Strat-sized pickups can be H or S, I didn't know that

So there seem to be three ways to buy a passive “single-coil” pickup!

  • Classic with 60Hz hum and one coil (Steve Vai Utopia)
  • Stacked with two coils and reduced noise (YJM)
  • Humbucker with two coils and reduced noise (Bumblefoot)

So a lot of guitars that look SSS are fooling me! Indeed, some SSH guitars are fooling me too, as they are apparently HSH. Anyway, I was surprised.

I really liked the clarity of this pickup selector, it’s nicely done:


That’s been the case for over 40 years at this point, likely longer.


Yeah apparently patents for stacked humbuckers were in the mid-1980’s. I’m not sure if the actual humbucker in that form factor were earlier or later, but I was definitely not paying attention!

They were made before. Patents take a while if they are even filed or granted. For example the first dimarzio HS series were commercially offered in 1980, and I would be willing to confidently bet the idea is much, much older and was scrapped for various reasons.


Afaik the DiMarzio HS series was the first commercially available stacked humbucker. The HS-3 was made for Yngwie back in the day. I have a set of them in a strat. Wicked pickups especially if you wire the mod that grounds the dummy coils so you have a true single coil mode with more output as well for low gain applications. I can do everything from early 70s Jerry Garcia to Knopfler to Blackmore, Uli Roth, and Yngwie on one guitar.


The hs series aren’t exactly a dummy coil configured. The modern (and by modern I mean 30yr old) versions dimarzio makes are closer to dummy coil configurations where the second coil is encapsulated below, and is a much thicker gauge of wire. They also are noisier and not quite cancelling because of that, but are more powerful.

With the hs, the coils are symmetrical, and evenly divide across the bobbin and utilize much thinner gauge of wire. Because of this, the effect is a somewhat weaker, but thicker grubbier sounding single coil. Almost half as much output. When wiring these types of pickups as singles they lose the humbucking quality, but are stronger output we use.

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…which, if I remember right, is how Yngwie used them, right?

Hum cancelling singlecoils have come a long way in the last decade or so - I’m back to traditional signlecoils (Surh ML Standards, now called the V63+ I think, because I love how they sound), but the Dimarzio Area series was surprsingly transparent and I still have a pickguard for my Strat tucked away whith I think a 67 neck and 61 middle, and an AT1 in the bridge.

And on the flip side, the style with two super narrow coils in a singlecoil sized housing… I’ve messed around with a few of Dimarzio’s rail pickups like that too. Andy Timmons gets amazing sounds out of a Cruiser bridge pickup in the neck and middle, though I found them a little underpowered for my taste (even for singlecoils - to be fair, a buddy wired them for me before I really knew how to do this myself, and there was a lot of tequila involved so he might have accidently coil-tapped them).

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But do you care if you either have a wireless or a preamp?


I ran into two issues.

First, the Cruisers were objectively low powered, for singlecoils. Again, it COULD have been a wiring problem, and honestly for the $80 it’d take me to order one, it’s probably worth it to just find out for sure, but they weren’t even vintage singlecoil output, they were straight up low output. For a guy who likes his clean singlecoil tones with a little bit of bluesy grit to them, it was hard to even get that out of a Mesa Roadster or Mark V. Setting them closer to the strings helped to a degree… but doing so, there was a very distinct point where they were definitely too close and magnetic pull or “stratitis” wasn’t the problem so much as the attack suddenly got explosively, icepick-ily, sheerly bright. It was weirdly non-linear too, you could gradually increase your piking attack untl suddenly it’d just blow up in your face.

Second, they were hard to balance with a humbucker - I like to keep the “perceived” output similar across singlecoils and humbuckers, through a moderatedly distorted amp, such that you don’t hear an audibly cleaner sound when you switch to a singlecoil, per se, and that the stronger initial attack of the less-compressed pickup still gives you a comparable level of distortion, it’s just the body and sustain of the note is different, with the singlecoils giving you a big attack and sort of clear, grind-y sound, and the humbucker being smoother, fuller, thicker in the sustain, and more vocal. I can usually find a sweet spot between most singlecoils and pretty much anything PAF-y in the bridge, but here there was an audible drop in perceived level of distortion when I switched to the neck.

I’m not saying they’re bad pickups… just bad pickups for ME.

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Interesting, they claim it is average or a little hotter,

No. That was Eric Johnson with the hs2. Yngwie used them in the humbucking mode. he also used the FS-1 in steeler and maybe some of the Alcatraz stuff. Those are just singles.

The area/virtual series is coming on nearly 30 years at this point, and encompasses the heavy blues, virtual solo, injectors etc. Those use closer to a small “dummy coil” with a larger gauge of wire. They are also noisier than the HS series because of that - because the dummy coil they use doesn’t offer a true differential cancellation of noise or common mode rejection. It offers enough to be more quiet than a true single coil, and retain the sound more closely of a real single as well as keeping the output consistent with one. Versus the hs which is super weak, but more him canceling

Probably. Those are about on par with paf’s output wise, and hotter singles. Some are even hotter. I have used them before, deff not weak, but I didn’t care for them either. They really are just narrow traditional humbuckers. I would rather use other ways of getting a hotter single than that.

