Changing the pickups on any guitar is a delicate and thoughtful decision and operation. It is particularly critical on a guitar like a Telecaster. This mainstay of rock music the world over has a specific sound. It’s what it is known for. So, regardless of the reason you want to change the pickups, care must be taken.
Is it an upgrade or a total change of sound? Or perhaps you may have bought a guitar but want better Tele pickups than what’s already fitted?
Whatever the reason let’s have a look at the Best Telecaster pickups around and chose the perfect ones for you…
Top 7 Best Telecaster Guitar Pickups of 2023
1 Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Telecaster Pickups
If anyone should know how to manufacture a pickup for a Telecaster you would think it would be Fender themselves. Unfortunately, this hasn’t always been the case and over the years there have been times when the product they delivered was, shall we say, less than adequate.
More on that later…
However, this Custom shop Texas special falls into the very good area. The first thing noticeable is the higher output and the powerful, punchy sound at the top end. This is delivered of course by one of the single coil pickups
Attention has been paid to the typically Telecaster top end but the neck pickup, with its nickel covering, produces a warm, rich sound.
The bridge pickup is where you get the true Tele sound. The copper plated bottom plate is made from steel and has height staggered magnets. These pickups are overwound to give a fatter sound with more attack.
Found on a range of custom-made Telecasters…
These pickups are not made just for the replacement market. They are found on many of the custom-made Telecasters from Fender. They, therefore, have the manufacturers trust to deliver the sound people will be expecting.
There have been volumes written about Fender and their pickups, sometimes positive sometimes not, but the reality is this. When you walked into a shop pre-63 to buy your Tele it sounded like it did. That sound disappeared and was never really regained over years of changes, but these pickups do come close.
They have that attack you hope for and will get you closer to that early sound if that is what you want. They are very good and are competitively priced when viewed alongside some of the pickups out there for this guitar.
If you are looking to get as close to the vintage Telecaster sound as you can then these pickups must be high on your wishlist.
They are only sold in pairs.
2 Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele Pickups
The Fender Telecaster has been well-known for over 60 years. One thing it was always famous for is the unique sound, especially the ones that were made pre-64. That sound was created largely by the two single coil pickups.
Yes, they could be a bit of a nuisance sometimes with the unwanted background noises, but you did your best to control that, which you could to a certain extent, or just put up with it. It was the sound of the guitar after all.
These replacement pickups are, however, ‘noiseless’. They have enamel coated wire and special Alnico magnets.
Are they humbuckers?
To all intents and purposes, you can probably answer yes to that. Fender would probably dispute they were fully fledged, Les Paul type humbuckers which they aren’t, but they are as close as you can get without giving them that label.
Trying to attach a descriptive label is pointless, they do what they say and have no background noise at all. Single coil pickups are famous for noise and these certainly eliminate that problem.
The sound though isn’t quite a Telecaster…
They are very toppy, but there is underlying growl like feeling to them when you drive them hard, which is not very Telecaster like.
The sound is good but we wouldn’t call it a vintage sound at all. It may be that you want more power and bite from your guitar and these pickups will give you that, but as far as being an authentic Telecaster sound, not quite.
A warm subtle feel to go with its clarity…
The neck pickup is nickel coated to give it that clean sound and it does do that. It performs well and has a warm subtle feel to go with its clarity. It is the bridge pickup that really kicks in.
If you are looking to upgrade the quality of your pickups and want noiseless then these will suit.
Very competitively priced, they sell only in pairs.
3 Tonerider TRT2 Hot Classic Tele Pickup Set
Tonerider is not a name that first comes to most people’s minds when thinking about replacing pickups. But, based on the performance of these pickups maybe it should be higher up your list.
They are a single coil with Alnico magnets so will satisfy the Telecaster purists but they have found a way to reduce the hum associated with those types of pickup. Obviously, they cannot be as quiet as humbuckers but they are one of the quietest single coil pickups we’ve heard.
A warm, crystal clear sound…
The neck pickup is nickel plated and generates a warm, crystal clear sound which we have come to expect from the better pickups. Slightly bluesy in its style when you start to drive it there is a hint of distortion but not enough to take away from the overall tone, which is good.
