Buyers Guides

7 Best Humbucker Pickups (2023) Fat Tone Without the Interference

The best humbucker pickups provide warmth and punch while doing away with the hum that is commonplace on single coils. There are plenty of humbucker models on the market, ranging from passive to active models, and there is something out there for every taste and preference.

Customizing your guitar with aftermarket pickups can allow you to improve your tone, while retaining the feel and playability of your favorite instrument. In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ve put together a list of 7 of our favorite pickups to help you figure out which humbuckers might work for you and your sound.

While reviewing each set of humbuckers, we focused on overall tone, articulation, clarity, and features. Keep reading if you’re looking to upgrade your humbuckers!

Editor's Choice
Gibson Accessories Custombucker Humbucker Pickup Matched Set

Gibson Accessories Custombucker Humbucker Pickup Matched Set

Features: Hand wound, Alnico magnets, Unpotted design

Benefits: Exceptionally authentic PAF tone, Well balanced output, Excellent versatility

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Best Value
Fishman Fluence Signature Series Tim Henson 6-string Pickup Set

Fishman Fluence Signature Series Tim Henson 6-string Pickup Set

Features: 3 voice technology, Push/pull pots and wires included, Active power 

Benefits: Easy solderless installation, Unmatched tonal variety, Excellent definition

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Best Budget
Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded SH-4/SH-2

Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded SH-4/SH-2

Features: Alnico V magnets, uncovered design, 4 Conductors

Benefits: Suitable for all genres, Excellent harmonics, Great sustain

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Best Humbucker Pickups – Our Top 3

The Fishman Fluence Signature Series Tim Henson is our Top Pick for this article. This set of active pickups comes with the company’s Multi-voice Fluence Core and delivers fantastic flexibility and tone for a variety of styles and playing styles. 

The Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded SH-4 SH-2n Humbucker Set is our Best Budget choice. Featuring two very popular passive humbucker pickups, this set displays a good balance of punch and warmth, all while remaining very affordable. 

Finally, the Gibson Accessories Custombucker Matched Set is our Editor’s Choice. Specially voiced and designed to provide a late 50s PAF tone, they offer great articulation and tone for professional guitarists.

Best Humbucker Pickups – Individual Reviews

Top Pick

Versatility and fantastic tone with nice articulation.

These pickups are the result of a collaboration between Tim Henson and Fishman. Made to fit Henson’s unique and highly technical playing style, these Fishman pickups give you the flexibility of having three voices that go from near-acoustic to single-coil and all the way to humbuckers.

The Fishman Fluence Signature Series Tim Henson is a set of active pickups featuring the company’s Multi-voice Fluence Core. They were developed in conjunction with the virtuoso guitarists from the band Polyphia, and we were super excited to try them in our Epiphone Les Paul Standard. 

Installation was relatively simple for anyone that has done this before. Fishman included an installation user guide that did a great job of explaining the process step by step. 

Plugged into our Fender Twin Reverb amp, we started our tests with the neck pickup. Here we got a rich and buttery humbucker tone on voice one. We then engaged in voice two, where we got more of an acoustic type of tone. Finally, voice three gave us a balanced single coil tone, our favorite of the three on the neck position. 

On the other hand, the bridge pickup gave us a sound that was modeled from Fishman’s hot-rodded Classic sound on voice one. We liked this tone both for clean and distorted  styles, as it was always balanced and articulate

Voice two gave us more of a muscular tone that paired really nicely with our distortion units, including our Ibanez Tube Screamer and Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi. However, voice three on the bridge position was our favorite for distorted tones. It gave us a hot single-coil tone, with great articulation and clarity.

Verdict: The Fishman Fluence Signature Series Tim Henson is a set of active pickups designed with the celebrated Polyphia guitarist. It gives you a nice variety as it offers single coil, humbucker, and even acoustic-type tones that deliver quality. In short, a fantastic set of pickups that delivers great tone and nice versatility for many styles and genres.

Best Budget

A classic and timeless sound.

The JB Model SH-4 has been one of Seymour Duncan's most popular pickups, beloved for providing that classic hot-rodded humbucker tone for decades. When combined with the rounder and mellower SH-2 Jazz Model, you get a perfect fit for your guitar, and all at a great price.

The Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded SH-4 SH-2n Humbucker Set offers a nice balance of aggression on the bridge position and a rounder character on the neck. 

