Most people who play the electric guitar do so because of the different sounds that are possible from this instrument. These sounds come not just from the types of guitars available, but also from the different pickups that are on each model.
These pickups can be located in different positions on the guitar, and each one gives the instrument a unique tone. The two most common pickup positions are at the bridge and the neck.
The bridge pickup is brighter when compared to the neck position, which produces a tone that has more bass. Because the neck pickup is closer to the center of the scale length, the string vibrations are stronger, which results in a darker, warmer sound.
When it comes to bridge vs neck pickups, which should you use and when? This article will make it all clear!
Bridge Vs Neck Pickup
There are many differences between the bridge and neck pickups on a guitar.
The main difference between the bridge and neck pickups is the tone and output produced. The neck pickup provides a warmer, well-rounded tone that has a stronger intensity. The bridge pickup, on the other hand, provides a sound that is brighter and generally has more attack
It’s for this reason that most guitar players use the bridge pickup for rhythm playing and the neck for leads. Although, this also depends on the type of music that is being played.
Some other differences include:
The point that the strings vibrate the most is right in the middle, between the bridge itself and the nut at the other end. It’s here that the strongest signal is possible for a pickup to receive.
On most guitars, this is roughly around the 12th fret, but placing a pickup here is not possible for obvious reasons.
Instead, we see the pickups placed along the guitar body from the neck to the bridge to capture as many sounds as possible and give us versatility in our tone.
Leo Fender placed the neck pickup as close to this center point because he knew that the tone was so much thicker and rich. When this is done with single-coil pickups, it offers players so many more sounds.
With the invention of the humbucker, the difference between the bridge and neck position became that much greater.
Sometimes you might even see the bridge pickup angled to balanced tones.
Because the vibration of the strings is greater at the neck pickup, this results in a higher output from that position.
The bridge pickup, on the other hand, produces less output because it’s farther away from the center of the strings and has less vibration to excite the magnetic field.
This is dealt with by wiring the bridge pickup to have more output than the neck. This balances the output of both guitar pickups so that you don’t have large volume drops when switching between them.
It also means that they must be installed in the right positions. If you put the bridge pickup in the neck position, the output will be very loud and might be too hot for the amplifier you are using.
It’s quite common to find that the bridge pickups will have a higher electrical resistance.
The sustain of a note is how long it lasts after you pluck the string. The longer the sustain, the more vibrato you can add to the note.
The position of the pickup also plays a role in how long the note sustains. The neck pickup, because it’s closer to the center point, will make the string vibrate longer. This results in more sustain from the neck pickup.
The bridge pickup, on the other hand, will have less sustain because it’s farther away from this point.
This difference is not as dramatic as the output or tone, but it’s still something to take into account when choosing which pickup to use.
And with all the different brands making pickups, sometimes you will find there are better options than others based on who is making them.
The final difference between these two pickups is the volume. The bridge pickup will sound less loud than the neck.
Even though the pickups are wired in a way that allows them to have roughly the same output, the neck will always sound louder. This is because the frequencies that are present at the point it is installed are much more dynamic.
As a result, this richness in tone also has the effect of making the pickup position sound louder.
Because the bridge pickup doesn’t have the same string vibration above it, the amount of turns of wire needs to be greater in order to have a higher output. This is done to match the output of the neck pickup so that one is not higher than the other.
As more wire is added to the bobbin, the resistance is then greater as a result. This means that because more wire is needed for a stronger output, the bridge pickup will have a higher resistance than the neck.
An example of this is the Seymour Duncan Hot Tele pickup set. The direct current resistance (DCR) is higher in the bridge pickup. Here are the DCR values for both the neck and bridge pickups:
- Bridge: 16.2K
- Neck: 9.9K
As you can see, the resistance is higher in the bridge pickup because it has more wire wrapped around the bobbin to produce a higher output. This will bring both pickups closer in volume.
Just a side note, The Seymour Duncan Hot Tele pickups are awesome! If you own a Telecaster, you should get a set, as they will spice up your tone!
