A guitar that has contributed a lot to music since the early 50s. And still, one of the most sought-after instruments there is. It doesn’t suit everyone, of course. And possibly three of the best guitarists we have seen in Beck, Gilmour, and Hendrix were all Strat players.
Then add on Blackmore, Gallagher, and many others, and the Les Paul was probably second in the pecking order. Jimmy Page is the man who seems to give the guitar immense kudos. And I am talking about players here, not effects pedal freaks.
- Top 7 Best Les Paul Pickups of 2023
- 1 Seymour Duncan Antiquity Humbucker Set – Best Classic Les Paul Pickups
- 2 Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Set – Best Rock and Roll Les Paul Pickups
- 3 DiMarzio PAF DP103 Humbucker – Best Les Paul Neck Pickup
- 4 EMG JH James Hetfield Signature – Best High Output Les Paul Pickup
- 5 Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker Alnico & Ceramic Pickups – Best Les Paul Neck and Bridge Active Pickup Set
- 6 Gibson Gear IM57B-NH BurstBucker Type 2 Pickup – Best Premium Les Paul Pickup
- 7 Seymour Duncan SH-1 1959 Bridge Pickup – Best Overall Les Paul Pickup
- Only a Partial List
- Best Les Paul Pickups Buying Guide
- Looking for Some Sweet Pickups?
- What are the Best Les Paul Pickups?
But there was always something special about the Les Paul sound. And much of that came from the pickups. If you have the guitar, there may come a time when the pickups will have to be replaced. Or maybe you will just fancy a change. Then you will be looking for the best Les Paul pickups.
Far From Perfect
That’s probably how the early Les Paul’s were described. The Telecaster and the Strat got it right very quickly and took the lead in the guitar war. The Les Paul had some catching up to do.
Finally, at the end of the 50s, they settled on a sunburst body, tune-o-Matic bridge, stop bar tailpiece, and… Seth Lover’s creation, the humbucker.
Great pickups, of course, single coil, like the “guitar enemy,” but Lover’s humbucker changed the concept of the Les Paul. It didn’t happen overnight, but it became a force. The humbucker had a thicker sound and much higher output. And when combined with a solid mahogany body, you got the sound.
Today, there are some amazing pickups for Les Paul guitars. Some choose the pickups for the guitar depending on the genre they are in. There are plenty to choose from, but I have chosen just seven. Let’s start with a company renowned for its pickups for the Les Paul.
Top 7 Best Les Paul Pickups of 2023
1 Seymour Duncan Antiquity Humbucker Set – Best Classic Les Paul Pickups
I happen to think that Seymour Duncan makes exceptional pickups in whatever they do. But for the Les Paul, they seem to excel. The name antiquity indicates they have tried to return to the past. In many ways, they have.
The Simulation of Age
The pickups undergo an aging process in the factory to give them that well-used look. Pickups get their fair share of wear and tear, and this makes them look like they have been around the block a few times. As a result, these are some of the best vintage looking Les Paul pickups you can buy.
The Key Features
Seymour Duncan created a special plain enamel mag wire for these pickups and included two bar, 2.5-inch alnico magnets. There is a single conductor braided lead wire, so no split-coil wiring. The pickups have nickel-silver covers and bottom plates with long mounting legs.
Close to The Edge
They have been able to stick even closer to original designs. They use a mold for the butyrate bobbins that was created by the same factory that made the Gibson original PAF molds. Another authentic design is that the humbuckers are not wax potted, which creates a sound of its own.
And do you want to appreciate the lengths Seymour Duncan has gone to? Every Antiquity humbucker is wound on an original Gibson winding machine from Kalamazoo. So that you know you are getting an original Antiquity, each bar magnet and bottom plate are signed.
Much smoother and more mellow than I imagined they would be. And they are well-balanced with even frequency response. That makes them suitable for a range of styles and doesn’t just limit them to the harder stuff.
The sound has that unmistakable vintage feel. And when you crank it up using a tube amp, you will get the picture. The smoothness remains, but the breakups are responsive.
Who Are They For?
As I just remarked, the variety of sound coupled with the smooth and mellow feel lends them to a wide range of genres. If you happen to combine a range of styles in your playing, these are going to fit the bill.
