Tone Talk - The Best Telecaster Pickups

Tone Talk - The Best Telecaster Pickups

Telecaster pickups play a major role in contributing to the versatility of the Tele as we know and love it today. The Tele has a voice all of its own, yet works great whether you’re playing rock, blues, country, indie, jazz, or pretty much anything else. So what is it about this particular pickup configuration that makes the Telecaster so resourceful? Read on to find out...

What Makes Tele Pickups Unique?

A large part of the Telecaster’s inherent versatility comes down to its two very different sounding neck and bridge pickups. When the Telecaster pickup was invented, it wasn’t like Leo Fender had decades of pickup making experience to look back on. There were only pedal-steel guitars and big body arch tops that preceded his initial designs, and it was likely this inspiration that led to the formation of the now classic configuration.

Best Tele Pickups

Telecaster Bridge Pickup

The Tele bridge pickup gets its unique tone mainly from the metal baseplate it is attached to. A design most likely inspired by the lap-steel guitar pickups of the era, the baseplate increased the magnetic force of the Alnico slugs on original Fender pickups, upping the magnetic strength to make the pickups more powerful. This sonic side effect is what gives Tele pickups their cutting sound, making them great for edgier styles of music.

Tele Bridge Pickups

The reason for this extra bite in tone comes down to something called eddy current interference, the effect by which electrical current flows in closed loops within conductors. The steel baseplate causes this effect, changing the response of the pickup and increasing bass and low mids to balance out the bridge pickup's typically treble heavy tone. In the process of manufacturing pickups mounted onto metal baseplates, Fender inadvertently gave the Telecaster bridge pickup its signature twangy tone.

Telecaster Neck Pickup

The Esquire, forefather of the Telecaster only had a bridge pickup, so it seems like the neck pickup as we know it today was added as an afterthought, perhaps to keep the early iterations of the Tele in line with other guitars of the time. There are many guitarists who love the dark tonality of the neck pickup but it has its fair share of haters too, with words like ‘wooly’ and ‘soft’ often being thrown around when describing its sound.

Tele neck pickups sound dark there’s no doubting it, and this is due to the metal cover that enshrouds it. The nickel-silver construction of the cover rolls back some of the treble and makes the perceived volume seem quieter than the bridge pickup. This can often make dialling the perfect Tele tone difficult, you brighten the neck and make the bridge shrill and vice versa.

Tele Neck Pickups

Lots of guitarists opt to replace their neck pickups, with famous Tele players Keith Richards, Danny Gatton, and Clarence White all choosing to exchange their stock neck pickup for something different, whether it was a PAF type, P-90 or something else. This doesn't mean Tele neck pickups are necessarily bad, plenty of guitarists love the dark tones of the traditional Tele neck pickup. Tom Morello uses his almost exclusively!


Best Tele Compatible Pickups

Now that we know more about how Telecaster pickups work, it’s time to talk about some of our favourite types of pickup, with options all the way from budget to boutique. Whether you want to replace one pickup or both, you'll find something for every kind of player here!

Tonerider Hot Classics for Tele

Tonerider Hot Classics Tele Pickups

Probably our bestselling Tele pickup set, the Tonerider Hot Classics for Tele won’t give you that classic Tele twang if that’s what you’re after, but they will give you fantastic high gain tones and pristine sounding cleans. The bridge pickup is punchy and bright whilst the neck has a sweet, warm tonality. Together, Tonerider Telecaster pickups provide an incredible mix, and you can get a wide variety of sounds by playing around with your tone knob.

Shop all Tonerider Tele Pickups here.

Fender Custom Shop '51 Nocaster Tele

Fender Custom Shop 51 Nocaster Tele Pickups

The Fender Custom Shop '51 Nocaster Tele pickups have been painstakingly recreated to make sure they're as close to original 'Nocaster' Tele pickups as possible. The term 'Nocaster' comes from early Fender Tele models that shipped with only the Fender logo on the headstock and no model name. So expect low output, warm tones, and a balanced midrange with a set of these.

Shop all Fender Tele Pickups here.

Wilkinson Vintage Pickup Set for Tele

Wilkinson Vintage Tele Pickups

Wilkinson Pickups are great for upgrading stock pickups on beginner and intermediate guitars, and despite their low cost they punch well above their weight. The Wilkinson Vintage Pickup Set for Tele gives you a powerful and clear guitar tone, with plenty of vintage warmth and authentic Tele twang. When driven hard they deliver a smooth tone and despite being slightly hotter than stock MIM and Squier pickups, still sound sweet.

