If you’re looking to upgrade your guitar’s tone, then getting some new pickups is a great option. But which brand is best, Seymour Duncan or Gibson. In this article, I’ll compare the two brands in terms of the tone, value for money and the different options available in the range so you can get the right pickups for your electric guitar.
The Quick Answer
Gibson pickups usually sound warmer and fuller than Seymour Duncan pickups which tend to sound brighter and crisper. Seymour Duncan offer a much wider range of pickup voicings and styles than Gibson which have a more limited selection. Gibson pickups are also more expensive than Seymour Duncan pickups.
Brief Brand Overview
Before we jump into the comparisons, I wanted to give you a really quick outline of the options available from both brands.
Gibson mainly make humbucker pickups, however they also make two P90 pickup designs. They also make a humbucker in the shape/ size of a P90, as well as a P90 in the shape/ size of a humbucker to give players more options to suit their existing guitar.
Here is a table to summarise the different types.
|Pickup||Type||Position||Magnet||Bridge Output||Neck Output|
|P-94T||P-90 (Humbucker Shape)||Both||Alnico V||9.8||9.8|
|Mini Humbucker||Humbucker (P90 Shape)||Both||Alnico II||6.4||6.4|
|’57 Classic||Humbucker||Both||Alnico II||7.5||7.5|
|’57 Classic Plus||Humbucker||Bridge||Alnico II||8.3||N/A|
|’57 Classic with 4-Conducter Wiring||Humbucker||Both||Alnico II||8.3||8.3|
|Burstbucker Type 1||Humbucker||Both||Alnico II||6.5||6.5|
|Burstbucker Type 2||Humbucker||Both||Alnico II||7.4||7.4|
|Burstbucker Type 3||Humbucker||Both||Alnico II||8.4||8.4|
|Burstbucker Pro||Humbucker||Both||Alnico V||8.3||7.4|
|498T “Hot Alnico”||Humbucker||Bridge||Alnico V||9||N/A|
|490R “Modern Classic”||Humbucker||Neck||Alnico II||N/A||7.4|
|496R “Hot Ceramic”||Humbucker||Neck||Ceramic||N/A||8.8|
|500T “Super Ceramic”||Humbucker||Bridge||Ceramic||11.4||N/A|
Seymour Duncan make a much wider range of pickups in humbucker, single coil and P90 varieties.
- Vintage (lower output): ‘59 Model, Slash, Pearly Gates, Jazz Model, Antiquity Humbucker, Seth Lover, Whole Lotta Humbucker, Alnico II Pro HB, Vintage Blues, Saturday Night Special, Phat Cat, Antiquity Jazz HB.
- Medium Output: ‘59 Custom Hybrid, Custom 5, Screamin’ Demon, Full Shred, P-Rails, Custom Custom, Benedetto, Jason Becker Perpetual Burn, Parallel Axis Blue Saraceno.
- High Output: JB Model, Hot Rodded, Mark Holcomb, Invader, Duncan Distortion, Black Winter, Nazgul, Mayhem, Duncan Custom, Dimebucker, Sentient, Pegasus, Dimebag, Alternative 8, Jupiter Rails, Dave Mustaine Thrash Factor, Parallel Axis Distortion.
- Active: Mick Thomson Blackouts, Jeff Loomis Blackouts, Dave Mustaine, Retribution, Blackouts HB.
Stratocaster Single Coils
- True Single Coil: Custom Flat/ Staggered, Vintage Flat/ Staggered, Antiquity Texas Hot, Quarter Pound Flat/ Staggered, Antiquity II, Hot, Jimi Hendrix, Vintage Flat, Alnico Pro II Flat/ Staggered, Lipstick Tube, Five-Two.
- Noiseless: Hot Rails, Classic Stack, Everything Axe, YJM Fury, Little ’59, JB Jr, Duckbuckers, Vintage Rails, Cool Rails, Vintage Hot, Red Devil, Hot Sack, Custom Stack Plus.
Telecaster Single Coils
- True Single Coil: Vintage Broadcaster, Quarter Pound, Hot, Alnico II Pro, Vintage, Vintage ’54, Five-Two, Jerry Donahue Lead, Brad Paisley La Bra, Antiquity, Antiquity II, Antiquity ’55.
- Noiseless: Hot Rails, Little ’59, Hot Stack, Vintage Stack.
- Vintage (lower output): Antiquity P90, Antiquity P90 Dog Ear, Vintage P90.
