The Telecaster is one of the most popular and enduring guitar models in history. It was first released in the early ’50s under the name Broadcaster, which was later changed to what we know today.
Many guitarists opt to upgrade their instruments with pickup replacements and the same is true of Tele players. The goal here is to end up with enhanced tone and response for the least amount of money.
The most common pickup configuration of the Telecaster is an S-S. In other words, both pickups are single-coils. Plenty of Teles feature humbuckers, but installing a humbucker normally requires a permanent change to your guitar in order to fit these larger pickups, including cutting the face plate. So we’ll focus this guide on single-coils.
Today, there are plenty of Tele pickup options that allow for easy replacement. In this guide, we break down the best options to help you find one that best fits your needs and genres. Keep reading.
Features: Silver wire coils, Cryogenically treated, Nickel/Stainless steel pole pieces
Benefits: Incredibly rich tone, Maximum signal efficiency, Amazing clarity & definition
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Features: 1/4" Bridge pickup pole pieces, Alnico magnets, Matched bridge/neck output
Benefits: Fuller sounding neck position, High end definition, Extra thick midrange
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Features: Alnico 3 magnets, Flush mounted pole pieces, Overwound magnets
Benefits: Even string response, Classic Telecaster twang, High output
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- Our Top 3
- Individual Reviews
- How to Choose the Right Pickups for You
- Final Thoughts
Our Top 3
The Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound is our Top Pick. This set of pickups features a higher output and is very versatile, offering true Tele tone for today’s player at a fair price.
The Fender Deluxe Drive is our Budget Option. These pickups feature that classic Tele twang and unmistakable bite. From country to rock, these pickups offer versatility and are a great replacement option that remains very affordable.
The Seymour Duncan Zephyr Silver is our Editor’s Choice. This fantastic set of pickups is built with premium components and offers superior tone and response for the ultimate professional who truly cares about sound and quality.
A fantastic duo of single coils with high output.
A nice set of pickups that cover everything from country and rock all the way to jazz and blues. With a higher output, these pickups feature the quality and expertise that Seymour Ducan brings to their products.
The Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Telecaster Lead/Rhythm Pickup Set features high output, which severs the traditional tele twang well.
Both the neck and bridge position pickups were designed in order to get the most of their positions.
Seymour Duncan designed the STL-3 lead bridge pickup with hefty quarter-inch diameter pole pieces. This results in a more powerful magnetic field that boosts the output and can serve a variety of modern styles well.
Additionally, it allows for a special coil winding that, when combined with the stronger magnetic field, delivers a high-end definition. In our tests, we tried STL-3 bridge pickup clean at first and got a powerful treble bite and an emphatic midrange that was quite full.
We then tried it with our Boss overdrive and got a beautiful tone that sounded full with open chords and even some lines and double stops. When paired with our Tube Screamer for distortion, this pickup gave us a nice Tele growl, but with a higher output. Great for rock and blues.
While the neck pickup is comparable to the bridge pickup in tone and output, the latter is fitted with 3/16″ pole pieces and comes with a brass cover that’s chrome-plated. We tried the STR-3 on the neck and loved its clean tone, which was full and rounded with just the right amount of bite for a contemporary jazz tone, as well as pop and blues.
The STR-3 also took overdrive and distortion well and can work in a variety of contexts from blues to rock and more. This pickup set works quite nicely with tonally balanced instruments. For instance, Teles with maple or rosewood fingerboards are a great match for this pickup set.
Verdict: The Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Telecaster Pickup Set is a great choice for players who value versatility and want a modern sound. With a high output that delivers nice Tele twang, these pickups can be a great upgrade for Teles, particularly those with rosewood or maple fingerboards.
An affordable set of pickups from the original Telecaster maker.
This high output set of pickups can give your Tele a nice upgrade while remaining on budget. With this set, you will have a versatile Tele sound that can be used in a variety of genres and contexts.
The Fender Deluxe Drive Telecaster Pickups are overwound in order to provide higher output and were designed specifically to hit your amplifier’s front end hard.
We were eager to try this pickup set from the Telecaster creators. Once installed, we went straight to the amp. We got a bitey Tele twang on the bridge position pickup, courtesy of the 14.4K resistance on it.