Shop all Wilkinson Tele Pickups here.

Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Tele

Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound for Tele

Like the Tonerider Hot Classics, Seymour Duncan’s Quarter Pound Tele pickup gives you high output, humbucker-level punch and saturation without requiring any re-routing of your guitar body. The Quarter Pound is SD’s highest output Tele single coil, giving a P-90 like growl that makes leads sound fat whilst keeping your chords articulate with sparkle and plenty of midrange harmonics. These pickups are perfect if you’re not happy with the stock single coils on your Tele and need something hotter, they’re also wax potted to prevent any unwanted squeals.

Shop all Seymour Duncan Tele Pickups here.

Artec Vintage Pickup Set for Tele

Artec Vintage Tele Pickups

Artec aren’t the biggest name in the game, but boy do they make some incredible sounding pickups! Despite being the cheapest set on this list, the Artec Vintage Pickup Set for Tele sound astonishingly good considering their cost. They make the perfect replacement to stock ceramic pickups in Squier Tele’s, delivering a warm neck pickup tone in conjunction with plenty of bite and edge from the bridge pickup. This set really overdelivers for the money, giving the kind of clarity and articulation you'd expect to find on higher-end pickups.

Shop all Artec Tele Pickups here.

Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Tele

Fender Custom Shop Texas Special for Tele

Another great set to upgrade stock Fender pickups, the Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Tele set are overwound for a hotter output, making them great for rock and blues. That's not all they can do though, the outstanding presence and midrange means they're still well suited to classic Tele territory like Country, as well as being versatile for Jazz and pretty much anything else you can throw at them. Thanks to the Alnico V magnets these pickups deliver beautiful dynamics with plenty of focus.

Shop all Fender Tele Pickups here.

Lollar Charlie Christian Neck

Lollar Charlie Christian Tele Pickup

With replacing Tele neck pickups being such a popular option, the Charlie Christian Neck Pickup from Lollar delivers a massive improvement on stock versions, offering a rich deep tone that enhances sustain with an output comparable to a P-90. They offer very little compression and have a flat EQ response that makes for a wider dynamic range and better playing sensitivity. Lollar Tele pickups have a vintage inspired philosophy, which means that every component is made in-house to exacting specifications, giving you a pickup that is true to the original voicing of those Charlie Christian played.

Shop all Lollar Tele Pickups here.

Tonerider Alnico II Blues Tele

Tonerider Alnico II Blues Tele Pickups

Designed to turn your Tele into a proper blues machine, the Tonerider Alnico II Blues Tele pickup set gives you that low output warmth that's perfect for Blues and Jazz territory. Don't mistake low output for weak sound though, these pickups have superb sustain with rich trebles and plenty of warmth in the bass registers. The pole pieces are staggered just like a vintage set of pickups, and this particular set is great for taming treble Tele's with Maple fretboards.

Shop all Tonerider Tele Pickups here.

Seymour Duncan Little '59 & Vintage Stack

Seymour Duncan Little 59 & Vintage Stack for Tele

This pair of pickups make the perfect output upgrade to a stock Telecaster. The mix of Seymour Duncan's Little '59 and Vintage Stack make for a potent combination, with a medium output humbucker in the bridge and a classic, dark neck pickup sound. The bridge pickup gives you that glorious PAF-like tone whilst the neck pickup is all vintage Tele, with no added hum thanks to its 'Noiseless' construction. Hand buit in Santa Barbara, California, like all Seymour Duncan pickups this is a top quality set that will enhance any Telecaster guitar.

Shop all Seymour Duncan Tele Pickups here.

In Conclusion

Telecaster compatible guitar parts and pickups are always topping our best seller lists, and that’s because everyone loves Tele’s right?! The pure versatility of the Telecaster pickup configuration means you’ll never run out of tone options with one of these guitars, and the proof is in the fact that their design has remained largely unchanged since its inception in 1951.

Learn More

Get the low down on these rare pickups with our Gold Foil Pickup Guide.

Tonerider make some of the best value for money pickups going, find out why here.

If you want to learn more about how pickups work, it's key to understand the Guitar Potentiometer.

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