Upgrading your pickups is one of the lowest-cost ways to significantly improve the sound of your Telecaster, without resorting to buying an entirely new guitar. As one of the most versatile guitars you can buy, the best Telecaster pickups will allow you to do everything from that renowned vintage twang to the harmonically rich roar of a PAF-style humbucker.
A Telecaster is so tonally versatile due to its juxtaposition of a very bright bridge pickup and a very dark neck pickup. This means you can get a massive range of tones from it, which is why the Tele is so popular. Whether you want to upgrade your Squier Tele to something more powerful, or you want to tame the modern tones of that hot-rodded T-type for a more vintage-era sound, we’ve got just the pickup for you.
If you’re new to upgrading pickups, then definitely check out our buying advice section at the bottom of this article as there are some common pitfalls you can make without the right knowledge. For those who are ready to twang, keep scrolling for our top picks…
Best Telecaster pickups: Our top picks
For our top pick, we’ve gone for the Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Tele pickup set. They’ll drive your amp hard like a humbucker but retain that punchiness you get from a regular Tele pickup. The neck position is slightly lower output but still growls without ever getting muddy or wooly.
For those who prefer a vintage Tele tone, you’ll want to take a look at the Fender Pure Vintage ‘64 Telecaster pickup set. Perfect for upgrading a beginner or intermediate-level Tele, these great value pups have excellent presence and clarity with a lovely bite in the bridge position.
Best Telecaster pickups: Product guide
The Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Tele pickup set is a thoroughly modern pickup set that does an incredible job of matching the bite and punch of a single coil with the rich saturation and midrange cut of a humbucker.
Think of this set as the classic Tele tone on steroids. It still has that core bite from the bridge pickup and roundness of the neck position, it’s a single coil after all, but it’s beefed up and very, very angry.
They’re close to P-90 pickups in terms of growl and excel at a variety of styles but particularly those of a more modern ilk. Wax potting prevents any unwanted squeal and yes there’s a bit of noise at high gain due to the single coil design, but it’s nothing a good noise gate pedal won’t solve.
The Fender Pure Vintage ‘64 Telecaster pickup set is made to the same specifications as a genuine 60s set of Tele pups, making them the perfect choice for vintage tone lovers.
While this is a vintage set, they’re not quite as low output as the 50s-era pickups, so will suit modern player demands a lot better. They still have that excellent articulation you’d expect from a classic Tele pickup though, with a present neck position and healthy bite when you dig in on the bridge position.
If your Tele is a little too dark sounding then these will certainly brighten it up, and they’re the perfect match for a Squier or MIM Telecaster that wants something more from the stock pickups.
Normally known for their exploits in metal guitars, the Fishman Fluence Greg Koch Gristle Tone Tele pickup set offers something different from anything else on the market. Coming as a whole set complete with electrosocket style jack and control plate, this pickup set features two core sounds for ultimate versatility.
Setting one is all 50s Tele, open and airy, perfect for chicken pickin’. Sound two is that of a 60s Telecaster, more muscular and punchy with excellent sustain. Switchable via a button mounted on the control plate, this set essentially turns your guitar into two classic Telecasters.
You do have to charge them via USB which is a little weird, however, just a half an hour charge will get you a huge 300 hours of playtime. Just make sure you plug them in the night before that big show!
The Broadcaster was the original Telecaster before it got a name change in 1951 to what we know and love today. Aiming to capture that 50s vintage vibe, the Mojotone Broadcaster pickup set is perfect for classic Tele tone lovers.
The bridge position has that excellent chime, with a bell-like clarity so lauded by vintage Tele enthusiasts. The neck position is warm but still articulate, and both pickups react amazingly to overdrive, staying hum free even with a generous dollop of fuzz.
The design is unique too in that there are no extraneous electronics to get them to stay hum-free. We’re not sure how they’ve done it but everything has been kept period correct whilst still retaining noise-free performance, amazing stuff.
For Tele players who want more output and less noise, the EMG T Set is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your tone. If you spend a little extra you can also get the EMG T System with a Tele control plate and jack socket to totally replace your electronics.
On the neck pickup, you get a buttery smooth tone that’s clear when played clean and full of lovely saturation when you dirty it up. The neck pickup howls when you drive things hard, with plenty of authentic Tele twang when you clean up your tone. They probably won’t please vintage tone lovers, but for modern players, this set is a serious upgrade.
The solderless design makes them easier than others to install, however, some routing may be required to fit the battery into the control cavity. Some users also report having to do a little sanding to get the pickups to fit, but it’s definitely worth the effort for the sound upgrade.
