If your guitar has humbucker-sized mountings, yet you dream of the sounds of a P-90 or a Strat, the Seymour Duncan SHPR-1s P-Rails can make this a reality.
First things first: If you are looking for a full-fledged humbucker, go out and buy a full-fledged humbucker. Just wanted to put the whole “…well, it’s not really a real humbucker” argument aside. This pickup is meant for folks who have a humbucker-fitted guitar, yet are looking to get P-90 and or Strat tones out of it.
Some might say: “well, why don’t you just put a P-90 or a Strat pickup in the guitar?”
A: Because some folks cannot or do not want to make such a change. A perfect example would be a Les Paul or SG, which if already routed for a humbucker, is not a good candidate for further cutting.
So, if you have to stay with your humbucker-sized mounting, the SHPR-1s P-Rails from Seymour Duncan is lovely. All three of the sounds in this pickup are terrific. Keep in mind though, when you are in “humbucker” mode (i.e. both coils in series), this one is not going to sound like a normal full-fledged humbucker. It’s not. You will still have that “Strat-ish” kind of sparkle and snap, but then again, that is what you came here for.
Keep in mind that you will need to get jiggy with a mini-toggle switch (double-pole / double-throw is probably your best bet) and a soldering iron. But let’s assume you are, or you know someone trustworthy who is. Once you pop these babies in and wire ‘em up, you are in for some pretty fun stuff. P-90 kinda stuff, Stratty bell-like charm, and fun combinations of both are on the menu. Of course if you play a Les Paul Jr or a Strat, when then… duh! But if you are stuck with a mucho-macho humbucker-focused guitar and really want to get these two classic sounds under your fingertips, the Seymour Duncan SHPR-1s P-Rails are a brilliant product that kill two birds with one stone.
Thinking about upgrading your Telecaster bridge pickup? Here are a few things to consider
Telecasters are great, probably my favorite guitar of all. But when your Tele is stock, chances are that it came loaded with vintage style pickups. Depending on your rig and your style of playing, this may translate to noise (i.e. the dreaded 60-cycle hum), or in the case of the bridge pickup: a somewhat brittle tone, and few options. Here is a list of areas to think-through before you make your final decision on which Telecaster bridge pickup to choose.
Should I install a noiseless bridge pickup?
This may be the most important decision you make. The reason is that true vintage-style pickups tend to do one thing and do it really well. Noiseless pickups give you more options, but some guitarists (and I mean serious tone snobs) feel that you lose a bit of that “vintage” charm. I think this is mostly a lot of baloney. I can tell the difference, but I’ve been playing for over 30 years, ad I can’t always tell the difference. It’s just not that big of a deal. If noise is a consideration, get a noiseless pickup. If noise is not a problem, and you really want to stay faithful to that vintage Fender Telecaster sound, then get a vintage-style model. End of conversation. Once you have spent more than 20 minutes thinking about this, you have over-thought it.
What are the best Telecaster Bridge Pickups?
Now we are of-course getting into the really subjective stuff. No one can really say which ones are the best of the best of the best, because to a large extent, it’s a matter of taste. For starters, you can check out an earlier post about the Best Telecaster Bridge Pickups. You can also browse this site by tag or category for “pickups”, there are plenty of helpful articles. All that said, here is a general lay of the land:
The main companies out there for Telecaster pickups are Seymour Duncan, Dimarzio, Fender, and Lindy Fralin. There are a few smaller companies out there, but I’d say these are the ones to consider by default. If you are thinking right now: “…hey, what about Lollar or Joe Barden, or EMG” etc… then you clearly do not need any advice. Go out an buy whatever you want. If you are not as experienced with buying Telecaster pickups, then I’d recommend that you at least start out with the companies I suggested. They are all a bit different. Here is the high-level:
Seymour Duncan – Probably the most varied product line and appeal to players of all types. Most of their pickups are very warm, and not overly hot.
Dimarzio – They tend to be more popular with harder-edged styles like Rock. Plenty of their products are just great for lighter styles such as Blues or pop, but they tend to make slightly more aggressive models.
