Humbucker pickups have long been associated with the sound of jazz & blues guitars. They were originally developed to solve the hum issue that single coil pickups often present. By putting two single coil pickups in series and inverting the poles, the noise was canceled, the humbucker was born, and guitar players rejoiced.
The double coil mechanism also produced a darker sound. As a result, many jazz and blues guitar players that sought clarity for extended chords and chromatic and bluesy lines gravitated towards humbuckers.
Today, there are endless choices for humbuckers. And like most things guitar-related, it all comes down to your needs and preferences. Do you want to play modern blues ala Joe Bonamassa? Or are you a bebop player like Wes Montgomery? Perhaps you want a humbucker set that offers versatility for various styles?
You’ll find all these things and more in our roundup of the seven best humbuckers for jazz and blues. Let’s get started!
What Are The Best Humbuckers For Jazz & Blues?
Personally, I recommend the Lollar Imperials as the best all-round humbuckers for jazz and blues. The articulation is tight and defined, with a full bridge tone that cuts through the mix. For those on a budget, the DiMarzio Bluesbucker is a great option. If price isn’t an issue, the Lindy Fralins are a dream to play with.
Here are our top picks for the best humbuckers for jazz and blues:
Capture the airy top end, balanced mid-range, tight low end, and beautiful overtones of the classic PAF pickups with the Lollar Imperial humbucker. These pickups are based on the lower output PAFs found on vintage Gibson 335 guitars but with improved frequency response.
These pickups are one of the best options available for humbuckers as they offer great sound, are versatile, and will let your true sound shine through when you play.
Great chord voicing definition
Cuts through the mix
Neck 7.6 K, Bridge 8.5 K
Nickel silver covers
Fuller bridge tone
The Lollar Imperial humbucker pickups are made with Alnico 2 magnets for the neck position and Alnico 5 magnets for the bridge position. They feature unbalanced coils that produce a tight bottom end that complements the pickup’s fullness and causes overtones to build up after each note is played.
Both jazz and blues players will feel right at home with these humbuckers, as they provide great chord voicing definition for better clarity in the mix. Leads will also benefit from the balanced mid-range. Whether you go completely clean or prefer a saturated sound, these pickups will do the job well.
The bridge pickup provides a fuller tone with a cleaner and brighter middle position. The neck pickup provides beautiful cleans but is hot enough to be played at the edge of amp distortion for a more aggressive and overdriven sound. Overall, this is a great choice for any guitarist, but jazz and blues players will be in vintage heaven with the Lollar Imperial.
The Dimarzio Bluesbucker looks like a standard humbucker but provides a P-90 type sound while still canceling the 60-cycle hum effectively. The Bluesbreaker is a great budget option available for players looking for an edgy bluesy sound rooted in tradition but with a modern twist.
P-90 sound with canceled hum
Sensitive to playing dynamics
Fits standard-size humbucker spaces
Uses patented Virtual Vintage technology
The Bluesbucker is a great option for players on a tight budget that are also looking to add some spark to their playing. It comes with the patented Virtual Vintage and Airbucker technology that makes the Bluesbucker very sensitive to playing dynamics while still providing a fat tone.
When used together in the bridge and neck position, they achieve an open and slightly hollow sound reminiscent of two single-coil pickups on a strat. They are a great option for players that want to replace their humbuckers with P-90 sounding pickups that fit perfectly in the same space. This alone makes it a great option if you are looking for that particular sound in a Gibson-style guitar body.
Lindy Fralin has been a pioneer and innovator in the guitar and bass pickup industry for 30 years, and is one of the most revered boutique pickup creators today. Fralin’s pickups are used by legends like Jeff Beck, Bill Frisell, Neil Young, David Gilmour, and Carlos Santana, just to name a few. It’s a premium pickup set for players looking for something truly special.
Clean and clear
Smooth grind a sharp attack
Compensated overwound bridge
Fralin’s Sectioning technique for dynamic tone
Hand-built for superior quality control
The Pure PAF is a 50’s PAF clone and Lindy Fralin’s favorite humbucker pickup. It offers a beautiful clean tone with incredible versatility. It has a low output for a vintage tone, with a smooth grind and a sharp attack.
This pickup uses USA-made Alnico 2 magnets for vintage tonal balance and output as well as Lindy Fralin’s “Sectioning” technique for unique, dynamic playing and sound. It was built with the original Gibson PAF specifications that provide low volume but with modern clarity.
The Pure PAF delivers amazing results for blues and jazz players, even the ones that occasionally delve into rock. It comes with a 10-year warranty on manufacturing defects. This is a premium choice pickup with a very “musical” tone that jazz and blues players will adore.
4. Seymour Duncan ’59 Model
This pickup was built to deliver a classic PAF tone but with modern construction. It has been one of the most popular humbucker pickups for years and will work with smaller gauge strings for that vintage blues tone. It is quite versatile and bluesy indeed!