We started our tests in the bridge position, with the JB model SH-4 going through our Tube Screamer distortion pedal and into our Fender Tiwn amp. Right off the gate, we got plenty of output with a sound that had just the right amount of harmonics and sustain. This was bridge position humbucking heavy, with great tone for everything from classic rock to blues and beyond.

Although this pickup was fantastic with distortion, it also did a good job when played clean. It gave our clean parts a penetrating tone that was never shrill, and paired nicely with our TC Electronic reverb and chorus pedals. 

Moving on to the SH-2 Jazz Model on the neck position, we got a rounder and mellower tone. It had nice articulation, and it was a good choice for clean jazz tones, especially with the tone knob dialed back from all the way to fully turned to about 7, from the fully turned clockwise position. It also delivered a nice and articulate sound in clean for playing open chords with the tone knob at around eight. 

This neck pickup also paired well with our Tube Screamer, particularly for less saturated uses. It pushed the amp into a nice overdrive that had good note clarity and worked well for bluesy or even some jazz licks.

Verdict: The Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded SH-4 SH-2n Humbucker Set gives the user a good balance of aggression for the bridge position and a jazzier character on the neck. With good clarity and punch, this set of passive humbuckers remains very popular around the world for good reason.

Editor's Choice

Fantastic PAF tone for discerning professionals.

This set of matched pickups was designed to emulate the sound of vintage PAF humbuckers with great detail. They come with Alnico 3 magnets and are then hand-wound with a slightly denser winding in order to deliver an authentic PAF tone with exceptional clarity and bite.

The Gibson Accessories Custombucker matched set was specially voiced and constructed to provide that beloved PAF tone that is so highly sought after. We installed them in our Epiphone Les Paul Standard and used our Fender Twin Reverb amp for this test.

We started by trying out the neck position pickup in clean. We got fantastic articulation, as well as an open tone with a nice weight to it. We loved this sound for all types of jazz playing, from chord-soloing on standards to bebop lines. This PAF pickup was really responsive, and lent a very dynamic feel. 

On the other hand, the bridge pickup gave us a more forward and bitey tone, with a late-’50s PAF flair to it (if you’re into guitar history, you’ll love the story of the original PAF hum buckers in our untold story of the Les Paul!). We liked how articulate it was when played clean clean, for both chords and country-type lines. It also sounded phenomenal with a bit of distortion, retaining a musical quality, while still retaining superb clarity. 

Because these pickups featured hand wiring that was wrapped with slightly denser wire, it compensated well for the notoriously low output Alnico 3 magnets. As a result, both pickups provided a timeless PAF tone with enough bite for the modern musician that loves that vintage Gibson sound. 

Verdict: The Gibson Accessories Custombucker Matched set delivers an authentic PAF tone with real vintage feel. Both of these pickups provide great response and a dynamic playing experience and are a fantastic choice for players looking for quality PAF pickups.

Also Consider

Quality "quack" tones from a PAF pickup set.

This set of Seymour Duncan PAF-type pickups pays tribute to the legendary blues great Peter Green. This set of pickups delivers those "quack" tones that the blues master was known for and offers a great response to the player's dynamic and touch.

The Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Greenie 1-conductor is a humbucker set that features a reversed neck pickup magnet for achieving that quack tone that guitar master Peter Green used so well.

We set them up on our Epiphone Les Paul and plugged them into our Fender Twin Reverb amp for our tests. Both pickups on this set are made with Alnico II magnets, and we started with the bridge position, with an 8.7 k DC resistance.  

We got a nice PAF tone that had a nice combination of musicality and bite to it. We liked this pickup and played both clean and distorted -it really sounded great when paired with our Ibanez Tube Screamer. It gave us a nice, warm overdrive, as well as some more aggressive settings that sounded good, particularly with the tone knob at midpoint. 

We then activated booth pickups to get that quack tone that the famous Les Paul Greenie (now owned by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett) was so well known for for, with an unmistakable PAF tone and feel. Finally, we tried the neck pickup, with a DC resistance of 8.7 k. Here we got a mellower tone that can be used for blues, rock, and even jazz. This pickup had great articulation, both on clean and in several distorted contexts. 

Besides being musical and responsive, these Seymour Duncans were also easy to install. They fit any standard humbucking pickup route and will be a straightforward process for anyone that has done this before. However, if you are looking for a modern-sounding set of pickups, seek other options. 

Verdict: The Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Greenie 1-conductor is a humbucker set that delivers a PAF tone and a great response. They also deliver that Peter Green quack tone thanks to the bridge pickup which features a reversed magnet.