Fender – They have probably the most minimal product line as they are not solely a pickup maker (they are busy making of the most amazing guitars and amplifiers of all time, so you can’t blame them), but what they do they do real well: vintage.
Lindy Fralin – A real boutique shop. Lindy is super cool and makes amazing pickups. His stuff is a bit more pricey than the bigger names, but if you really know what you are looking for, he has a product line that delivers
How do I decide which Telecaster Bridge pickup is right for me?
Again, this is really a matter of opinion. But as a rule of thumb, first consider your playing style; are you a Rock player? A Jazz player? Blues? Country? The answer to this question will help you narrow it down fastest. If you play Metal or heavy Rock, you may want to consider a noiseless model, and maybe even a blade / rails type of design. If you lean towards really heavy styles like Metal, then active pickups become very appealing. But few Tele players are Metal players, although I suppose they are out there. If you play more moderate styles such as Rock, Rock & Roll, Blues, Funk, etc.. them it’s a toss-up between vintage and noiseless. Noiseless is better if you have to cover a borader range of sounds and are likely to use a lot of gain / overdrive. Vintage is better if you do not play to play extremely loud or use a lot of gain, yet want a really old-school sound. This is particularly true of Funk, where that old-school / low-fi Telecaster bridge sound is really critical (and this is one thing that high-output Tele bridge pickups do not do as well as vintage ones).
Ok, but what about installation; are replacing Telecaster bridge pickups hard?
Nah. Not at all. This is one of the really great things about the Telecaster; the bridge pickup is a very standard shape. From old-school vintage to over-the-top high-gain models, they all have that same three-screw mounting scheme and drop into place with ease. Twist, twist twist, and you are done.
What are the down-sides to vintage Telecaster bridge pickups?
Noise. That is the big issue. Once you start to play at high volumes and / or use a lot of gain, you are gonna start pulling your hair out because there will be a lot of noise that is nearly impossible to get rid of. This cab be particularly problematic in the studio. Other than that, vintage-style tele bridge pickups tend to be one-trick ponies; you get pretty much one sound.
What are the down-sides to noiseless Telecaster bridge pickups?
There are fewer down-sides here. Tone-snobs will complain about the loss of highs or in-general, how they don’t quite do the “vintage” thing as well. For the most part, you can ignore that. You’ll know when you know enough to know the difference (nice sentence huh? : – ) The only other downside is that if you want to takte advantage of the flexibility of a noiseless pickup (as some come with a four-conductor cabe for multiple wiring options), you’ll have to be prepared to cut-up your pick guard, and you have to be fairly handy with a soldering iron (or pay someone who is). This is all worth it though; you can usually get two great sounds out of one pickup. And then you have twice as many bridge-neck sounds as well.
There are a few things to consider when upgrading your Telecaster bridge pickup. Whether to go noiseless, which company to go with and which model to choose are just a few of the high-level decisions you’ll have to make. But just be sure to ask yourself as many questions as you can; “What is my playing style?”, “Do I tend to play loud or use a lot of gain?”, Do I need to get more than one sound out of my Telecaster bridge pickup?” and so on. The better the questions you ask yourself, the better the answers will be from web pages, repair professionals or guitar players whom you ask.
Treat your Tele to the best bridge pickup possible
Although Telecaster bridge pickups are best known for their famous “Twang”, more and more, guitarists are looking to coax an increased array of sounds out of their instrument. If you need to extend what your Telecaster can do, you’ll need to consider upgrading your bridge and neck pickups. Even if you simply want to improve the quality of your existing sound, an upgrade is usually the best bet. Below are links for the best Telecaster Bridge pickups on the market. Which one is right for you depends mostly on your needs as well as taste.
Lindy Fralin has long been known as the go-to guy when it comes to passive / vintage replacement pickups. His reputation for craftsmanship is second to none. There was a time when he actually answered is own phone and took your order! I’m not sure if this is still the case, and if not, you can’t blame him; the guy is busy making some of the most popular replacement pickups out there!
