The Fender Telecaster is one of the most iconic and unmistakable guitars in history. While almost every Tele sounds excellent right out of the box, discerning tone junkies are always looking for the upgrade that will take their axe, and their tone, to the next level.
Today, we’re going to take a look at the 11 best Telecaster pickups on the market today, so you can find the perfect complement for your playing.
The Top 11 Telecaster Pickups Reviewed
Without further ado, let’s dive right into our selection of the best Telecaster pickups available today.
The Best Fender Telecaster Pickup
An ideal vintage reproduction for players looking to harness the bright, bell-like tones of Telecasters from the sixties, the Pure Vintage ‘64 set is worth a closer look.
The Alnico V magnets provide tight and punchy response while a copper bridge plate allows for a bright, bell-like chime. The staggered pole pieces provide a consistent response across each string, and the enamel coated magnet wire helps provide plenty of warmth to give a balanced tone.
These pickups offer period-correct fiber bobbins and push-back style waxed cloth wiring for plenty of vintage mojo. Players looking for a medium-output pickup set that adds some warmth to the bell-like sound of a Tele are sure to like the Pure Vintage ‘64.
- Warm and balanced vintage-style tone
- Period correct construction
- Alnico V magnets
- A bit noisy
Best Affordable American Made Pickup
Guitarists who want to dramatically beef up their guitar’s output without losing the signature single-coil tone of a telecaster will love the Quarter Pound set from Seymour Duncan.
These pickups measure a whopping 11.75K for the neck and 16.95k for the bridge, making these the hottest single coils in Duncan’s lineup. Each pickup is handmade in California and features Alnico V magnets and Forbon flatwork, and they’re wax potted for feedback-free performance.
- Incredibly high output perfect for leads
- Made in the USA
- Alnico V magnets
- High output means high noise
Best Active Telecaster Pickups
Active pickups make it easy for players to unlock a world of new tones from a classic Telecaster, and nobody knows active pickups quite like industry pioneer EMG.
The T System includes neck and bridge pickups as well as a pre-wired switchplate. The connections are solderless, which makes installation a breeze. If you’ve never installed pickups before, the T System from EMG is the easiest way to get the job done.
These pickups are very hot by telecaster standards, and as an active system, there’s virtually no noise at all. If you’re tired of the buzz that single coils are synonymous with, you may want to take a closer look at EMG’s active offerings.
- Virtually noiseless
- Solderless installation
- Perfect for heavy rock and metal
- Much lower dynamic response than traditional single coils
- Requires 9V battery
Great Sounding Telecaster Pickup
Players looking for a budget-friendly Tele set that offers a bit more output than a standard Telecaster are sure to love the Hot Classics from Tonerider.
These affordable guitar pickups feature overwound alnico III magnets, vintage push-back wiring, and they’re wax potted for reduced noise. The neck and bridge measure in at 7.3k and 9.2k, respectively, so these pickups are ideal for players looking for a high output pickup that still maintains some vintage sensibilities.
- Bridges the gap between vintage and modern tone
- Quality components and construction
- Some players find them a bit too hot and aggressive sounding
Top Choice Overall
In search of the Holy Grail? You’ll want to play a set of Lindy Fralin’s before settling on any other pickups. These custom-wound pickups are considered the best of the best, and their Blues Special set is ideal for tone enthusiasts looking for the most period correct tones possible.
The Blues Special set is overwound and comes in 5% hotter than Fralin’s standard Tele set. Their proprietary sectioning technique offers a unique and dynamic tone that offers slightly more midrange and a bit less high-end, which is perfect for players who find the Telecaster sound to be on the shrill side.
Every component of these pickups is sourced in America and then hand-wound by Fralin’s team to produce a tone that every player should experience.
- Handmade in the USA
- Unrivaled Tele tone
- Overwound Alnico V magnets
- 10-year warranty
If you’re after the hot Texas blues sound immortalized by players like Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Tex-Mex set from Fender could be a perfect pickup set for you.
These pickups are overwound with alnico V magnets, and they measure in at 5.8k for the neck and 8.0k for the bridge. These pickups find a nice sweet spot between the classic Tele tone of the late 50s and 60s, and the hotter blues sound popularized in later years.
- Bright and bell-like while still maintaining plenty of warmth
- Overwound alnico V magnets
- Flush-mount pole pieces don’t offer the dynamic response of staggered poles
If you love the look of the Telecaster but are put off by noisy single-coil pickups, a Hot Rails set from Seymour Duncan might be just what the doctor ordered.
These humbuckers may look like single coils, but all similarities end there. The compact blade-style magnet design allows Duncan to offer beefy and aggressive humbucker tone in a smaller housing perfect for telecasters.
The bridge pickup offers soaring sustain and tons of bite, while the neck pickup is a bit warmer, perfect for smooth leads or fat rhythm playing. Duncan provides these pickups with 4-conductor wire, so you can easily add a 5-way switch and split the coils for unparalleled versatility.