Dialing back our amp’s volume and gain resulted in that classic Telecaster snap and chime, with a tone ideal for country music. We then tried this pickup with overdrive and distortion and got a punchy and forward sound that can work in many genres like rock, blues, and pop.
Both of these pickups feature Alnico 3 magnets. This became even more apparent when we tried the neck pickup, as the sound was focused with a nice dynamic range. We also really liked how the bridge pickup (11.3K DC resistance) sounded with a bit of overdrive, giving us a warm tone that sings beautifully for spacey solos.
Another great feature of this set is that both pickups gave us an even string response. This is due to the flush-mounted pole pieces. Installation was also easy, and this set ships with a chrome neck pickup cover, as well as installation hardware. In short, a nice set of affordable pickups to upgrade your Tele.
Verdict: The Fender Deluxe Drive Telecaster Pickups are a nice choice for folks who want to upgrade their Tele without spending too much money. Both of these pickups are overwound and give you higher output. They can be a nice upgrade and will sound good in a variety of styles, including country, rock, blues, and even jazz.
Outstanding and authentic tele tone for the ultimate professional.
This set of pickups was created with heightened attention to detail and their fantastic tone is proof of that. They give you a true Telecaster tone that has been improved for maximum efficiency while retaining the identity of this type of guitar.
The Seymour Duncan’s Zephyr Silver Telecaster Pickup Set is built with pure silver magnet wire and premium components. These pickups undergo a particular procedure called cryogenic treatment, where they’re supercooled after construction in order to improve clarity and string definition.
Both of these pickups are single-coils and offer authentic Tele tone on both positions. In addition, they feature nickel/stainless steel pole pieces for enhanced efficiency and tone.
We started our tests with the Zephyr Silver Tele Lead bridge pickup on clean. Here we got that traditional open-coil sound for a gorgeous Tele twang with an ideal blend of bite and balance. We loved this sound for country licks of all kinds, particularly those involving open strings.
We then added some distortion via our Tube Screamer and got a nice punch on power chords and great sustain and response for leads. Besides being great for country, this pickup can also work quite nicely for leads in rock and blues.
Moving on to the Zephyr Silver Tele Rhythm neck pickup, we got a warm tone à la Bill Frisell on a Tele. This pickup works nicely for jazz and is a bit more present than your typical darker hollow-body neck pickup tone. The sound here can work in a modern context and can also help you cut through a dense mix.
We then tried the neck pickup with a bit of overdrive and with the tone knob turned all the way clockwise. The sound we got was powerful, with a nice snap and response. It can work great in rock and blues, and also in modern jazz and fusion.
In short, a fantastic set of pickups for professionals who want a superior upgrade to their Tele. These pickups offer versatility and a great tone that stays true to the authentic nature of a Telecaster.
Verdict: The Seymour Duncan’s Zephyr Silver Pickups for tele feature stellar construction and detailed design for an enhanced sound. These pickups are ideal for professionals who require the best and are willing to pay for it.
An homage to the past for today's player.
This set of pickups take you back to 1951, but without the hum and issues of that era. Fender recreated this set of Nocaster pickups for players that appreciate that very particular vintage tone and want to have it on their Teles today.
The Fender Custom Shop ’51 Nocaster Pickups are made with the exact same specs as the original Nocasters. Fender went the distance to provide period-correct components to these models in order to ensure that you get that early ’50s tone.
These pickups feature enamel-coated magnet wire, Alnico III magnets, flat pole pieces, tin-plated copper base plate, and cloth output wire. To top it off, they were hand-wound to guarantee the best quality.
We started by trying the bridge pickup, which features a DC resistance of 7.3K. We were immediately jetted back to that golden era of vintage Telecaster tone, with authentic twang and bite. However, we got none of the hum and artifacts often associated with vintage guitars and pickups in general.
The clean tones on the bridge position work great for traditional country and rockabilly, and can also be used for rock with the right pedal.
Moving on to the neck pickup, we got an authentic tone with that beloved Tele neck warmth and presence. Although this pickup (wired at 7.1K) took our Boss overdrive pedal well, we preferred the clean tone, which was a bit more versatile.
This set of pickups is a good choice for those wanting a traditional vintage tone from 1951. Folks after a more powerful and modern Tele tone may want to look elsewhere.