Finally, Lindy has gone noiseless. These split blades are 100% noise-free, but come packed with all of the jaw-dropping tone that has become standard for all of his products.
FENDER N3 NOISELESS™ TELE PICKUPS
Fender’s American Deluxe Telecasters have been stocked with these pickups since 2010. These are not at all aggressive. They do a nice job of replicating vintage-style telecaster pickups and are fulling noise-cancelling.
Dimarzio Area Hot T™ Bridge DP421
This pickup offers a great blend of PAF humbucker warmth and traditional Tele Twang. This is a fairly high-output pickup, so consider this with regards to balance with your neck pickup.
Dimarzio Fast Track T™ DP381
Designed to maintain the traditional Tele bridge sound, but provide a bigger sound with more volume and of course, zero hum.
Seymour Duncan Little ‘59™ for Tele ST59-1b
Duncan set out to provide a Telecaster bridge pickup that cold duplicate the warmth and tone of the original 1959 PAF Gibson humbucker. They pretty much nail it here. This is not a super high-output screamer, you’ve got an even-tempered pickup what is warm and of course noise canceling. The two rows of flat-head screw pole-pieces allow you to really tweak the output vs string-put balance just right. It does come with a four-conductor lead, so with a mini toggle-switch, you can also get a more snappy sound out of it. For this we recommend a DPDT (double pole / double throw).
Seymour Duncan Hot Lead Stack STK-T2b
A hum-canceling Tele bridge pickup on steroids; not a drastically different tone, just seriously higher output than a vintage Tele bridge pickup. The blade design helps a lot with drop-outs. It’s not as modern-sounding as it may look. It will give you a pretty-much strait-ahead Telecaster bridge tone, but higher output and no hum.
Seymour Duncan Vintage Stack® Tele (lead) STK-T3b
A vintage-voiced, hum-canceling Tele bridge pickup. Classic vintage Telecaster bridge pickup tone, but no 60-cycle hum or buzz. This thing really sounds great. There is plenty of bite, but the high-end is not at all shrill or tinny. It’s pure classic Tele bridge territory, but calmer on the high-end and no hum, no buzz, no b.s.
Vintage Style (non hum-canceling)
Lindy Fralin Stock Tele® Replacement Style Bridge
These pickups come in three different configurations. The Broadcaster has flat poles, the Hybrid model’s poles are flat with a raised D magnet, or you can choose stock stagger. There is also a Steele-pole version. The output is in the neighborhood of 6.6k (8,800 turns), using 42 gauge Plain Enamel wire. You can also choose to have your pickup slightly overwound with 2% over-stock (approx 6.8k output) or 5% over-stock (approx 7.2k output).
Lindy Fralin Blues Special Tele Replacement Style Bridge Pickup
These pickups come in three different configurations. The Broadcaster has flat poles, the Hybrid model’s poles are flat with a raised D magnet, or you can choose stock stagger. There is also a Steele-pole version. The output is in the neighborhood of 7.3k , which is 5% hotter than stock and has a slightly darker sound; wound with 42 gauge Polynylon wire.
Lindy Fralin Tele Replacement High Output Style Bridge Pickup
Wound using 43 gauge wire, these Tele bridge pickups come in three different configurations. The Broadcaster has flat poles, the Hybrid model’s poles are flat with a raised D magnet, or you can choose stock stagger. There is also a Steele-pole version. The output is in the neighborhood of 9.5k , which is 10% hotter than stock and has a darker sound, 15% over-stock is available as well.
These are pretty special pickups. The physical construction is more like a P-90 in that a row of screws straddle two magnets. It’s great to be able to adjust the pole-pieces of a Telecaster pickup. While non-hum-canceling, these are reasonably quiet in most situations. Thy are wound to 4.5k for a 20% hotter sound, or can be wound to 10k for a 25% hotter sound.
Dimarzio Pre B-1™ DP112
A traditional Telecaster bridge pickup, but designed to flatten out the high end, and pump up the mids and lows. They didn’t go too over-the-top on this model. It’s still a general Vintage vibe, but just a lot more fatness to the sound. They did a nice job on this pickup; good stuff.
