How to Tell What Pickups Are in Your Guitar

Wondering what pickups your electric guitar has? Here’s a quick guide to identifying the type, make and model of your pickup.

I’ll be running through how to determine what pickup type you’re using, whether they’re active or passive, and the make and model. So let’s get started!

The Quick Answer

You can identify pickup type by looks. There are three main types: single coils (very thin), P90’s (a widened version of single coils) and humbuckers (twice the width of single coils). 

If you want to identify what make and model your pickups are, then you’ll usually need to remove them by unscrewing them, and check the back to see the make and model. 

Identifying Pickup Type

It’s usually pretty easy to spot what pickup type you’re using. There are three main pickup types:

  • Single coils
  • P90’s 
  • Humbuckers
There are three ways you can try to identify what pickups you’re using: by looks, by sound, and by the guitar. 

Identifying Pickups Visually

All three pickups look pretty different from one another, so it’s usually quite easy to spot which you’re using.
  • Single coil pickups are small and thin. Sometimes they have visible magnet poles, but some just look like a thin bar of metal or plastic, usually less than a couple of centimetres or half an inch thick.They’ll usually be held down by two screws (one either side of the pickup). 
  • P90 pickups look like single coils except they are a bit wider. They’re usually around an inch thick or 2.5 centimetres. They’ll usually be held down by two screws (one either side of the pickup). 
  • Humbucker pickups are much wider, usually twice the size of a single coil. There will usually be 3 screws either side of the pickup, holding them down. 

Here’s a quick photo to show the different types of pickups. 

identifying pickup type

There can be a little bit of confusion when identifying humbucker pickups, as they come in a few different forms. Sometimes they look like two single coils sandwiched together, and other types they just look like a wide pickup encased in metal or plastic. 

Here’s a photo showing the main forms that humbuckers exist in. 

These are all humbucker pickups.

Identifying Pickups by the Guitar 

This is another pretty easy way to tell what pickups you’re using, because unless your guitar has been modified or you’re using a custom version, most guitars use the same pickup type. 

Here’s a list of the most popular electric guitars, and which pickups they use, in each position (bridge, middle and neck). 

Electric Guitar Bridge Pickup Middle Pickup Neck Pickup
Stratocaster Single coil Single coil Single coil
Telecaster Single coil N/A Single coil
Les Paul Standard Humbucker N/A Humbucker
ES-335 Standard Humbucker N/A Humbucker
SG Standard Humbucker N/A Humbucker
Les Paul Special P90 N/A P90
Ibanez RG450 Humbucker Single Coil Humbucker
PRS Custom 24 Humbucker N/A Humbucker

Identifying Pickups by Sound 

If you’re struggling to decide what pickup type a guitar has, you can also try listening to it. 

This isn’t a very easy method though, because you almost always need to compare it to other pickups to decide what type it is. But it can be fun to try and figure out what pickups you’re using by listening to the tone, if you’re looking for a challenge!

Here’s what each type sounds like:

  • Single coils sound bright, twangy and thin.
  • Humbuckers sound warmer, fuller and more mellow.
  • P90 pickups sound somewhere in between the two. They have a very balanced tone. 

Check out this video to test how good your ears are at identifying pickup types!

Identifying Passive and Active Pickups

Some pickups are active and some as passive. The majority of electric guitars have passive pickups. However, electric guitars geared towards metal players, often have active pickups. 

Active pickups contain a battery, which increases the power of the pickup, but without damaging the clarity of the tone. Take a look at this ultimate guide to guitar pickups to learn more about this topic. 
You can identify active and passive pickups by looks most of the time. 
  • Active pickups usually have a plastic covering, rather than metal.
  • Active pickups do not usually have the magnetic poles showing.
  • Most active pickups are humbucker types, rarely single coil or P90.

Here’s a quick photo to show a comparison between active and passive pickups. 

You can also tell whether pickups are active or passive by listening to them.

Active pickups will sound much louder, fuller and more powerful than passive pickups. Check out this blindfold challenge to compare the tone of active and passive pickups. 

Identifying Pickup Make and Model

Okay so if you already know what pickup type you’re using, and whether they’re active or passive, the last thing you’ll want to know, is the make and model.

This can be a little more difficult.

The easiest way to tell what pickups are in your guitar, is by removing the pickup, and looking on the back for a make or model number, or a serial number. 

Here’s how to remove your pickups:

  • Make sure your guitar isn’t plugged into anything. 
  • Remove the strings on your guitar. On some guitars you may be able to avoid this step, depending on how high your strings are set (action height), but it does make it more fiddly. 
  • Remove the pickup screws. 
  • Your pickup should pop out of place enough for you to be able to flip it over and check what it says on the back (be very careful not to pull any wires). 
  • When you’re done, just flip the pickup back over and screw it into place again. 
pickup screws
Pickup screws

If the pickup has the make and model on the back, then you’re sorted! But if it’s just the serial number, then you can try popping it into Google and sometimes it’ll show up. 

If you don’t want to remove your pickups, then you can try searching the model of your guitar, and finding out what stock pickups are used in this line. Of course, this only works with guitars that are using their original pickups. 

So there you go! That’s how why tube amps are so expensive! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful:


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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