Bridge vs Neck Pickups: What’s the Difference?


If you’ve been playing the electric guitar for a little while, then you’ve probably heard the terms bridge pickup and neck pickup pretty often. But what do they actually mean? And what’s the difference between them?
 
In this article, I’ll go through exactly what bridge and neck pickups are, how they sound, and why it’s important. So let’s get started! 

The Quick Answer

The position of a pickup, affects the tone that’s produced. The bridge pickup sounds sharper and brighter, whilst the neck pickup sounds warmer and more mellow. 

Often, the bridge pickup is used for lead guitar and heavier styles of music with more gain because it allows you to cut through the sound of the rest of the band. 

The neck pickup is commonly used for rhythm guitar and clean tones because it’s less harsh and obvious sounding 

neck vs bridge pickup tone
Neck vs Bridge Pickup Tone

Bridge Pickups

So bridge pickups are named because they’re located closest to the bridge. I know, pretty obvious right. So what does this actually mean?
 
Bridge pickups sound the brightest and sharpest. They sound like this because they favour high frequency sound, otherwise known as treble. This gives it a clear and crisp tone.
 
Bridge pickups are often used for playing lead guitar sections, and are really useful when you need to cut through the mix and be heard through the sound of the rest of the band. 
 
The crisp bright sound gives you excellent note separation too. Which means you can clearly hear the transitions between chords and individual notes.
 
This is really helpful when you’re using a lot of gain, for example when playing hard rock or heavy metal music, because the extra brightness and clarity the bridge position gives you, stops heavily distorted notes sounding too muffled. 
 
So this all sounds great right? Note separation, brightness and sharpness are all great things, however, sometimes you don’t actually want this kind of tone.
 
For example, if you’re playing through a clean amp, and single coil pickups, using the bridge pickup can actually sound too bright, which can make it overly harsh. 
 

Neck Pickups

So bridge pickups are named because they’re located closest to the bridge. I know, pretty obvious right. So what does this actually mean?
 
Bridge pickups sound the brightest and sharpest. They sound like this because they favour high frequency sound, otherwise known as treble. This gives it a clear and crisp tone.
 
Bridge pickups are often used for playing lead guitar sections, and are really useful when you need to cut through the mix and be heard through the sound of the rest of the band. 
 
The crisp bright sound gives you excellent note separation too. Which means you can clearly hear the transitions between chords and individual notes.
 
This is really helpful when you’re using a lot of gain, for example when playing hard rock or heavy metal music, because the extra brightness and clarity the bridge position gives you, stops heavily distorted notes sounding too muffled. 
 
So this all sounds great right? Note separation, brightness and sharpness are all great things, however, sometimes you don’t actually want this kind of tone.
 
For example, if you’re playing through a clean amp, and single coil pickups, using the bridge pickup can actually sound too bright, which can make it overly harsh. 
 

Pickup Selectors

If your electric guitar has more than one pickup, then it’ll definitely have a pickup selector as well. This is usually a little switch or blade, that allows you to activate either your bridge pickup and neck pickup independently or in combination. 
 
If you have two pickups on your electric guitar, you’ll most likely have a three way pickup selector. If it’s pointed towards the floor, or to the right, as you’re holding your guitar, then it’ll activate the bridge pickup. If it’s pointed left, or upwards, it usually activates the neck pickup. 
 
You’ll also get a middle position, this allows you to activate both the bridge and neck pickups at the same time. Hence, you’ll get a more balanced sound. 
 
If your electric guitar has three pickups, then you’ll most likely have a five way pickup selector. Here’s what each of the positions correspond to:
 
1. Neck pickup alone
2. Neck and middle pickup in combination 
3. Middle pickup alone
4. Middle and bridge pickup in combination
5. Bridge pickup alone
 
Having three pickups gives you more versatility as you get 5 possible pickup activation settings, compared to the 3 settings you get if you only have two pickups. 
pickup selector
Here you can see several different types of pickup selectors

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’ve still got some more questions about pickup placement, and why it matters, then don’t worry! Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. 

is the neck pickup louder than the bridge pickup?

Neck pickups sound louder than bridge pickups because the strings vibrate more around this area. When the strings get closer to the bridge, they vibrate less. Therefore, the volume is lower, because there are less vibrations for the pickups to detect. 

are specific pickups designed for each position?

You will often see that there are pickups specifically designed as “neck pickups” or “bridge pickups”, if you’re looking for after-market pickups to upgrade your guitar with. Often, these have varying characteristics causing them to sound different. However, it is still possible to use a “bridge pickup” in the neck position, as long as it fits the guitar you are modifying.

what is a treble pickup?

Treble pickups are another name for the bridge pickup. You’ll commonly see Les Paul style guitars with the pickup selector being labelled as either “treble” or “rhythm”. 

what is a rhythm pickup?

Rhythm pickups simply mean neck pickups. This is often seen on Les Paul style guitars which have a pickup selector that names the bridge pickup as “treble” and the neck pickup as “rhythm”. 

which pickup should you use for metal music?

Guitarists playing heavier genres like metal, often use the bridge pickup. This gives you more treble, so better note separation which is really handy if you’re playing through a heavily distorted amp, but don’t want your tone to sound muddy. 

Does pickup height matter?

The height of the pickup does affect the tone of an electric guitar. If you have pickups that are setup so that there isn’t a lot of room between the pickup and string, the volume will be higher, but the sound will be less crisp and clear. If you lower the pickup, the volume will decrease, but you’ll get better clarity. 

why are some pickups slanted?

Some pickups are angled in order to improve the tone. Angling the pickup towards the bridge allows the lower strings to sound more full and warmer, and the higher strings to sound brighter and more crisp. Take a look at this post on angled pickups to learn more about this topic. 

 

So there you go! That’s the difference between bridge and neck pickups! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful:

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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