- Humbucker tone in a single coil housing
- 4-conductor wiring for tons of tonal options
- Hand-built in the USA
- Virtually noiseless
- Very aggressive tone
- Doesn’t offer the nuance of single coils
For players who demand the versatility of humbuckers but don’t want to lose all of the classic sensibility of their Telecaster, the Little ‘59 set from Seymour Duncan will be just what the doctor ordered.
The bridge features a miniature version of Duncan’s flagship ‘59 bridge humbucker, one of the most sought-after humbuckers for decades. The neck pickup looks like a standard nickel covered Tele pickup, but it features stacked coils for noiseless, humbucking operation.
Each pickup features 4-conductor wiring so you can split coils in a variety of ways to make your guitar even more versatile. Coil tapping will provide you with plenty of classic Tele tone in addition to the growl of the humbuckers.
- Handmade in the USA
- Duncan’s most popular humbucker in a single-coil housing
- 4-conductor wiring for coil-tapping
- Neck pickup leaves a lot to be desired compared to the bridge
Wilkinson has been making aftermarket pickups for decades, and while much of their equipment is hit or miss, their Tele and Strat pickups always seem to hit all the right notes. This set is made in Korea, and it offers plenty of sought after 60’s style tone at a price that will delight pluckers on a tight budget.
The WVT set offers alnico V magnets, a copper base plate for the bridge pickup, and the neck is available with a chrome or gold cover. The neck pickup clocks in at 6.8k while the bridge offers 6.0k, which is the perfect level of heat for the classic Tele tone of the 60s.
- Alnico V magnets
- Classic 60s tone
- Bridge pickup dynamic response could be better
- A bit noisy
For fans of Lindy’s Blues Special Telecaster pickups who hope for something more faithful to the original Teles of the 1950s, the Fralin Stock set could be the one for you. These pickups provide the clarity and bell-like chime that any Tele enthusiast will appreciate.
These pickups are hand-wound to 50s specs using 42-gauge plain enamel wire, and the hand-built bobbins feature alnico V magnets with staggered bridge poles for a balanced response. Fralin even has different staggering patterns available to match the radius of different fretboards.
- Hand-built in the USA
- Staggered bridge poles for an even tonal response
- The closest you’ll get to the sound of the 50s
- 10-year warranty
Fender set the guitar world on fire with their American Performer series, which brings American-made Fender craftsmanship to the masses at a more affordable price point, and the Yosemite pickups are one of the reasons for their popularity.
These affordable American-made pickups offer all the vintage tone you can want, but with a slightly higher output that helps you cut through even the loudest mixes.
The bridge pickup is unique, as it uses alnico IV magnets, which aren’t as bright as alnico Vs, so the resulting tone is a bit more balanced and similar to that of a humbucker. Meanwhile, the neck utilizes alnico V’s to capitalize on the bell-like chime players want from a Tele neck pickup.
- Alnico IV and V magnets for balanced tone
- Made in America
- Flush-mount pole pieces compromise response
Telecaster Pickup Buying Guide
Before you make a decision on the best pickups for you, there are some important factors you’ll need to consider. To select the best Telecaster pickups for your axe, here’s what you’ll need to know.
Types of Telecaster Pickups
While they may all look similar, there are two different types of pickups available for Telecasters, and each offers distinct tonal properties.
The original guitar pickup, single coils, get their name from the single magnet inside. These pickups are most commonly associated with Stratocasters and Telecasters, and they offer a unique tone that’s undeniably associated with Fender guitars.
Single coils are perfect for many styles, especially blues, country, and rock. They’re characterized by a bright tone that’s incredibly nuanced and musical. Experienced players will be able to coax a great deal of emotion and feeling from a single coil-equipped guitar.
Single coils are fairly low output, and their single magnet design makes them extremely susceptible to 60-cycle hum. While noiseless variations are available, all true single-coil pickups suffer from some degree of buzz.
Single coils are available in the classic Fender-style configuration, or the P-90 configuration, which is larger and nearly the same size as a humbucker. P-90s offer a slightly darker tone that many players consider to be more versatile.
Humbuckers are aptly named, as their magnet configuration allows them to reject hum for nearly noiseless operation.
These pickups offer higher output than single coils and provide a tighter and fuller sound compared to single-coils. Humbuckers are generally preferred for rock and metal, and they’re incredibly well suited to lead playing.
Humbuckers are generally twice the size of single coils, and they look like two single-coil pickups sandwiched together. This presents a problem for standard Telecaster players, as these large pickups can’t fit the narrow pickup housing on a Tele.
Fortunately, stacked coil and mini humbuckers allow players to install humbucking pickups in the same cavity as single coils, so players can install either style regardless of how their guitar is routed.
Active vs. Passive Pickups
Active and passive refer to how the guitar’s pickups receive power. Traditional passive pickups have thousands of copper wire windings around a magnet, which creates a magnetic field that translates into sound once it reaches your amplifier. Active pickups also feature copper wire wound around a magnet, but there are fewer windings, and the output of the pickup alone is quite low.
