Every new guitarist, when they make their way into the world of electric guitar, often get perplexed by the overwhelming option of pickups to choose from.
Every pickup has its designated position, and they are neck, bridge, and middle.
The position of the neck plays a vital role in the sound output of the guitar, and you would get different sounds at different parts.
So to clear all the air of confusion, here we will discuss the significant differences between bridge and neck pickup.
Brief Overview Of The Main Difference
The main factor that differentiates a bridge pickup from its neck counterpart is the tonal quality and the string movement over the pickup that causes the sound.
A guitar with a bridge pickup delivers sharp and bright sound quality while a neck pickup oozes out a thick and warm tone.
Due to their sound difference, they are utilized for different purposes.
However, the sound output from these pickups varies depending upon your guitar configuration.
A guitar with a single coil or humbuckers won’t give the same output as a six-string instrument with a blend of both single coil and humbucker.
It is not easy to understand the difference between bridge and neck pickup just from their sound difference.
So we will discuss in detail the major disparity between these two pickups and how they affect the tonal output as well as your playing experience.
The Bridge Pickup
The most noticeable factor that differentiates the bridge pickup from the neck is their placement in the guitar.
As you can guess from their name, the pickups are placed closer to the bridge of your electric guitar rather than in the middle.
Due to their position, the pickup gives out sharp and defined tones when you play a note, and every tone carries a high treble in them.
So when you strum the strings over the bridge pickup, you will notice the volume might decrease by a slight margin, but the treble your tone will get a sharp rise.
While playing close to the bridge, the string gets tighter and stiff, and the pickup catches string vibration to give you a punchy and meatier tonal output.
Basically, when you strum the string over the bridge pickup, the string doesn’t get much room to move, and it causes the string to produce a piercing sound with high frequency.
Due to this reason, most professionals use this pickup type to create heavy riffs, riffs, solos, and lead notes.
Unlike the neck position, the bridge is a unique area that also produces a spanky tone to give a new dimension to your music composition.
What sets it apart from neck pickup is its ability to make its way through the mix while you are playing it with other instruments, especially in a band.
The bridge pickup has its own signature tonal quality, and you can quickly identify it even when it is mixed with various other instruments.
A great thing about bridge pickup is that it provides you various options to experiment in your music and add more tone variation.
Since the tone produced can easily cut through the overdrive or distortion, it is widely preferred in heavy metal and hard rock songs for creating heavy riffs.
A bridge pickup, especially a humbucker, makes the riffs sound apart from the sounds created from other instruments and gives the music a proper shape.
Apart from distorted riffs, this pickup also comes handy in creating beautiful rhythms with trebles on the higher side.
If you are using an old electric unit, you might see a rhythm switch for neck pick, but it was an outdated practice that has changed over time.
As opposed to the neck pickup, the bridge unit generally has all their tone knobs notched up to their highest point, which helps them derive a treble-heavy tone.
Plus, the clarity of the tone is much better, and even if you lower the tone knob, you won’t get a significant change in the clarity.
However, there isn’t any hard and fast rule associated with this pickup type, and you can utilize it in any manner to get the tone you want.
The Neck Pickup
On the other hand, guitars with neck pickup produce a meaty and warmer tone, which you often hear in songs.
The individual output of this pickup is widely utilized for creating soulful melodies and impressive lead solos in various music genres.
They also help you in devising solos on overdrive or distortion, overdriven blues solos, and lucid rhythms.
Unlike the bridge pick, the neck position’s tension isn’t that strong, so when you pluck the string over the neck, it causes vibration with high amplitude.
Thus, the tone originating from the neck pickup is mellow, thick, and with a lot of low frequencies.
This type of pick is more suitable for the jazz and blues genre that goes perfect with guitars like Blackmachine or Takamine guitars because of the round and dark tonal quality it has on offer.
The string near the neck bridge is slightly loose and gets a lot of area for movement, so as a result, it offers less attack than bridge units.
Despite the tone being more inclined to low frequencies, the overall sound is warm and brings a unique charm to any music.
The sound from neck units is a little muddy and muffled, and it has a huge impact when you compare it with bridge units.
Although it can’t match the clarity of bridge pickups, if you pull down the tone knob, then you will hear some immaculate output.
This is why you will play the same note from both the pickups; the bridge pickup sound will stand out while the neck will have a better impact.
The intro and beginning solo of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N Roses is probably the best example of the neck pickup.
Now you know about neck pickup’s signature sound style, you can easily hear the thick and meaty tone played by the legendary guitarist Slash.
The song “Still Got The Blues” by famous Gary Moore will also introduce you to the sound of muddy and bluesy tone as it was played using a Les Paul with a neck pickup.
Many famous songs from Blues, Rock, and Jazz have utilized this pickup to create solos and melodies, and they are still being used.