- Medium Output: P90 Stack, P-Rails.
- High Output: Hot P90, Custom P90.
Gibson pickups tend to sound a bit warmer and more rounded than Seymour Duncan pickups which typically sound a bit brighter. Gibson pickups usually have more low-end and low-mids than the Seymour Duncan vintage pickups which have more treble giving them a crisper tone.
The best way to understand the difference is to actually hear the pickups, so here are some example videos that you can listen to.
Keep in mind that these are all pickups designed to have a vintage tone. This is because Gibson specialises in this tone, so picking super high output Seymour Duncan’s wouldn’t really make sense for a comparison.
With that said though, if you are looking for something a bit different from the vintage voicing, Seymour Duncan have a much larger range (more on that later) to cater for different and more extreme styles such as metal. Seymour Duncan also make active humbuckers, whilst Gibson only make passive humbuckers. Active humbuckers tend to sound a bit clearer when using heavy distortion.
Example 1 (Seymour Duncan ’59 vs Gibson Classic ’57)
- Gibson’s sound warmer and fuller but a bit muddier
- Seymour Duncan’s sound crisper but thinner
Example 2 (Seymour Duncan JB vs Gibson 498T)
- Very similar tone
- Seymour Duncan has slightly more gain
- Gibson had a bit more low-end
Example 3 (Seymour Duncan Slash vs Gibson Burstbucker)
- Again very similar
- Gibson pickups sounded a bit fuller
Gibson pickups are often more expensive than Seymour Duncan pickups when purchased individually. Seymour Duncan individual humbuckers start at around $80 and range up to $140, whilst Gibson humbuckers start at around $120 and range up to $200.
If you’re looking to make upgrades, Seymour Duncan will offer you more value for money. Their range is huge so they have different pickups to suit every type of music, whereas Gibson’s range is more limited. Often, spending $300-$400 on a pair of Gibson humbuckers when your guitar already has Gibson pickups, will not have as dramatic impact on the tone as you’d expect.
In this section, I wanted to compare the full humbucker and P90 ranges from both brands. Seymour Duncan also make an extensive range of single coils, but I’ve not included them here since Gibson don’t currently make any single coils so I thought it’d be a bit irrelevant.
The tables include the price (from the brand’s website at the time of writing), the position, magnets and the options in terms of different string numbers. The tables are ordered from the lowest to the highest price so you can see what you get for your money.
You can easily see that Seymour Duncan has a far more extensive range, and I’ve included almost every model available in the tables.
|SD ’59 Model||Passive||Alnico V||Either||6, 7||$79|
|SD JB Model||Passive||Alnico V||Bridge||6, 7||$79|
|SD Jazz Model||Passive||Alnico V||Either||6, 7||$79|
|SD Duncan Distortion||Passive||Ceramic||Either||6, 7, 8||$79|
|SD Duncan Custom||Passive||Ceramic||Bridge||6, 7||$79|
|SD Custom 5||Passive||Alnico V||Bridge||6, 7||$79|
|SD Blackouts HB Coil Pack||Active||Ceramic||Any||6||$79|
|SD Alnico II Pro||Passive||Alnico II||Either||6||$89|
|SD Invader||Passive||Ceramic||Either||6, 7, 8||$89|
|SD Black Winter||Passive||Ceramic||Either||6, 7, 8||$99|
|SD Phat Cat||Passive||Alnico II||Either||6||$89|
|SD Full Shred||Passive||Alnico V||Either||6, 7, 8||$89|
|SD Custom Custom||Passive||Alnico II||6||Bridge||$89|
|SD Nazgul||Passive||Ceramic||Bridge||6, 7, 8||$99|
|SD Sentient||Passive||Alnico||Neck||6, 7, 8||$99|
|SD ’59 Custom Hybrid||Passive||Alnico V||Bridge||6||$99|
|SD Pegasus||Passive||Alnico V||Bridge||6, 7, 8||$99|
|SD P-Rails||Passive||Alnico V||Either||6||$99|
