Many guitarists face the issue with the so-called muddy humbucker pickup. If you’re an experienced guitarist, you’ve probably dealt with the issue yourself. If not, there’s a good chance you’ll want to be prepared for when the moment comes. In other words: you’ll want to know how to brighten a muddy humbucker!

As always, here at Music Gear Heads, we’re here to answer some of the most commonly asked questions related to musical instruments. This one’s no exception (you’d know if you were to browse the forums). Anyway, in the text that you’re about to read, we’ll expand our answer to the how-do-you-brighten-a-muddy-humbucker question and introduce you to some additional humbucker-related info!

You could try increasing the distance between the humbucker and your guitar strings, or raising (even – removing) your pole pieces. Additionally, you can install a capacitor over one of the coils of your humbucker pickup. Lastly, you can try replacing your volume pot with the one that’s of an actual (not nominal) higher value.

Just a few lines in a preview ain’t enough to brighten a muddy humbucker. Read the whole thing!

What is a humbucker pickup?

First things first, let’s define the terms we’ll be using a lot today and answer some of the questions that always seem to revolve around our subject for today. We’ll begin by answering the most obvious one: what is a humbucker pickup?

In simplest words: a humbucker (or a humbucking pickup) is a certain type of guitar pickup. What’s so special about it? Well, it sports two-wire coils which cancel out the noisiness that comes from coil pickups. Also, it’s not like you’ll only find humbuckers installed on guitars. Some dynamic microphones also have ’em (because of all the electromagnetic hum that needs to be canceled).

Why is it called a humbucker?

One might ask: alright, but what’s the deal with the name? Here’s the thing: this type of guitar pickup was invented by Gibson’s musical engineer Seth Lover. Once they went public with the invention, they announced that humbucker pickups are meant to eliminate interferences from neon lights and exterior disturbances, greatly reduce the irritating feedback, and enhance the overall clarity of the sound. The product got its name from the way that it cut or buck the annoying hum.

What is a humbucker pickup good for?

You can say (without doubting the words you’re saying) that humbucker pickups are phenomenal because of two reasons:

  • They cancel out and suppress external noises. 
  • They provide players with a big, loud, and warm tone. 

Needless to say, they’re adored by guitarists worldwide (and here’s why some of them like to be adored themselves). More about their users in the paragraph below.

Is single coil better than humbucker?

Now, of course, this one can’t be answered by using a simple yes or no. It all depends on an individual guitarist’s preferences and the genre that they’re used to. Okay, so humbucker pickups enable you to produce a thicker, deeper, and smoother tone. On the other hand, the so-called single-coil pickups will make your guitar sound a bit brighter and crispier. Also, humbucker pickups are a favorite among jazz, hard-rock, and heavy-metal musicians, while their single-coil counterparts find their fans in surf and country guitarists.

Why are humbuckers used for jazz?

They’re loved by jazz guitarists (who also love heavy strings) since they provide the player with fantastic chord voicing definitions. Therefore, one can expect greater clarity in the mix. Also, leads will enjoy the advantages of using humbucker pickups. All in all: whether one prefers to go absolutely clean or a bit saturated (in terms of sound), humbucker pickups will be up to the task. 

Are humbuckers louder?

Here’s the thing: humbuckers are well-known to produce more output voltage than their single-coil siblings. However, does that they’re necessarily lounder? Nope. The loudness of your guitar will be determined more by your pedalboard, amplifiers, and speakers. You’ll find a lot more on guitar loudness, by checking out this piece on the loudness of an unplugged electric guitar.

Okay, that’s all the basic humbucker knowledge we’ve decided to share with you. It’s more than enough to get you ready for the main section of this article and the answer to the question: how do you brighten a muddy humbucker?

A white guitar with a humbucker pickup.

How do you brighten a muddy humbucker?

Here we go again with the “but first, let’s consider…” part. But, no, seriously, we absolutely need to answer what exactly is a muddy humbucker and what it means to brighten one! Experienced guitarists will probably yawn away this section. Therefore, feel free to skip if you belong to that club yourself.

What is a muddy tone?

