Choosing between a one pickup, two pickup, or three pickup guitar can be an extremely difficult decision. If you’ve been playing guitar for a long time, you’ll definitely already have a personal favorite, but you might be looking to buy a new guitar. But, do one pickup guitars sound better?
One pickup guitars don’t sound better, just different. The tone of a one pickup guitar might be clearer as there will be no magnetic pull on the strings from a second pickup. One pickup guitars are, however, much less versatile as you can’t switch between pickups to change their tone.
In this article, I’ll examine whether a one pickup guitar sounds better than a two or three pickup guitar. I’ll also explain the 9 things that you have to know before deciding which guitar is best for you. Let’s go!
Understanding How a Pickup Works
Before you decide on which pickup to get for your guitar, it’s crucial to understand how pickup works.
If you’ve ever tried to play an electric guitar without plugging it into an amplifier, you would have noticed how soft the sound is. For an electric guitar to be heard, it has to be plugged into an amplifier, and the pickup is the most important part.
Without a pickup on your guitar, the sound from the strings cannot be transformed into an electrical signal for the amplifier to put out.
To make it super easy to understand, as not all of us enjoy the technical aspects of guitars and amplifiers, I’ll explain it like this:
- A pickup is made from six magnets, one for each string, wrapped in fine copper wire. Sometimes, one solid magnet is used instead of six individual ones.
- The pickup is attached to the body of your guitar, below the strings. It’s usually placed at the bridge or the neck. If you have a three pickup guitar, a middle pickup will be placed in between them.
- The magnet and copper strings create a magnetic field. When you strum your guitar, it picks up the vibrations from the strings.
- The pickup then transforms the vibrations from the strings into an electrical signal. This is sent to the amplifier where it’s transformed into the sound you hear.
So now that you know the basic concept of how a pickup works, it’s easy to understand why a one pickup guitar will sound different than a two pickup or three pickup guitar.
1. One Pickup Guitars Are Simple and Easy To Use
One pickup guitars are usually used by novice guitar players, students, and die-hard fans. Two pickup guitars are much more popular, but you get guitar players, even famous musicians, who believe one pickup guitars sound better. Some musicians even go as far as only playing with one pickup guitars.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use guitar without too much electronics, then a one pickup guitar might be right for you. One pickup guitars have much more wood on their bodies and much fewer gadgets, as you don’t need a pickup selector.
Having more than one pickup on your guitar can make it feel cluttered. If you only have one pickup at the bridge, it’ll never get in the way, and you won’t hit your pick on it while strumming.
One pickup guitars are great for beginners as you don’t have the extra pressure of learning how to switch between pickups to change the tone of your guitar. You can concentrate on learning how to play the guitar without focussing too much on the electronics and settings.
Many rock musicians prefer the sound of a one pickup guitar, so although they were originally created as more affordable guitars for students, they’re excellent guitars for shredding.
2. One Pickup Guitars Aren’t As Versatile
A one pickup guitar doesn’t have the option of switching between two or three different pickups, meaning it’s not as versatile in tone. You can alter your tone with a two pickup guitar by switching between the pickups.
When it comes to a one pickup guitar, you have to pay special attention to how you pluck the strings, as the position of your finger or pick is crucial in creating the tone you want.
With a two or three pickup guitar, you don’t have to be as specific with your plucking technique, as you can rely on the extra pickups for the tone you’re going for.
3. The Tone of a One Pickup Guitar Is Unique
To the untrained ear, the difference in tone between a one pickup, two pickup, and three pickup guitar might not be that obvious. Professional artists or long-time players will notice it much easier, but the truth is that there is a difference.
Single pickup guitars have less magnetic pull on their strings, creating a unique sound compared to two pickup guitars.
Most commonly, the pickup on a one pickup guitar will be placed at the bridge; however, it can also be placed at the neck. A pickup at the bridge will create a clearer, brighter sound, while a pickup at the neck will create a softer sound.
