Along with these advantages, the design does present some challenges. Semi-hollowbody guitars are more susceptible to feedback than solid-body electrics. The wrong pickup can also make them sound overly dark or muddy. Conventional wisdom says to go with a PAF-style humbucker, which will give most semi-hollowbodys the right combination of warmth and punch. If you’re thinking about upgrading the pickups on your semi-hollowbody guitar, we’ve picked out a few below that do the job nicely.
These are our reviews of the 4 best pickups for semi-hollowbody guitars on the market:
Pickup for Semi-Hollowbody Guitar 1: Seymour Duncan SH2N Jazz Humbucker
- Seymour Duncan SH2N Jazz Model Humbucker Pickup - (Black)
- Price: $79.00
- Price as of 10/26/2020 13:13 PDT(more info about ad)
Since semi-hollowbodies are especially popular in jazz, it stands to reason one of the best pickups for the design is the Jazz Humbucker from Seymour Duncan. This little pup beautifully addresses all of the potential issues mentioned above. It’s slightly brighter than your average humbucker, first of all, which gives you better articulation and balances the natural warmth from the sound chamber.
This is a lower-output pickup, too, and that’s ideal for a semi-hollowbody. It means you can still crank up the gain to get some nice distortion without worrying as much about triggering feedback. The tone of the distortion is as balanced and tuneful as the clean tone, too, which gives this pickup a versatility well beyond the jazz arena.
While the model linked to here is for the neck, the Seymour Duncan Jazz can also work well in the bridge position of a semi-hollowbody. You can get a full set or pair it with one of your existing pickups to add a touch more treble and clarity to your tone.
Pickup for Semi-Hollowbody Guitar 2: Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates
- Seymour Duncan SH-PG1 Pearly Gates Pickup White Bridge
- Price: $105.00
- Price as of 10/26/2020 12:36 PDT(more info about ad)
Here’s another great option from Seymour Duncan that pairs nicely with semi-hollowbody guitars. They’re a great option for genres like classic rock and country, retaining your instrument’s natural warmth but giving you more power.
Now a hot pickup like the Pearly Gates (see full specs) does mean more risk of feedback, and that’s something you’ll have to negotiate when you’re using these pickups. It’s worth the effort to find that sweet spot, though. These pups have a strong mid-range presence and soaring, transparent highs. They’re especially effective in the bridge position of a semi-hollowbody, so if you’re concerned about extraneous noise you could pair it with a lower-output pickup in the neck, giving you both power and pure, reliable sound.
Pickup for Semi-Hollowbody Guitar 3: Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbucker
- Seymour Duncan SH55 Seth Lover Humbucker Pickup - (Neck Position) (Nickel Cover)
- Price: $119.00
- Price as of 10/26/2020 13:13 PDT(more info about ad)
The main reason to play a semi-hollowbody guitar is to get that natural, acoustic warmth. The Seth Lover Humbucker from Seymour Duncan is designed to complement this, giving you a smooth vintage tone that’s closer to the original PAF than any other modern pickup.
Balance is the key to the Seth Lover Humbucker’s performance (see full specs). They use vintage coils for a harmonically-rich and faithful tone. The high end is bright but still sweet and singing, supported by an articulate mid-range and a lot of warmth down low. It’s basically designed to make a semi-hollowbody sound its best.
Jazz players will obviously love this pickup in both the bridge and the neck position, but it’s not limited to any one genre. Classic rock players, country players, and folk guitarists can also find a lot to love about the Seth Lover, especially in the neck position linked to here.
Pickup for Semi-Hollowbody Guitar 4: DiMarzio 36th Anniversary Humbucker
While Seymour Duncan is the go-to name in after-market humbuckers, they’re not the only game in town. The 36th Anniversary Humbucker from DiMarzio is a solid PAF-style pickup you can get for either the neck or the bridge of your instrument. It’s also a bit cheaper than your average Seymour Duncan, making them especially appealing if your budget is limited.
While most PAF-style pickups really shine in their treble response, we were most impressed by the low end response from the DiMarzio 36th Anniversary. It really rounds out the bottom of the sound, enhancing the warmth but still keeping it tight and focused. This isn’t to say they neglect the high end, either. It’s clear but not grating, with a nice shimmer and strong harmonics. We especially recommend this pickup for the bridge position of a semi-hollowbody, but it’s really a viable option for either or both positions.
Pickups for Semi Hollow Bodies: Replace Neck or Bridge or Both?
Obviously, you’ll be shopping for humbuckers if that’s what your guitar is wired for, as almost all semi-hollowbody guitars are. You won’t necessarily be replacing both your pickups, though. Just upgrading the bridge or neck is cheaper than replacing both at once, and it also lets you make more subtle adjustments to your tone.
The amplitude of the vibration of your strings is higher at the neck than it is at the bridge. This means the sound is a bit darker near the neck and brighter at the bridge. The overall output is higher at the neck than the bridge, too.
Pickups are designed for one position or the other to accommodate these differences, so that’s the first reason you need to figure out which position you want to upgrade. A neck pickup can work in the bridge position (or vice versa) but it won’t give you the intended sound.
If you want to emphasize your guitar’s natural warmth more, replacing the neck pickup is your best bet. This is where the guitar’s output is highest, and where you’ll get the best mid-range depth. If you’re instead looking to beef up the high end of your sound, you’ll probably want to replace your bridge pickup. A higher-output pickup in the bridge position is also less likely to cause feedback problems on a semi-hollowbody guitar.
Ultimately, the best advice is to decide what you want out of your pickups before you start to shop. This will help you focus your search to just those pickups that will suit your needs—to, indeed, find the one that earns the vaunted title of the best pickup for semi hollow body guitars. There’s something on the list above for every player and genre. 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