Did you know you can alter your guitar pickups tone without actually swapping them with a new set?
Many players have tested and debated the differences in sound between covered and uncovered humbuckers for a long time.
I bring forward my informative guide discussing both of these pickup modifications. Which tone will you prefer?
So let’s get into the main question…
My Short Answer
When it comes to tonal differences, covered pickups generally sound warmer and darker due to the silver nickel covers screening the coils decreasing some high-end frequencies. Whereas, uncovered or open-coil humbucker pickups produce a brighter, focused, and slightly more defined tone.
Watch Demonstration Below
Although it comes to the player’s personal preferences neither covered or uncovered humbuckers are the right or wrong choice for guitarists.
Both options offer their differences in tone, feel, and appearance. Therefore, It’s down for you to decide which sounds best and suits your preferences for your ideal guitar tone and look
Why are Humbuckers Covered?
Humbuckers were first introduced in 1955, by inventors Seth Lover and Seymore Duncan opening a new world of possibility of guitar tones for players to enjoy on early Gibson guitars.
The innovative ‘double-coil design’ effectively cancels the ‘60-Cycle Hum‘ and produces a thicker and warmer tone compared to the thin and noisy single-coil pickups.
But why are double coils known as humbuckers covered? Not many players seem to know, but the silver nickel covers protecting the humbuckers plays a role in removing hum and noise from the guitar.
The nickel cover essentially shields the pickups and guitar from a pesky airborne noise known as Radio Frequency Interference.
Humbuckers and Radio Interference
This interference is simply when your humbuckers can pick up the sound of a radio signal and transmit this signal through your amplifier. Hence why this extra screening reflects any radio interference trying to reach your pickups.
It’s essentially the same reason why it’s recommended by some guitar boffins to wrap your guitar’s inner electronics and exposed wiring with metal foil. This is to ground the guitars electronics and a removing hum, buzz and airborne interference more effectively.
All this shielding and protection can make for a quieter guitar which makes all the difference for keeping your signal hum and buzz-free.
Therefore, not annoying your audience during gigs and ruining important studio recording sessions with horrendous hum and buzz.
The Covered Pickup Tone
As discussed above, the protection from a nickel cover does have a small caveat of removing a small amount of ‘top-end’ from the overall tone.
Hence why covered pickup are known to sound slightly, warmer and thicker compared to exposed open-coil pickups.
Some players seem to notice it whereas others do not and choose to overlook it. When it comes to application some players prefer the covered pickup tone, for a warmer, thick, and bluesy lead tone on the neck pickup.
Or rhythm players prefer the covered pickups on the bridge pickup for producing a fatter and fuller sound with a splash of dirt for some rock rhythm crunch tones.
Covered pickups also have the befit of covering and protecting your pickups from dirt, sweat, and grease which could find its way into the annoying cavities of your guitar extending cleaning time with your prized instrument.
Now we have looked at covered humbuckers lets swiftly turn our attention to everything about uncovered pickups.
What is an ‘Open-Coil’ Humbucker?
An ‘open-coil’ or ‘uncovered’ humbucker is a humbucker without its nickel silver cover exposing the double-coils to the air.
Open-coil humbuckers are essentially the same function as covered humbuckers but due to the removal of the nickel plate offer slight differences in tone combined with obvious cosmetic differences.
So when where uncovered pickups introduced and made popular?
The answer is that open-coil pickups are essentially the result of famous guitar players in the 60s experimenting with their guitars for different sounds.
Players like Eric Clapton noticed removing the covers changed the appearance, but more importantly, it also changed the tone and the overall sound of the guitar.
The Open-Coil Pickup Tone
The sonic differences with open coil pickups are they sound slightly more focused, defined and a tad brighter than a set of covered pickups on your chosen guitar.
When it comes to application, uncovered pickups are known to be a great choice in the bridge slot for more defined lead tones for riffs and rock crunch.
The other benefit is that notes can sound more distinguishable to the ear compared to covered humbuckers.
If you happen to be a fast lead and vintage era rock guitarist then open-coil pickups can be the ideal choice for you.
A New Look Sir?
When it comes to cosmetic appearance player like the raw look of the coils exposed with the Seymore Duncan slogan proudly across the coil.
It also allows for more interesting humbucker color co-ordinations. For example, having the neck pickup covered and the bridge pickup exposed, a similar look Jimmy Page sports on his iconic Gibson Les Pauls.
Again it all hinges on personal preference and the tones that you prefer as neither choice is better than the other.
This post is to simply explain the differences so you can gain a solid understanding of which choice will suit your application, look and playing style.
With this, all said what would my choice be?
Covered or Uncovered? Which Do I Prefer?
In my personal opinion, I prefer the humbuckers uncovered and exposed for a few reasons.
First, when it comes to my style, I’m a lead oriented player so I like that extra definition of sound when I dig into the strings for more attack and bite.
The next reason is versatility! When it comes to crafting a guitar tone, it’s easier to remove definition and brightness than it is to add it.
For example, you can darken a bright tone simply by rolling down your guitar’s tone knob removing the ‘high-end frequencies.’
Whereas if your humbuckers are naturally warm and muddy then it’s harder to add definition even with some extensive EQ with pedals or the amp settings.
The last reason is the appearance! Having the coils exposed to my eyes makes the guitar look more vintage and looks awesome on a Les Paul. Especially a pair of ‘zebra colored humbuckers’ giving the guitar more charisma and sex appeal.
Keep in mind, this is all just my personal opinion, covered or uncovered go with whatever you prefer when it comes to the appearance and tone.
Can Humbucker Covers Fit Any Pickup?
If you are looking to replace your current silver nickel cover. Keep in mind, humbuckers are not all equal in size as different pickups have different width spacing.
You also have to make sure that the pole pieces will fit through the holes of the cover snugly.
For example, Fender Telecasters stock with humbuckers is noticeably larger compared to a regular-sized Seymore Duncans and other pickup manufacturers.
Therefore always measure your pickups with a ruler or tape measure to get the accurate dimensions. Make sure you do your research before buying to save buying the wrong covers.
Thanks For Reading
I hope you found this quick guide valuable and clear up some confusion. Before you go, however…
Have you ever wondered why some single-coil pickups are angled? Like the bridge pickup on a Strat and Tele for example?
Well, you should read my post “The guide to why some pickups slanted?” It will explain the intriguing facts and reasons why some guitars include this interesting modification.
Why do humbuckers have screws?
Humbuckers include screws known as ‘pole-pieces.’ The screws help adjust the pickup height so the volume and output of each string can be adjusted accordingly. This is to ensure each string volume is consistent with each string that is plucked.
Are humbuckers good for metal?
Humbuckers either passive or active are the number one pickup choice for playing metal. Humbuckers cancel the ’60 cycle-hum,’ and feedback associated with heavy distortion and saturated tones. They also produce a thicker and bassier sound ideal for distortion tones associated with metal.
Want to know the tonal differences between active and passive pickups for playing metal?
Then you have to read my post “active or passive pickups for metal?” It’s the ultimate guide on the right pickups you should choose for playing any heavy distorted genre?