Verdict: The Fender Custom Shop ’51 Nocaster Pickups do a great job of replicating the original Nocasters. Fender built these pickups with period-correct components to ensure authenticity and deliver that sought-after tone that traditionalists love.
Clean vintage tone without the noise.
A great set of active pickups co-designed with guitar great Greg Koch. With these Fishman Fluence pickups, you get two authentic vintage voices with none of the noise of vintage teles.
The Fishman Fluence Greg Koch Gristle Tone Signature Pickups offer two selectable voices to choose from. The first voice was designed to be a sort of vintage ’60s White-Guard Telecaster, while the second voice is akin to a ’50s Black-Guard Tele. These voices can be accessed by a variety of standard switches or push/pull controls.
Fishman Fluence pickups do a great job of eliminating noise. They employ an active design that sends a low impedance signal. These pickups are particularly good at curbing 60-cycle hum or interference, regardless of how hot your guitar signal is.
In our tests, we started by trying out the bridge pickup, which was made with Alnico IV. In clean, we got a chime and a transparent sound that sounded fantastic for clean chicken-pickin’ lines, and we liked our tone in both voices. The tone’s integrity was preserved even at high volumes, as there was no noise coming from this pickup.
The bridge pickup also took overdrive and distortion very well, giving us a pristine and penetrating tone that was great for all types of leads, especially with the second voice. Again, there was no discernible noise here.
We then switched to the neck pickup, which is made with Alnico V. We got a nice, warm tone that was especially good with just a bit of overdrive. It gave us great string definition in clean and overdrive, with a punchy and muscular character.
As is common with active pickups, these require internal power to operate. This is provided with an onboard USB-rechargeable battery that can give you over 200 hours of performance.
This is a fantastic set of quiet pickups that give you vintage sound, without the hum. Installation doesn’t require any permanent modifications to your guitar, which is another great feature. As good as they are, some may not want to install active pickups on their beloved Tele.
Verdict: The Fishman Fluence Greg Koch Gristle Tone Signature Pickups offer two vintage voices that sound truly authentic. They are great at avoiding the hum and noise that often come with that vintage sound and are a good choice for folks wanting a noise-free vintage tone.
An active set of high output pickups for harder music.
EMG is one of the top pickup companies today, particularly known for its active models. This set is a good choice for modern players who want great tones that retain some of the identity of the Telecaster.
The EMG T System Active Single-Coil Pickups are a prewired set that offers higher output and wider bandwidth. Both feature an alnico magnet and offer a very simple and practical solderless installation.
We started our tests with the neck pickup on clean, where we got a round tone that was modern but still kept some of the Tele neck pickup sound. When overdriven, this pickup provided us with a nice crunch and beefy tone that can be used in several genres.
We also loved how power chords and riffs came through when our Tube Screamer was dialed in with some heavy distortion. The tone here had some serious punch thanks in part to the high output of this active pickup.
Moving on to the bridge pickup on clean, we got a modern Tele twang that fits nicely in rock and country contexts. We then added some distortion for a killer tone full of bite and sustain, perfect for rock and blues.
With nice string separation and high output, these pickups can fit in a variety of situations and genres. We particularly liked how quiet they were, even at high-gain settings with saturation.
This set of pickups sounds really good and offers you a modern take on the Tele sound. With tons of output and virtually no noise, these EMGs are great for folks wanting to play modern or heavier styles of music. Those looking for a traditional tone may want to consider other options.
Verdict: The EMG T System Active Single-Coil Pickups feature a high output and are voiced for the modern guitar player. They are versatile and very practical, as they offer solderless installation.
A nice quiet vintage passive pickup set.
With this set of pickups, you can replicate the sound of the original Broadcaster from 1950, but without the hum that came with it. If you Telecaster replacement pickups that give you the original tone from their first commercialized model, look no further.
The Mojo Tone Broadcaster Quiet Coil Pickups feature low-gauss Alnico V magnets, spec 43-gauge coil wire, black fiberboard bobbins, and waxed cloth-covered leads. The result is a vintage Broadcaster tone from 1950 with none of the 60-cycles hum.
The Broadcaster was the Telecasters original name and this set of pickups recreates the tone of the very first commercialized version of this iconic guitar, minus the noise. The most impressive part is that this is a passive pickup as opposed to an active one, which are the typical options for reducing noise.
