Decoding Standard Pickup Arrangements
H-S-S? S-S-S? Learn how to read this confusing shorthand.
By Adam Brent Houghtaling
If you’re new to guitar terminology, any number of shorthand phrases and insider vocabulary can leave you scratching your head and querying the nearest search engine.
One example of this kind of confusing shorthand used to describe standard pickup arrangements: S-S-S, H-S-S, or H-H. What is this strange cuneiform?
Don’t worry. It’s easier than translating Dothraki.
First, you need to know that “S” stands for one “single-coil pickup” and “H” stands for a Humbucking pickup. These are the two primary types of pickups found in guitars. A single-coil pickup is made of a single coil of wire wrapped around a magnet and is usually defined as being "bright" and "snappy" sounding, while a humbucking pickup is made with two coils of opposing polarities, an arrangement that can reduce or cancel unwanted electromagnetic interference and produces a warmer, more bold tone.
Then you need to know that you read it from bridge position to neck position.
So, when you see a guitar described as having an H-S-S arrangement, you’re looking at a Humbucking pickup at the bridge position, a centered single-coil pickup and a single-coil in the neck position.
Here are some standard pickup configurations and corresponding Fender models:
- American Professional Stratocaster HH Shawbucker
- American Professional Telecaster Deluxe
- Standard Jazzmaster HH
- Kurt Cobain Jaguar
- American Professional Stratocaster HSS Shawbucker
- Modern Player Telecaster Deluxe
- Deluxe Strat HSS
Now you know, but a thornier question remains: Which pickup arrangement is right for you?
Well, that depends a great deal on what you want out of your instrument and possibly what kind of music you like to play. As always, the best course of action is to try a lot of different things before making any purchase.