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Although there are many components you can swap out on your guitar that will have a noticeable effect on its tone and playability, none are quite as important as pickups.
Pickups have a near direct relationship to the tone that comes out of your guitar.
This doesn’t mean that your Tele will sound like an entirely new guitar just because you put different pickups in it.
It would be better to think of it this way – that different pickups will bring out different qualities in your guitar.
Here we will look at some of the best Telecaster pickups available and compare them side by side.
Most Telecaster and Tele style guitars come with two pickups – one in the bridge position and one in the neck position.
Some Teles, however, do have three pickups (an additional pickup in the middle position).
It is possible to purchase standalone pickups (i.e. one for the bridge or the neck) and it is also possible to purchase pickup sets that come with both.
We’ll begin this guide by looking at standalone pickups in case you’re interested in swapping out just one pickup.
Also, standalone pickups tend to be a little more affordable than pickup sets, in case that’s a consideration.
Seymour Duncan STL-1 Vintage ’54 Telecaster Bridge Pickup
Seymour Duncan is a reputable brand in the pickup space, and when guitarists first go looking for new pickups, many of them land on Seymour Duncans.
The Telecaster is famous for producing twang, bite and bark, making it perfect for country, and of course blues and rock.
The STL-1 Vintage ’54, naturally, gives you a more vintage edge to your tone.
Duncan claims this is a “straightforward”, no-nonsense pickup that gives you the tone that defined an era.
It comes with hand ground alnico 5 rod magnets with a raised D and G and a lower output wind.
What it amounts to is that this pickup will give your leads a bright tone.
Duncan paid attention to every detail in the creation of this pickup – they hand ground the magnets, hand assembled the bobbins from Forbon and dipped them in lacquer before winding.
After winding, they wrap the pickup in black cotton yarn.
A waxed cloth hookup wire is then soldered to the coil eyelets.
The only thing to look out for with the Seymour Duncan pickup is that it’s exceptionally bright, and that may not be to some people’s liking.
Don't forget, however, that you can always dial back the highs on your amp.
DiMarzio DP389 Tone Zone T Tele Humbucker Bridge Pickup
When people think DiMarzio, they generally think pickups suited to heavier rock genres.
And, while there is some truth to that sentiment, on the list of players who use DiMarzio, you will find players like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Steve Lukather, Paul Gilbert, Phil Collen and so on.
So, “heavier” genres maybe, but not necessarily metal.
These are the types of players that demand tonal perfection, dynamics and articulation, so it would also be fair to say these are pickups for people who obsess over tone.
The DiMarzio DP389 Tone Zone Telecaster pickup offers strong mid-range and bass response as well as chimey harmonics.
It has both humbucker and single coil modes for tonal versatility thanks to its four-conductor wiring.
Although the Tone Zone pickup may have the output of a humbucking pickup, it still retains some of the single coil twang you’d expect from a Tele.
In humbucking mode, you get considerably more warmth and in single coil mode you can get more twang.
Reviewers are generally positive about the pickup, though I would still advise listening to a few demos before you settle on the DiMarzio.
Seymour Duncan STHR-1B Hot Rails Bridge Pickup For Tele
Sometimes you genuinely need that mean, humbucking crunch from your Tele.
In such a scenario, the STHR-1B Hot Rails pickup comes highly recommended.
The high-output humbucker comes with a ceramic magnet, dual steel blades and over wound coils, giving you a heavy tone with extra sustain.
Because of this, this pickup could be used for rock and metal, if you so desire.
The hand-built pickup comes with a four-conductor lead wire for various wiring options and is also wax potted for less noise.
There’s no question this pickup will give you a heavier tone and if that’s what you’re going for, you’re sure to love it.
Note – it will change the sound of your Tele.
This pickup may not fit certain Tele models by default – be sure to check before purchase.
Fender Vintage Reissue ’62 Telecaster Neck Pickup
If you’re interested in swapping out your Tele’s neck pickup, you might want to check out the Fender Vintage Reissue ’62.
This pickup will give you that signature tele twang with edge and warmth.
The Vintage Reissues come with Alnico 3 magnets and enamel-coated magnet wire.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the obsession with vintage tone is common – some people feel early Fender tones were among the best.
Honestly, it comes down to what you like best.
To me, this pickup has a pleasing, mellow sound to it.
So, if you’re looking for something brighter, you may want to look elsewhere.
But many guitarists don’t mind a mellow sound in the neck (rhythm) position, as it gives them more tonal variety.
