The sound of the best Les Paul pickups is a combination of pure power and outstanding sustain that has been the go-to for a myriad of guitar players since the first dual humbucker LP debuted in 1957. This famous configuration has found use in pretty much every style of music from country and blues right through to punk and heavy metal.
There are various reasons you might want to replace your Les Paul’s humbuckers. For some, it’s just a case of refreshing the sound, a change in output or tonal characteristics helping to refresh the creative process. For others, they’re just not happy with their current sound and want more.
Whilst stock pickups on many beginner and intermediate LPs do just fine, they are often made at the lowest cost possible, and this is often reflected in the quality of the sound. As the focal point of your instrument’s sound, changing your pickups can often have a marked effect, and in a lot of cases is a lot cheaper than buying a whole new instrument.
Perhaps you have a beginner-grade Les Paul that you feel super comfortable on, but have outgrown the harsh sound of those stock pickups. Maybe you just don’t want to part with a particular LP despite its less-than-stellar sound. Whichever it is, upgrading to the best Les Paul pickups is sure to inspire you to play it more often.
Humbuckers: The History
The humbucker pickup actually predates the famous ’57 Les Paul by quite some time, having been initially invented in 1934 by ‘Electro-Voice’. These weren’t actually used in electric guitars though, being utilised instead for public address equipment such as microphones and loudspeakers.
It wasn’t until the mid-50s that they began to find use in the world of guitar, with both Ray Butts of Gretsch and Seth Lover of Gibson applying for patents for a reverse-wound, reverse-polarity pickup. This is where we get the name ‘PAF’ from, which literally means Patent Applied For.
Although Gibson popularised this design, Rickenbacker actually offered dual coil pickups in 1953 but dropped the use of it due to the distortion it incurred, feeling that this was detrimental to the guitar’s sound. Little did they know that guitarists would later come to actively seek out that distorted guitar tone!
Humbuckers: How They Work
If you’ve read our Guitar Wiring Guide, you’ll understand how a pickup works already, but we’ll briefly discuss it here before we get on to the good stuff. Humbuckers take a common issue of electromagnetic interference and use some clever wiring to remove the annoying hum and buzz you get from single coil pickups.
With a humbucker two coils are placed together, one with its ‘North’ orientated up towards the strings, the other alongside with the ’South’ facing the strings. These coils are then connected together in an out-of-phase circuit, which massively reduces the signal-to-noise ratio.
If you’d like to jump more in-depth on this topic then check out our Guitar Wiring Guide for more info.
The Best Les Paul Pickups
Now that we understand how a Les Paul pickup works, let’s have a look at some of the best picks from our shop! We’ve got options to suit any budget, whether you want something on a budget or something a little more boutique.
One of our bestselling humbuckers, the Tonerider AC2 Alnico II PAF gives you a vintage tone without breaking the bank. Tonerider has been delivering some outstanding pickups for a good while now, with many of our customers preferring them over more expensive options from bigger brands.
The Alnico II set is for those who are after that classic Gibson PAF sound used in the golden era of late 50s LP guitars. Often described as ‘flute-like’, they provide a sound that’s smooth with distortion, with a sleek attack and extended sustain, particularly with the neck pickup.
The key to their vintage tone lies in their scatter wound coils, which feature a low amount of coils equal to any of the best hand wound PAF clones. All of the coils are wax-potted to prevent any squeal at high gain, and they’re specifically wound for an even volume balance on any setting.
Shop Tonerider humbuckers here.
Wilkinson is one of the better-known budget brands for both hardware and electronics, but don’t let the low price fool you, these Hot Humbuckers properly scream. A great upgrade for beginner and intermediate pickups, the Wilkinson Hot Humbucker is perfect for adding more output to your mid-level Epiphone Les Paul.
These pickups deliver a full and bright overdrive sound with amazing sustain. Despite being high output, they’ll still do the job on those clean jazz licks and open chords, as well as keeping up when you want to drive things hard. They feature ceramic magnets which are praised for their characteristics in harder styles of music.
This pickup set comes with 2 conductor wires for an easy install, but that also means no coil splitting. They’re wax potted for reduced feedback and come with mounting screws and springs so you can get up and running straight away. Also available in Chrome or Gold so you can match the look of your existing pickups.
Shop Wilkinson humbuckers here.
No list of the best Les Paul pickups would be complete without a nod to one of the most prominent LP players in the world. Seymour Duncan’s Slash Signature Model Humbucker came about when Slash got his Gibson Les Paul signature model, which it turned out sounded completely different to his original AFD Les Paul despite featuring the same pickup design.
