Changing the pickups on a guitar is one of the first things many guitarists do when they are looking to experiment on and improve their sound. This makes sense, as very often manufacturers skimp on the quality aspect of the pickup or pickups when creating a cost effective guitar.
Upgrading the pickup on a guitar is common practice amongst many guitar players who aren't happy with the quality or sound of what's installed in their current guitar. Even if you're a relative beginner it's never too soon to think about a guitar pickup upgrade.
When it comes to making a decision about what type of pickup would best suit you, you'll be pleased to know that you have plenty of choice; as there is a multitude of pickups available from a wide range of manufacturers. Humbuckers, acoustic and single coil are some of the main types available
Dimarzio, EMG and Seymour Duncan are some of the most renowned manufacturers that produce the Humbucker pickup, this type of electromagnetic device helps produce a very powerful tone, with there being humbuckers to produce everything from a heavy crunch sound to a heavy blues sound. You can also obtain vintage sounding humbuckers, commonly seen on the "Les Paul" style guitars made by Gibson.
You'll find that generally most pickups will produce a distinct sound, whether it's a high pitch tone, or a warm, and bass like sound. To generate these sounds, the pickups are designed and made out of different sizes and types of wires, magnets and screws.
The magnetic fields created around magnetic guitar pickups can be produced from two different magnet arrangements. You could have a pickup that is a magnetic rod attached to the very base of the pickup, or you could have a pickup that uses pole pieces to achieve a magnetic field.
When it comes to fitting a pickup to an acoustic guitar you are more limited by choice. The main reason for this is that acoustic pickups are intended to help produce an amplified sound rather than create a different tone. The three types of acoustic guitar pickup commonly available are the soundboard transducer, soundhole transducer and the undersaddle transducer. When it comes to the sound produced soundboard transducers are the most natural sounding of the three types. The soundhole type of pickup on the other hand generally makes an acoustic guitar sound and look more like an electric guitar. The undersaddle transducer, which because of the way it's fitted tends to be less visible than the other types, has a very natural sound and is great for finger picking and light or moderate strumming.
Single coil pickups produce a vintage sound with plenty of feedback and are used on guitars such as the Fender Stratocaster. It's not unusual to find a guitar that has more than one single coil pickup fitted, which allows the player the flexibility to toggle between pickup configurations by flipping a switch on the body of the guitar.
Apart from the different types of magnetic guitar pickups there is another type known as the piezo electric pickup. Whereby magnetic pickups make use of a magnetic flux or field the piezo type operate by responding to the vibrations of the guitar strings. Mostly made from polymers the fact that they operate without using a magnetic field means that they can be used with both metal and nylon strings, making them an ideal choice for acoustic guitars.
Still not sure if a guitar pickup upgrade is necessary? Well, if you ever talk to an accomplished guitarist you'll almost always hear them say that the tone their guitar produces is almost always determined by the kind of pickup they have fitted!