The bridge pickup though is powerful and with a lot of Fender-style twang. The sound is clean and clear. It has the inevitable sharp top end but not so much as you feel you have to control it.
The quite outstanding thing about these pickups though is the price. They are priced at the lower end of the market which is surprising for a product that is this good.
Make no mistake and don’t be put off because the price is low, they are very good pickups and will give you that Telecaster sound.
It is not vintage Tele but then no one can produce that…
…but it is clean and powerful. These Tonerider’s are a very good example of how you do not need to spend an awful lot of money to get a decent product.
Put them on your to consider list, they are worth it.
4 Seymour Duncan Aptl-3jd Jerry Donahue Model Tele Bridge Pickup
We find that when a musical item has any guitar players name attached to it, as created for them, then it is dangerous ground to be walking on. In the case of pickups, it is not that easy to create a definitive sound.
Jerry Donahue has a unique ‘52 Telecaster, he wanted a pick up that would give him a similar attack sound for the guitars he takes on stage and uses in the studio.
Most people might agree that the twangy, toppy sound the Telecaster generates comes from the bridge pick up. So, Seymour Duncan took on the challenge and produced a bridge pickup to do the job.
Quite a few subtle changes in design…
Their input involved quite a few subtle changes in design that goes a long way to achieving their goal. Some may consider some of the changes minor but when all added together the difference becomes sizeable.
They have come up with a single coil pickup with Alnico 2 rod magnets with an alternative wind for power. And, the balance of sound response to allow for the curvature of the fingerboard has been achieved by raising the poles for the D and G strings.
Some other minor differences but essentially designed to give the punch required when all put together. It is powerful stuff without the overload of treble that a Telecaster can give you, It is a ‘top attack’ but in saying that is warm and clear without losing the guitar’s basic feel.
There is a noticeable increase in power and sustain.
So, how does it compare to an original?
Well, you can’t compare the sound realistically but in many ways, this pick up gives you a little more.
It certainly carries more warm lower tones than other bridge pickups and it could be said it out does the warmth of the neck pickup. Whether it mirrors exactly a ‘52 would be an opinion but this is a great pick up to have on the bridge of any Telecaster.
Sold only as a bridge pickup, the price is reasonable considering the quality.
5 Dimarzio DP172C Pick-Up
DiMarzio, of course, are very well-known for their replacement pickups. Perhaps more so for there humbucker range, but they do produce a number of different options for all sounds.
This model given the name of the ‘Twang King’ is a neck only pickup for the Telecaster. It has an Alnico 5 magnet and two conductors. Interestingly DiMarzio comes out up front and state they have not tried to model the sound of this pickup on any particular vintage or an individual player.
They wanted a big, clean sound, both high and low and wanted it to be responsive to individual guitarists styles.
And, this they have achieved…
The pickup is responsive to how the instrument is played. The soft and gentle striking of the strings brings out a warm, quieter, jazzy tone. Hit the strings a bit harder and the pickup responds with a more attack-minded sound.
A lot of pickups achieve this of course in some small measure, but with this pickup, the difference is very marked.
Being a neck only pickup you expect a certain sound and it does give you a fat bluesy feel. Driven a bit harder this output gives you good sustain and a hint of overdrive. It is well-balanced sound wise and creates a good feel.
Power isn’t everything…
We wouldn’t say it is the most powerful of pickups but then power isn’t everything. It does have nice shades and being able to react to your style at any point in a song is a great asset.
As you might expect from DiMarzio this is a quality product with lots of plus points. It is not expensive but will need to be matched to a bridge pickup that will support and enhance its sound. DiMarzio does use this pickup as part of a set.
If you are looking for a vintage Tele sound this isn’t it, but if you are searching for something that is similar but with something a little extra this could be for you.
6 Dimarzio Vintage Twang King Pre-Wired Pickup Set For Tele
In producing a pair of replacement pickups for the Telecaster that goes some way to creating a vintage sound DiMarzio recognized a couple of things.
Firstly, that they were not going to be able to recreate that sound that is now over 50 years old and secondly, that they wanted to add maybe a little more.
In this pickup replacement set for a Telecaster, they have achieved a good balance…
There is the basic Telecaster twang. Powerful and instantly recognizable, but there is also an added warm sound underneath the whole effect.
