Mini Humbucker Pickups: Why They Stand Out
Posted on November 15 2022
The difference between various pickups can influence what tone your guitar has. To understand exactly what that tonal difference is between the mini-humbucker pickups and other guitar pickups, you need to figure out the history and how they work. Musicians chasing after a vintage tone know that not every old pickup is good, but the best ones are titans in sound that blow the competition out of the water. Guitar pickups are where the sound starts. If you aren't getting the sound you want, guitar pickups are where the physical vibration of the string turns into a signal, which becomes your sound.
If you want a bark like the late 60s Les Paul Deluxe with a chime like a single coil, mini-humbuckers are where you want to look. The ability of the coil to work is different due to its size. That doesn't mean they are worse than regular humbuckers. In fact, it lends a unique and bright sound that you can't get anywhere else. The clarity with which mini-humbuckers can swing their range tonally is one of their biggest perks. If you still want a snarl and growl but also want to push it all the way into jazz and blues, then you can with a mini-humbucker.
Mini-Humbuckers Are Made How?
A mini-humbuckers size and sound sits between a single-coil and a full-size humbucker. About the same size as a P-90 pickup, mini-humbuckers were initially wound using enamel insulated wire. This technique and smaller size make a mini-humbucker a cross tonally between a single-coil and a humbucker, but even that comparison doesn't do the sound justice.
Mini-humbuckers have two coils that still buck the hum with their polarity, but with the smaller size, it's so much brighter. Since mini-humbucker pickups pick up the magnetic field closer to the bridge, the pickup bucks the hum with a chime, and they have one bar magnet under each coil and adjustable pole pieces. Instead of having screws and slugs, the mini-humbucker pickups have a place in the middle where a hole is. In a mini-humbucker, screws are on one side, and a ferrous metal steel bar goes on the other. The magnet sits underneath it. Since strings are made of ferrous material (iron, steel, and iron-content metals), matched coils make certain that the only frequency the guitar pickups sense is the string vibrating in the magnetic field. Your amplifier then converts this to sound by picking up the alternating current that is generated by the string frequency.
The sonic character of a mini-humbucker is akin to a PAF humbucker. The smoother attack adds a grind when the amp pushes into distortion. The tone is different as the size of the core changes the inductance. Since inductance affects the frequency response, the mini-humbucker pickups sense a focused area of the strings. The smaller size generated slightly different magnetic fields, which is how guitar pickups generate different sounds. Swapping in a quality mini-humbucker pickup makes the sound clearer and adds a snarl.
You Keep Saying PAF…
Hold up a second, what's PAF? PAF stands for "patent applied for." Humbuckers and mini-humbuckers that were developed before the patent was put in are called "patent applied for" pickups. PAF humbuckers and PAF mini-humbuckers came out before the patent application went through and were the early ones after 1958. Vintage PAF humbuckers are sought after and usually cost a lot of dough, but authentic recreations are a fantastic way to get that vintage sound.
The Mini-Humbucker History
When Gibson bought out Epiphone in 1957, they eventually stopped production of the pickups used on Epiphone guitars. The original single coil pickups, called ToneSpectrum, were phased out in favour of the mini-humbucker pickups, which fit on guitars like the Epiphone Sheraton. The new mini-humbucker pickups were included on the Epiphone electric line when it was revamped. One of the earliest models to be fitted with a mini-humbucker was the '61 Epiphone Crestwood Custom.
In the 1960s-70s, Gibson used the mini-humbucker pickups to replace the P-90 single-coil guitar pickups on a few Gibson models. Vintage PAF guitar pickups had a unique sound, and early PAF mini-humbucker pickups were no different. Most people are familiar with Seth Lover's 1950 PAF humbucker, as it's among the most widely recreated guitar pickups.
More Mid, Less Noise
The narrower make of the mini-humbucker means they sense a smaller part of the string vibration. It kicks out some of the bass sounds, lending a bright, focused sound. With more mid-range poke and less noise, a good vintage mini-humbucker has a dynamic range to match a vintage Strat or Telecaster pickup. The amount of sound you can get out of a little pickup is impressive. It's easy to replace a P-90 with a mini-humbucker, as you don't usually need to reroute the body. Mini-humbucker pickups in the middle position are cleaner and possess a snap and twang without giving up that hum cancel.
Even with dirty added in, mini-humbuckers produce brighter tones—Pete Townshend of The Who used Gibson Les Paul Deluxe guitars in the 1970s with mini-humbuckers. Mini-humbucker pickups are popular on jazz guitars with their bright tones and top-end clarity, but musicians looking for a vintage sound need to try a vintage recreated PAF mini-humbucker. The nickel silver plates are crucial to that vintage sound. The goal is to allow yourself to hear what you're playing, even when you're playing with a band without a high amp.
Buck the Hum but With Range
Mini-humbuckers are overlooked, and it's a shame. The vintage, classic sound of a PAF mini-humbucker is perfect on a bridge pickup. They go from chime, bright, and clean all the way to snarl tonally without the loose, muddy bass of a normal-sized humbucker. You shouldn't have to crank your amp up to hear your sound. Rich mids with a clear tone mean you can dial in to listen to the frequency, even if you're in a band. Much of the music we love from the 60s to 70s used mini-humbuckers to create their iconic sound. Breaking out of the mould and trying different guitar pickups can change your sound to be tighter and brighter for a perfect sweet spot.