3 Humbucker Guitars – EVERYTHING to Know (Including Best Models!)

Performer Life is supported by its readers. If you buy something with our links, we may earn a commission.

Is knowing about guitars really all that important? Is just buying a guitar and playing it not enough? Do you really have to look into each detail, such as its tone, pickups, frequency, and all the essential features, to get the tune you want? Absolutely yes!

Knowing your guitar and all its features and dynamics is crucial for you to make the right choice. Let’s be honest here-guitars are expensive, and bringing home just any guitar is not really a smart decision.

Before getting any instrument, ensure you are fully aware of each of its specifications and that it fulfills your purpose.

Having a modern guitar that you do not know how to use or having an outdated guitar with little to no contemporary features won’t benefit you much.

Therefore, it is vital to do your research beforehand! The seemingly trivial details, including its tuning, neck shape, keys and distance from the board, number of pickups, electronics, and easy reach, make an ordinary guitar your favorite one.

Another necessary detail to ponder upon is the guitar humbucker pickups. Do you need a 3-pickup guitar? How does the 3-humbucker guitar wiring work? What is the best 3 humbucker setup?

Are 3 humbuckers 5-way switch a good idea, or should you go for triple humbucker sg or middle humbucker? What do 3 humbuckers do?

What are Humbuckers?

If you are a true guitar fan, does humbucker even need an introduction? Talked about frequently and heard on multiple records, humbuckers are almost as famous as the single coil pickups, which you will mostly see on Fender guitars, such as the Telecaster, Stratocaster, and so on.

Humbuckers have a double coil design that runs in series, minimizing the typical ‘hum’ noise typically produced with single coils. The humbuckers also give out a higher voltage and are thus associated with powerful-beat music genres mostly. The sound produced with them is heavier, more compressed, and has a heavy bass compared to sounds from a single coil pickup.

Manufacturers were able to build several types of humbuckers keeping the original design in mind. Here are five types of humbuckers that you will come across at most places:

1. Humbucker Pickups

Humbucker pickups give out a creamy sound with a noticeable frequency, ideal for most uses. You will see these pickups on a great variety of guitars.

2. EMG Active Pickups

These pickups come with a built-in pre-amplifier that mostly runs the pickup coils.

They produce a dry, clean, and more compressed sound that is perfect for metal players. The EMG Active pickups have been around for ages since metal music gained popularity.

3. Mini Humbucker

The Mini Humbucker is another type with a quack-like mid sound, similar to the P-90 pickups in several others rather than the traditional ones.

4. The Humbucker in Single Coil Format

The humbucker is a single coil format developed to provide users with a meatier sound, especially for the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitar players.

The sound emitted by the humbucker is a single coil format depending on the guitar, as they can still have a ‘twang’ despite having a low power supply and output.

5. Gretsch Filtertron Pickup

The Gretsch Filtertron picks give out a distinctive sound only explained by the name ‘Gretsch sound.’

It is so called because the experts can quickly identify this particular pickup and associate it with the company’s name. The Gretsch Filtertron pickup is a low and somewhat thin sound with some openness.

Why 3 Humbuckers Instead of 2 Humbuckers or Single Coils?

Why do you even need three humbuckers when a guitar works pretty well with a single coil? Why invest more money into such technology?

Most experts and guitar enthusiasts have answered this question by saying with 3 humbuckers, the sound produced is thick, warm, and versatile, and who doesn’t want that?

Often described as a ‘honey-like sound,’ humbuckers help an average beat come to life.

Moreover, it is pretty rare to go wrong with 3 humbuckers as they will help you produce a pleasant sound in one way or another.

Therefore, perhaps one of the safest ways to play when learning or practicing guitar is installing a 3 humbucker in it.

3 Humbucker Les Paul vs 2 Humbucker

As you start playing with 3 humbuckers, you will realize the sound they give out is a lot smoother than what you get with 2 humbuckers.

However, please ensure that you have a 6-way pickup switch with you rather than just a 3-way switch.

3 humbuckers will help you produce a warm and thick tone regardless of your pickup’s position. You can take great advantage of this feature when playing high gain, dirty beats.

Moreover, 3 humbuckers setup also comes in handy when you need a fuller, more volumized tone with a middle pickup.

When you compare 3 humbuckers with a single coil, you will notice the former is more powerful, providing a stronger sound signal than you get with 2 humbuckers.

On the other hand, some guitarists do not like this powerful sound because they think it gets in the way of their strumming or picking.

Therefore, the players end up scratching the humbucker pickups’ middle as they keep picking deeply into the body. Please note that this mishap also depends on how you play your guitar.