Seymour Duncan makes great pickups. These will be at the top end of what they produce with their quality. Meaning they are some of the best Seymour Duncan pickups for a Les Paul. They aren’t cheap, but you wouldn’t expect them to be.
- Seymour Duncan quality with plenty of authentic Les Paul design features.
- Great mellow sound but with a rough edge when they are pushed.
2 Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Set – Best Rock and Roll Les Paul Pickups
Let us stay with Seymour Duncan and go from one design style to another. The Antiquity had a mellow, smooth sound. These are a different kettle of fish. These can bite!
They are a pair of pickups that stay close to the Les Paul sound but with just a little extra. What is most noticeable is the amount of punch coming from the mid-range. The amount of output, and therefore, the extra drive, makes these pickups sound special.
High Note Clarity
But it isn’t just the mid-range that packs some power. It is also evident that as you move up the fingerboard, the higher notes remain prominent. High notes can sometimes be overshadowed by the depth and resonance of the lower notes and frequencies. Not with these.
This gives a certain clarity to the higher notes and allows any riffs played at the high end to stay out front and not get swallowed up.
They Shine Without Excessive Gain
Many pickups designed for the Les Paul rely on gain, sometimes in excessive amounts, to really carry a punch. That doesn’t necessarily apply to these. They can sound sharp and crisp and extremely powerful without heaping on a ton of gain to get a result.
What sets these apart from some other Les Paul pickups is their ability to recreate the sounds of an era. A time when Gibson guitars had a sound that was thick and warm, the sounds of the 60s and 70s to be precise.
It will transform any Les Paul-style guitar into a beast, a growling classic rock monster. That is what it does, and if that is what you will want, welcome to the early 70s at a very attractive price point.
- Plenty of great sounds without the need for excessive gain.
- Recreates the late 60s early 70s Les Paul sound.
- Some may not like the powerful mid-range sound.
3 DiMarzio PAF DP103 Humbucker – Best Les Paul Neck Pickup
DiMarzio is another name that comes with a pedigree for producing great pickups. This is an interesting design that harkens back to some vintage feel.
The PAF, or Patent Applied For, was a vital part of the development of the sound of the Les Paul. They were the predominant pickup in the late 50s and the early 60s on most of Gibson’s better guitars. Therefore, it is natural to expect that DiMarzio will have attempted to recreate that sound. This is what they have done.
Who Is This Pickup For?
These are not “all bells and whistles” screaming pickup. They are a bit more refined than that. They have a smooth sound that would be ideal for playing some chords as opposed to soloing. Therefore this is one of the best rhythm pickups for Les Paul guitars.
And a great Les Paul pickup for Jazz, I might add. But depending on how, and more importantly, where you use them, the effect achieved can be different.
In The Neck Position
Being that it is a gentler pickup in the way it sounds, placing it at the neck, you will expect a smooth, warm sound. That is what you get.
This is going to work well if the bridge pickup is a bit tasty and has a higher output. The adjustment of the controls can result in a blending of both sounds. That will give you a smooth sound but with a little sustain from the bridge.
At The Bridge
Once again, a variation and coming together of two distinct humbucker sounds with a high output pickup at the neck. When the PAF DP103 Humbucker is installed at the bridge, there is a noticeable boost to the low-end. That creates a great sound if you are playing riffs or chords at the bass end.
A great asset of this pickup is the amount of dynamic control you have. You can go from smooth to slightly dirty using just the attack of the pick.
A Great Choice For Some
They are based on Seth Lover’s originals from the 1950s and have more than a hint of that vintage tone. Compared to other Les Paul pickups you find, this has a weaker magnetic field. In some ways, when not pushed, they sound a bit like a single coil.
If you don’t want pickups that need a stack of gain and give you plenty of distortion, these may be worth a look. Set at a very competitive price point, it’s easily one of the best Les Paul pickups on the market.
- Smooth, warm sound reminiscent of the Seth Lover originals from the 50s.
- A very competitive price point for a great sound.
- Some will need more power and distortion.
4 EMG JH James Hetfield Signature – Best High Output Les Paul Pickup
EMG has been producing pickups since 1976 and has built a reputation for producing high output products. Some people like them; others claim the sound is a bit too compressed. But with these pickups and their name, you know what you are going to get from the outset.