Overall, the Fender has gotten high praise from its users, making it a must see.
DiMarzio Twang King Bridge Telecaster Pickup
The affordable and attractive Twang King is responsive and dynamic thanks to controlled-tension coil-winding, special wire and hand-calibrated magnets.
The pickup has been wax-potted twice for squeal-free performance.
DiMarzio’s aim in creating the Twang King was to develop a vintage-sounding pickup that combined the best aspects of Broadcaster and Telecaster pickups from the 50s and early 60s.
They were looking for a combination of big, clean lows and fat highs, in addition to a wide dynamic range.
This product features two-conductor wiring and an Alnico 5 magnet.
This pickup sounds unique to my ears.
And, it’s no surprise considering what DiMarzio’s goal was in creating them.
The pickup won’t necessarily make your guitar sound like something other than a Tele, but it’s clear there are shades of other tones in there.
If you like that characteristic Tele “quack” and want to bring it out more, you’ll probably love this pickup.
Seymour Duncan – 11204-04 – APTR-1 Alnc II Pro Rhy For Tele
The Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro Tele neck pickup gives you a vintage output rhythm tone, except with alnico 2 rod magnets, which offer a sweet, smooth high-end.
It features a vintage style coil wind, sand cast alnico 2 rod magnets and deep drawn chrome plated brass cover.
Duncan suggests that the alnico 2 magnets offer a more balanced response than the alnico 5s.
The RWRP will cancel hum, and the hand-assembled pickup also comes with period correct color and thickness of Forbon and cloth pushback lead wires.
The pickup is wax potted.
Many players love the warm tone this product offers, and some have even used it for jazz (!).
It works decently for that purpose, but I would still darken up the tone considerably if I was to play jazz with it.
What customers seem to like most about it is its smooth tone.
Seymour Duncan Hot Tele Neck Pickup
The Seymour Duncan Hot Tele neck pickup is an overwound single coil with fat tone.
This pickup is hotter and warmer than a standard vintage neck pickup with added midrange response.
The highs are smoothed out, giving it more aggressive bass.
Hand-built in Santa Barbara, the Hot Tele features alnico 5 rod magnets, traditional deep drawn chrome plated Telecaster cover and wax potted for noise.
This pickup simply sounds great to me, as I’m sure many users would agree.
The highs, mids and bass all seem perfectly balanced.
And, you can draw both Tele and Strat like tones out of your guitar with the Hot.
There is also added clarity with this pickup over a stock one.
As noted earlier, you can buy one pickup or two.
If you have a stock/more affordable Telecaster, then your preference might be to replace both pickups for more of an upgrade.
And, different pickup combinations will produce different tonal results.
If a pickup set is what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place.
Let’s look at a few different quality pickup sets.
Tonerider TRT2 Hot Classic Tele Pickup Set
Tonerider isn’t necessarily a name you hear all the time in the pickup space, but they do specialize in pickups, and as such, are usually worth a look.
The Tonerider TRT2 Hot Classic pickup set comes with two vintage output alnico V single-coil pickups.
The Nickel-silver neck pickup cover gives you access to crystal clear tones.
The pickups have been wound with AWG43 neck and AWG42 bridge wires.
They come with USA-made “push-back” cloth wire for easy installation and have been wax potted and RWRP to reduce feedback and hum.
To me, the pickups sound balanced with a lot of bite.
The Toneriders are hot sellers and may just be what you need for your Tele.
Most customers are enthusiastic about these pickups, which is always a good sign too.
Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Tele Set
The Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Tele set are single coils with a humbucking attitude and have the highest output of any Duncan Tele pickups.
If you’re looking to add some upper midrange growl to your tone, these might just be for you.
They come with a custom overwound coil, hand polished alnico 5 rod magnets, Forbon flatwork, deep drawn chrome plated Telecaster for the neck and are wax potted.
To me, the Quarter Pound pickups offer a full, thick, warm Tele tone.
They also offer more sustain overall.
Customers seem satisfied with the results.
My only other comment here would be to ensure you know what you’re buying.
If you prefer a thinner, brighter tone, maybe you should stick to your stock pickups or find others that are more suited to that type of tone.
If you’re looking for a bitey, fuller tone, then you’ll probably like these.
Fender Pure Vintage Reissue Telecaster Pickups
We can’t forget that Fender makes great pickups, and after all, they are responsible for inventing the Telecaster guitar.
