7 Surprising Benefits of a Single Pickup Guitar


surprising benefits of a single pickup guitar

The world of guitar players is divided into two camps regarding the number of pickups you need on your guitar. Some prefer guitars with two or even three pickups, while others swear that single pickup guitars can work miracles. This is quite an interesting topic and an important consideration when choosing the right guitar for your playing style, music genre, and other individual-specific factors.

Here are seven surprising benefits of a single pickup guitar: 

  1. They are easier to use.
  2. They’re more affordable.
  3. They encourage creativity.
  4. They make less noise.
  5. They have a brighter sound.
  6. They look cool.
  7. They sound unique.

In the rest of this article, I’ll cover the above benefits of a single pickup guitar in greater detail to help you determine whether this guitar type is ideal for you. I’ll also explain whether these guitars have weaknesses to inform your guitar choice, so stick around for the long haul. Let’s diver right it.

surprising benefits of a single pickup guitar

1. They Are Easier To Use

The main benefit of single pickup guitars is that they are very simple to use. You can just take one, plug it in, and start playing it almost immediately. This simplicity is granted by the relative simplicity of this guitar’s build. Since there is only one magnet, there are fewer knobs to adjust, so you’ll spend less time fiddling with that and more time playing. 

If there’s only one pickup, that also means that you can tailor the rest of your guitar for it and have more control over your sound. If there are more pickups on the guitar, that might mean that there’s more versatility, but it also means that there are more variables to account for when setting up your amp and pedals. 

In contrast, if there is only one pickup, you can adjust the tone and volume and then focus solely on your pedals and amp settings. You’ll only be worrying about the effect of all the changes on one pickup (not two or three), which will make everything much easier to set up and grant you more time for playing. 

What’s best, this does not mean that you’ll be limited sonically. While you could pull more variety from a guitar with more than one pickup than a single pickup guitar, you can still do so many things with a single pickup guitar. This is partly due to the ease of setting up this guitar type and adjusting your amp.

Chances are, your favorite rock tunes were recorded on single pickup guitars or only using the bridge pickup. Single pickup guitars worked very well for guitar legends such as Keith Richards and Phil-X, so it’s obvious that you can use one to work magic as long as you adapt to it. 

2. They Are More Affordable

Despite being hailed as top-notch guitars today, many single pickup guitars 一 such as the Gibson Junior 一 were initially created as budget-friendly options for beginners and students. This tradition of single pickup guitars has persisted until today, so a single pickup guitar will often be a more affordable option.

Single pickup guitars are typically more affordable due to their simplicity. Since there is only one pickup, there is less wiring and fewer knobs, which means that less material and time have to be invested in the making of a single pickup guitar. 

single pickup guitar affordable

Additionally, the amount of money you have to invest in the maintenance of a single pickup guitar is much lower than what you have to invest in a multiple pickup guitar. Again, this is simply because there is less stuff to buy. 

Buying one pickup instead of two or three is typically cheaper unless you compare something exquisitely high-end to an extremely budget-friendly option. You will also have to invest less in replacement wires, knobs, etc., for the same reason. 

There are, of course, some super high-end single pickup guitars that cost an arm and a leg, but you don’t have to opt for those. Most of the time, it’s more affordable to go with a single pickup guitar.

3. They Encourage Creativity

Single pickup guitars might seem less sonically versatile because of the lower number of pickups. This is true to an extent, at least in the way most guitarists are used to playing — by relying on the tone and volume knobs to adjust the tone. The lack of that option on a single pickup guitar may seem like a limiting factor, but it is safe to say that it will encourage you to be creative in different ways. 

Not being able to play around with the knobs will make you use your picking hand much more and in different ways than before to get the sound you want. This will force you to develop new techniques and playing methods to get the textures, timbre, and versatility you wish to achieve. 

The lack of a neck pickup will also allow your hand to move freely and explore the parts of the guitar you haven’t explored so far, adding to the creativity. Many players are big fans of this and claim it provides a better playing experience. This is partly why single pickups are still quite popular despite the domination of guitars with two pickups. 

Sometimes, you may accidentally hit one of your pickups with the pick. This can be extremely annoying and might force you to start recording again. That almost never happens with a single pickup guitar. There are fewer pickups to hit, which further increases the number of options you have when strumming. 

So even though there are fewer options, this limitation will allow you to explore new things and become a more creative guitarist. You will still be able to produce a bunch of different sounds and create amazing music with just a little bit of effort. 

4. They Make Less Noise

If a mechanism or a piece of gear is more complex, there are higher chances of something going wrong. In guitars, that means higher chances of interference and, thus, noise. On the other hand, a simpler guitar build means that there are fewer things to go wrong and start causing noise problems.

If you’re annoyed by random noise and buzzing, switching to a single pickup guitar can go a long way to help reduce interference and noise. This is not to say that two-pickup guitars and three-pickup guitars will necessarily cause problems; there’s just more to go wrong with them. 

While you can offset noise and the annoying buzz from your guitar by making a Faraday cage for the pickups and circuitry, it’s best to avoid these problems altogether and play it safe by getting a single pickup guitar. The differences may not be perceptible in some cases, but a single pickup guitar is still a pretty safe bet. 

single pickup guitar less noise

5. They Have a Brighter Sound

The sonic differences between single pickup guitars and their multiple pickup counterparts are a major point of disagreement between guitarists. Some say that the untrained ear will not notice a difference, while others swear that single pickup guitars always sound drastically better. 

While what constitutes good or bad sound is subjective depending on one’s taste and the kind of music they play, it’s safe to say that single pickup guitars indeed sound different. Some single pickup guitars may sound drastically different, but the distinction can be barely noticeable in some cases. 