The Metallica Sound
When you think of James Hetfield, you tend to think of a trademark style. Blistering riffs and screaming high tones that are so much a part of the Metallica sound. But there is a little bit more to these pickups than brain-melting distortion.
When Gibson made the first Les Paul guitars, I am sure they had no idea what they were creating. It was an instrument that allowed great expression in the hands of those who could actually play.
The woods used in the manufacture, the setup of pickups, and the other hardware generated a natural sustain. That is one reason it has become so popular with those whose job it is to solo. And this is one of the best Les Paul soloing pickups you will find.
So How Does This Pickup Fit In?
Surprisingly well, because it does more than just give you brain damage. It can be sweet when you pull it back a bit. The riffs you play and the licks you create suddenly have a slightly different sound.
The rather surprising thing about these pickups is that whilst you can get the Metallica sound, the tone is nice when they are used clean. This might be unfair, but it seems to me, some players seem to forget how good the Les Paul can sound on its own.
Too many just rush to a stack load of effects pedals to plug in. There is another side to this guitar; there always has been. These pickups give you a gentle reminder of how good it can be played clean.
There Can Be Problems in a Switch
Sometimes when players switch back and forth between clean and distorted, there are a couple of problems. The quality of the tone is one, the other the consistency of the dynamics. That doesn’t seem to apply with these pickups. Going from one to the other, you get no loss of tone or changes in the dynamics.
Who Are These Pickups For?
Obviously, the metal fans who like Metallica are going to be drawn to them because of the name. But they are going to be great for those players who often switch between clean tones and sounds with enormous high gain.
A good set of pickups from EMG that enhances the qualities the guitar naturally offers. For more information, take a look at our comprehensive EMG JH James Hetfield Electric Guitar Pickup Set Review.
- Plenty of power for distorting high output solos.
- They sound extremely good when played clean.
- Some may not be so interested in the cleaner sound.
5 Fishman Fluence Modern Humbucker Alnico & Ceramic Pickups – Best Les Paul Neck and Bridge Active Pickup Set
Some may be more familiar with the Fishman name for acoustic-electric guitars. But they make a mean Humbucker that has a great performance.
One great benefit of the original humbuckers that Seth Lover designed was noise reduction. Hum and Buzz were a perpetual nightmare, but the ‘hum’-bucker all but got rid of it.
I say all but because some pickups, regardless of the claims of their manufacturers, do give off a little bit of unwanted noise. A quality that the Fishman pickups offer is a completely noiseless performance. These claim to be noiseless, and they are, unlike some.
These two pickups bring together some of the best sound options. Alnico magnets give you the power and an explosive sound for playing chords. Ceramics give you the cutting edge when you need it. They both work well in either neck or bridge positions.
If there is a difference, you might notice it is that the mids are not as bright as on some pickups. But that allows the lower notes more room and seems to add an extra layer of thickness. You will notice that when you play a few power chords. The result is some of the most dynamic Les Paul pickups you can buy.
These are active pickups, and you have two options for power sources. You can use a 9-volt battery inside the cavity or attach an access box on the cover of the cavity.
The second option might not be so popular. Fishman offers a rechargeable battery pack. It gives you three hundred hours of use on a full charge. The charge does not diminish with use as a standard battery would. It runs at full power until it loses all charge. But it requires a ½ inch hole to be cut for the USB port.
Who Are They For?
Players who need a wide variety of tonal options, and maybe those who want different humbucker tones. These pickups give you that. Fitting is easy, and they will go into any Gibson or Epiphone Les Paul. Not a cheap option.
- Some alternative sounds to a standard humbucker.
- Combining Alnico and Ceramic magnets for the best of both worlds.
- You may need to cut a hole for the battery pack if you choose that option.
6 Gibson Gear IM57B-NH BurstBucker Type 2 Pickup – Best Premium Les Paul Pickup
Despite Gibson’s management seemingly being able to consistently push a self-destruct button, the Les Paul is still here. (After all, it takes real business acumen to bankrupt a company that has the Les Paul guitar as its flagship). And if anyone should know what the guitar needs, it should be them.
Their knowledge of how to build a humbucker for a Les Paul is something that cannot be disputed. Unlike the business decisions that could have meant no more Les Paul’s at all.