The Bridge Pickup Sound
The bridge pickup sound is typically described as being brighter or having more treble. This is because the pickup is farther away from the neck and therefore picks up less low end.
As we mentioned earlier, this is a result of the lack of vibration from the strings in this position when compared to the neck.
The bridge position also offers a bit more attack than the neck. This means that notes will have a sharper initial transient, which can be useful for certain styles of music like:
- Hard Rock
- Classic or Vintage
This is why most players will use this position for rhythm parts, as even palm mutes have a different response and create heavy-sounding riffs.
When To Use The Bridge Pickup
The use of the bridge pickup is different based on the type being used. For example, if you have a guitar with single-coil pickups, you will want to use it differently than if they were humbuckers.
When it comes to humbuckers, most players will gladly use the bridge position for rhythm because of the tone and response. But the use of a bridge position with single coils might produce something too bright and twangy for these same players.
And so when using the bridge pickup position, you will generally want to use it when you need to have a good cut and tight response.
The Neck Pickup Sound
The neck pickup is going to have a warmer and smoother response than the bridge. This is because it’s closer to the center of vibration on the string, which gives it more low end and mid-frequencies.
The neck position will be more mellow and also have less attack than the bridge. This makes it better for sustained notes and melody lines. Because of this, most players will use the neck pickup for lead parts and solos.
The neck pickup also offers a bit more sustain than the bridge because of its position. This can be useful for players who want to add vibrato or bend notes without losing the note altogether.
When To Use The Neck Pickup
The neck pickup is best used when you need a warm and smooth response. This might be for:
- Clean Parts
- Bends and Vibrato
- Finger Picking
Some players will use the neck pickup for rhythm as well when you want a full sound. This can be great for blues and jazz parts that are cleaner sounding.
Guitars With 3 Pickups
Many guitars will have 3 pickups, which gives you even more options. These can be a combination of single-coils and humbuckers, or all of the same type.
The most common configuration is a neck and bridge humbucker with a single coil in the middle. This is because it offers great versatility while still giving you the option for a brighter sound.
The middle pickup is going to be in between the neck and bridge in terms of output and tone. This is because it’s picking up vibrations from in between, where the dynamics are different from the other 2 positions.
The use of the middle pickup will depend on the configuration. If it’s a single-coil, it might be too twangy for some players. But if it’s a humbucker, it can offer a great way to add more grit and midrange to your sound.
Switching Between Pickups
Most guitars will have a selector switch that allows you to choose which pickups are being used.
This is generally one of two options:
- 3-way switch for 2 pickup guitars
- 5-way switch for 3 pickup guitars
The position of the switch will determine which pickups are being used. The most common are:
The use of the switch will depend on the type of pickups being used. For example, if you have a guitar with 3 single coils, you might want to use the neck and middle position.
But if you have 2 humbuckers, you might want to use the neck and bridge position together.
The use of the switch will also depend on the style of music you are playing. For example, if you are playing metal, you might want to use the bridge and middle position.
But if you are playing blues, you might want to use the neck and middle position. 3 pickup guitars will have even more options when it comes to the selector switch.
They are normally:
- Both neck and middle
- Both middle and bridge
The range of sounds available is incredible, which is why the Fender Stratocaster is such a popular guitar.
The bridge and neck are the two most common types of pickups on electric guitars. They each have their unique sound that can be used for different styles of music.
While these suggestions are most commonly used among guitar players, it’s best to experiment to find the sounds that work best for you.
Which pickup is hotter bridge or neck?
The neck pickup is hotter as it’s positioned under the strings where they vibrate more. This provides an output that is stronger and richer in frequencies.
Can you use both pickups at the same time?
Yes, you can use both pickups at the same time. This is done by using the switch to select both pickups, and will result in a sound that is full and bright.
Why do neck and bridge pickups sound different?
The neck pickup is warmer sounding as it’s positioned under the strings where they vibrate a lot more than the bridge area. This provides a full, rich sound, whereas the bridge vibrates less and is thinner and bright.