However, the overall output isn’t as distinguished as the bridge pickup’s sound, and it doesn’t cut through the mix when you use them with other instruments for rhythms.
It might not stand apart but elevates overall quality by a large margin with a contemporary touch.
Effects Of Guitar On The Pickup
Till now, we have only discussed the effect of bridge and neck pickup on the sound output of your guitar.
But you will be surprised to know that your guitar can also make a massive impact on the sound of the pickup in your guitar.
The type and quality of your guitar’s body wood can cause alteration in the tonal clarity and quality of the pickup.
You can’t expect the same tonal output from a basswood guitar when you compare it with a rosewood or mahogany body guitar.
The body type plays a crucial role as mahogany offers a warmer tone while the ash body type oozes out the tone with a high treble.
According to some experts, the thickness of the body also has some minor effect on the pickup’s tone output.
Besides, the fingerboard and neck of your guitar also have some effect on the tonal output and harmonics of the pickup.
Not only the wood type but also the way the neck and fingerboard are constructed can alter the tone of the pickup.
This is why all the pickups, whether bridge or neck, are engineered and calibrated to blend with the sound of your guitar.
If they are not calibrated explicitly according to the guitar, then not only do you find differences in tone but also in volume.
Every one of them comes with high sensitivity to sync with the guitar’s harmonics, and every guitar type has its own harmonics, so the pickups need to match it.
Not everyone talks about it, but the type of magnet in your guitar also can significantly alter the tone of your pickup. A ceramic magnet dramatically differs from the alnico magnet both in tonal quality and overall harmonics.
According to numerous professionals, ceramic magnets in pickups ensure better overall sound than alnico counterparts.
When a bridge pickup is incorporated with a ceramic magnet, it will give you a nice distorted tone while alnico might not show you the same.
Whereas an alnico magnet is coupled with the neck pickup, it brings out a clear tone.
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Experimenting With Both Neck and Bridge Pickup
A great way to get the best of both worlds is by experimenting with them, meaning doing different things with the pickup.
For example, you can use neck pickup to play riffs or introduce a fantastic solo to your music composition. Similarly, a bridge pickup can be used to play melodies or rhythms of any music.
Basically, most of the pickup manufactured by guitar organizations are mainly intended for neck and bridge position.
- All the pickups for bridges come with the high output so that they can’t counter the stiffness and low amplitude of strings over the bridge.
- On the other hand, neck pickups are engineered with the low output so that you can produce a balanced and clean volume by countering the high string amplitude.
- So it gives you a lot of options to experiment with both of them and bring out something new. Another way to utilize the potential of both the pickup is by using them together in your guitar.
- It will not only benefit in a functional manner but will help you use them without needing any extra instrument. If you can combine them in Jazzmaster, not only will you get a different audio quality, but it will help you cancel out the “hum” noise.
However, if you combine them in Telecaster, then it would treat your ear with a full-range sound with a balanced tone.
Simply combining them won’t do the trick as there are numerous wiring and combinations associated with those two pickups.
Based on your music requirement, you will have to select the wiring and combination. You can do the wiring in serial, parallel, phase-in, or phase out manner depending upon your guitar.
You can even opt for the combinations of bridge, middle, and neck, and this combination generally works out with high-end models.
Dissimilarity Between 3-way and 5-way Selector Switch
When you are learning about the differences between bridge and neck pickup, we feel you should also know about the differences between 3-way and 5-way pickup selector.
These two switches play an essential role in your guitar as you let you choose between pickups and their combinations.
A 3-way pickup selector switch is a common component that you would find in many guitars featuring two humbuckers or a dual single-coil setup.
The 3-way selector gives you three options. The first option allows you to select the bridge pickup, the second option helps you choose both the humbuckers, and the third option provides neck pickup. The most prominent electric units that use this switch are the Les Paul and SG.
On the other hand, the 5-way selector switch is a rare component, and only a few guitars utilize them. As the name suggests, you will get five different options that include bridge, middle, neck, bridge and middle and middle and neck combination.
Most of the Fender Stratocaster possesses this switch that allows the guitarist to get the country tone and bluesy tone from the same guitar.
You will be surprised to know, nowadays certain two humbuckers guitars are coming with 5-way switches, and they are proving to be pretty useful.
Which One Should You Use?
The pickup you want to use in your guitar entirely depends upon the tone you want to get and the type of music you want to explore.
Using a bridge pickup will give you sharp, bright, and notes with a lot of attacks. Most importantly, if you are into riffs, solos, and lead parts, then you should stick to bridge units.
But if you are a guitarist who loves playing melodies and solos, then a neck pickup will suit you best. All the neck pickups deliver thick and warm tones that come useful for rhythms.
All the tones have high base content, so you shouldn’t expect much clarity.