Not the most glamorous of names, but I will ignore that. I am more interested in what it sounds like. In the neck position, it didn’t impress. It delivered a bit of a nothing sound that felt it needed a little something to get it going.
It has an Alnico V magnet, so possibly I was just expecting a little more. The mid-range felt downplayed, compressed, and subdued even though it seemed to be boosted. It sounded limited and could only be called a pickup suitable for most middle-of-the-road sounds.
The Bridge Position
This is a slightly different story. There are plenty of PAF replicas doing the rounds that claim an authentic sound. Most don’t produce it, really, but in the bridge position, this goes close.
It adds a little warmth that you would expect from a vintage pickup, but still nothing really to be excited about.
Who Is It For?
Probably might be best in a 50s rock n roll band where nothing too much is demanded in variations in sound. The best thing I can say is that it is a versatile pickup that will fit most middle-of-the-road occasions.
For me, though, the big negative is the price point. For what it is, this pickup is very expensive.
- It’s versatile in low-key environments.
- Apart from the name, the price point is extravagant.
7 Seymour Duncan SH-1 1959 Bridge Pickup – Best Overall Les Paul Pickup
We close this look at pickups for the Les Paul by returning to Seymour Duncan. The SH-1 1959 is a pickup that has been designed to evoke memories of those early models. Now one of the best manufacturers of pickups for this guitar, this is one of the best Les Paul pickups.
Working The Sustain
What separates this pickup from many others is that it can work hand in hand with the assets of the guitar. By that, I mean it uses the mahogany body to extract every last bit of sustain that it can, especially at the higher ends of the fingerboard, which is where it counts.
When it is fitted in the bridge position, the sounds are very reminiscent of those days where rock n roll became rock music.
The Classic Set Up
As with most H and H configurations, both pickups rely a little on the performance of the other. It is a classic setup, and with this, in the bridge position, you don’t need a high output pickup at the neck.
It sounds exceptional when used with overdrive pedals and creates a powerful sound when playing chord structures at the low end.
Who Is It For?
You have to say it is versatile. It can cope with most things and even make a great hard rock or metal pickup. But it is those vintage sounds where it excels. The Alnico V magnet gives you a warm and tight sound, and in the bridge position, it is the pickup you need for some power chords.
An excellent pickup at a great price point, certainly one of the best.
- Returns to the vintage sounds of the late 50s and early 60s at a great price point.
- Works with the guitar to provide great sustain.
Only a Partial List
When comparing pickups for the Les Paul, you suddenly realize just how many there are. And how many good ones. Here are a few other famous Les Paul pickups that deserve a quick mention.
- Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Signature.
- Seymour Duncan Jeff Loomis Blackouts.
- EVH Frankenstein.
- Seymour Duncan Vintage Blues.
- EMG Zakk Wylde Signature.
Best Les Paul Pickups Buying Guide
This is a guitar renowned for having a powerful tone, so that is what you should look for. The design and the look have only been a small part of its success. It is the sound that made it what it is.
What you look for when buying will depend on what you want it to sound like. Some pickups suit just about every genre; others tend to specialize. Whatever you play, it will suit yours. If you own a Les Paul, make sure you let it breathe and let it sustain. That is what it was built for.
Looking for Some Sweet Pickups?
We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Electric Guitar Pickups, the Best Humbucker Pickups, the Best DiMarzio Pickups, and the Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups you can buy in 2023.
You might also enjoy our detailed Seymour Duncan Black Winter Review, our Seymour Duncan JB Humbucker Pickup Review, our Seymour Duncan 59 Model Review, and our Seymour Duncan SH8 Invader Review for more amazing items on the market.
And don’t miss our expert Epiphone Les Paul Special II Review, our Epiphone Les Paul-100 Review, our Epiphone Les Paul Custom Pro Review, and our Epiphone Les Paul Standard Review for some incredible Les Paul guitars currently available.
What are the Best Les Paul Pickups?
The pickup that impressed me the most was the…
Seymour Duncan SH-1 1959 Bridge Pickup
It oozes vintage, and if that is what you are looking for, there is nothing better. In my opinion, it is the best pickup for a Les Paul guitar.
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1 thought on “Top 7 Best Les Paul Pickups in 2023”
I understand the times have changed but originally the DiMarzio super distortions were the best “high output” humbucker in the bridge and neck.