What Is a Humbucker and How Does It 'Buck' the Hum?
Find out how it differs from a single-coil pickup and what it does to your sound.
By Jeff Owens
What is a humbucking pickup? What does it do? What does it sound like? And why is it called that?
Humbucking pickups are especially good at doing two things:
- Suppressing external noise
- Producing a big, loud and warm sound that contrasts with the bright, snappy sound of many single-coil pickups
It turns out that single-coil pickups (a magnet wound with wire) make excellent antennas that are keenly sensitive to electromagnetic interference caused by mainstream domestic electrical grid power and appliances such as transformers or computers.
Built with two coils rather than one, humbuckers cancel those annoying electrical hums and other extraneous noises that can affect single-coil pickups, while leaving the string signal intact. In essence they “buck” the unwanted hum.
Humbucking pickups solve this problem by using two signal-producing coils instead of one. The two coils have opposing windings and polarities, an arrangement that—through complex principles of physics—results in the reduction or cancellation of unwanted electromagnetic interference while improving the quality and output level of the signal. The annoying hum goes away, leaving a big, warm guitar sound prized by players worldwide.