Also Consider

An effective and very popular set of pickups.

This Seth Lover pickup set has been popular for years, and even icons like Joe Perry and Dweezil Zappa rely on them constantly. They resemble the original humbuckers designed by pickup master Seth Lover for Gibson back in the mid-'50s and offer nice versatility and PAF tone.

The Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbuckers were specifically designed to get as close as possible to the originals from 1955. These pickups are not wax-potted, in order to achieve that authentic PAF tone.

We installed them in our Epiphone Les Paul and that process was relatively painless. We also used our Roland JC 120 amp this test, going through our pedalboard. Starting with the neck pickup (7.4 K), we got a warm, yet articulate sound. It wasn’t exactly jazzy, but still had  a mellow character to it, with good note definition and balance.  

We then went on to the bridge pickup which features a DC Resistance of 8.25K. Just like the neck pickup, it is made with Alnico II magnets. It gave us a nice PAF voice with a balanced and vintage-type tone and perfect when paired with our Tube Screamer. 

On clean, the bridge pickup had a nice balance and a tone that was present but in a very musical way. Both pickups had great responsiveness, with good dynamics for just about any style. Although this is a good-sounding set of PAF pickups that deliver good tone and response, they are not a great option for genres that require very aggressive distortion such as metal. 

Verdict: The Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbuckers were specifically designed to PAF tone from the original set designed by Seth Lover in 1955. With a musical response and great articulation and balance, this set of pickups delivers a good traditional tone.

Also Consider

A flexible and elegant Humbucker Set for Jazzmasters.

This set of pickups is an authentic re-creation of Fender's renowned Wide Range Humbuckers. Just like the originals, they come with threaded CuNiFe magnets and offer great versatility and tone for Jazzmaster players.

The Fender CuNiFe Wide Range Jazzmaster Pickup Set features a dual-coil design and is designed after the famed Wide Range Humbucker. We dusted off our Squier Classic Vibe Jazzmaster to install these pickups, and it was a straightforward process as they’re a straight drop-in replacement for these  guitars.

Plugged into our Fender Twin Reverb amp, we got a clear and articulate tone on the bridge pickup, which features an 11.5 K DC Resistance. The tone here had a byte similar to what some modern single coil pickups offer, but with the punch of a dynamic humbucker. We really liked how it thicked the sound from our original Jazzmaster pickup, as it was a great enhancement.

When we ran through aTube Screamer, we got some healthy punch with crisp highs and great articulation. We also found it to be really responsive, evidenced by the fact that it picked up every nuance of our playing. 

Moving on to the neck pickup (10.4 K), we rolled back the tone knob to around 7 to get that warm jazz tone that these guitars are also known for. We loved it when played on clean, as we went through some bebop lines over some jazz changes, with great response and a detailed midrange that was never dull. With the tone knob dimed, we got a nice tone for comping on clean for other styles such as blues and pop.

The neck pickup also gave us a nice overdriven tone with our Tube Screamer at lower distortion settings. Here we got a bit of that John Scofield feel when we rolled the tone knob up past six. 

Verdict: The Fender CuNiFe Wide Range Jazzmaster Pickup Set comes in a dual-coil design and delivers a fattened tone for your Jazzmaster guitar. They were designed to mimic the sound and vibe of Fender’s renowned Wide Range humbucker pickup and offer a straightforward replacement process to enhance the tone of your Jazzmaster. In conclusion, a nice-sounding set of pickups that deliver that ’70s-era Wide Range humbucker tone.

Also Consider

High output humbuckers that deliver legendary tone.

This set of pickups is a collaboration between EMG and James Hetfield. The Metallica legend wanted to have the clarity and punch of a passive pickup as well as the big wall of sound that the EMG 81 humbucker offers. This new set of pickups represents the evolution in Hetfield's guitar tone and is now available for you.

The EMG JH James Hetfield “Het” Active Humbucker comes with a solderless installation system that allowed us to easily install them. With black nickel-plated caps, these pickups certainly looked the part and delivered a sleek and menacing look. 

We plugged right into our Marshall DSL40CR to test them out, starting with the bridge pickup, the JH-B. Paired with our Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi, we got a tight attack and tons of punch with high output. This tone was perfect not only for leads but also for precise riffing and rhythmic playing in a metal and its subgenres.

We also liked how the JH-B sounded clean. Paired with our TC Electronic reverb, we got a balanced tone that had a nice overall quality, especially on the lows.