One way to prevent your humbucker from getting into your playing is by anchoring your hand on your guitar’s bridge instead. This method will give you stability, resulting in a scratch-free middle pickup.

Another issue that has recently arisen with 3 humbuckers is that some users believe their instrument looks more crowded and messier. However, it is only a personal choice, not a technical issue, so that it can be overlooked.

Overall, the 3 humbuckers will give you more versatility, while the 2 humbuckers produce a less versatile sound.

The 3 humbuckers may also need some pickup adjusting in the playability department, while it is pretty good and easy with the 2 humbuckers.

Another point to note here is a somewhat lesser aesthetic look with the 3 humbuckers.

On the contrary, some guitar players may prefer a messier, more crowded look rather than an all-clean plate. One of the most important factors is price.

Thankfully, both the 3 and 2 humbuckers have an almost equal price, so you don’t need to save up extra for any type.

The most popular guitars for 3 humbuckers include the Epiphone Les Paul Black Beauty 3, while is Gibson Les Paul Special Tribute for 2 humbuckers.

3 Humbuckers Vs. 2 Humbuckers: Tone Options

Let’s dive even deeper into the details and discuss the tone options with 3 humbuckers and 2 humbuckers. The former, 3 humbuckers setup has more tonal options than the 2 humbuckers setup.

But it also depends on the pickup switch; the ideal switch for 3 humbuckers is a 7-way rotary pickup switch, which allows you to play seamlessly with the following setup:

  • Neck only
  • Neck – Middle
  • Middle only
  • Middle – Bridge
  • Bridge only 
  • Neck – Bridge 
  • Neck – Middle – Bridge (All pickups)

When we talk about 2 humbuckers, you have a limited option of playing with only 3 pickup selectors. This may be a problem for some players as this offers lesser versatility. The setups include the following:

  • Neck only
  • Neck-Bridge (All pickups)
  • Bridge only

Another thing to note here is that some 3 humbuckers come with a 3-way pickup switch, which allows the user to only play the bridge, neck, and middle individually. Ideally, you should avoid this setup as it is highly limited.

The 3 humbuckers prove to be great for the ‘in-between’ pickup, which uses at least 2 pickups simultaneously. Alternatively, you can customize the pickup switch and exchange a 3-way switch with a 7-way rotary switch.

However, do remember that the wiring is pretty complicated to do at home, so hand over the wiring to a professional instead.

3 Humbuckers Vs. 2 Humbuckers: Playability

Another vital factor to consider when getting the 3 or 2 humbuckers is playability. The former can be slightly trickier to play with as it may get in your way, especially when you are strumming or plucking your guitar.

You can do the following to tackle this issue:

1. Anchoring the Wrist on the Bridge

One way to do this is to anchor your wrist onto the guitar’s bridge and try practicing with this style.

This will give your picking hand more stability and lessen the probability of scratching the pickup’s middle. You may take a week or so to master this practice.

2. Relocating the Middle Pickup

Another way to solve the 3 humbuckers’ intervening issue is to simply relocate the middle pickup towards the back, closer to the bridge. It is a custom job, meaning the wiring will not be easy.

However, it is pretty common and most definitely a possibility and an effective solution!

Please choose one of these solutions to work with, so you can enjoy your 3 humbuckers without compromising on your playing practices or the fun that comes with it!

3 Humbuckers Vs. 2 Humbuckers: Aesthetics

You might have heard your friends or fellow guitarists talking about how the 3 humbuckers sometimes ruin the aesthetics of their guitar, making it look slightly messy and crowded.

Therefore, if you are a clean freak or simply like showing off your guitar’s body, go for 2 humbuckers instead.

On the other hand, some guitarists like the messy look as it makes their guitar more prominent and decorative.

So, the aesthetics are mostly a personal choice- you can choose whether you like a plain guitar body or enjoy looking at your 3 humbuckers.

You can try adding humbuckers to light-colored guitars for a cool look or vice versa. Alternatively, you can get rid of the 3 humbuckers altogether for a decent, clear look and opt for 2 humbuckers look only.

The prices of both the 3 humbucker and 2 humbuckers are not too different since the pickups alone do not play a significant role in the guitar’s price.

However, the brand, body, and manufacturing make up a major chunk of the total guitar cost.

You can get your hands on a humbucker pickup set for an estimated $25 from Amazon. This is pretty affordable compared to other options and within reach of most guitar enthusiasts.

The relatively low price also means that you can get any guitar you want; all you need to do is look into the brand it is making and its features. The 3 humbuckers will work with just about any model.

