Exploring different sounds is always fun, but there is only so much exploring you can do when you're stuck with the same type of pickups.
Switching between different single coil pickups can give you different tones, but no matter how high up the price range you go, you will always hear the same old sharp attack and brightness of a single coil.
So, if you really want to change up your sound, you might consider switching to a humbucker. To do this, you have to either modify your guitar so it can fit humbuckers, or buy single coil sized humbuckers that readily fit your guitar. The latter option is much cheaper and less risky.
To help you navigate through the selection of these pickups, I’ve created a list of the best single coil sized humbuckers that will keep you from potentially damaging your guitar, while still giving you the classic humbucker sound.
4 Best Humbuckers for Strat, Tele & Other Single Coil Guitars
They may be the size of a single coil, but they don’t act like it. Check out these four single coil sized humbuckers that will push your amp to its very limits.
One of the pioneers in the industry of aftermarket pickups, Seymour Duncan has an abundance of single coil sized humbuckers in their portfolio – you can really go through their offerings and find a humbucker that will fit your Strat or Tele perfectly.
One of my favorites is the beautiful white SDBR-1N that features a vintage Strat sound combined with the muddiness of a humbucker while reducing 60 cycle hum.
Unlike my previous entry, this one is meant for the neck position, so it’s perfect for lead tones of heavier genres like rock or metal. The unique split-pole design gives you the single coil snappiness, while the 4-conductor lead wire provides a hotter humbucker tone. It is also wax potted for a squeal-free performance.
Since the last entry was a Strat-style pickup, it’s only right that we include a Tele pickup on this list, and this one comes straight from Fender.
The Fender Vintage Noiseless set is marketed as a humbucker with the bite and twang of a classic 60’s Telecaster. Enamel-coated magnet wire combined with Alnico V magnets does make for a hum-free performance, but it seems to come at the price of sound.
Don’t get me wrong – these pickups still give you the classic Tele tone, but it seems that the nickel silver cover on the neck pickup doesn’t quite provide enough clarity and brightness. However, if you’re a true fan of the original Telecaster, these pickups will certainly be an upgrade from your stock ones.
And the best part – they come at a very reasonable price.
We finish off this list with another entry from Seymour Duncan, and for a good reason – this might just be one of the best aftermarket Tele bridge pickups you can find.
Nicknamed the “Little ‘59”, this pickup has a well-balanced sound with a scooped midrange and even treble and bass response, which gives it a classic humbucker sound.
Its wide range makes it very versatile – you can drop it in, crank up the distortion, and play some hard rock, or you can leave the overdrive for another day and enjoy mellow country sounds on clean.
Whatever you choose to use it for, the Little ’59 will provide you with signature Tele tone combined with the high output and noise reduction of a humbucker.
When it comes to single coil sized humbuckers for a Telecaster, you will have to try very hard to top this one. However, it does come at a slightly higher price, especially compared to the Fender Vintage Noiseless above.
Created as a direct replacement for Strat bridge pickup, the DiMarzio DP218 gives you the recognizable mixture of tone and power that made the original Super Distortion a standard for high-output humbuckers.
However, the creators of this pickup had in mind that it would be used in the slanted bridge position, so they made a couple of tweaks to make it sound better.
Like its predecessor, it can push a tube amp into crazy overdrive mode. However, the DP218 features 4-conductor wiring which gives you both parallel humbucking and split-coil modes, so you can really explore different options and find your unique sound.
If you want a versatile pickup that will transform your Stratocaster into a high-output beast, this could be the choice for you.
Why Choose Single Coil Sized Humbuckers?
If you own a guitar like the Fender Stratocaster, you might have been under the impression that the only pickups you can install are single coils. Thankfully, it is possible to enjoy thick humbucker tones by using pickups with a modified size.
Strats and similar guitars use a three-pickup configuration. Using a single coil-sized humbucker allows you to tailor this configuration to your liking, which in turn allows you to be more deliberate with the tone you create.
If your guitar currently has an SSS configuration (three single coils), you can swap one or more of these for a humbucker that is the same size.
For example, if you swapped out the bridge pickup to be a single-coil-sized humbucker, you’d be using an HSS configuration. You might find this useful if you often need to add more gain and crunch to your solos, which could be achieved by simply flicking to the bridge on your pickup selector.
Many classic electric guitars are associated with their default pickups when it comes to the tone they produce. The Fender Tele and Strat are prime examples of this, with high-output single-coils most commonly installed on these guitars.
When you use a single-coil-sized humbucker on a guitar, it completely transforms its tone-producing capabilities. These smaller humbuckers tend to sound darker, fatter, and more full-bodied.
Having these tonal qualities at your disposal can be very useful if you find that your guitar sounds a little thin when you’re playing chords or riffs in the lower registers.
In addition to their darker tone, single-coil-sized humbuckers also reduce the articulation slightly. This is why they’re often preferred by fast-playing metal guitarists and those who like to shred – they minimize the prominence of note transitions and therefore smoothen out the sound.
Another example of how using single-coil-sized humbuckers can increase the versatility of your guitar is the possibility of coil splitting. If you choose a pickup of the four-conductor variety, this will broaden your options.
The SSS configuration produces classic Strat or Tele tones, so if you’d ideally like to still have access to that sound, you can set up your found-conductor single-coil-sized humbucker pickup with a mini-toggle or push-pull mechanism.
This will allow you to split the humbucker pickup into two single coils so that you can choose between having a full single-coil configuration or adding the humbucker back in whenever you need to use it.
I’d highly recommend doing this if you enjoy the natural sound of your guitar already but are simply looking for ways to increase its versatility.
The Final Word
Changing your pickup from a single coil to a single coil sized humbucker can be a great way to add a new dimension to your sound without breaking the bank on unnecessary modifications or a new guitar. Even if you're coming from a P90 pickup, you're unlikely to be disappointed, especially if you choose a SC-sized humbucking pickup from this list.
Keep in mind, however, that every humbucker will give up some attack and crispiness of a single coil to reduce noise. If you’re a fan of the snappy tone of single coils, go for humbuckers that aren’t too muddy and dark in the low end.