Another factor that gives a one pickup guitar its unique sound is that the body contains more wood, meaning the guitar will be heavier, and a heavier guitar will have longer sustain on the strings.
Some people will argue that the unique tone of a one pickup guitar makes it sound better, while others prefer the sound of a two pickup guitar.
If you want to stand out, the unique tone might help you do just that; on the other hand, if you’re a cover artist, it might be a drawback as you want your music to sound identical to the original.
Why Do Two Pickup Guitars Sound Different Than One Pickup Guitars?
We’ve established that a one pickup guitar has a unique tone because there’s less electrical pull and more wood in the guitar’s body. However, there’s a lot more to it. To establish why a two pickup guitar sounds different than a one pickup guitar, we have to take a closer look at the setup of a two pickup guitar.
Two pickup guitars sound different from one pickup guitars because you can set the tone by switching between pickups. The tone can also be changed by using the tone controls on the guitar and amp. A two pickup guitar has overtones created by the second pickup, which a one pickup guitar doesn’t have.
Additionally, two pickup guitars are more versatile when it comes to tone than one pickup guitars, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they sound better.
You also get three pickup guitars, which are the most versatile when it comes to tone. They are, however, not as popular as two pickup guitars as the middle pickup gets in the way when you’re plucking your strings.
The upside to having three pickups on your guitar is that you can have two different types of pickups. When it comes to a two pickup guitar, it’s best to have two of the same types, usually two single coil pickups. Whereas, if you have three pickups, you can have two single coils and a humbucker.
However, there are some more rare guitars. The Epiphone Les Paul Black Beauty is a super unique guitar as it has the rare setup of three humbucker pickups.
4. You Can Change the Tone of a One Pickup Guitar
With a one pickup guitar, you don’t have the luxury (or as some would see it, the burden) of switching between two or three pickups. However, don’t let that discourage you from a one pickup guitar.
There are different settings on your guitar and amp, and with some practice, you can teach yourself exactly how to set them to get different tones. It might take some time, and it isn’t as easy as switching between pickups, but it’s an option if you want to change the tone of your one pickup guitar.
If you have a one-pickup guitar and are looking to add more spice to your sound, you can invest in a pedal like this Zoom G1X Four Guitar Multi-Effects Processor (available on Amazon.com). This multi-effects processor pedal has a 30-second looper and 68 built-in rhythm patterns that’ll give you various different sounds to choose from. It also has 71 built-in guitar effects that’ll give you even more choice, and to top it off, you’ll get free Zoom guitar lab software.
5. You Can Choose Between Single Coil Pickup and Humbucker
Luckily, there are some options with one pickup guitars.
If you’ve decided to get a one-pickup guitar, you might wonder if it’s best to get a single coil pickup or a humbucker. Many people will debate which pickup is the best, but ultimately it’s a personal choice.
Single coil pickups can pick up a lot of interference which can cause your amp to buzz. On the other hand, Humbuckers consist of two coiled magnets in opposite polarity, so they cancel out the buzz from interference caused by cellphones or fluorescent lighting.
If you have a clean sound as an artist, a single coil pickup will work fine for you, but if you like a lot of distortion and overdrive, a humbucker might be a better choice.
6. One Pickup Guitars Are More Affordable
Guitars with only one pickup aren’t as popular and are usually entry-level guitars for those learning. That being said, they’re not always the best quality, but you do get some excellent one pickup guitars.
Since they’re not considered the best guitars on the market, they’re often more affordable than two pickup guitars. You’ll also save money if your pickup breaks or if you decide to replace it with a different one, as you’ll only have to buy one pickup.
You can get this FLEOR Dual Hot Rail Humbucker (available from Amazon.com) which will look super cool on a one-pickup guitar. It’s a twin coil humbucker, meaning it’ll cancel out all unwanted buzz, and you’ll get a clean, bright sound. It comes with the screws and springs you need, so it’ll also be easy to install.
7. The Simplicity of a One Pickup Guitar Is Beautiful
A one pickup guitar might not be for everybody, but they are gorgeous. With less space taken up by a second or third pickup, you can truly admire the wood and craftsmanship of the guitar.
