Electric guitars, with their vast array of tonal possibilities, owe much of their versatility to the guitars pickups. These magnetic wonders capture the strings’ vibrations and transform them into electric signals, giving rise to the iconic sound of the instrument. Among the various types of pickups, high-output and low-output pickups stand apart for their distinctive characteristics.

High Output Pickups vs. Low Output Pickups

This article delves into the dissimilarities between high-output and low-output pickups, examining how they affect tone, dynamics, and playing styles. Furthermore, we explore the variations between different guitar pickup manufacturers, highlighting their unique approaches to pickup design.

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I. High Output Pickups

High-output pickups, as the name suggests, are engineered to produce a robust and powerful signal. These pickups typically have more windings in their coils, resulting in an increased output level. This enhanced output is often associated with a hotter and more aggressive tone. High-output pickups are commonly favored by hard rock, heavy metal, and punk musicians, where a more saturated and distorted sound is desired. They offer an excellent choice for players seeking increased sustain and a fuller sound.

However, the higher output of these pickups can also pose certain challenges. The strong magnetic field generated by high-output units can cause more string pull, resulting in reduced sustain and slightly compromised string clarity. The increased output can also lead to more noise and feedback, especially when playing at high volumes or close to the amplifier. Nevertheless, these characteristics can be managed effectively through proper setup and technique.

II. Low-Output Pickups

Unlike high-output pickups, low-output units are designed with fewer windings, resulting in a lower output level. This configuration produces a more vintage and vintage-inspired sound. The lower output allows the natural dynamics of the guitar and the player’s touch to shine through, offering a more nuanced and articulate tone. Low-output pickups are often associated with genres like blues, jazz, and classic rock, where players seek a cleaner, clearer, and more detailed sound.

Electric guitar low output pickups
Electric guitar low-output pickups

Due to their lower output, these pickups are less likely to cause string pull, noise, or feedback issues. They enhance string separation and clarity, allowing for greater note definition, especially in complex chord voicings and intricate playing styles.

However, players looking for a more saturated and heavily distorted tone may find that low-output pickups require additional help from pedals or amplifiers to achieve the desired gain level.

III. The Variation Among Pickup Manufacturers

Numerous guitar pickup manufacturers have significantly contributed to the evolution of electric guitar tones. Each manufacturer possesses its own unique approach to pickup design, resulting in variations in sound, construction, and overall performance.

Seymour Duncan

Seymour Duncan is renowned for its vast range of pickups, catering to every tonal requirement. Their pickups are meticulously crafted, providing exceptional clarity, balanced frequency response, and impressive sustain. The company offers high-output pickups like the Duncan Distortion and low-output units like the ’59 Model.


DiMarzio pickups are often celebrated for their versatility and dynamic response. Their high-output models, such as the Super Distortion, deliver a powerful punch and a low tight end. On the other hand, their low-output offerings, like the PAF Pro, exhibit a vintage-inspired tone with enhanced articulation and warmth.


EMG pickups are renowned for their active design, utilizing an onboard preamp for a high-output signal with minimal noise. Their high-output models, such as the 81 and 85, are staples in the heavy metal genre, offering tight and aggressive tones. EMG’s low-output models, like the 57 and 66, retain clarity and dynamics while providing a vintage character.


Fender pickups in their iconic Stratocasters and Telecasters have become synonymous with vintage tone. Their single-coil pickups, whether high or low output, offer a bright and twangy sound with excellent note definition. Fender’s high-output models, such as the Texas Special, provide a hotter and more modern take on the classic sound.

In summary

The differences between high-output and low-output pickups for electric guitars are significant. High-output units offer a powerful and aggressive tone with increased sustain, making them suitable for hard rock and heavy metal genres.

However, they can introduce string pull, noise, and feedback issues. On the other hand, low-output pickups provide a vintage-inspired sound with enhanced dynamics and clarity, perfect for genres like blues, jazz, and classic rock. They offer better note definition and string separation. Each pickup manufacturer brings its unique approach to pickup design.

Seymour Duncan offers many pickups known for exceptional clarity and sustain.

DiMarzio is celebrated for its versatility and dynamic response. EMG specializes in active pickups with minimal noise and tight tones.

Fender’s pickups are synonymous with vintage tone, particularly in their iconic Stratocasters and Telecasters.

Ultimately, the choice between high or low-powered pickups and the selection of a specific manufacturer depends on the player’s musical preferences, playing style, and desired tonal characteristics.

For guitarists looking to change the sound of their electric guitars, changing out the guitar pickups is by far the most common method of choice for most guitarists. Having at least a basic understanding of how electric guitar pickups work will make choosing a set of new ones easier.

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