For players who want that holy grail PAF tone in a single coil size, the Seymour Duncan Little ‘59 Tele unlocks a powerful sound with minimal modification required. Handmade in Santa Barbara, Seymour Duncan pickups offer incredible quality and value for money.
It’s got a nice even response across the spectrum, with a slight midrange scoop for that full-bodied humbucker sound. Thanks to the split coil options you can still get that Tele twang too, although it’s not quite what a vintage set of pups will offer, it’s a nice option to have.
Great for upgrading beginner and intermediate-level Telecasters, the Little ‘59 is also excellent value for money thanks to its relatively low cost. It’s a drop-in replacement on American-made Tele’s, but you may need some slight routing for MIM and far-east models.
An ultra-popular choice for upgrading your Tele, the Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Tele Pickup Set really makes your guitar shout out. Overwound coils increase output but still retain that core characteristic of a true Telecaster.
If you’re looking for just a little more bite from your Tele then this is the pickup set for you, delivering a punchy bark with plenty of bite. There’s a nice midrange here too, and they absolutely slay when paired with overdrive or pushed hard into a tube amp.
They’re darker than your average Tele pickup, so probably not the choice for those who want old-school Tele tones, but for the modern player who wants a little more oomph, these are perfect.
If you want to turn your Tele into a proper rock and metal machine, then the DiMarzio Super Distortion T will do the job. Packing the power of a humbucker into the convenience of a single coil, its high-output ceramic magnets excel at high gain.
The Super Distortion was one of the classic sounds of rock and metal in the 70s, and this pickup gives you just that in a Tele format. There’s not much sign of classic Tele twang here, but switch your distortion pedal on and it absolutely screams.
For players of post-hardcore, punk, metal, and other alternative styles this pickup is the obvious choice in lieu of buying a heavy music-specific guitar. It makes single-note lines sustain endlessly, and chords sound absolutely huge.
Best Telecaster pickups: Buying advice
Are pickup upgrades worth it?
As far as value for money goes, there’s no more economical way to improve your guitar tone than by upgrading the pickups. Cheaper than a new guitar amp or new Tele, changing your pickups can elevate the sound of your Squier or MIM Tele significantly. Your pickups are the most significant factor in your signal chain (apart from your amplifier) so it makes perfect sense to look at them first for a change in tone.
What pickups are best in a Telecaster?
This is a really subjective question and it all depends on what you want from your tone. Telecasters are known for being extremely versatile, but they have their limitations. A lot of players upgrade their pickups looking for something higher output than the single coils most Tele’s ship with. Similarly, a lot of players look to upgrade the neck pickup as lower-cost pickups have a habit of sounding ‘wooly’.
Before you upgrade have a think about what it is you want from your sound. Do you want to turn it into a proper rock machine? Then perhaps something higher output, or a single-coil-sized humbucker is the best route to take. Conversely, if you’re finding there’s too much output from your Tele pups, then have a look at some of the more vintage spec offerings to tame your tone down to something that’s more classic Tele territory.
How do I install Telecaster pickups?
Depending on which set you choose there will potentially be quite a few steps in installing your newly bought Telecaster pickups. Many manufacturers offer drop-in replacements, and a few also ship with their own control plates and jack sockets. Some, like the EMG T set, even offer a solder-free installation which is great for those who don’t have experience.
For the most part, if you’re installing pickups yourself you’ll need a few tools and you’ll need to learn how to solder. It’s intimidating at first, but soldering is actually fairly simple once you get the hang of it, and with a little practice you can easily install your own pickups and even start modifying your wiring. We’ve got a great guide on how to change pickups on a Telecaster if you need extra help with this.
How we choose the best Telecaster pickups
MusicRadar's got your back Our team of expert musicians and producers spends hours testing products to help you choose the best music-making gear for you. Find out more about how we test.
At MusicRadar, our team consists of experienced guitarists and gear aficionados who have extensively explored the world of electric guitar pickups. With our deep appreciation for the iconic Telecaster tone, we have rigorously tested and analyzed numerous pickups to identify the best options available.
To compile our list of top Telecaster pickups, we combine our practical expertise, meticulous research, and insightful discussions with our editorial team. We consider factors such as tonal quality, versatility, build quality, and value for money to ensure we showcase the finest pickups for Telecaster guitars.
As dedicated musicians ourselves, we understand the significance of finding the perfect pickups to enhance your Telecaster's sonic capabilities. Whether you're chasing that classic twang, seeking warm vintage tones, or exploring more modern sonic territory, our goal is to provide reliable and informed recommendations that help you discover the ideal Telecaster pickups to suit your playing style and musical preferences.
Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar.