like the sound of a pickup, you can return it.

How great is that?

The makers are pretty cool about it, too. They know the pickup will have been installed in a guitar or bass and that it’ll have been soldered in, and that’s all cool.

They’ll still take returns.

Obviously, they have to be reasonable, so don’t go cutting the cable down too much or doing anything that will damage the pickup. Other than that… Buy it, try it, return it if you don’t like it.

You might have to pony up for shipping but that’s not too bad a price to pay for a mostly risk-free buying/trying experience.

The small print

You’ll want to check that your preferred pickup maker offers returns and make sure you follow any rules (for instance, you should purchase from authorised dealers). Different companies have different trying-out times too, so make sure you don’t leave it too late.

As an example, you scan read the return conditions for Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, and Bare Knuckle.

They’re all pretty fair.

The bottom line

Going through the right channels makes pickup buying much less risky these days. Researching before a purchase, and really good after-sales and return services make it easier to find what’s right for you.

Trust me; it’s safer than asking some guy who doesn’t have your ears and brain.