Vintage sound, but a bigger more dynamic output that combines the best of the Broadcaster and Telecaster bridge pickups. Also double wax potted to keep squeals to a minimum. This one is for you if you insist on a true Vintage setup, but minimum hum, and a hotter output. I have also done a BestCovery review of the neck model.
Vintage Telecaster bridge pickup sound with more attack. There is a base plate installed and it it wax potted. The base plate give you a heck of a lot more kick, without making it a super hot pickup. This one is surely a Vintage Tele bridge pickup, but a pretty hot tamale.
Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound® for Tele (lead) STL-3
This pickup offers a bizzarely high output for a vintage Telecaster bridge model. There is a surprising amount of punch and attack. It does have an odd consistent low hum at almost all times, but the ones I’ve used were older, so maybe they have upgraded it a bit. This is a really great Telecaster bridge pickup, and has almost humbucker-level output, but at the same time, does not loose it’s Tele charm. It’s an odd one, but a pretty good one. I recommend it, as long as you don’t use too much gain.
Seymour Duncan Vintage Broadcaster® Lead STL-1b
Faithful recreation of the original with a slightly higher output and edge.
Seymour Duncan Vintage ‘54 Lead STL-1
Vintage voiced, with emphasis on the high end. The pole pieces under the D and G strings are raised
Telecaster Bodies, Telecaster Necks, Telecaster Hardware… Everything “Tele” links here
If you are embarking on a project that involves upgrading or building a Telecaster, these links might help you to find some of the parts you need. All of these companies offer some pretty good stuff at fairly reasonable prices. For bodies and necks, Warmoth is probably best and offers the most options. Of course, they are the most expensive. In each case, be sure to explore all the options that each company offers and don’t be afraid to call them if you have any questions before you place your order.
With regards to the body, pay extra attention to the wood that you choose, there will be some variations in sound between different types. For example, Maple has a brighter tone where as Mahogany is a bit mellower. If you do choose Maple, consider paying the extra cost for “Quarter Sawn” Maple, it is most often a much better cut of wood. Some companies such as Warmoth also offer options for binding. While this is purely aesthetic and will have no affect either way on your tone, it can contribute to a very classy look, depending on your taste.
Another option worth considering is a Chambered body. When a body is “Chambered”, there are several cavities that are created in the body. This offers a kind of “Best of both worlds” scenario as you get the interesting qualities of a hollow body guitar, but without the headaches of feedback as the majority of the body is solid. Some Telecaster players may dream of a Tele with a vibrato arm; no problem. Warmoth offers you the option to have the Telecaster body routed for a standard Stratocaster bridge. In this case there will be the standard thru body tremolo construction complete with trem claw and springs. There are certainly many options and you can go pretty crazy. Whatever your dream Telecaster may be, the links below should point you in the right direction.
If you like P-90 pickups, then you are gonna love these Phat Cat pickups… I promise
I’ve been trying out a set of the Seymour Duncan Phat Cat pickups recently, and I’ve gotta say: they really got it right on these. When I started this blog, for some reason I decided to add the links at the bottom first. When I was researching the Harmony-Central reviews, I started to read the first review. The more I read the review, I kept thinking to myself: “wow, this guy sounds like he has had the exact same experiences as me… and he seems to have the same sense of humor as me… wow, I really agree with the way this guy approaches his review on these Phat Cat pickups and the kind of feedback he is giving….this is bizzare!”
…then I realized that this guy was me.. duh!
I figured the best testimonial is a real testimonial. So, without further ado, here is my orginal Harmony-central review of the Seymour Duncan Phat Cat pickup:
I give these a 9 because the only thing I would change is maybe the Phat Cat bridge pickup could be a little hotter. The neck pickup over powers the bridge pickup a little. With that said….