In the neck position, there’s a JH-N pickup. It comes with a 10 k DC capacitance, just like the JH-B. The JH-N produces more attack than your regular neck pickup as well as a higher output. It gave us a full low end and was great with aggressive distortion, as it kept a balanced focus with a rounder overall tone. 

Although we also liked it without distortion, we preferred the JH-B for cleans as they offered a balanced and dynamic tone and feel. This is a great set of pickups if you like James Hetfield’s tone. If you don’t, consider another option. 

Verdict: The EMG JH James Hetfield “Het” Active Humbucker features convenient solderless installation and delivers high output with a muscular tone. Perfect for metal, this set of active humbuckers was designed specifically to the specs of James Hetfield himself. To summarize, a great-sounding set of active pickups that deliver tons of output and an aggressive tone for metal. However, if you mainly play other genres, this may not be an appropriate choice.

How to Choose the Best Humbucker Pickups For You

Humbucker pickups are designed to reduce unwanted noise and hum (hence the name “humbucker”). Unlike standard single coils, or even P90 pickups, both of which have one magnetic coil, humbuckers consist of two coils wound in opposite directions which are then connected in series or parallel. This design allows humbuckers to cancel out the hum and noise, and deliver a quieter playing experience.

They are beloved for their thicker and warmer tone as well as higher output. However, they are also versatile and can be used for everything from high-gain,distorted music, through to traditional jazz, provided you buy the right humbuckers.

Naturally, it all starts with your own taste and preference. The best way to get in touch with what you like is to try different humbucker types so you can develop your own criteria. Below are a few other aspects to take into consideration.

Sound Preference

Consider the type of sound you’re aiming for. Different humbuckers have unique tonal characteristics, ranging from warm and smooth to bright and aggressive. The sound that you prefer is a highly subjective matter, so make sure you spend some quality time trying out different options.

Take for instance Hot-Rodded Humbuckers. These are modified versions of standard humbuckers, designed to deliver higher output and more aggressive tones. They may have additional windings, and other modifications to increase their output and provide a tighter, more focused sound.

On the other hand, you’ve got the PAF (Patent Applied For) humbuckers which give you the sound of the original humbuckers designed by Gibson in the late 1950s. PAF pickups give you a vintage, classic tone, with nice balance and clarity, on a lower output.

A popular choice among metal players is active humbuckers. These feature active electronics to enhance the output and tone. Unlike traditional passive pickups, which rely solely on magnetic induction to generate a signal, active humbuckers utilize a built-in preamp powered by a battery to boost the signal and shape the sound.

Magnet Type

The type of magnet used in the humbucker can influence the sound. The two most common magnet types are alnico and ceramic. Alnico magnets (Alnico II, III, IV, V) generally provide a warmer, more vintage-inspired tone, while ceramic magnets tend to offer increased output and a more modern, aggressive sound.

Guitar Compatibility

Pay close attention to this one, as you don’t want to get pickups that won’t fit on your guitar! Make sure that the humbuckers you choose are compatible with your guitar’s body and routing. Some guitars may require specific pickup sizes or modifications for installation. Check the specifications or even ask a guitar technician if you’re unsure about compatibility.

Final Thoughts on the Best Humbucker Pickups

We covered a wide range of humbucking pickups during this roundup, covering everything from responsive PAF models with a vintage flair to high output active sets that deliver super aggressive distortion. Whether you are interested in playing metal, good ol rock n roll, or jazz and blues, there is a humbucker that will fit your style (and guitar!).

Recapping our favorites, the Fishman Fluence Signature Series Tim Henson was our Top Pick for this list. This set of active pickups comes with the flexible Multi-voice Fluence Core features, which give you great versatility and tone for a variety of styles and playing styles. 

Next up,the Seymour Duncan Hot Rodded SH-4 SH-2n Humbucker Set was our Best Budget choice. This is a massively popular choice, as it gives you a good balance of punch and warmth, all while remaining very affordable. 

Last but absolutely not least, the Gibson Accessories Custombucker Matched Set  was our Editor’s Choice. These pickups are specially voiced and designed to offer a late 50s PAF tone, with fantastic articulation, tone, response, and dynamics that dedicated professionals will certainly appreciate. 


  • Rodrigo Sanchez

    Rodrigo is an award-winning songwriter (Best Popular Song Of 2018 for Ibermúsicas), and has worked with the prestigious EMI Music Publishing Latin America. He has production credits on artists such as Descemer Bueno, and has also composed alongside Grammy and ASCAP award-winners such as Sebastián De Peyrecave and José Luis Morín.