We’ll be quick since this ain’t a hard one. Anyway, you’ll sometimes hear guitarists saying their tone sounds a bit muddy. That should mean their sound lacks clarity and definition. Also, it could signal that the sound is overloaded with too much bass and not enough highs. That’s about it.

Let’s consider the other one.

What is a bright tone?

According to musical experts, the bright tone has most of its spectral energy in the highs. Also, a bright tone is recognized as a high-pitched sound that an individual guitarist can compose with a sharp attack. Oh, and speaking of sharpness, you’ll want to check out this article.

Now that we’ve covered this, it’s time to finally answer the question (no more but, firsts).

So, how do you brighten a muddy humbucker?

We’ve gathered five ways you can do this. All of these actions will make the way your guitar sounds brighter:

  • Increase the distance between the humbucker and the strings. 
  • Raise the pole pieces. 
  • Remove the pole pieces. 
  • Wire humbucker coils parallelly (reduce bass and enhance treble). 

Also, you could try installing a capacitor over one of the coils. That might increase your highs and dramatically modify the frequency en général.

Some additional info

Here’s some additional guitarist’s advice: some say that to “de-mud” a humbucker pickup you need to change the volume pot with the one that’s of a higher value (and not just the nominal value). You’ll want a volume pot that really measures 550K. Once you’ve done this, you’ll notice there’s no more mud. Period. Also, this might be an easier solution than the ones we’ve mentioned above.

Pros vs. cons of using humbucker pickups

To reward your patience, we’ve chosen to broaden this piece on muddy humbucker pickups so it covers a wider array of humbucker-related issues. Here we’ll show you the pros and cons of using humbucker pickups every aspiring guitarist must know of!

PROS

Upstairs, we’ve mentioned some of the pros (outside noise cancelation, etc.). Let’s elaborate further on those advantages.

Humbucker pickups greatly reduce outside interference

As noted, with humbucker pickups guitarists can enjoy less outside interference. These pickups are cleverly designed to cancel any outside source of sound vibrations that might be nearby. What exactly does this mean? Well, just know that you won’t have to deal with the irritating hum or distortion right in the middle of your notes.

Humbucker pickups produce a warmer sound

Did you know that humbuckers are also adored for their warm sound? If you’ve read one of the paragraphs, you did know that. Anyway, this is made possible by their characteristic to pick up the vibrations of guitar string plucks on their resonating journey through your guitar’s body. That’s also the reason why you’ll commonly notice humbuckers installed on Gibson-like hollow-body models.

Humbucker pickups are pretty powerful

By using humbuckers, know that you’re utilizing the extra power of at least two aforementioned single-coil pickups. That’s because they’re designed to double up the power of a single-coil pickup.

Humbucker pickups allow better volume control

Humbucker pickups will additionally enable you to enjoy a high output to adjust. Therefore, you’ll have a lot more control over the sound that you’ll produce. The thing is: humbuckers provide guitarists with more range per volume change. In other words: by using humbuckers, they’ll enjoy more control over the mix of inputs they use. 

Also, and since the type of pickups in question remove any exterior interference, they allow you to hear the changes in their input tones with greater clarity than their single-coiled siblings. This will, of course, assist you in getting to know the combos that work best according to your own personal preference and taste.

CONS

Well, we won’t much about cons, since there’s really a single CON worth mentioning.

Humbucker pickups offer less sound clarity

The same thing that’s causing humbuckers to easily cancel out the unwanted noises is causing the tone to sound a bit muffled and less clear. That’s also the reason why some guitarists prefer single-coils. Now, we’re far from saying that it’ll swallow whole notes, but the tone will definitely sound a little less clear. Also, the so-called chime effect single coils are known for will be pretty deadened through a humbucker pickup, so… Yup, if you’re a fan of harmonics in your guitar playing, choosing humbuckers over single-coil shouldn’t be your thing

The bottom line

Alright, folks! That’s about all there’s to say about muddy humbuckers, ways you can get them to sound less muddy, and everything else humbucker-related. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed reading this one as much as we did writing it.

For more information on various themes and topics all related to the fantastic art of playing guitar, visit this page.