Here at Northwest Guitars we talk about pickups a lot, and that’s because they’re such a critical part of your signal chain. Tonerider pickups offer a boutique sound for players on a budget, mixing their unique scatterwinding with a huge range of choice.
There’s an abundance of pickup makers right now with options that go right through from ‘take out a second mortgage’ to some that cost less than the price of your Friday takeaway. We only stock pickups we think are worth the money and Tonerider have fast become a firm favourite of ours. But before we get into the nitty gritty of the pickup sets on offer, we need to have a talk about those stock pickups.
A Word on Stock Pickups
You’ve probably heard guitarists talking about stock pickups, generally followed by a proclamation at how utterly rubbish they are, but why is that? The term ‘stock pickups’ usually refers to the pickups you’d find on a beginner or intermediate level guitar. They are typically Chinese or Korean made and have been bought in bulk and re-badged for the purposes of cost saving.
Keeping costs down is critical in the beginner and intermediate market to ensure that the guitars remain affordable but there’s also a second consideration at play here. Guitar manufacturers need to appeal to a wide range of players from Blues lovers to Death Metalheads, so getting pickups that are as middle of the road as possible is crucial to ensuring that newer players return to the instrument.
Stock pickups have a bad rep but this doesn’t mean they are bad pickups, more that they’re not doing what you want them to. We played stock pickups on an Ibanez RG for years and had no issues with them, using them for a tonne of gigs and recording sessions. They were great for Metal riffing which is what we cut our teeth doing, but as we got wider into the world of rock guitar music and developed an ear for prog, we began to find them flat sounding, lacking the definition and clarity needed to perform such a dynamic style of music.
As a guitarist your needs and wants change, which is exactly why we all get the bug to swap out our pickups for something different! The caveat is changing out your pickups for the sake of it can be a potentially pointless exercise if you don’t actually know what it is you want from your guitar. So before you purchase new pickups ask yourself, what am I missing? What sound do I want and which pickup has that characteristic I'm looking for?
Budget vs Boutique
So does this mean you need to swap your stock pickups out for a £500 set of boutique, hand-wired, all the bells and whistles set of humbuckers or single coils? Not necessarily, you just need to find what’s best for you and luckily Northwest Guitars is here to give you a helping hand.
We offer the full spectrum of guitar pickups from cheap and cheerful to boutique and big-budget but, we’re not going to tell you you have to buy a particular brand. We’re just here to give you our tuppence worth on the brands out there and let you make an informed decision.
Tonerider began life in the UK making all kinds of electronics, from amp circuit boards to guitar effects pedals, but nowadays they focus purely on making great-sounding pickups. Utilising great design, superb machining and world-class assembly, Tonerider gather the best materials from across the world to make their incredible-sounding pickups.
Every Tonerider pickup is scatter wound, a technique that makes every pickup ever so slightly different. With typical hand-wound pickups a machine spins the bobbin and the magnet wire goes through the operators hands who evenly distributes the wire. With scatter wound the same process occurs, except the operator purposefully distributes the wire in a random or scattered fashion.
This tends to result in more treble-y pickups, because there is more air space in the coil. This doesn’t mean that every pickup is random, as there is some tailoring of the wind depending on what the tonal goal of the pickup is, and all these designs are based on Andrew Cunningham’s early hand-wound coil designs.
Tonerider Pickups - Our Top Choices
At Northwest Guitars we love Tonerider pickups so we’ve put together this guide to their most popular designs to help you get an idea of the sound before you purchase, so in no particular order, here they are…
The Tonerider AC2 Alnico II PAF is a PAF style humbucker that delivers warmth, fullness and plenty of sustain. Based upon the legendary Gibson Patent-Applied-For pickups, these humbuckers have the Alnico II magnet, a classic construction that holds a place in many a guitarists heart.
These pickups are perfect if you’re looking for that vintage, 50s era guitar tone, delivering buttery smooth distorted tones and chiming cleans that are often described as more single coil than humbucker. Tonerider winds these pickups with less than 30 turns per layer to stay in line with the vintage PAF design, making them great for those seeking the sweet, warm sounds of the past.
Shop Tonerider AC2 Alnico II PAF here.
Designed for players who want to make their Tele a bit edgier, be warned the Tonerider Hot Classics Tele pickups aren’t your usual twang-y Tele pickups. They are a lot hotter, giving you plenty of grit when you need it. They’re constructed with Alnico III magnets that give excellent articulation when playing chords, even when using drive and distortion pedals.
The Hot Classics Tele pickups have a strong midrange and a thick bass response whilst retaining plenty of upper register clarity, making them spot on for Rock and Blues players who need some extra edge from their Telecaster style guitar. They’ll still give you plenty of clean clarity so rest assured they’re not just for players who like things dirty.
Shop Tonerider Hot Classics Tele here.