When it comes to Teles, however, it seems there are often better options out there.
The Pure Vintage Reissue Telecaster pickups will still be a worth a look for some, depending on what you’re looking for in tone.
As the name suggests, the Vintage Reissues give you a vintage twang and come with alnico 3 magnets, enamel-coated magnet wire, flush-mount pole pieces for even string response, period-correct cloth output wire and fiber bobbin, tin-plated copper base plate and a one-year warranty.
As far as I can tell, these pickups give you warmth and fullness along with some spank as you play more aggressively.
So, the Fender pickup set is another worth considering.
As with other Fender pickup products, quality control seems to be the main issue, so assuming you get the right pickup set, you should be quite happy with these noisemakers.
Seymour Duncan Little ’59 Tele Set
For those who want to give their Teles a humbucking upgrade in the bridge and classic Tele twang in the neck, we have the Seymour Duncan Little ’59 Tele set.
The medium output bridge pickup is a little bit like a P.A.F.
The single coil sized pickup has a subtly scooped midrange, making it great for country and rock.
The four-conductor lead wire allows for parallel and split wiring if you’re interested in pulling even more tones out of your axe.
These pickups are fitted for Fender American Standard Telecasters and other Teles that accommodate similarly configured pickups.
The pickups feature ceramic bar and alnico 5 magnets, deep drawn chrome plated cover the neck, four-conductor lead wire and wax potted for squeal elimination.
In case I wasn’t clear, these are essentially humbucking pickups for your Tele.
They sound full, warm, dark and thick.
Of course, you can make them sound spankier by tweaking your EQ.
If you’re interested in warming up your Tele, check out the Seymour Duncan pair.
What Should I Look For In Telecaster Pickups?
Tone is highly individual to the extent that what sounds good to me won’t necessarily sound good to you.
Likewise, what one expert says is great may not be to your liking.
Even if we were talking about the hum or buzz a pickup produces, I might prefer less, while you may not mind a pickup that produces more noise if it sounds good to you.
So, I don’t have the definitive answer as to what pickups you should buy.
But I do have a few suggestions.
Here’s what I would look for in a new set of Tele pickups:
Go for something with the tone you need, whether that’s bright, crisp, twangy, spanky, full, warm, dark, rich or otherwise.
This will come down to preference as well as perception, as how you hear a specific pickup set might be different from how I hear it.
And honestly, if you hadn’t noticed already, guitars tend to sound different in the hands of different players.
Focus on finding something that feels right to you.
Minimal Buzz, Hum & Noise
If you’re going to be playing a Tele, you should accept that a certain amount of noise is inevitable.
And, if you love a specific pickup set because of its tone, despite the noise it produces, I won’t cast any judgment in your direction.
I prefer less noise myself, though that doesn’t mean I would put it above tone.
Tone is still a more important factor.
So, while this may not be your top concern, it is one factor to be thinking about when buying pickups.
The Right Fit
Tele models are all a little different, meaning not all of them accommodate the same pickups.
Check out the manufacturer website or talk to a qualified guitar tech to find out whether a certain pickup set will fit your guitar.
If the pickups don't fit, you may need to make some modifications to the guitar, in which case you'll definitely want to hire a guitar tech.
The Right Type
Single coil and double coil pickups are kind of a different beast, and I'll be talking more about that later.
In some cases, you'll need to replace your pots if you change from single to double or the other way around, so be mindful of that.
We haven’t looked at any crazy-looking pickups in this guide, so any pickup(s) you choose should look great on your guitar.
Of course, for some, this is still an important consideration.
You might prefer certain pickups over others because of their look.
So, if how your pickups look is important to you, don’t forget to look over the selection and choose the right one(s).
The Right Price
Though pickups are not absurdly expensive, we always suggest planning your purchases and spending wisely instead of going overbudget or even into debt.
If you’re planning to upgrade, be sure to keep price in mind.
What Types Of Pickups Are There?
It may appear as though there are many types of pickups out there.
Terms like “vintage”, “modern”, “single-coil”, “humbucker”, “high output”, “passive”, “active” and others can all add to that impression.
But the truth is that most pickups are similar in construction with minor differences to materials and winding methods.
Here is an explanation of a few different types of pickups available.
Fender is not a type of pickup but rather a guitar brand or manufacturer that produces pickups in addition to guitars, amps, bridges, strings and other accessories.
So, Fender is a pickup maker much the same way Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio and Tonerider are.