|SD Alternative 8||Passive||Alnico VIII||Bridge||6||$99|
|SD Blackouts HB||Active||Ceramic||Any||6, 7||$99|
|SD Slash||Passive||Alnico II||Either||6||$109|
|SD Pearly Gates||Passive||Alnico II||Either||6||$109|
|SD Whole Lotta Humbucker||Passive||Alnico V||Either||6||$109|
|SD Saturday Night Special||Passive||Alnico IV||Either||6||$109|
|SD Screamin’ Demon||Passive||Alnico V||Bridge||6||$109|
|SD Jason Becker Perpetual Burn||Passive||Alnico V||Bridge||6||$109|
|SD Dave Mustaine Thrash Factor||Passive||Alnico V||Either||6||$109|
|SD Seth Lover||Passive||Alnico II||Either||6||$119|
|SD Benedetto||Passive||Alnico V||Either||6||$119|
|SD Mick Thomson||Active||Ceramic||Either||6, 7||$119|
|SD Retribution||Active||Ceramic||Any||7, 8||$119|
|Gibson 496R “Hot Ceramic”||Passive||Ceramic||Neck||6||$121|
|SD Mark Holcomb||Passive||Ceramic||Either||6, 7, 8||$129|
|SD Jupiter Rails||Passive||Ceramic||Either||6||$129|
|SD Jeff Loomis Blackouts||Active||Alnico V||Any||7||$129|
|Gibson 500T “Super Ceramic”||Passive||Ceramic||Bridge||6||$135|
|SD Antiquity||Passive||Alnico II||Either||6||$139|
|SD Ducan Distortion Active Mount||Passive||Ceramic||Either||7, 8||$139|
|SD Nazgul Active Mount||Passive||Ceramic||Bridge||7, 8||$139|
|SD Sentient Active Mount||Passive||Alnico V||Neck||7, 8||$139|
|SD Psyclone Filter’Tron||Passive||Alnico V||Either||6||$139|
|Gibson 498T “Hot Alnico”||Passive||Alnico V||Bridge||6||$135|
|Gibson 490R “Modern Classic”||Passive||Alinco II||Neck||6||$135|
|SD Hot Rodded||Passive||Alnico V||Both||6||$149 (set)|
|SD Mayhem||Passive||Ceramic||Both||6||$149 (set)|
|SD Vintage Blues||Passive||Alnico V||Both||6||$149 (set)|
|Gibson ’57 Classic||Passive||Alnico II||Both||6||$155|
|Gibson Dirty Fingers||Passive||Ceramic||Both||6||$155|
|Gibson Mini Humbucker||Passive||Alnico II||Both||6||$155|
|Gibson ’57 Classic Plus||Passive||Alnico II||Bridge||6||$175|
|Gibson Burstbucker Type 1||Passive||Alnico II||Both||6||$175|
|Gibson Burstbucker Type 2||Passive||Alnico II||Both||6||$175|
|Gibson Burstbucker Type 3||Passive||Alnico II||Both||6||$175|
|Bustbucker Pro||Passive||Alnico V||Both||6||$187|
|SD Dimebag||Passive||Ceramic||Both||6||$199 (set)|
|Gibson ’57 Classic with 4-Conductor||Passive||Alnico II||Both||6||$200|
|SD P-Rails Triple Shot||Passive||Alnico V||Both||6||$259 (set)|
P90 Pickups (Passive Only)
|SD Phat Cat||Alnico II||Any||$89|
|SD Vintage P90||Alnico II||Any||$99|
|SD P-Rails||Alnico V||Any||$99|
|SD Hot P90||Ceramic||Any||$99|
|SD Custom P90||Ceramic||Any||$99|
|SD Antiquity P90 Dog Ear||Alnico II||Any||$109|
|SD Antiquity P90||Alnico II||Any||$119|
|SD P90 Stack||Alnico V||Any||$119|
|Gibson P-94T||Alnico V||Any||$130|
|Gibson P-90||Alnico V||Any||$135|
Which Pickups are the Best?
This is always a tough one to answer because what sounds good to me, might not sound good to you, and vice-versa! However, I’ll leave you with a few points to end on.
- Seymour Duncan pickups are much less expensive than Gibson pickups
- Gibson pickups generally sound a bit warmer and fuller than Seymour Duncan pickups
- Seymour Duncan pickups sound a bit brighter and clearer in general compared to Gibson pickups
- Seymour Duncan have a much larger range of tones, pickup types (active/ passive) and colour/ design options available than Gibson.
In my opinion, upgrading your Gibson, be it a Les Paul, SG, Explorer or otherwise, with Seymour Duncan pickups makes the most sense. Simply due to the lower cost and the more expansive range which offers something for everyone, the switch will make more sense and to me, feels like better value for money.
Gibson pickups sound fairly similar to one another, so switching them up at a cost of at least $300-$400 for a set, does feel a bit steep.
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