Passive Guitar Pickups Vs. Active Guitar Pickups
Passive – Passive pickups consist of a magnet underneath each guitar string. When the string vibrates it uses the magnet to create an electronic field, which is then translated into sound.
Active – Active pickups use a nine-volt battery to create the electric field. They also often offer a preamp.
The passives typically provide a ‘pluckier” feel. This is due in large part to the extra windings, and the poles which offer limited but potent sound.
The magnets used for a passive really do affect the quality of your results.
Steel magnets tend to be used on the lower-end models.
You’ll probably want an AlNiCo magnet. The AlNiCo is a blend of aluminum nickel and cobalt and delivers some of the best results. They come in several designations from I to V. Designation II and III is typically used for a softer sound, while IV and V tend to be a little “hotter”, with more treble. (II is often used for a softer, more vintage, end tone)
Ceramic magnets are similar in quality to the AlNiCo but aren’t quite as smooth, and tend to over more screech then the AlNiCo V’s.
Because actives have fewer windings, they can have a wider response range. This can lead to more clarity of tone.
Active pickups are not necessarily “hotter” than passive. They can simply interpret a wider range of tone, and offer a preamp for more control at the guitar.
What is the best guitar pickup for playing “Country” or “Metal” or “Rock?
Because so many artists use so many different pickups across genres, it is difficult to say that one pickup is definitive “rock” or “country”, etc.
The trick is to educate yourself, in use your knowledge to help decide which pickup will work best for you.
One of the key things to decide early on is how much distortion you will play with. A high-output pickup will distort much more readily than, say, a moderate output will.
Sure you can also get plenty of distortion from a moderate output, but high-output will go there much more quickly.
What is a Dual Coil… or a Single Coil…. or a Humbucker?
Like I’ve mentioned before, a pickup is basically a magnet, wrapped by copper wire and placed under the guitar string.
For years, we only used single coils — one magnet under each string.
However, single coils are well-known for picking up stray radio frequency interference and “humming”.
The humbucker is a dual coil setup that has one set of right-hand wrapped pickups, and one set of left-hand wrapped pickups. Any radio interference that is grabbed by one of the poles is canceled out by the oppositely-wrapped pole.
Most dual coils you see today are of this humbucker variety.
Single coils tend to be brighter and better for single-string plucking, whereas humbuckers tend to have a darker and more full tone.
Different guitar pickups for different parts of the string.
Play the guitar near the neck, and it will be brighter. Play it toward the base and it be darker.
This is why you often see humbuckers being mismatched. You can put a “brighter sounding” pickup near the base and a “darker sounding” choice near the neck and balance out the tone.
Or you can put the same one in each spot for more contrast throughout.
Are Bladed Pickups Any Good?
We’re seeing more bladed pickups here in 2017. Are they worth the extra money?
There are a couple of thoughts about blades. Some people feel like they are better for when you are bending strings frequently, as it pulls the strings away from the top of the pickup on a pole style.
However, with most, the magnetic field extends well beyond the actual metal head. So unless you need a very soft or moderate output with a lot of string bending, a normal pickup should work just fine.
Many musicians who typically use a lot of string bending, often naturally choose a higher high-output pickup anyhow, so any benefit from the blade is negated.