Sweet, warm guitar sustain
PAF style with a present top end
Alnico 5 magnet
The ’59 Model set of pickups has been a favorite among blues, jazz and classic rock players for years. It is built with vintage-inspired coils that give it an airy quality for that classic PAF sound that is so sought after.
It is built with Alnico 5 bar magnet and vacuum wax potting to make it compatible with lighter gauge guitar strings. The high end is slightly boosted for improved attack clarity with the pick, while the mids are a bit scooped to obtain an open and smooth sound from your guitar.
Guitar players of many traditional styles will feel right at home with this set. The ’59 Model takes a beloved sound from a great old model and manages to make it even better!
5. Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates
Transform any Les Paul style guitar into a blues machine with the Pearly Gates. This pickup captures the mojo of the original neck pickup of Billy Gibbons’ 1959 Les Paul, to add firepower for guitar players looking for that classic old sound but with modern traces. The Pearly Gates is easily one of the best available humbuckers for blues.
Provides more midrange
Alnico 2 bar magnets
Great for rhythm and leads
Hand-built in California
Specifically for the neck position
This pickup was designed as a PAF vintage output passive neck humbucker. It comes with unique tonal variations that provide more midrange than typical humbuckers from a Les Paul guitar from that era, as well as a warm and spongy low end. It is wound in Seymour’s original Leesona winding machine from the early Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for that undeniable vintage flavor!
Seymour discovered that Billy Gibbons’ bridge pickup had a bit more output than most PAF (Patent Applied For), which gave it an extra drive. Even though the mids are more accentuated, this neck pickup still provides that open air and treble attack of an Alnico 2 bar magnet.
Pearly Gates pickups are hand-built in Santa Barbara, California and you’ll find them in both standard humbucker and trembucker spacing. They have a long history that is still being written today. These pickups are a fantastic choice for blues, traditional rock, and even some overdriven jazz in the vein of Kurt Rosenwinkel or John Scofield.
Since their introduction in the 1950s, the 57′ Classic has been the ultimate humbucker PAF known for its smooth and velvety tone. The 57′ Classic Plus is a slightly overwound version of the ’57 Classic. This increases the output, making it ideal to use in the bridge position.
Alnico II magnet
A slightly overwound 57′ Classic
Perfect for bridge position
Rich and full sound
Great clean and overdriven tone
When it comes to humbuckers, few pickups have the pedigree, history, and tradition of the Gibson ’57 Classic. It is the original pickup found in many of the best-known jazz and blues guitars. The Gibson ’57 Classic Plus is a slightly overwound version that provides a bit more bite for the bridge position without losing the smoothness that made the original so popular among blues and jazz players.
The ’57 Classic Plus is the perfect companion for the ’57 Classic, and provides a beautiful PAF style fat tone with a vintage flavor for playing blues, jazz, and rock in the vein of the legendary Steve Howe of Yes.
Guitarists will have the perfect combination of creamy and smooth sound with some bite from the bridge position with this pickup. True to its name, the ’57 Classic Plus is a true classic that will shine in overdrive or clean on most Gibson type guitars.
7. Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro
A fantastic pickup from a legendary maker, the Seymour Duncan Alnico II Pro does many things well, and is great for blues, jazz, blues rock, and rock. So much so that Slash uses a variation of this pickup, the APH-2 Slash. This model is quickly becoming a modern classic, and for good reason.
Weaker magnets for natural low end
Great with dynamics
Allows easy splitting
Slightly darker clean sound
This beloved model is constructed with a weaker Alnico II bar pickup. The weaker magnet allows for a longer sustain and for the player’s dynamic playing to come through more purely. It also means that more complex chords (typically used in jazz and sometimes in blues) will not sound muddy when overdriven. In the neck position, this pickup produces a darker clean sound with a vintage touch and is also fantastic for buttery distortion.
This pickup is characterized by a warm sound and has a four-conductor cable to facilitate a variety of switching configurations. You can get a dark but present jazz tone, a sweet blues tone, and a round classic rock tone.
The Alnico II Pro works well with both brighter toned instruments and hollow and semi-hollow body guitars. Overall this is a very versatile option that will sound great in jazz, blues, and classic rock!
The sound of humbuckers has historically been associated with Gibson guitars, while the single coil tone originates from Fender.
Today, there are a plethora of options for both pickups and more. You can buy humbuckers and fit them in your Telecaster or in the bridge position of your Strat. There are even Strats with two humbuckers. It all depends on your personal tonal needs.
Despite the fact that certain pickups are better for certain types of music or guitar model, keep in mind that rock, jazz, funk, pop, and many other styles are deeply rooted in blues music. So no matter what style you play, you can’t escape the influence that blues has had on virtually every modern genre.
With so many gear choices for your guitar, it is easy to get lost in all of this. It’s worth it to remember that what’s important is making music, regardless of the style, how you play, what guitar you play, and all the other limitless variables.