We started our tests by trying out the bridge pickup in clean. The tone we got was vintage Tele, with all that bite and twang but without the sometimes excessive noise. In this position, you can play country and ’60s rock convincingly, with the added benefit of low noise.
This pickup features a 10.8K DC Resistance and sounds good with overdrive, with a clear and penetrating tone that is great for lines. And you still get that beloved midrange bump at the bridge position with just a bit of added overdrive.
On the other hand, the neck pickup is at 6.7K and its features are rounder, but it still presents a vintage tone that Tele neck pickups are renowned for. This pickup also takes overdrive well and remains low-noise even at high-gain settings.
If you’re in the market for a vintage set of Tele pickups that don’t come with the vintage noise, these Mojo Tones may be for you. Keep in mind, they require 500K pots for installation. Or if you prefer, get a prewired Mojotone Quiet Coil wiring kit.
Verdict: The Mojo Tone Broadcaster Quiet Coil Pickups are a fantastic choice for vintage tone that sounds like the original but is noise-free. This passive set of pickups replicate the Broadcaster tone from 1950 with precision and authenticity.
How to Choose the Right Pickups for You
Tele-type guitars feature different single-coils and humbucker pickup configurations. Among Fender and Squire Teles, the most common ones include S-S, H-S, S-H, and even H-H. There are others that offer coil switching via a push-pull knob for further versatility. If you check out Tele copies by other manufacturers, you’ll see all kinds of variations.
However, in this article, we’ve focused exclusively on single-coil pickups as they typically offer the simplest installation process. Also, the S-S configuration is the original, which offers the most authentic Tele twang.
Below we give you a few aspects to consider when it comes to single-coil pickups for enhancing your Tele.
The magnet type used has a massive impact on the performance of the pickup. That is true for both single-coils and humbuckers.
The most common magnet for pickup construction is Alnico. They feature a combination of iron, cobalt, nickel, and copper. These different components allow for varied types of Alnico magnets and that has a direct impact on tone.
Alnico II is found on PAF humbuckers and features a moderate coil wind. They tend to produce a soft tone with good transparency and harmonics. Although their treble is a bit rounded-off, you can get a more vigorous tone and enhanced note separation when this magnet is paired with a hotter coil wind.
Alnico V is the go-to choice for traditional rock tones. They deliver an edgy tone that’s hotter than Alnico II or III. They also feature slightly warmer tones than other magnets. This makes them a favorite for lead guitar as well, especially on the bridge position of a Tele.
Alnico III magnets were commonplace on early Telecasters. They feature a more vintage tone, in part because they are made without cobalt, resulting in a lower magnetic pull.
Although not as common today, Alnico III tends to be best for the bridge position, offering a clean sound. Some players like to use Alnico II magnets pickups for the bridge and Alnico III for the neck, for a smooth and versatile Tele tone.
Ceramic magnets can work nicely for modern tones, but are not as popular as Alnico magnets, especially for Teles. This magnet type produces a tighter low end, as well as a higher output than Alnico.
This higher output results in a more aggressive tone, making them popular among metal guitarists who don’t typically play Tele-type guitars.
Pole Pieces and Coils Windings
Another crucial element in pickups is the pole pieces, which balance the volume of each string individually. Pole pieces run through the coil of a pickup and serve as a magnetic conductor for the strings.
Another important factor is the coil windings. They have a big influence on the sound of your Tele pickup. In simple terms, tight coil winds around the bobbin produce a higher output voltage, which translates into a hotter pickup.
Tele-type guitars remain one of the most popular and sought-after electric instruments in the world. It‘s quite common for players to buy an affordable Tele and replace the original pickups with models that deliver much better tone and response.
Installation is relatively easy and straightforward and the payoff for pickup replacement is often big. Naturally, different players have different needs and companies offer options to musicians of all genres and preferences.
To recap our favorites, the Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound is our Top Pick. With a higher output and great versatility, these pickups offer an authentic Tele for the modern player.
The Fender Deluxe Drive is our Budget Option. With classic Tele twang and tone, this set comes from the original makers of Telecaster.
The Seymour Duncan Zephyr Silver is our Editor’s Choice. Made with the best components, these pickups are for the discerning professional who wants top-notch quality and is willing to pay for it.