Seymour Duncan have been a leading guitar pickup brand for a long time. Duncan Designed pickups are based on the original Seymour Duncan line, offering more affordable models. In this article, I’ll compare the two brands in terms of their tone, price and availability and help you decide which pickups are best for your next guitar.
The Quick Answer
Seymour Duncan make high-end pickups which sound very clear, whereas Duncan Designed pickups tend to sound a bit muddier and less focused. Seymour Duncan pickups can be found on mid-high end guitars or can be purchased separately, whilst Duncan Designed pickups can only be found on mid-priced guitars.
|Seymour Duncan||Duncan Designed|
|Original versions||Based on Seymour Duncan models|
|Found on guitars starting at around $1000||Found on guitars ranging from $300-$800|
|Available to purchase individually||Cannot be purchased individually|
|Made in the USA||Made in Korea|
Before we jump into the comparisons, I wanted to give you a brief overview and outline of the ranges of each brand so you can get to grips with what’s on offer.
Seymour Duncan make high-end pickups in the USA. They can be purchased individually allowing you to upgrade your existing guitar, or on electric guitars costing around $1000 and upwards. They are best known in the industry for their passive pickups, however they do make some active designs as well.
Their range is absolutely huge, so here is a brief outline:
- Passive humbuckers: they have 3 main divisions organised by the output level (vintage, medium and high).
- Active humbuckers: there are 5 main pickup models in the active humbucker range.
- Stratocaster Single Coils: split into “true single coil” and “noiseless” divisions.
- Telecaster Single Coils: split into “true single coil” and “noiseless” divisions.
- Passive P90s: organised into vintage, medium and high output types.
- Offset Pickups: designed for models like the Jaguar.
Here are some images to show some of Seymour Duncan’s pickups (all images link to Amazon).
Duncan Designed pickups are designed by Seymour Duncan, and make pickup models based on the original designs. They are made in Korea and available on guitars ranging from around $300-$800 (or £300-£750 on most models in the UK). They cannot be purchased individually from the brand to upgrade an existing guitar.
Duncan Designed pickups are available in humbucker, P90 and single coil options and are often seen on mid-priced guitars by the following brands:
- ESP Ltd
Now to the important section, the sound.
Seymour Duncan pickups have a clearer tone than Duncan Designed pickups, which can sound a bit muddy when using a lot of distortion. Duncan Designed pickups tend to have more low-end causing them to sound warmer than Seymour Duncan pickups.
The best thing to do is to check out these videos to hear pickups from both brands being played back-to-back so you can clearly notice the differences.
Example 1 (Seymour Duncan Distortion vs Duncan Designed Distortion)
- Duncan Designed had more bass and a warmer tone (most evident on the clean sections)
- Seymour Duncan had a tighter low end so sounded less muddy
- Seymour Duncan had more treble, causing them to sound more focused and clear
Example 2 (Seymour Duncan Antiquity vs Duncan Designed)
The tone comparison in this video is late on, so I’ve set it to start at the correct moment, rather than the start of the video.
- Seymour Duncan has more treble frequencies causing it to sound a bit brighter and harsher
- The Duncan Designed pickup has a smoother and warmer tone
Price and Availability
If you’re looking to upgrade your existing guitar, then Seymour Duncan pickups are your best option, since they can be easily purchased brand new directly from the brand, or a distributer such as Guitar Center. Duncan Designed pickups are only available to purchase brand new, by guitar manufactures, some of the most common being ESP, Jackson and Schecter.
In terms of price, guitars with Duncan Designed pickups can be found on models costing around $300-$800. Seymour Duncan pickups can be found on guitars usually starting at around $1000 and upwards.
To purchase Seymour Duncan pickups individually, they start at $59 for individual pickups and range up to $139. For a set of pickups, it is around $149-$259 for a set of humbuckers and $159 for a set of single coils.
Of course, you can purchase a guitar with Duncan Designed pickups and upgrade them with Seymour Duncans. This can work out a lot cheaper than purchasing a guitar with Seymour Duncan pickups as stock, however, you could also be missing out on some other features as well, since guitars with Duncan Designed pickups often have other lower specifications in addition to the pickups.
- Seymour Duncan pickups can be purchased individually or on a guitar as stock.
- Duncan Designed pickups can only be found brand-new on a guitar as stock and not purchased individually to use for upgrades.
- Seymour Duncan pickups cost upwards of $59 individually or $149 for a set.
Guitar Center have a huge range of pickups at great prices so make sure you check them out if you’re in the market for some. Here’s a link to take you directly to Guitar Center’s pickup range so you can check for current deals.
Another difference between Seymour Duncan and Duncan Designed pickups, is where they are made. Seymour Duncan pickups are made in the USA and Duncan Designed pickups are made in Korea.
This is important to some players who believe that USA-made pickups and guitars, are far higher quality and made with more care and attention to detail than those made anywhere else. There may be some truth in this, but I prefer to follow the saying “if it sounds good, it is good”, and focus less on the country the guitar and pickups were made in.
Korea also have a very good reputation when it comes to making guitars and parts. Many brands make their mid-high end guitars in South Korea including Gretsch, ESP and Schecter, so you certainly shouldn’t immediately turn your nose up at Duncan Designed pickups just because they aren’t made in America.
Which are the Best?
It’s probably pretty obvious by this point in the article, but it’s clear that Seymour Duncan pickups generally sound better, are better quality and are the best choice if you currently own an electric guitar and simply want to upgrade the pickups rather than buy a new guitar.
With that said, Duncan Designed pickups do actually sound really good, and they can be found on some great guitars by popular brands. The only real drawback, is that they are very difficult to find if you simply want to upgrade your guitar, and second-hand versions are your best bet.
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