3 humbuckers provide more tone versatility than just 2 humbuckers. You just have to make sure you have a 6-way pickup switch rather than just 3-way.
With 3 humbuckers, you get an overall thicker and warmer tone from your guitar – regardless of the pickup position. This is great for dirty, high gain play.
3 humbuckers setup is most useful if you like the middle pickup but prefer more volume and fuller tone than a single pickup.
I don’t own a guitar with 3 humbuckers – but I have definitely played them before. I personally still prefer a mixture of humbucker and single coils – but you may be different.
So, in this article, I will go into more details about 3 humbuckers vs regular 2 humbuckers to highlight the differences. After this article, you should know whether you prefer 3 humbuckers or 2 (or just regular single coils).
What Do 3 Humbuckers Do?
3 humbucker pickups give you more volume and warmth to your tone – no matter the pickup position.
When compared to a single coil. A humbucker pickup is more powerful and will provide stronger sound signals to the amp. Which means the tone produced is slightly meatier, fuller and warmer than a single coil.
This is most suitable for dirty, high gain play – but it’s all a matter of preference. You don’t need 3 humbuckers specifically for anything.
That said, many people don’t prefer 3 humbuckers because the middle humbucker pickup gets in your way when you pick or strum. People often scratch the middle of their humbucker pickups because they pick too deep into the body.
This personally happened to me but may not happen to you (depends on your playing style). But if it does happen, you can prevent scratching the middle humbucker pickup by anchoring your hand on the bridge instead.
This allows you to be more stable and not pick too deep into the body – resulting in scratch-free middle pickup.
Also, 3 humbucker setup may overcrowd the body and make the guitar look messy – this is personal preference, of course.
Let’s compare the 3 humbucker vs the regular 2 humbucker setup now.
3 Vs 2 Humbuckers
|3 Humbuckers||2 Humbuckers|
|Tone Options||Versatile||Less Versatile|
|Playability||Need to adjust picking||Good|
|Example Guitars||Epiphone Les Paul Black Beauty 3||Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute|
Tone Options: 3 Vs 2 Humbuckers
3 humbuckers setup have more tone options than 2 humbuckers setup. It still depends on your pickup switch, but ideally you should have 7-way rotary pickup switch – allowing you to play with setup below:
- Neck only
- Neck – Middle
- Middle only
- Middle – Bridge
- Bridge only
- Neck – Bridge
- Neck – Middle – Bridge (All pickups)
With 2 humbuckers, you can only play with 3 pickup selectors – this may not be versatile enough depending on your playing:
- Neck only
- Neck-Bridge (All pickups)
- Bridge only
Some guitar with 3 humbuckers come with a 3-way pickup switch – allowing you to only play Neck, Middle and Bridge individually.
You should avoid this setup – because it’s highly limited. 3 humbuckers guitars are great for the “in-between” pickup (where you at least use 2 pickups at the same time). So make use of it!
It is actually possible to customize the pickup switch and convert a 3-way switch into a 7-way rotary switch. But the wiring is complicated to do at home. I recommend bringing it to a professional instead.
Playability: 3 Vs 2 Humbuckers
3 humbucker setup can be annoying to play because the middle humbucker pickup gets in the way, and you end up scratching over it when you strum or pluck with your pick.
This depends on your playing style (how deep your pick goes in) – but the majority of guitarists complain about this issue with 3 humbucker setup.
There are two solutions to this 3 humbucker issue:
- Anchor your wrist on the bridge and get used to it. This gives your picking hand more stability and you will less likely go deep and scratch the middle pickup. I say you can get used to this in about a week or so.
- Relocate the middle pickup to the back – closer to the bridge. This requires a custom job and the wiring is not as easy. But it’s definitely possible and quite common.
Aesthetics: 3 Vs 2 Humbuckers
3 humbucker setup can overcrowd a guitar body and make it look messy. If you prefer a simple and clean design, then the 2 humbucker setup is the way to go.
The aesthetic depends entirely on your preference. However, it’s a common complaint from the guitar community that a 3 humbucker setup is too overcrowded.
Here are images of guitars with 3 and 2 humbucker setup. What do you think? I personally agree with the community – it’s too overcrowded for my liking.
Price: 3 Vs 2 Humbuckers
The price of 3 humbuckers and 2 humbuckers setup don’t differ by much. Pickups alone don’t play a major role on the prices of guitars. Instead, it’s the body, brand and manufacturing.
You can get a humbucker pickup set for about $25 from Amazon. This is fairly cheap and will not be a major factor in defining the price of a guitar.
Which means, you don’t have to worry about price when choosing a 3 or 2 humbucker setup. Instead, look into the brand and where it is manufactured.
Guitars manufactured in the East like China or Indonesia are way cheaper than guitars manufactured in the US or Mexico.
Related article: Why Is Squier Cheaper Vs Fender: Is It Good? (& Pro Usage)
Example Guitars: 3 Vs 2 Humbuckers
An example of guitar with 3 humbuckers setup is the Epiphone Les Paul Black Beauty 3 ($800).
Whereas a guitar with 2 humbuckers is quite common. An example would be Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute ($999).
Both are great guitars, and you can see that the guitar with 3 humbuckers is even cheaper. This is because Epiphone is the lesser expensive brand (which plays a major factor in guitar price).
When it comes to guitars with humbuckers, Gibson is always the go to. They are a premium brand and very much well established in the guitar world. FYI – Epiphone is a company that’s owned by Gibson.
3 humbuckers give you more tone versatility – especially if you have a 7-way rotary pickup switch. It will also give you more volume and fuller tone – which is good for high gain play.
That said, I personally think a mixture of humbuckers and single coils to be the best and most versatile.
Humbucker pickup is great for high gain, distorted play but it’s not great for a clean tone. If you have both humbucker and single coil pickups, then you can switch around based on your needs of dirty or clean.
For most guitarists, I recommend going for HSS pickup configuration. This is where you have humbucker on the bridge, single coil on the middle and neck.
When needing to play high gain distorted sound, switch to the bridge humbucker. When needing to play a clean tone or solos, switch to the single coil neck.
More info on guitar pickups here: Does Guitar Pickup Matter? Sound Difference On Type & Price