On both acoustic and electro-acoustic models, the pickup is what captures the instrument’s vibrations, converting them into the electrical signal that broadcasts through the amp. Small as they may be, a good pickup is an essential factor in getting the most out of your instrument, and upgrading the pickup on your guitar can often breathe new life into an old instrument’s tone, making it an affordable alternative to buying a whole new instrument if your sound isn’t quite where you want it to be.
If you want to get a better jazz sound out of your instrument, upgrading to one of the pickups on this list can help to get you there. They’re the best jazz pickups on the market.
Gibson Classic 57
This classic humbucking pickup is a reproduction of the company’s original and iconic design from the late 1950s. Just like the original, the Classic 57 model (see full specs) is designed to be used in both the neck and bridge positions (as it was on the classic Gibson PAF) though it can be used just on the neck and paired with other pickups at the bridge to modernize the sound. It uses an Alnico magnet for the full, rich tone and humbucker crunch the original pickups were famous for. Using vintage-styled braided wiring with enamel coating and nickel pole pieces, the Classic 57 are also wax potted, limiting the chance of feedback at high volumes. It is among the best jazz guitar pickups period.
DiMarzio PAF DP103
The DP103 combines elements of vintage and modern techniques that result in a humbucker that gives your guitar tone a vocal quality. The vintage comes from the Alnico magnet, which gives the sound a smooth, open color and lets the notes breathe and swell after their initial attack. The modern comes in the winding, which is consistent and tight, preventing the annoying squeal vintage humbuckers could produce. The soft magnetic field gives you the sweet, clean, consistent tone that’s so desirable in jazz guitar sound, eliminating the muddiness many older humbuckers were known for while brightening the bass tones and adding warmth to the treble.
Seymour Duncan SH-1n ’59
This pickup gives your clean tones a crystalline shimmer and your distortion a full, bright edge. The mids are a bit more scooped than the company’s previous SH-55 model, and they’ve also improved their potting methods using a vacuum wax seal. These pick-ups (see full specs) work best on the neck but can also be used on the bridge and are hand-made for utmost precision and quality. The sound is balanced across the register for comping and chords but also gives picked lines excellent articulation without sacrificing the warmth of the midrange tones. The SH-1n is ideal for a guitarist who gigs in multiple ensembles and wants a pickup that can play it all. It should be on anyone’s list of the best jazz pickups.
Kent Armstrong Stealth 90
Kent Armstrong only does pickups, and it does them to perfection. Unlike the other models on this list, the HP-90 line uses a ceramic magnet that results in an exceptionally fat yet balanced tone across the entire frequency spectrum. With their Stealth model, Armstrong delivers a noiseless pickup, unencumbered by the humming that was the main complaint of previous HP-90 models but with a lower output than the typical humbucker design. The end result is a versatile and chiming tone that’s perfect for a broad range of musical styles and sounds great at both high and low gain levels. Plus, it’s cheap. It’s one of the best jazz guitar pickups for the money.
Double-coil pickups have become the standard for jazz guitarists because of the genre’s demand for delicate dynamic shaping. If you were to open up a standard magnetic pickup, you would find a permanent magnet generating a constant magnetic field that’s been wrapped in a coil of copper wire.
When you play your instrument, the vibration of the strings creates disturbances in that field which charge the coil and pass a signal to your amp. When you’re using AC power in your equipment, the flux in the magnetic field makes a humming sound that’s audible during softer portions of the music. To combat this, pickup designers started using two coils in opposite orientations and using the resultant phase cancellation to significantly reduce the signal to noise ratio. This double-coil style of pickups became known as “humbuckers” because they eliminate the annoying hum of single-coil models.
A single-coil pickup will give your tone a brighter, crisper sound that has better definition, a trait a lot of guitarists prefer for rock music where the hum of the pickup is either covered by the rest of the band or becomes simply a part of the sound, in much the way the tone coloration of a tube amplifier did in the 1960s. Most jazz guitarists, though they may have chosen the humbucker because it’s noiseless, also prefer the darker and louder tone of a humbucker, finding that it better suits the style of the genre.
Neck vs. Bridge Pickups
When you pluck your guitar’s strings, the amplitude of the vibration is not the same along its entire length, and where you place your pickup will have an impact on the sound transmitted to your amplifier. The amplitude is larger at the neck than it is at the bridge—in sound terms, the tone at the bridge is brighter, while at the neck, it’s darker. Using pickups at both the neck and bridge can capture the full range of the string’s tone and give you a more accurate representation of your instrument’s sound.
Pickups that are designed for use on the bridge have a higher output and are louder than those designed for placement on the neck. A neck pickup used on the bridge may make your sound weak, while a bridge pickup on the neck often makes it muddy or boomy. Having said that, you may sometimes want to experiment with a neck pickup on your bridge if you’re looking to brighten up an overly dark sound.
You can usually find the best jazz pickups in both a neck and a bridge version, and some models are designed to work equally well in each position. Be sure to check which model you’re buying to see where on the instrument it’s designed to go, or you might not get the results you’re looking for.