This comes from the neck pickup, the DP172, which we have already reviewed. It is a quality pick up and adds that warm and sensitive sound. The bridge pickup gives the sound its edge and when combined with the neck it brings a new sound to the guitar.
They really do work so well together which I suppose is only to be expected, and the sounds blend together to be at one moment warm and bluesy and the next sharp and aggressive.
As with the 172 as a stand-alone pickup, both these pickups are touch sensitive. The softer you play the more bluesy and easy they will sound, the harder you play they will bite back.
It is worth noting that the sound generated by these two pickups is superior to what you get on a lot of stock issue guitars which is why it is worth the change. That may be a little unfair but if you’ve bought a Telecaster and are less than happy with its sound, then this could solve the problem.
They do not have a truly vintage sound but are not far away and they do have some nice extra attributes.
They are very good and well worth a listen.
7 JBE Joe Barden Modern T-Style Pickup Set For Fender Tele Telecaster
A lot of time and effort has gone into the development of this set of replacement pickups for the Telecaster.
They are a single coil of course but any background hiss or hum is removed…
The manufacturers claim them to be vintage in style and tone but then claim to have taken away that ‘tinny’ sound from the bridge pickup. We thought that was one of the trademarks of the Telecaster and why people love it or otherwise.
Other claims include the balancing of output between the bridge and neck pickups which they claim was a Tele players complaint. Again we thought that was a ‘Telecaster’ thing, but what do we know?
Its done ok for 60 years…
It will be for you to judge these claims. Yes, they have been included as part of the package but their inclusion is included as if they are needed corrections to a Telecasters sound. We think they are welcome additions but not that the Telecaster does not function without them. They’ve done ok for 60 years.
One new inclusion which is an asset is the staggered bridge design that gives a balanced sound on the outer strings. This can often be a problem but this design will eliminate that.
These pickups are good if this is the sound you are looking for. We wouldn’t call it a vintage sound, it is too fat for that, and there are shades of the humbucker in the sound when the pickups are driven hard.
They don’t suggest authentic to us though. They suggest a near basic Telecaster sound that has been added to, and we have to say the additions are good. That’s a good thing if that’s what you’re looking for, in which case these pickups are worth considering.
If though, you are looking for a purist vintage feel to pickups then these may not suffice, good as they are.
They do come on as quite expensive.
What Makes A Telecaster Pickup?
If we knew that then, we could now reproduce that pre-64 sound. It does, however, have certain unique characteristics. Not all pickups since 64 have been bad, in fact, there have been some great ones producing superb sounds.
But, it is that period that is considered the high point. The time when not only the Telecaster but all Fender’s were at their best.
What Makes The Best Telecaster Guitar Pickups Pickups?
Both neck and bridge must be a single coil, that is the sound, even though you sometimes get background noise. The bridge pickup is quite wide and sits on a metal plate which helps to give it a powerful sharp tone.
The neck pickup has a nickel plate covering for added clarity. The single tone control and sliding pickup selector will assist in adjusting the tone. It is a very basic but very effective setup. A good description of a Telecaster perhaps.
Tele Pickups: Setup And Configuration
Now you have bought your pickups it’s time to have them fitted. You can either take them to a shop and have it done for you or do it yourself.
If you are are going to do it yourself, then allow plenty of time.
Here are a couple of reminders:-
Check the sales inventory to see what you will receive and that all you need to fit them is enclosed. Some will offer solder-free installation, some will provide instructions. Check first.
Make sure you measure your current pick up height before you start. Do this by pressing down your top E at the last fret and measure the distance from the pole of the pick up to the string. Repeat the process for all the strings. Now you have a good height.
Adjust the height of the new pickups to ensure that one is not louder than the other.
Fuller instructions will no doubt come with the package but those are a couple of reminders to make your life easier.
New Pickups…What Would We Choose?
We have a ‘62 Telecaster in our midst and we are not changing the pickups on that beastie so for the purposes of this exercise we have bought a new Telecaster. We don’t like the pickups and are going to change them. Therefore, we want to try something a little new because we have our vintage sound on the ‘62. We have, therefore, chosen the…
Great pickups, good sound, little bit authentic but with an extra edge and a very nice price. Well done Tonerider, good product. Our choice for the Best Telecaster guitar pickups.