Modern Strat pickups for the most part tend to be overwound as it seems contemporary players prefer the hotter output, so there’s something to be said for these low output Tonerider Pure Vintage Strat pickups that buck the trend. They use a mix of Alnico V and III pickups to deliver tones that will help you emulate the sound of guitar greats like Clapton, Gilmour and Knopfler.
This adept set of pickups does a great job of both rhythm and lead tones with excellent clarity across the board and less harshness from the bridge pickup in particular. The Pure Vintage Strat pickups really deliver that super smooth, vintage tone sought after by so many guitarists across the world and will get you a classic Strat sound without a hefty price tag.
Shop Tonerider Pure Vintage Strat here.
The Tonerider Rebel 90 is a unique proposition, offering the signature growl of a P90 without requiring heavy modification to your existing pickup routing. If you're looking for that P-90 sound and don't want to spend thousands, then swapping to a Rebel 90 will give you a minimum of fuss and maximum of fun!
The Rebel 90 has the same amount of turns as a true P90, something a lot of similar pickups on the market eschew in order to make the pickup fit in a smaller casing. The Tonerider Rebel 90 features a whopping 10,000 turns of vintage grade AWG42 wire, for a proper P90 tone.
Shop Tonerider Rebel 90 here.
A perfect upgrade for players who love classic Tele tones, the Tonerider Vintage Plus Tele delivers warmth, clarity, and vintage tone at an unbelievable price point. Available in Chrome and Gold, you can match that distinctive neck pickup cover with your existing pickups or swap it out for a fresh look.
Aged magnets in the bridge position are wound for that dynamic high end much loved by country players, with plenty of punch for blues and pop too. The neck pickup has a higher output wind for plenty of low-end oomph, making it great for jazz applications.
Shop Tonerider Vintage Plus Tele here.
Modern players demand more power, so look to the Tonerider Generator Alnico V Humbucker for all your modern and blues rock needs. Capable of bluesy noodling and screaming hard rock leads, this powerful pickup is one of our best sellers for good reason!
The neck pickup is joyous, delivering a harmonically rich tone that will ensure you never want to stop soloing. They respond really well to rolling off the volume knob too, revealing usable clean tones that bely the power when cranked. Available in gold, black, or zebra with open coils you're sure to find your perfect match with this pickup.
Shop Tonerider Generator Alnico V Humbucker here.
If you love your blues schmooze then the sound of the Tonerider Alnico II Blues Strat Pickups will send those solos into the stratosphere! Perfect for Blues and Jazz applications, this pickup set features a reverse wound pickup in the middle position for hum cancelling in positions 2 and 4.
Touch sensitivity is the name of the game here, with this pickup set responding to your lightest touch, whilst growling when you dig in. The clean tones are sweet with a balanced tone. Add some drive and you get a smooth musicality with incredible sustain. Many of our customers state these pickups are more than able to compete with offerings from bigger name brands!
Shop Tonerider Alnico II Blues Strat here.
As we’ve discussed in our Wilkinson Pickup Guide, the P90 is seeing a surge in popularity in guitarists that want something different to a typical single coil or humbucker tone. The new Fender Noventa range for example features a lineup of pure P90 equipped Strats, Teles, and Jazzmasters, but you don’t need to spend just shy of a grand to get that tone in your own guitar!
Made with Alnico II pickups the Tonerider Hot 90 gives you incredible clarity of tone and excellent sustain, sitting nicely between single coil and humbucker. They’re equally adept at pristine cleans as they are articulate distorted tones and they’ll give you more girth than a standard Tele or Strat pickup, making them great for those looking for a hotter sound than that of a standard single coil. With a tone profile all of their own, the P90 could be the pickup that helps you stand out from the crowd.
Shop Tonerider Hot 90 here.
Based on the towering tone of the West Midlands in the 70s, the Tonerider AC5 Birmingham gives you Tony's highly sought after sludgy guitar tone. These aren't a one trick pony though, they're still adaptable enough to mimic Jimmy, Angus, and loads of other guitar heroes.
The bridge pickup is overwound for plenty of power and prominent midrange. You can even split it down to a single coil for some extra chime if you're handy with guitar wiring. The neck pickup is underwound for clarity and sustain, which means you get two opposing, but infinitely usable sounds in the set.
Shop Tonerider AC5 Birmingham here.
Tonerider pickups are amongst the best bang for you buck pickups we’ve encountered here at Northwest Guitars and deliver spectacular value for money. There’s a great range of pickups in stock at the moment to cater for pretty much any need or want in the guitar community. So if you’re looking for an upgrade that doesn’t cost a bomb, you’ll be hard pushed to find anything else that delivers as well as these pickups do!
Check out the full range of Tonerider Pickups here.
Seymour Duncan make some of the most popular pickups in the world.
If you want to learn more about fitting pickups, check out our Guitar Wiring Guide.
Get your guitar playing its best with our Guitar Setup Guide.