The difference exists, nevertheless. Many players (including professionals) agree that single pickup guitars sound brighter, have more sustain, better harmonics, and are a little bit louder. 

There are a couple of reasons for the sonic difference: 

  • Less magnetic pull on the strings
  • More wood in the body

Let’s examine these two influences in more detail to see what’s going on. 

Less Magnetic Pull on the Strings

Pickups are essentially magnets, meaning they will have at least a little pull on the strings even if they’re not turned on. While this pull may not be particularly strong, it might be just enough to disrupt the strings’ vibrations and cause changes in the sound. 

This may not be obvious to everyone, but some seasoned veterans, like Phil-X of Bon Jovi, adamantly claim this is true. You can find out more about his use of single pickup guitars in this video:

Furthermore, single pickup guitars allow the strings to vibrate more freely, which can create more sustain and a different sound. 

More Wood in the Body

This idea is contested by some, but many people agree that the wood and its quality affect a guitar’s sound. According to that logic, the sound will be different if there is more wood. That is the case with single pickup guitars since there is neither neck pickup nor a cavity to house it.

The sonic difference may not be great here. But if you’re in the camp that cares about the type of wood a guitar is made of, a single pickup guitar might be the best choice for you. Of course, this only refers to guitars that are single-pickup by design. You’ll lose this benefit if you simply take out your neck pickup. 

6. They Look Cool

Aesthetics is a highly subjective category in almost all aspects of life because preferences vary from one individual to another, and guitars are no exception. However, it is safe to say that most guitarists prefer the look of vintage guitars. The more vintage it looks and feels, the cooler it is.

The prevalence of this attitude might be a good thing for manufacturers of single pickup guitars. These guitars are generally vintage-looking, which might make them attractive to many guitarists.

Yes, the performance of the guitar should be much more important than the looks, but we’d be lying if we said that looks are completely unimportant. Jamming out on a guitar that looks amazing feels much better and makes the experience more immersive. It makes you feel like a rockstar, even if you’re just practicing in your room. 

If you’re a stage musician, looks are even more important because they’re a crucial element of your performance. Even if they might not mean too much to you, they mean a lot to the audience and enhance the viewing and listening experience. A good, old-fashioned single pickup guitar might just be what you need to look cooler. 

single pickup guitar look cool

7. They Sound Unique

The world of guitar playing is dominated by guitars with multiple pickups. Having a single pickup guitar will make you stand out from the crowd and sound slightly different from everybody else. We all know that being recognizable is key to having a productive musical career, and the best way to be recognizable is to have a unique sound. 

I understand that you want to sound like your favorite guitarist, which is quite fine for a beginner. But as you establish yourself with time and practice, you’ll probably want to create your unique sound. This is especially important if you’re aiming to be a professional musician. Nobody wants to hear another version of Slash or Kirk Hammett, no matter how legendary they are.

Having a unique guitar will help you get to that point, and a single pickup guitar is a good way to get a unique instrument. And as we’ve mentioned, a single pickup guitar will make you more creative with your playing, so you’ll undoubtedly get a unique and recognizable sound. 

Are There Any Disadvantages to Single Pickup Guitars?

There are a few disadvantages to playing a single pickup guitar. These guitars are often low-end instruments that may not work well for every music type. They also lack versatility.  

Even though single pickup guitars can be exquisite instruments in many cases and are loved by many guitarists, they have their fair share of potential drawbacks. These traits may not be drawbacks in every single case, but they still may deter guitarists from single pickup guitars. 

Let’s examine these traits and see exactly when they could be problematic.

Cheapness

While the relatively low cost of single pickup guitars is generally a good thing, it can also be a drawback. The reason it might be a drawback is that many manufacturers see single pickup guitars as low-end guitars and not something that’s just a variation of what they generally offer. 

Since they’re often produced as low-end guitars, they are often not as good as they could be, especially compared to guitars with multiple pickups. This is not to say that they’re by default poorer; it’s just that they’re often deliberately built while cutting corners. 

If you are a big fan of single pickup guitars due to the tone and not because of the lower price tag, you can always pick up a high-end single pickup guitar. This doesn’t typically come cheaply, but you’ll get your favorite sound without the drawbacks of cheap guitars.

Lack of Versatility

While the simplicity of single pickup guitars doesn’t always have to be a problem, it can be difficult to adjust to the single pickup option if you’re used to the simplicity of switching between different pickups to change your tone. 

Some players find this rather annoying and choose to stay away from these guitars, opting for the more common guitars with two or three pickups. These guitars are indeed easier to play in terms of adjusting the tone, as you can easily switch between the pickups by flicking the switch on the guitar’s body. 

If you’re a big fan of this type of playing, you might be deterred from getting a single pickup guitar. And if you try it, it might take some time to adapt your playing style to the guitar. You can still reap some benefits from getting used to a single pickup guitar, so the best option might be to get well-versed in both styles. 

single pickup guitar

Not Ideal for All Types of Music

Many rock, punk, and metal anthems were recorded using only the bridge pickup, and this guitar style has maintained its popularity through the decades. However, it might not work for every genre. 

For example,  single pickup guitars often don’t cut it in ultra-heavy genres of metal. Guitars with two or three pickups are more common and desirable in these genres because it is easier to produce low, deep, chugging riffs on them than on single pickup guitars.

Single pickups tend to sound brighter and less harsh than other guitars, so they’re not suitable for super-heavy music. This is not to say that you can’t play heavy music on them. You can, and you can overdrive them and produce amazing sound. But for some kinds of music, it might be better to opt for something different. 

In other cases, you might need an industry-standard guitar with a relatively generic tone. This is where the unique sound of your playing a single pickup guitar may hinder your performance. As a studio musician, you often have to blend in. Your unique single pickup sound will make you stand out and be recognizable, which might not be desirable in that context.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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