The Best Telecaster Pickups – Find the Right Pickup!

By Candace Osmond | Electric Guitars

Last Updated on

If you are a guitar player with a little bit of experience, then you already know that a Telecaster pickup that really helps you create that classic sound. Telecaster pickups have aided some of the world’s greatest musicians in defining their sound, from Jimmy Bryant to Bruce Springsteen. These pickups have inspired us to discover more about the contribution they can make to helping guitar players in discovering their musical identity, so let’s dig deeper into what this little wonder can do.

How to Find the Right Pickup?

The answer to this question is a very tricky one. There is no magic formula that guitar player can apply and spontaneously discover which pickup best suits their sound. However, there are a few things that you can keep in mind the next time you go pickup shopping:

  • A good pickup will complement the woods that your guitar or bass is made from. For example, if you own a guitar with woods that contribute to a bright sound (such as maple and ash), you need a pickup that can further enhance the bright quality of the sound. Alternatively, you can choose to counterbalance it, by adding a pickup with a warmer sound. You get the idea.
  • Pickups should be sought out to match the type of music you play. It’s true that, throughout the years, the world’s best musicians created their own styles without using pickups that were designed specifically for their tones. But that doesn’t mean that your music genre can’t guide you towards more suitable pickups.
  • Playing with distortion or playing “clean” is another factor that determines what kind of pickup is best for you. Choosing a high-output pickup translates into distorted tones, which means that they are more suitable for people who play aggressive music. If you have a cleaner sound, you will need pickups with moderate output.

Understanding Telecaster Pickups

guitar pickup

Much like the P90, a Telecaster pickup can be either for the neck or the bridge of your guitar. Naturally, they are different from one another. They look and sound different. The Telecaster neck pickup is considerably smaller in size compared to its bridge counterpart. The bridge version has deeper and wider bobbins and uses a brass or steel metal plate as support. The neck pickup, on the other hand, features a smaller bobbin and is hidden beneath a nickel-silver or chrome removable metal cover.

The mechanism on a Telecaster pickup is quite common: it was a three-way selector switch, combined with a two single-coil mechanism. A bridge Telecaster pickup is placed really close to the bridge. The pole-pieces for the bass are further away from the bridge compared to the one for the treble strings. Because of this, a bridge Telecaster pickup adds a lot of treble to the sound.

With every pickup, the most important thing is the sound you can get. Telecaster pickups have made quite a reputation for themselves, and every musician with quite a lot of guitar-playing experience knows that a Telecaster will give a bright tone.

When using a single-coil bridge pickup, the results are often rich in treble, being very clear and hot. The neck pickup result is a sound that’s a bit different because it’s lower in volume and smoother in tone. A lot of guitar players consider that the neck Telecaster pickup sound feel a bit lifeless and, for that reason, aren’t big fans of this particular product.

Understanding Alnico Magnets

A very common term that associated with guitar pickups is the Alnico magnet. The term “Alnico” is normally followed by a Roman number, ranging between 2 to 5 (that’s II to V). But what does this all mean?

  • Alnico II magnets are the one responsible for reacting soft highs, richer mids, and warm low ends. When placed in the neck position, the resulting sound is a bit darker.
  • Alnico III magnets have the lowest strength but are good for players that want more treble, compared to the one they get from the Alnico II magnets. Alnico III is commonly found in P90 pickups and sounds great when used in the neck position.
  • Alnico IV magnets are characterized by a flat spectrum. This means that they allow your guitar’s natural character to shine.
  • Alnico V magnets are the strongest out of all four types. You will recognize them by their sharp treble, as well as a tighter low end.

If anyone says that one type of Alnico magnet is better than the other, don’t listen to them. Because each has its own characteristics and gives out a different sound result, it’s all comes down to a matter of personal taste, and discovering which magnet allows you to get the sound you want.

Top 5 Telecaster Pickups

As with every other guitar accessory, finding the right Telecaster pickup could be a matter of trial and error. Some of the world’s greatest musicians have experimented with different sounds of first until they were able to find a style that best defines their personality. We’ve tried to include in this here round-up, five different Telecaster pickups, to cover a wider variety of tastes and budgets.

Tonerider TRT2 Hot Classic Tele Pickup Set

Label: editor’s choice

Not gonna lie, Tonerider isn’t exactly a brand famous for their Telecaster pickup production. However, the TRT2 does manage to impress, providing a range of pleasant sound results at a very convenient price. If you ask anyone that’s used a TRT2, they will tell you the exact same thing: “It’s better than I imagined”.

The set includes a bridge and a neck pickup, both of them featuring Alnico III magnets. Because of their sound, they are favorite amongst blues and rock guitarists. Both the pickups included in the set have a fat mid-range, not to mention that they are well-balanced.

Overall, the Tonerider is a very nice surprise, and it’s always a pleasure to see the underdogs that can go toe-to-toe with some of the most respectable brands on the market. The TRT2 is a set of pickups that clearly separated the tones, giving you and your listeners the opportunity to enjoy some crisp chords.

Who Should Purchase This?

If you want a reasonably priced product that’s good enough to compete with the bigger brand names in the industry, the Tonerider is an excellent product.