Active pickups rely on a preamp to boost their output before arriving at the amplifier. The result is an incredibly high output that offers practically noiseless operation. These pickups have a more tight and defined sound than passive pickups do.
Active pickups are ideal for situations where you need to eliminate noise without compromising output. Modern metal guitarists are partial to active pickups, although some devotees claim that they’re superior for other styles, too.
The downside of active pickups is they don’t offer anywhere near the amount of subtlety or nuance that passive pickups are known for. You can think of active pickups as being turned up to 11, while passive pickups cover the full spectrum, from whisper quiet to a raucous roar.
Important Specs to Consider
Now that you have a clearer idea of the different types of pickups that are available for your Telecaster, let’s take a look at the specifications that separate the different pickups on the market.
Output is an important factor for virtually every guitar player. Most manufacturers measure pickup output using DC resistance, which is measured in ohms.
Typically, single-coils are on the lower side of the output spectrum, while humbuckers are higher. P-90 and tube style single coils usually measure around 3-4K while Strat and Tele style single coils are typically in the 5-8K range. Low-output humbuckers usually start out around 8K, while higher output humbuckers can exceed 20K.
The higher the ohm reading, the higher the output of the pickup. With single coils, anything hotter than 8K usually results in a noisy pickup with a shrill sound, so most players look towards lower output pickups.
Players looking to harness a more vintage sound will want a pickup in the 5K range for a more 50s feel, or something in the 6K range for something a bit more 60s.
How a manufacturer EQs a pickup has one of the most profound effects on the overall tone. While output can provide a basic indication of how a pickup will sound once installed, most manufacturers also provide an EQ graphic that gives you a clearer idea of how the low, mid, and high frequencies of the pickup are voiced.
If you’re looking for a classic Tele sound that offers plenty of chime and clarity, you’ll want to look towards a pickup with greater high-end. Or, if you prefer a warmer tone, a pickup with boosted mids and lows will be better suited to your needs.
When shopping for pickups, start by considering your guitar’s natural tone with the pickups you currently have, and what you would live to improve. Is your tone muddy and muted? Pickups with boosted treble frequencies will be better suited to your needs. Or, if your guitar is too shrill sounding, look towards pickups with a mid or low-end boost.
Keep in mind that the tone of a guitar is also profoundly affected by the tonewood used to make the guitar. For example, a guitar made from mahogany offers much more low end than a guitar made from spruce.
Magnets are like the engine of a pickup, and they can tell you a great deal about how a pickup will sound. Virtually all pickup magnets are either alnico or ceramic.
Alnico, an abbreviation for aluminum, nickel, and cobalt, is the most popular magnet used in pickups. There are several types of alnico magnets, and they’re each designated by a number. The higher the number, the more powerful the magnet. For guitar pickups, alnico II and alnico V are the most popular.
Alnico II magnets usually offer a balanced tone with a boosted midrange, while stronger magnets like the alnico V produce more highs and lows and feature a scooped mid profile.
Ceramic magnets are composed of strontium, barium, and lead-iron oxides, and they’re very strong and inexpensive to produce. Ceramic pickups tend to have a bell-like chime with a brilliant high end.
Occasionally you’ll see rare earth magnets used to make pickups, like in Fender’s (now discontinued) Samarium Cobalt line. These magnets are the most expensive to produce, and they don’t seem to offer any tangible benefits over alnico or ceramic magnets.
The pole pieces of a pickup determine the size and shape of the magnetic field the pickup generates.
The wider the pole piece, the broader the magnetic field. Pickups with larger pole pieces tend to offer a complex tone with loads of character, whereas narrower ones offer a much more focused sound.
Certain strings generate stronger frequencies than others, and some manufacturers compensate for this with graduated pole pieces that help provide an even and balanced volume across every string.
With classic single coil pickups, you’ll always be dealing with two-conductor wiring. With humbucking pickups designed for single coil housing, you’ll also see four-conductor models available. Those extra two wires are your key to unlocking tons more tonal possibilities with your new pickups.
Four conductor wiring allows you to split each coil of the pickup, allowing you to use one of them instead of both. These pickups can be wired in various ways, providing you with seven potential pickup selections instead of three. You’ll need to switch out your selector switch to a 5-way or 7-way selector, but that small investment can make your axe even more versatile.
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While each of the 11 pickups on our list is the cream of the crop as far as Telecaster pickups are concerned, one set in particular is our choice for the best Telecaster pickups, and that’s the Lindy Fralin Blues Special.
These pickups offer the best of all worlds. They’re hot enough for modern playing without losing any of the vintage tones and appeal they bring to the table, and they’re considerably quieter than the typical single coil. Not only do these Fralin's feature graduated pole heights, but they’re even available in different neck radius configurations, so each string is deadly accurate.
At around $200 a set, these pickups aren’t especially budget-friendly. Players on a budget will have a hard time finding a set that can compare to the ToneRider TRT2, which offers top-quality performance for well under $100. Or, if you’re planning on adding a humbucker to your Tele, the Little ‘59 set from Seymour Duncan could be your best option.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.