With that in mind, Fender – the creator of Telecasters – does offer a variety of pickup types for Teles, including:
- Custom Shop Texas Special Tele Pickups.
- Custom Shop Twisted Tele Pickups.
- Custom Shop ’51 Nocaster Tele Pickups.
- Tex-Mex Telecaster Pickups.
- V-Mod Telecaster Pickup Set.
- Original Vintage Tele Pickups.
- Pure Vintage ’64 Telecaster Pickup Set.
- Gen 4 Noiseless Telecaster Pickups.
- Vintage Noiseless Tele Pickups.
- Deluxe Drive Telecaster Pickups.
- N3 Noiseless Tele Pickups.
- Pure Vintage ’58 Telecaster Pickups.
We looked at a couple of Fender products in this guide, but others, like the ones listed here, may be worth exploring.
Single coil pickups are awesome, and this is typically what Teles come equipped with.
The only problem with single coils is that they tend to produce unwanted buzz, hum and noise.
This is often accentuated when you are closer to your amp.
This is one of the reasons humbucking pickups were created in the first place, as they tend to reduce or even eliminate that hum.
But that can affect tone.
This is where noiseless pickups come in.
But the dirty secret is that noiseless pickups are basically just humbuckers.
It’s fair to say noiseless pickups were invented because guitars equipped with single coils can’t accommodate humbuckers unless they were originally set up that way.
So, a noiseless pickup is a single-coil size humbucker that attempts to retain as much of that single-coil tone as possible.
As I mentioned earlier, in the guitar world, there is a bit of a fixation on vintage tones.
Thus, vintage pickups.
But there is a difference between vintage pickups and vintage style pickups, where vintage pickups are literally old, and vintage style pickups were created to sound like older ones.
Generally, the term “vintage” applies to pickups that were developed before 1970.
And, another odd factor is that people only use the term vintage when they’re referring to something they like.
If it’s old and they don’t like it, they’re unlikely to call it “vintage”.
Vintage pickups are basically those that have gone through an ageing process, and as result have a softer, smoother tone.
Vintage style pickups just emulate those characteristics of older pickups.
An aftermarket pickup refers to any pickup or pickup set your guitar did not originally come with.
It’s standard for electric guitars to come with a stock set of pickups, and the more expensive the guitar, the more likely it is to come with better pickups.
Guitar customizers love to research, discuss and obsess over aftermarket pickups.
And, when you see those shiny boxes that line the guitar stores, you can’t help but drool over the possibilities.
As with anything else, the internet has made it easier for you to research and find what you’re looking for.
You can even watch demos and reviews, which will give you a good idea of what any pickup sounds like.
You can also buy guitars that come with specific pickups without having to rely on the purchase of aftermarket pickups.
There is also some discussion online about the fact that you can basically get any sound you like with the right mix of pedals, amps and VST plugins – without ever having to change your pickups.
But I still find it a lot of fun to look at aftermarket pickup options.
Single Coil Pickups
A single coil pickup isn’t just one that takes up half the space of a humbucker.
Because, as we’ve already seen, noiseless pickups are essentially humbuckers that take up the same amount of space as a single coil.
And, there are other types of humbuckers that take up the same amount of space as a single coil (like stacked humbuckers).
Single coil pickups generally have a bright, crisp, lower output, wide dynamic response and versatile tone compared to humbuckers.
But we can only speak in generalities here, as the factors I’ve mentioned aren’t always applicable.
The truth is that all magnetic pickups are home to a coil of wire wrapped around a bobbin or coil former.
A single coil pickup has one, while humbuckers have two.
Humbucking pickups are sometimes called double-coil pickups, as that’s exactly what they are.
They usually offer a darker, warmer, fuller, richer and higher output tone compared to single coil pickups.
Again, this isn’t always the case, but generally, it holds up.
The only difference in construction, as I’ve already explained, is that humbuckers have two coils with wire wrapped around them versus one structure.
The Top Telecaster Pickups Reviewed, Final Thoughts
If your guitar already comes with great pickups, and you’re happy with the tone, there may not be much point in buying a new set.
Naturally, if your guitar came with lower quality pickups or you’re not entirely happy with how it’s sounding, it might be time to upgrade.
Many guitarists have found that putting new pickups in an older guitar can give it a second life, prompting them to spend more time with a guitar they haven’t been using in a while.
So, if your guitar could use a bit of a makeover, consider swapping out the pickups for newer, better ones.