Famous Guitars with 3 Humbuckers

Here are some of the most famous guitars with 3 humbuckers:

1. Jackson X Series Solist SL3X DX- Best Budget

The Jackson X Series Solist SL3X is a great choice for anyone looking for a good buy within a limited budget.

It has several amazing features that you get at a reasonable amount, such as excellent playability, cool looks, and versatility, of course!

Who is it for?

The Jackson X Series Solist SL3X plays fast and has a 12 – 16 inches compound fretboard radius that makes shredding down the neck and riffing near the nut a lot easier. It is ideal for fast guitar players with a small budget but wants all the essential features.

The compound radius fretboard, along with its smooth speed neck shapes, allows you to play it comfortably without scratching the body. Furthermore, the pickups are made of metal but are quite versatile.

2. Ibanez ATZ10P-STM Andy Timmons- All Rounder

The Ibanez ATZ10P-STM Andy Timmons is an all-rounder guitar showcasing 3 humbucker pickups.

It has a narrow nut width, measuring only 1.54 inches (narrower than a typical neck), and has a high-quality Wilkinson WV6-SB bridge, which feels great against the picking hand and is smooth to the touch.

The Gotoh MG-T locking tuners are another great feature that holds the pitch. The Ibanez ATZ10P-STM Andy Timmons comes with a Gig bag and a graph Tech NuBone nut, the latter improving the sustainability. The bridge humbucker has a split coil.

Who is it for?

If you are a guitarist who puts quality above all, the Ibanez ATZ10P-STM Andy Timmons is for you. Its 3 humbuckers and other remarkable features prove to be an excellent choice.

Additionally, the Ibanez ATZ10P-STM Andy Timmons’ premium hardware, NuBone nut, Gotoh locking tuners, Wilkinson bridge, and other functions make it significantly versatile and help it produce a great sound.

3. Gretsch G6131G-MY-RB Limited-edition Malcolm Young Signature Jet- Best Premium

The Gretsch G6131G-MY-RB Limited-edition Malcolm Young Signature Jet is another excellent choice when shopping for 3 humbucker guitars.

It comes with a standard U neck that gives vintage vibes and a TV Jones humbucker set that offers wonderful classic rock tunes.

The Gretsch G6131G-MY-RB Limited-edition Malcolm Young Signature Jet also features real bone nut for more sustainability and tone and boasts a short scale length of approx. 24.6 inches lessen string tension and make them easier to press down.

The instrument comes with a hard-shell case, which keeps it safe, and a chambered body that enhances volume when the Gretsch G6131G-MY-RB Limited-edition Malcolm Young Signature Jet is played unplugged.

Who is it for?

It is made for playing purely classic tones but with greater versatility. It has a Gretsch 60s jet vibrato tailpiece for old-school lovers that adds to its beauty.

It is ideal for classical music lovers who want 3 humbuckers and playability with a vintage feel. Moreover, it has high sound quality and its tools, including the hard-shell case, are all premium-quality. 

Conclusion

The three humbucker guitar gives you a warm and rich tone that you are less likely to get without it. You can enhance your guitar’s tone with the three humbuckers regardless of the position you are playing it in.

While they are not imperative, three humbuckers is all you need to play with a fuller tone and greater volume that intensifies your performing experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do 3 humbuckers do?

The 3 humbucker pickups have been made to bring more warmth and volume to the tone they are being used to play regardless of the pickup position.

When the 3 humbuckers are compared to single coils, they prove to be more powerful, providing stronger sound signals and sounds.

Why do some guitars have 3 pickups?

While different guitars are available with a different number of pickups, the 3 pickup guitars offer greater versatility and allow the user to play beats according to their preference.

The 3 pickups also provide more flexibility, giving you an option to choose from a great number of genres.

Are humbuckers better than P-90 pickups?

While the 3 humbuckers offer more versatility, the P-90 pickups come with more bite and emphasize the mid-range treble.

The P-90 pickups produce a brighter and tangier sound, while the 3 humbuckers give rise to a fuller, warmer, richer, and fairly well-rounded tone with zero noise overall since they have a hum-canceling design.

What does a humbucker do on a guitar?

The humbuckers are made using two coils instead of the typical ones, canceling the unpleasant electrical hums and other similar extraneous noises that often come with the single-coil pickups, leaving the string signal intact.

In simple words, the humbuckers ‘buck’ the annoying and unwanted hums while a tone is being played.

Is a humbucker necessary?

While you can play many genres with a single coil guitar, the real high gain rock typical of the 80s, along with doom, stoner, and other metal genres, plays better with humbuckers.

If you are getting a new guitar, either get one with humbuckers already installed or buy a pickup set to enhance the guitar’s performance and versatility.