First, you want to make sure that the pickup will fit easily onto your guitar without modification. Les Pauls use a humbucker-sized pickup, ruling out most single-coil and P-90 designs. To maintain the guitar’s iconic sound, go with pickups that have a vintage tone, which will faithfully recreate that classic sound of the Les Pauls from the ’50s and ’60s, even on a more modern version of the instrument.
Below are our recommendations of the 4 best pickups for Les Pauls on the market:
Pickups for Les Pauls 1: Gibson ’57 Classic Plus Humbucker
- Gibson '57 Classic Plus Humbucker Pickup, Nickel
- Price as of 10/21/2020 20:07 PDT(more info about ad)
It stands to reason that Gibson would make some of the best pickups for a Les Paul. These Gibson ’57 Classic Plus pickups are a reissue of the humbuckers that first gave the Les Paul its iconic tone. It uses vintage enamel coating on the wires, nickel slugs, and an Alnico II magnet to replicate the classic tones of an over-wound fifties-era pickup. You’ll especially love the output and overdrive sound from the Gibson ’57 Classic Plus. The tone is smooth and saturated without being overly aggressive, making it nicely versatile to a wide range of styles and genres. If you’re looking for a hotter pickup that still has a vintage response and tone, you’ll love the Gibson ’57 Classic Plus.
Pickups for Les Pauls 2: Seymour Duncan SH-55 Seth Lover
- Seymour Duncan - 11101-21-Gc4c - SH-55b Seth Lover Model Gold 4-C
- Price: $129.00
- Price as of 10/22/2020 07:21 PDT(more info about ad)
When Seth Lover designed the humbucker for Gibson in 1955, he changed the game in guitar amplification technology. With their SH-55 model, Seymour Duncan has made a faithful reproduction of the open tone the original humbuckers were so prized for. This pickup (see full specs) has a two-bar Alnico magnet and vintage style output coils that combine to bring out the rich, full harmonies of chords without sacrificing the articulation of single notes. The cover is unpotted and made of silver nickel. Every Seth Lover pickup is built by hand so you can count on top notch construction in every single unit. These should be on anyone’s list of the best Les Paul pickups.
Pickups for Les Pauls 3: Seymour Duncan SH1n ’59
- Seymour Duncan SH1n '59 Model Electric Guitar Humbucker Pickup (Neck, Black)
- Price: $79.00
- Price as of 10/22/2020 07:21 PDT(more info about ad)
Also from Seymour Duncan, the SH1 is a versatile PAF-style pickup that sounds great at both the bridge and neck positions on a Les Paul. It gives more emphasis to the low end than many other pickups and has a warm, round sound throughout the range. The SH1 will give you reliably excellent sound reproduction both when you’re playing clean and when you’re using distortion, and it gives you the same great sound out of any amp. It uses enameled wire, balanced coil windings, and nickel plated studs, just like the vintage models of the late ‘50s, and has the vintage look to match, making it appealing for both the eye and the ear.
Pickups for Les Pauls 4: DiMarzio DP103
- DiMarzio PAF DP103 Humbucker 36th Anniversary Guitar Pickup Creme Regular
- Price: $74.99
- Price as of 10/22/2020 13:04 PDT(more info about ad)
Another great option if you’re looking for both high performance and great value is DiMarzio’s version of the PAF-style humbucker, their DP103. It uses a weak magnetic field to increase the sustain of the notes while still giving them a focused attack and high output. The custom coated wire is treated to prevent feedback and microphonics. It works equally well at both the bridge and neck, though it’ll be a bit hotter in the bridge position. Overall, a very balanced pickup that can help you get that classic Les Paul tone. If you’re on a budget, this is likely the best Les Paul pickup for the money.
Les Paul Pickups: Why PAF-style?
The actual letters PAF don’t mean much for your sound—it stands for “patent applied for,” the sticker that was on the underside of Gibson humbucker pickups starting in the late 1950s. What that nickname represents, though, is the innovation in guitar sound developed by engineer Seth Lover known as the humbucker.
Prior to the 1950s, all pickups were single-coil designs and shared an inherent flaw: the interference from the magnetic fields gave the instrument a perpetual hum. By using a double-coil design with opposing poles, this new style of pickup avoided the hum—or “bucked” it, giving the pickup its other nickname.
Les Paul guitars were the first solid-bodied electrics from Gibson to come equipped with PAF pickups, and in many ways they were designed for each other. Not only does the noise-cancelling effect of a humbucker give you a cleaner sound, the body of a Les Paul is designed to fit this pickup without any costly modifications, and the tone is hard to beat. Of course, though Gibson did receive that patent it applied for, the PAF-style humbucker is no longer exclusively their domain. Even if it’s made by a different company, though, a humbucker will be the best fit for a Les Paul, giving the tone its truest character.
Bridge or Neck on Les Paul Pickups
It can be tricky to find a good bridge pickup for a Les Paul. The ultimate goal for the sound is a singing, open midrange with clear lows and bright (but not shrill) highs. A lot of pickups that sound great in the neck position will have a thin, weak feel in the high range. From the list above, the Seymour Duncan Seth Lover is the most consistently great in the bridge position, though if you’re looking for more output and a bit of a brighter high end—especially if you’re going for a more metal sound—the DiMarzio DP103 is a good choice.
The neck pickup is what really gives the Les Paul its famous tone, and if you only want to upgrade in one position, getting a new neck pickup is probably the way to go. The Gibson ’57 Classic Plus truly shines in the neck position, where its high output and vintage tone fit beautifully. Both the Seymour Duncan pickups above will give you a clear tone with a good amount of warmth and good articulation, great for players who favor a lot of technique. The Seth Lover will be a bit chimier in the neck position, while the SH1n might be better for players who use a lot of overdrive. The hottest pickups in the neck position are the same that tend hot in the bridge spot: The DiMarzio DP103.
Whichever model you go with, make sure you paying attention to what position of pickup you’re buying before you make the purchase. Even within the same model of pickup there will be slight differences between the one designed for the neck and the one designed for the bridge. It’s not unheard of to use a bridge pickup at the neck or vice versa, if you want to experiment with your sound, but if you flip the positions you might not get the sound you’re expecting. Whichever position you ultimately choose, we hope you’ve found the best pickups for Les Paul guitars on this page. Good luck!
Micah Johnson started playing music in high school, when he taught himself the bass to join his friend’s band. He added guitar and drums during his twenties playing in local clubs, and along the way, he picked up unique, hands-on experience from hand drums to studio mixers. On Song Simian, he aims to share this knowledge from 20+ years playing and recording music. When not in gearhead mode, he enjoys photography and travel. Email him