Pros:

  • Bridge and neck pickup set
  • Wax potted for reduced hum
  • Clear and crisp tone
  • Perfect for heavy music styles

Cons:

  • Not suitable for jazz tunes
Product Weight7.4 ounces
Product Dimensions4 x 4 x 1 inches
MagnetsAlnico III
Included Piecesneck and bridge pickups

Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele Pickups

Label: best for vintage sound

Fender is, without a doubt, one of the most respectable Telecaster pickup names on the market right now. This set of pickups is perfect for players who want that vintage 60s sound, making this a classic set that has to find its way into your home. Because of the single-coil construction, the sound is clear and classic, perfect for people looking for clarity.

The combination between enamel-coated magnet wires and a set of impeccable Alnico V magnets makes these pickups as silent as humbuckers. Hum is one of the greatest issues with pickups, especially amongst Telecaster product. With this Fender set, that won’t be a problem, as the manufacturer din a great job in canceling hum without compromising the quality of the sound.

Who Should Purchase This?

If you’re a fan of the classic 60s sound and want a decent pair of Telecaster pickups that can accompany your sweet tunes, you will really enjoy using this Fender set.

Pros:

  • Classic 60s sound
  • Superior hum cancellation
  • Clear sound, even with distortion pumped up
  • Alnico V magnets for quality sound
  • Bridge and neck pickup set

Cons:

  • Hard to install
  • Lacks bass
Product Weight10.4 ounces
Product Dimensions11.4 x 7.5 x 3.5 inches
MagnetsAlnico II
Included Piecesneck and bridge pickups

Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD Jerry Donahue

Label: best bridge pickup

Looking to get a sound that’s more consistent in warm lows and crisp highs? The Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD Jerry Donahue is looking to get you there, with a set of Alnico II magnets that are bound to give your sound a more vintage feel. There’s plenty of sustain to your results, with perfect single notes.

This bridge pickup is the ideal choice for players who are often annoyed by squealing, as the wax-potted cover eliminates that effect. Needless to say, this pickup is destined for every fan of Jerry Donahue, looking to recreate the vintage Tele sound that has made him so popular.

Who Should Purchase This?

Whether you’re a Jerry Donahue fan or not, the Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD will help you get the best bridge pickup sound clarity, perfect for notes that are sweet and crisp.

Pros:

  • Mimics Jerry Donahue’s ’52 Telecaster
  • Wax-potted for minimal noise
  • Detailed setup instructions
  • Crisp highs
  • Good note sustain

Cons:

  • A lot of hum on distortion
Product Weight4.8 ounces
Product Dimensions4.1 x 2.8 x 1.5 inches
MagnetsAlnico II
Included Piecesone bridge pickup

JBE Joe Barden Modern T-Style Pickup Set

Label: best high-end option

This really is one of those products that manage to take the sound to the next level. Getting those crispy notes has never been easier, especially if your own the Joe Barden Modern Telecaster set. The pickups are perfect for out-of-the-box use since they match all standard Tele routes.

At their core, lies a four shielded cable system, for those guitar players that want to fiddle around with several wiring combinations, in order to get the best out of their sweet guitar tunes. Mainly designed for country musicians, the set can also have a rock’n’roll application. The fat bridge tone is combined with a balanced response on the out strings, so you’re bound to have no complaints.

Who Should Purchase This?

The JBE Joe Barden Modern T-Style Pickup Set is for people who aren’t afraid to spend more money to get the best quality product. Its superior noise cancellation and the fact that it has a fatter tone makes it the ideal choice for people that understand that, sometimes, quality is indeed reflected by the price.

Pros:

  • Fat tone
  • Perfect for country music
  • Balanced response on outer strings
  • Hum cancellation
  • Match standard Tele routes

Cons:

  • Very expensive
Product Weight1 pound
Product Dimensions4 x 7 x 2 inches
MagnetsN/A
Included Piecesneck and bridge pickups

DiMarzio DP172C

Label: best neck pickup

For the best twang to your sound, here is a neck pickup that might just do the trick. For lovers of the true vintage tunes, this product aims to please, with its chrome cover that emits an elegant and classy vibe. The double wax-potting is here to make sure all performances are free of annoying squeals, but keep in mind that the single-coil mechanism will produce that inevitable hum.

You can enjoy great dynamic range with this neck pickup, with a bluesy sound that almost makes you feel you ripped DiMarzio off by paying so little for it. It’s the best choice for people who don’t really want to buy an entire pickup set but would benefit from a good neck pickup, to get the best fat sounds they can hope for.

Who Should Purchase This?

If you don’t want to pay extra for a bridge pickup you don’t need, you can consider purchasing this neck bridge, perfect for players that want a product responsive in a wide variety of dynamic ranges.

Pros:

  • Great dynamic range coverage
  • Double wax-potting
  • Easy to install
  • Bluesy sound
  • Alnico V magnets

Cons:

  • Lows get muddy on distortion
Product Weight0.32 ounces
Product Dimension3.1 x 1.5 x 1.4 inches
MagnetsAlnico V
Included Piecesone neck pickup

Bottom Line

While Telecaster pickups are still preferred by a wide range of musicians, they are often criticized because of their hum, which was quite omnipresent back in the 60s. When you play at a really high volume, this hum becomes quite noticeable. This is especially true if you connect your guitar to a power amp.

Truth is that Telecaster pickups are more of a connoisseur choice, typically sought out by a player that want to get that classic and vintage tonality. Telecaster single-coil pickups are hated by quite a few, but that’s mostly because not everyone is looking to get the same kind of musical result. With pickups, it’s always going to be a love-hate relationship, as each player is looking to find that best characterizes them, so a Telecaster pickup might just be the helping hand they’re looking for.

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