Another way to compensate for the lower output of stacks is to add an active boost circuit like an Alembic Stratoblaster or similar circuit to the output of the pickups. I plan to do this mod at a later date to my Strat when I get a chance and feel like tinkering again. I want to figure out if I can use something like the Fishman rechargeable battery unit for the power though so I don’t have to remove screws to recharge power.

John Mayer uses a blaster circuit in one of his Silver Sky guitars with Dead & Company.

IMO Jerry’s '72 tone when he was using the Alligator and other strats was the best. That 8/27/72 Venetia, OR concert is worth a listen. Especially the jams in “Bird Song” and “Dark Star”

Theres quite a few DIY options out there.

Ah, I’m so happy that you said that, because here is my question: Is the output actually important? I’m guessing, “no.”

For something with an ADC converter (wireless, AxeFx 3, Kemper, …), it will presumably be told what “loud” means, as it won’t know, otherwise.

For something like a Marshall stack, one can just put a very simple linear amplifier in front to make the guitar look as hot as one wants… so, what am I missing? (Indeed, there are things like the EMG Afterburner.)

Or is there some kind of strange non-linearity that comes out of the hot pickup that changes the actual sound?

Where did this thinking come from? I looked up my Ibanez RG and it seems to have three wimpy pickups,

So it’s no metal machine, but a classic rock machine… at first, I was “WTF,” and that led to my conclusion (obviously I don’t want to buy more pickups), as it goes → wireless → AxeFX 3. Indeed, when I used to have EMGs, they would clip the wireless so I had to get it to divide the signal down, defeating the purpose!

Those three pickups are like middle of the road not low output but they certainly aren’t modern overwound beasts or active pickups. Now the Ibanez brand pickups that come in some of the RGs are low output. Those Dimarzio’s just don’t have the compression of super hot pickups they are more dynamic.

I know what you mean about EMGs the 81s in my Vs slam the front of my JC-40 so hard that there’s like no ability for touch sensitive picking.

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Depends. There’s context. Otherwise if you assume a binary position on this, the question starts to become a little on the personal convictions side.

Here it gets a bit more complicated, and it depends on what we are talking about again and how you are defining “loud”. As a first approximation this is correct. In its simplest form, all an ADC is doing is taking an analog input, and converting it into a numeric value. The developers are making the decisions on what to do with the result, but the how matters. Software and firmware on its own doesn’t know what loud is, or how loud is experienced to a person, it is only told what it could be.

You could, and people do this all the time. In fact people tend to gravitate towards dirty boosts in most cases like the tried and true ts9 or sd1, which don’t really boost signal much at all. They are effectively limiters even in their lowest of settings. The biggest difference though is that with single ended boosts like this, the noise floor does increase.

Active pickups are a bit different in the sense that they use a differential preamp configuration to sum the individual output of each coil, and using the common mode rejection that is inherent in a balanced differential configuration to cancel the 60hz hum that is “common” (phase and polarity) to both inputs. The final output is set by the gain of the amplifier. This is a bit quieter than the dirty boost method, but has a different effect more similar to a clean boost. You can also radically alter the overall characteristics of the pickup within this amplifier if you wanted.

I wouldn’t call the TZ a weak pickup or the air Norton. I use one in one guitar and for a passive pickup it’s pretty up there, but this harkens back to the other discussion (ibanez switch) about hot, loud, etc. if you are comparing it to an emg81, which can effectively put out a signal as large as that opamp and 9v battery will allow it, then yes it would be a weak pickup, but so would pretty much any passive. In comparison.


That makes a lot of sense if the signal has to go down a cable, etc. But if it goes to a wireless just a few feet away, I wonder if it’s necessary… this is what made me give up on EMGs.

Yes, if there was ever a place that wanted an opamp, it would be a guitar pickup! It always amazed me that guitar cables didn’t provide phantom power to run the guitar!

Then again, it’s 2024, and given that 60Hz is so carefully controlled by the power company, it would seem that one can just cancel it out with a stomp box and let everybody run around with single coils. :rofl: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

For hum-cancelling ‘single-coils’ the Zexcoil design makes the most sense to me. But I haven’t tried them yet and I don’t know if they have any hidden downsides.

You can do this easily yourself if you wanted to with just a handful of parts, and an hour or so of your time. You just need to use a TRS guitar cable. You could even customize your own rig to flip between active and passive if you wanted. I will do you one better and post schematics of the more simple options if you want to do this. I don’t recommend the more complex for the once in a while hobbiest though.

You can use a super precision band stop filter to core out 60hz but then you are losing information - How much useable is debatable. It can also result in unwanted effects and artifacts. People have done this.

This is a great idea but now but I only use my wireless. If I went old-school with cables, I’d probably try to make my guitar look like a microphone, e.g., find or design a schematic that used an XLR cable with balanced output, where I would use a few opamps both to cancel the hum as well as drive the potentially long cable.

I don’t need one of these, but it’s interesting that this product exists… I wonder how many they sell, it can’t be a lot.

You don’t need xlr for balanced. It’s just a form factor. 1/4 trs will do.