These Phat Cat pickups are phenomenal. I took them outta the box only 8 hours ago and put them in my Les Paul. They are surprisingly quiet for passive non-humbucking pickups. I like to use alot of compression which can cause even more 60-Cycle hum than drive sometimes, or certainly make it worse once you add gain. My first crappy guitar had some horrible P90’s in them, and they used to squeal like hell all the time. That was almost 30 years ago, and quite honestly, I have had an aversion of P90’s since then (even my therapist couldn’t seem to rid me of this un-relenting P90 anxiety : – ) When you use them together, they are 100% hum-canceling… NICE!
What a relief! these babies are reasonable quiet (sure, when you add alot of gain, there is hum, but at low to moderate gain settings, it aint too bad!) These Phat Cat pickups are outstanding. The neck pickup has a massive sound. Great bit and clarity. The bridge pickup also has a nice bit. I am VERY happy with these pickups. Not only would I replace them if they were stolen, but I’m gonna grab another set for my Tele that is routed for humbuckers. I’m that happy with these. I will write another review after I’ve had them for a while and used them on stage, but at first glance, these are first class pickups. And, at literally half the price of Fralins, they are an incredible value. I have’t used P90’s for 20 years, so I can attest to how they compare to classic P90 pickups, but as someone who uses totally hum-canceling pickups all the time (i.e. Dimarzio Virtual Vintage and Duncan mini humbuckers, etc…) I am VERY pleased with the tone and minimal 60-cycle hum of these Phat Cat pickups. If you play Blues, you will really be impressed with these.
If you are thinking of switching to Mini-Humbuckers, or upgrading to them, here is a rundown of the best ones out there.
Mini Humbucker pickups offer you the best of both worlds; they are humbucking (i.e. no 60-cycle hum), they are capable of great chime and clarity when you play clean, and when you use a lot of drive, they sound fantiastic. They will never sound quite the same as a full-sized humbucker, but they have a fullness and grit all their own. You really have to experiment with Mini Humbucker pickups and find the ones that are best for you, but it is worth the effort.
Vintage Mini-Humbucker SM-1
This is a pretty faithful reproduction of a Firebird pickup. Duncan kinda ruins it by sticking their friggin’ logo on it, but that’s just me. Great single coil / humbucker hybrid sound and drops right into place.
Custom Mini-Humbucker SM-2
This is a great mini humbucker for more driven tones. The clarity is pretty good on this pickup and it does clean tones well.
Seymourized Mini-Humbucker SM-3
The most aggressive of the three, this pickup offers a high output with strong mids and great clarity.
Both the DP168 and DP198 are pretty cool pickups. Naturally, the DP198 is quite a bit hotter. The difference between the sound in parallel and series mode is pretty drastic. In series mode this is the thickest mini humbucker I know of. It may be a bit too much for some, but the lower mids are pretty off the hook. In parallel mode these are a bit on the bright side, but plenty of snap crackle and pop.
Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Mini Humbucker Reissue
This thing just sounds great. If you are a big fan of the Les Paul Deluxe, this pickup pretty much nails that sound.
Summary: Mini Humbuckerguitar pickups are wonderful inventions. They offer plenty of girth and bite when you want a full humbucking sound. Yet, when you want the sweet bell-like tone of a single coil, they can handle that very well. These days, it seems like just about every after-market company offers at least one Mini Humbucker pickup. Vintage, Noiseless, take your pick(up).. pun intended : – )
Nowadays, between digital modeling and overall great engineering, you can make virtually any guitar sound like just about any other guitar. Except, you cannot make any guitar really sound like a Telecaster. You can try, but it will never really quite smell right. If you are looking to upgrade your Telecaster neck pickup, you are in good luck. Many great sounding models are out there that offer not only a high-quality tone but they do so at a pretty reasonable price.
Noiseless / Hum-Canceling
Dimarzio Area T™ Neck DP417
Designed to retain warmth and clarity even when using high levels of distortion or overdrive. Chrome cover is included but does not interfere with the sound.
Seymour Duncan Hot Rails™ for Tele STHR-1n
Very high output, very strong mids, best for more aggressive styles.