Not all guitar pickups are universal and interchangeable. Pickups with the same size and type are interchangeable – regardless of brand.
If the replacement pickups are of the same style and type , you can replace them easily with a bit of soldering. Otherwise, you may have to make some modifications to the guitar’s design.
Several guitarists approach me to ask for information about guitar pickups and which ones you can substitute for your guitar. Most people are often confused about the various types of guitar pickups and which ones you can use on your guitar.
This article will tell you about the different types of guitar pickups and whether you can use them interchangeably on your guitar. Here are the topics we will cover in this article:
- What Are the Types of Pickups in Guitars?
- Acoustic Pickups
- Electric Pickups
- Can You Put Any Pickups in Any Guitar?
- Are All Pickups Interchangeable?
- Are Guitar Pickup Sizes Universal?
- Can You Mix Guitar Pickup Brands?
- How Do You Know What Pickups Will Fit Your Guitar?
What Are the Types of Pickups in Guitars?
To help you understand whether pickups are interchangeable or universal. First, we need to look at the types of guitar pickups. Both the electric and the acoustic guitar use different kinds of pickups. These are as follows.
Electric pickups can also be divided into three categories: single-coil, humbuckers, and P90 pickups.
1. Single Coil Pickups
Single coil pickups, as the name suggests, use a single coil and are used on some of the most commonly used guitars like the Fender Stratocaster, and they are known to produce a brighter sound than the humbuckers and P90s.
2. Humbucker Pickups
Humbucker pickups can be described as two single-coil pickups being used together. These pickups produce a warmer tone than single-coil pickups and were designed to lessen the hum in the sound of the single-coil pickups.
P90 pickups are essentially a middle ground for the previous two pickups as they produce a higher output than single-coil pickups but lesser than a humbucker pickup. Their tones generally have more depth than a standard single-coil pickup.
Acoustic pickups can be divided into three categories: soundhole, piezo, and transducer pickups.
1. Soundhole Pickups
These can be described as electric guitar pickups that fit in the soundhole of acoustic guitars. Higher-end pickups implement technology similar to a microphone and offer a similar response without being as sensitive to feedback.
2. Piezo Pickups
These transducers are under the saddle rather than under the soundboard. They sound more synthetic than the transducer pickups, but they make up for it by being more resistant to feedback.
3. Transducer Pickups
These pickups are known to accurately represent the instruments tine as they are attached to the soundboard. They can detect the vibrations of the soundboard due to the strings, which is why they can produce a sound reflective of that.
Can You Put Any Pickups in Any Guitar?
You can’t just put any pickup into any guitar unless you’re willing to do some modifications to the guitar’s design. However, you can use any brand as long as the pickup type is the same.
You can essentially install any pickup in your guitar as long as they are of the same type. You can’t just put a 7-string or a 12-string pickup in a 6-string guitar. The first thing to do is ensure that the pickup is made for the same guitar type as yours.
Secondly, changing the pickup types can be technical as it requires you to change your pickguard so your guitar can support the different types of pickup. Also, note that you may need to make some space if you’re looking to fit an active pickup in a guitar that uses a passive pickup.
In my recommendation, if you’re looking to change your pickups, it’s generally better to stick to the same type of pickup, meaning that buy a single-coil pickup for a guitar that uses single pickups.
Feel free to go for any brand as long as the dimensions of the replacement pickup are similar to the current pickup in your guitar.
Are All Pickups Interchangeable?
If the replacement pickups are of the same type and size, you can replace them easily with a bit of soldering. However, if the type and size are different, you may have to make some modifications to the guitar’s design.
You can swap out your guitar’s pickups if they are the same size and style as your older pickup, as it’s only a matter of wires, screws, springs, and a bit of soldering. However, if the pickups are of different sizes, it requires physical changes to the guitar, which can be very complicated and generally isn’t worth doing.
Different models of the same pickup type can be swapped with ease. So you can put a different Strat pick into a Strat. Most people prefer to get this done by professionals at a music shop, but you can do this at home if you know how to solder.
It also depends on what pickup you want to replace your current one with. For example, active pups require a battery compartment. If your guitar doesn’t have that, you may need to create one that requires significant alteration to your guitar. If you’re inexperienced, you run the risk of permanently damaging your guitar.
There are also solderless wiring mounts that you can use, but these can be very expensive compared to buying the components and soldering them yourself. However, these can be an effortless way to swap out the pickups on your guitar.
I recommend taking your guitar to a professional for changing pickups if you’re a beginner. However, if you have a bit of knowledge about soldering, then you can feel free to try and experiment, as long as you know what you’re doing.
Are Guitar Pickup Sizes Universal?
Although there is a standard industrial size, many pickups come in various sizes. Some humbuckers can fit in the space for a single-coil pickup, so it’s recommended to look at the official specs to find out the dimensions of the pickup for your guitar.
For the most part, the standard used in the industry is the ‘Les Paul’ PAF size, but several different sizes can range from company to company. Many pickups may even be designed to fit into another pickup’s cavity. For example, a mini-humbucker can fit in a P90 cavity but won’t fit in a standard humbucker’s cavity.
If you’re facing a problem fitting a pickup in your guitar, you can always modify the guitar to accommodate the changes.
Can You Mix Guitar Pickup Brands?
You can pretty much use whichever pickup brand you want by taking the old ones out and soldering the wires to the points on the new pickup. Using a different brand can alter the sound of your guitar, so it’s best to do some research first.
Feel free to mix different brands of pickups in your guitar. Make sure to use a pickup that gives you the sound you want and essentially forget about the brand.
For example, If you’re using a Duncan pickup in the neck of the guitar, you can use another pickup brand rather than an Invader pickup. The same can be applied to brands like Gibson, DiMarzio, or any other with a decent pickup collection.
How Do You Know What Pickups Will Fit Your Guitar?
A smaller pickup can fit inside the cavity of a larger pickup. However, doing the opposite usually requires modification to the guitar.
Also, it’s important to see if the pickup has the same shape or size that you want to replace or add. This is crucial to make sure the pickup fits.
If a humbucker pickup is larger, it will not fit in the single-coil cavity without modifying or routing the instrument. Changing the routing of the instrument might impact its value.
You need to ask yourself if you have the tools and expertise to change your pickup’s configuration. There are many things that you have to check before routing your instrument. For example, if the pole spacing of the pickup that you add matches your guitar’s string spacing?
Most humbuckers will fit in instruments previously cut for a humbucking pickup.
Also, most single-coil substitute pickups will fit in instruments that have already been cut for a single-coil and possibly a humbucking cavity. Minor changes may be required to the guitar’s body, but this won’t be enough to change the appearance or the working of the guitar.
I suggest not putting a distortion pickup in the neck position of your instrument as it may overpower the others in the bridge or middle position. This may cause phasing issues, or there may not be enough connections on your switch to wire in a replacement once the pickup has been installed in your instrument.
Ensure that the mounting hardware is properly spaced and that you have the correct mounting hardware for the pickups you intend to attempt.
Guitar pickups are interchangeable for the most part, so you should choose the type or brand of the pickup that you like the sound of and what fits your needs.
I hope this helped clear any confusion you had regarding guitar pickups, their types and whether you should change them, especially if you can afford to make modifications to your guitar.