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Single-Pickup vs. Double-Pickup Guitars

08.03.2014
Les Paul Junior

OK, smarty pants. Before we enter the debate on single-pickup vs. two-pickup guitars, we already know what you’re going to say. “When it comes to pickups, why would I want less when I could have more? More sonic options, more versatility, more bang for my guitar buck.”

More, more, more. Tough to argue with that.

But the “more is better” argument doesn’t hold true for everyone and everything. After all, Jurassic Park only had one T-Rex; the film’s maligned sequel offered two rampaging Rexes. Yet there aren’t too many people who would argue that The Lost World is the better movie.

Back to guitars: there are those who prefer the simplicity of a stripped-down, simple and effective, single-pickup axe. “Sure,” you huff. “Beginners on a budget might opt for such child’s play.” All right, put these kids in the play pen: The Clash’s Mick Jones, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Mountain man Leslie West.

There’s a raw, primal immediacy to a single-pickup guitar – such as a Les Paul Junior or certain Melody Makers. As West once put it, “To me, it was like a piece of wood and a microphone.”

Others would agree, suggesting that with only one pickup, there’s nothing standing between the guitarist and the sound coming out of the amp. Plus, with less wiring, some would argue that the signal is stronger, modifications are easier, and problems (should any arise) are simpler to fix.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting your guitar to be a little more complicated. Two pickups can expand your options exponentially. Not only can you mix and match pickups (say, a humbucker in the bridge position and a P-90 in the neck spot), but you can isolate them and combine them at your leisure. Separate volume and tone controls only enhance your sonic smorgasbord.

There are plenty of players who would claim that there’s just no magic in a guitar without a second pickup. Some would go so far to argue that a “real” guitar doesn’t have anything less than three pickups – but that’s a battle for another day.

So, we’ll now turn it over to you, the fans. Does the single-pickup guitar deserve to be defended? Or are two pickups (at least) always the way to go? Fight it out in the comments section below.

Let the battle begin!


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