There are many variations of pickups that are made for guitars. In other articles I will discuss some of the details about the guts of the pickup. But for now I will give a high-level overview that may be helpful as your out looking at guitars and wondering about the different pickups you see on the guitars that are for sale in stores today. This list is not all-inclusive just the common configurations.
These have been around for years and were most common on fenders and still are today. They are known for having tone that has a clear “bell-like” quality. If you’re a fan of Pink-Floyd, the solos by David Gilmore are often played on a Stratocaster that with single coil. This represents the classic single coil tone. One drawback or charm depending on your perspective of these pickups are the distinctive hum they can have on some amplifiers. There are newer “noiseless” single coils, but if you have one that is modeled after the originals you may still run across the hum.
When this type of pickup was introduced, it offered a ‘fix’ for the single coil hum. Thus the name Humbucker. By having two sets or coils reverse wound it cancelled out the hum. These pick-ups tend to have a more output and have a thicker sound. My experience on some guitars has been the sound is a little muddier than the single coil.
When looking at guitars in the store some of them will have covers and look like a metal plate while others will look like to single coil pickups stuck together.
‘Lipstick” single coil:
Those these were first introduced by Danelectro, a variation of the single coil pickup typically (but not exclusively) found on the Fender Telecaster as a neck pick up. These tend to have less volume of sound than the bridge pickup on the telecaster. For this reason many player replace the original pickup with an aftermarket pickup. There are several to chose from Seymour Duncan is probably the better known brand.