To get that great sustain, familiar crunch, and midrange characteristic that was a signature of Slash’s sound for so many years, Seymour Duncan’s classic Alnico II humbucker needed a redesign. A changed winding spec, different mag wire and an Alnico II bar magnet saw these pickups get closer to those original 80’s models.
These pickups are hand-built in Santa Barbara and in case you’re wondering, these are exactly the same ones that Slash’s tech Ace Bergman installs in the main man’s guitars. Whenever he calls up for some new pickups these get pulled right out of the production stock!
Shop Seymour Duncan humbuckers here.
Pickups don’t have to cost the earth to sound great you know, just try a set of these bad boys and you might just be surprised! Artec’s Vintage Alnico V humbucker is more than capable of hanging with the big boys, delivering great tone at an unbelievable price point. One of our most popular budget offerings, these pickups are unbelievable value for the money.
Like many of the more established pickup manufacturers, these pickups use an Alnico V magnet to deliver an open and dynamic tonality. They’ve got plenty of attack with a rich and full sound in the low end. They’re really nicely balanced too, meaning they’ll work well in a variety of styles.
Brass-backed and double wax potted for reduced feedback, these pickups carry all the features you’d expect from a unit twice the price. They also come supplies with mounting screws and springs, as well as coming in chrome, gold, and nickel so you can colour match your particular guitar and finish.
Shop Artec humbuckers here.
Another pickup that aims to emulate the PAF (notice a theme here?) these boutique, handmade pups are for those who want the very best. Lollar has been designing and building pickups for well over three decades now, so you can rest assured they know a thing or two about tone.
Their take on the Seth Lover-designed PAF, the Lollar Imperial Humbucker looks to keep the much-loved characteristics of the original PAFs whilst simultaneously improving the balance, and giving a slight boost to the bridge pickup output to suit the needs of the more modern guitar player.
The sound features a well-balanced mid-range and plenty of complex overtones that really add depth and quality to your guitar tone, particularly when paired with a tube amp. The coils are unbalanced to help tighten the bottom end and enhance the overtones after each note. This delivers a fuller bridge tone and brighter middle position when paired with the darker neck pickup.
Shop Lollar humbuckers here.
We’ve got a lot to thank the DiMarzio Super Distortion for. It was the pickup that helped encourage players to replace their stock pickups, as there wasn’t really a replacement pickup option before it. It was also the first pickup specifically designed to push a tube amp into complete overdrive.
It offers a classic tone that will be familiar to lovers of 70s and 80s rock with players like Ace Frehley and Paul Gilbert both rocking sets of these. The mids are boosted and they deliver a thick tone with plenty of low end. The output and sustain are incredible, but it’s also got versatility when wired for coil-splitting, producing an almost Strat-like tone.
This pickup pairs perfectly with any solid body guitar and it will take that beginner or intermediate level LP into the stratosphere. Probably not the best choice for players looking for a subtle sound, this one is all about pushing things to the maximum but can be used in the neck position with a low gain amp if you need it!
Shop DiMarzio humbuckers here.
Okay, okay, so this isn’t actually a humbucker. However, the first LP ever made came with P-90s, so we’d be remiss not to include this one on the list! A traditional P-90 won’t fit into a Les Paul without some body routing, but thankfully Tonerider has an ingenious solution for you.
The Tonerider Rebel 90 Humbucker will fit into the vast majority of standard humbucker-equipped guitars with no modification, allowing you to get the sought-after P-90 grit with ease. The Rebel 90 sits somewhere between a traditional humbucker and single coil, providing a luscious clean tone and sweet overdriven tonality.
The Rebel 90 uses vintage-grade wire for an authentic P-90 sound, with nearly 10,000 turns ensuring you don’t lose out due to the smaller casing. This pickup features 9mm baseplate legs, ensuring easy installation in a huge array of instruments and is available in both bridge and neck specs, so you can get a set or mix and match with a regular humbucker.
Shop Tonerider Rebel 90 here.
So there we have it, the best pickups you can buy for your Les Paul in one place! Upgrading your pickups is a quick and easy way to change the characteristics of your Les Paul, and is a must-do on most beginner and intermediate-level instruments if you want them to compete with those at the more expensive end of the scale.
Want to wire your own pickups? Start here with our Guitar Wiring Guide.
Not an LP fan? Why not check out the Best Vintage Strat Pickups.
Only got four or five strings? Don’t miss out on upgrading with the Best Bass Guitar Pickups.