Whether you are a beginner or a professional, one of the most important considerations when playing an electric guitar is the types of pickups you have.
Pickups are the components on the body of your guitar that translate the sound of the strings into electrical signals sent to an amplifier, and on most guitars, there are two main types of pickups: neck and bridge pickups.
Each type of pickup has its unique sound, and their differences can be dramatic, which can determine how you decide to use them. In this article, we will discuss the differences between neck and bridge pickups, how they affect the sound of an electric guitar, and some tips for choosing the proper pickup for your style of music.
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What Are Bridge Pickups Used For?
As the name suggests, a bridge pickup is located near the bridge on your guitar where your strings go through.
A bridge pickup emphasizes the higher-end treble frequencies and is primarily used to generate a tighter, more focused, and brighter tone as opposed to a warm, smooth tone of a neck pickup.
It is often the primary choice for guitarists who play genres such as classic rock, hard rock, metal, or any other style of music that are riff and lead guitar-oriented and uses plenty of overdrive and distortion.
This is because bridge pickups usually have more output and are more articulate. For example, palm muting typically sounds much better with a bridge pickup, and pinch harmonics are also easier to produce and sustain with it as well.
Ultimately, if you’re going to play a lot of guitar riffs, you’ll be spending 99% of your time on the bridge pickup because your notes will be more defined.
What Are Neck Pickups Used For?
Unlike the bridge pickup, a neck pickup is installed on the body closest to the end of the fretboard or neck, hence its name.
Neck pickups tend to bring out more mid and bass frequencies than bridge pickups and are often used to generate a warmer or mellow sound, which is also produced due to the strings vibrating slower near the neck, where the sound is being picked up.
These qualities make a neck pickup excellent for clean tones and a great choice for genres such as jazz, blues, country, folk, and rockabilly. It is also used for clean chordal rhythm sections in styles like rock and pop.
While they sound entirely different than bridge pickups, a neck pickup can be used to play lead guitar lines. Most jazz guitar solos will be played using a neck pickup because of their smooth and warm qualities. For this reason, neck pickups are used in countless rock and metal solos, too.
For instance, sweep arpeggio sections sound fantastic when switched to this pickup position because it can make them sound less shrill and abrasive at the higher frets when playing with distortion.
Choosing the Right Pickup for Your Playing Style
There are plenty of good reasons to use one type of pickup over the other, but these reasons will depend on the playing style of each guitarist and, of course, the part of the song.
Both pickups are suitable for lead and rhythm guitar playing, but which sounds best requires more context. The best way to pick which one ultimately depends on your ears, so experiment and play.
Many prolific players ditch neck pickups entirely and have just one pickup on their guitar because their entire sound only utilizes the bridge pickup, and they don’t need anything else.
Conversely, although it’s rarer, some guitars feature just one neck pickup, like some hollow-body guitars for jazz.
You’re, by no means, limited to either one – that’s what pickup selector switches are for. By flipping the switch, you can seamlessly switch between them and even combine them together to make new guitar tones.
Most electric guitars have a three or five-way pickup switch that can help you blend your bridge, middle, and neck pickups together, depending on the pickup configuration your guitar has.
Check out this great video for some of the possibilities!
The difference between neck vs. bridge pickups is quite large, and the one you select can have a tremendous impact on your sound.
While there are certain “guidelines” or areas where each kind of pickup is known to excel, you’re encouraged to play around and experiment to see which one you like.
That being said, I hope that this article has given you a better understanding of bridge and neck pickups and the important differences between them. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to choose the ideal pickup for the type of music you’re playing and get the sound you want to achieve.