One pickup guitars are super cool too. If you want to show off or stand out, a one pickup guitar is definitely what you need. You’ll have a unique sound that stands out from the crowd as most other guitarists will have two or three pickup guitars.
Additionally, you’ll get even more credit if you have perfectly mastered playing your one pickup guitar – like relying on your plucking techniques instead of a second pickup to change your tone.
8. Many Famous Guitarists Use One Pickup Guitars
Some famous artists believe that there’s something special about one pickup guitars. Whether it be the sound or their looks, these guitars are magical.
Billie Joe Armstrong
As the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong might be the most famous punk rock guitarist.
When he was still a young child, he got his first electric guitar; it was a Fernandes The Revival TST-50 Stratocaster, which he still has today. He has had three different pickups, namely an L500XL Humbucker, a Yamaha Pacifica humbucker, and a Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB on this guitar, all in the bridge position.
All of his backup guitars also have one pickup in the bridge position.
Billie Joe Armstrong owns numerous guitars, as can be expected from such a fantastic guitarist, including:
- Twenty Les Paul Junior models
- A Stratocaster
- A Gretsch Hollow Body
- A Rickenbacker 360
Eddie Van Halen
Whether you like rock music or not, you’ve most likely heard of Eddie Van Halen. He played lead guitar for the band Van Halen and is one of the greatest rock guitar players in the history of rock music.
His first guitar as a child was a Teisco Del Ray, but since then, he’s owned and modified many electric guitars. He replaced the original P90 pickup on his Gibson Les Paul with a humbucker in the bridge position.
He has also owned a Gibson ES-335, an Ibanez Destroyer, and a mini Les Paul. His most famous guitar is the Frankestrat which he custom built and has a single Gibson pickup at the bridge position.
Billie F. Gibbons
Known for being an extraordinary guitar player, Billie F. Gibbons is the guitarist and vocalist for the American rock band ZZ Top.
He’s known to mostly play Gibson guitars but has played many different guitars throughout his career. His first guitar was a Gibson Melody Maker. He has also played with:
- A sunburst 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard
- Fender Jazzmaster
- Fender Esquire
- Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird
9.There’s a Variety of Popular One Pickup Guitars
If you’re looking to buy a one pickup guitar, you might be unsure which one will be the best for you. There are various options to choose from, so you’ll surely find one that will fit your style and be in your price range.
Here’s a list of some of the best one pickup guitars:
- Gibson Les Paul Junior: With a classic design and a single dogear P-90 pickup, the Gibson Les Paul Junior is likely the most well-known one pickup guitar. It was introduced in 1954, and with its 50’s style fat neck and wraparound bridge, it’s still popular today.
- Fender Noventa Telecaster: This guitar has a classic style that will never go out of fashion. The Fender Noventa Telecaster has a single-coil pickup and a 60’s “C” neck, giving it a unique style.
- Gibson Melody Maker: First launched in 1959, it was created as a more affordable option to the Les Paul Junior. The Melody maker has, however, stood the test of time and is loved by many rock musicians.
- Epiphone Les Paul Junior: This guitar is inspired by the Les Paul Junior and also has a 50’s neck and one dogear P-90 PRO™ single coil pickup.
- Fender Esquire: The Fender Esquire is a solid body guitar that debuted in 1950. It has a single pickup and is loved by many one pickup guitar fans.
Check out this informative YouTube video showing you the great tones of a 1957 Les Paul Junior one pickup guitar:
One pickup guitars definitely have a unique tone and are loved by many guitar enthusiasts worldwide. They make excellent guitars for rock musicians or anybody who wants to stand out.
Whether they sound better than two or three pickup guitars is a matter of opinion. Many people will argue that one pickup guitars have a clearer tone, while others prefer the tone of a two pickup guitar.
One pickup guitars sound amazing and are worth considering if you’re looking to expand your collection or even buy your first guitar.