The iconic sound of a Telecaster is known for its distinctive and timeless character. Developed by Leo Fender and introduced in the ’50s, the Tele is one of the most influential electric guitars in history, shaping the sound of numerous genres, including country, rock, blues, and even jazz. To further refine your sound with a T-style guitar in your hands, consider one of the best telecaster pickups.
Nail Your Legendary Tele Sound with the Right Pickups
The Telecaster’s sound is often described as bright, twangy, punchy, honky, et. al, and it offers clarity and articulation that sets it apart from other guitars. Naturally, one of the defining features of a Tele is its pickup configuration. It typically has two single-coil pickups: one angled at the bridge, and another in the neck.
The angled bridge pickup is renowned for its brightness and twangy-ness. It delivers a crisp attack and excellent note definition, making it ideal for playing country, rock, and blues styles. The bridge pickup produces a biting and focused tone that can cut through the mix.
On the other hand, the neck pickup provides a smoother and rounder tone, thanks to its fuller sound with enhanced bass response and rolled-off treble. The neck pickup is commonly used for jazz, blues, R&B, and soulful playing, as it delivers a rich and mellow sound.
When both pickups are combined, a Telecaster produces a distinctive “out of phase” sound, sometimes referred to as the “cocked wah” tone. This position offers a unique quacky, nasal quality with enhanced midrange frequencies, adding a touch of vintage charm to the guitar’s tonal palette.
Things to Keep in Mind When Checking Out Telecaster Pickups
Telecaster pickups come in various types, including traditional single-coil pickups, stacked humbuckers, noiseless pickups, and more. Determine the type of pickup you prefer based on the sound you want to achieve. Traditional single-coils offer classic Telecaster twang, while stacked humbuckers provide a thicker and more powerful tone with the benefit of noise reduction.
Additionally, it’s important to keep the broader tonal characteristics you desire in mind. Some pickups are brighter and spankier, ideal for country and classic “T” sounds, while others offer a warmer and smoother tone, suitable for blues and jazz styles. Listen to sound samples or try out different pickups if possible to ensure they match your tonal expectations.
Output level is another key factor, in that it determines how much gain they can produce. If you plan to delve into crunchier rock or even metal territory, then going for high output (likely a hot rail-style pickup) would be your best bet. Lower output pickups provide greater articulation and dynamics, suitable for nuanced playing styles and more traditional Tele sounds.
Changing the pickups of a Telecaster can significantly impact its sound, so take your time to research, listen, and experiment before making a purchase.
The 10 Best Telecaster Pickups for Your Rig
Fender Pure Vintage ’52 pickups are one of the best sets for nailing the timeless Tele sound when the guitar first came to market. These utilize vintage bobbin construction and even cloth wiring true to the era. The set is one of the most authentic vintage Telecaster recreations you can get.
Duncan’s Quarter Pound set offers a best-of-both-worlds approach to Telecaster pickups. In that sense, they deliver classic twang and articulation, but with a higher output that lets players drive harder and get bite from their sound. It’s a nice middle area between full-blown modern stacked humbuckers and a low-output vintage set.
Similar to the ’52s above, the Vintage ’64 pickups are built to meticulous specs from a bygone era. One of the biggest differences between the ’52s and ’64s is the use of Alnico V magnets instead of Alnico 3 magnets. Overall, the sound is classic Tele, and would make a significant upgrade to an entry-level Squier, for instance.
If feedback and hum ever seems to be an issue with your current pickups, consider the Quiet Coils. Mojo Tone managed to build a totally authentic vintage-style Tele pickup set that stays quiet under heat. Thankfully there’s no compromise to tones whatsoever, so players can enjoy everything their guitar has to offer — without fighting extraneous noise when the overdrive kicks in.
Fishman Fluence is at the forefront of current pickup technology, altering the perception of what’s possible from an active guitar pickup. A monster player like Greg Koch would naturally gravitate toward a monster designer like Fishman Fluence. His signature active Tele pickups give players two vintage voices from the ’50s and ’60s to cover a decade’s plus worth of legendary tone in a single set.
6. EMG T Set
EMG active pickups are an iconic, if not polarizing, piece of equipment among guitarists. Here we have a unique active set specifically for Telecasters. The ultra-hot output delivers power and richness while keeping noise to a minimum. We’d say these pickups give players classic Tele tone on steroids.
Seymour Duncan created a truly unique pickup with the Little ’59. Built for the Tele bridge position, this is a single-coil format PAF-style humbucker inspired by the sounds of early Les Pauls. It’s an extremely versatile pickup given its roots, capable of everything from jazz and funk all the way up to hard rock/metal. The Little ’59 also tends to blend well with a more traditional Tele neck pickup, so no worries there if you just want to replace the bridge.
DiMarzio’s Super Distortion is one of their earliest designs. This high-output dynamo hits your amp hard for plenty of overdrive. Players seeking humbucking tones for heavier genres should love the Super Distortion T bridge pickup, utilizing a stacked humbucker platform for T-shaped guitars.
Lollar builds Special T bridge and neck pickups for sounds inspired by the earliest ’50s-style tones achieved with the original Fender Broadcaster. The bridge pickup in particularly is very slightly hotter than, say, the Fender Vintage ’52s, while the neck is pretty consistent with other vintage-voiced Tele pickup outputs.
10. Fender Tex-Mex
The Tex-Mex set by Fender delivers tight, punchy tones with defined low-end and crisp top-end. They’re also quite hot, so they can force an amplifier into overdrive with ease. The overall sound is still vintage Telecaster, albeit with a contemporary growl that works well for a variety of genres.