It would be a mistake to assume that all humbuckers are build in the same fashion and sound alike, and the only difference that can be found is among passive and active pickups. Fact is, that each can have its own distinctive features and those features affect over the general differences we know among active and passive humbuckers.
So, first thing we should know is what are the differences between passive and active pickups. Passive pickups are the most popular ones, and found as standard on most guitars. They’re loud enough so not to need any pre-amplification, but the powerful signal driven from their strong magnets can cause microphonic feedback. On the other hand, active pickups have much weaker magnets, for which they need pre-amplification, running on batteries, and reducing significantly the risk of feedback.
Sound wise, passive pickups have a more authentic sound and active pickups, given their greater output and higher gain, can sound a bit more hi-fi, or sterile, depending on your tastes.
The top 5 best selling humbuckers in the market are:
- Bill Lawrence L500XL Hot Humbucker: This high output pickup delivers some articulate, neat notes, and clear and precise harmonics. Particularly with distortion pedals, this pickup screams a very clean sound if well managed by the equalizer settings on the amp, best to roll back a bit on the volume.
- DiMarzio Super Distortion: Originally created in the seventies, is one of the earliest replacement pickups. With vintage sound, classic thick, this hot output pickup was specially design at the time to achieve distortion with tube amps. Usually in bridge position, due to its 4 conductor wiring, this DiMarzio humbucker is versatile enough to allow Strat-like splitting and parallel wiring, bridge and neck.
- Gibson 57 Classic: Originally created without thinking of distinction between bridge and neck position, it was later complemented by the Gibson 57 Classic Plus for the bridge, and is now preferred for neck position. Provides a warm and clean vintage tone with sustain, with sweet harmonic feedback, not squeaking thanks to the wax potted Gibson’s Alnico II magnet, through a tube amp, but can also give you the classic roar at high volume.
- Seymour Duncan LiveWire Dave Mustaine: This active pickup with a 9-volt powered built-in preamp, created in collaboration with the metal legend with the same name, increases gain and output while at the same time delivers clean genuine tones and minimizes the microphonic noise.
- EMG H4A Passive Humbucker: Better in the bridge position and combined with the EMG H4 in the neck, this pickup uses an Alnico V magnet for tonal balance, boosted mids and strong highs. They also have the exclusive EMG’s 5-wire Quik Connect output that allows all sorts of combinations of wiring, and come fully shielded to minimize the noise.