Most guitars usually have two pickups, the treble pickup, and rhythm pickup. If you just started learning the guitar, you have probably come across the term “treble pickup” and “rhythm pickup.” Intermediate and advanced guitar players probably know what they are.
However, the difference between a treble and rhythm pickup for many newbies who just picked up a guitar can be hard to understand.
After some hours of research, this article has everything you need to know about the two types of pickups and how they differ. If this is something you’re interested in learning, then let’s jump right into it.
What is Rhythm Pickup?
Rhythm pickup simply refers to the pickup that is found at the guitar’s neck. This pickup is commonly referred to as neck or bass pickup. The term rhythm pickup is commonly found in Les Paul-style guitars. Rhythm tones are characteristically transparent and clean tones that are rounder and warmer.
Rhythm pickup is located next to the guitar’s fretboard or close to the end of the neck and is made up of relatively less wire. This is partly responsible for the much lower sound it produces. This pickup involves more chords as well.
What is Treble Pickup?
Treble pickup refers to the pickup found close to the guitar’s bridge. Due to this, it is also known as the bridge pickup. Sounds from bridge pickups are usually sharp and bright.
They have a characteristic high-frequency sound known as treble, which is crisp and clear. This is how the name treble pickup was coined.
Treble pickups are usually used to play lead guitar sections. Due to this, in some circles, tones generated from treble pickup are referred to as lead tones. These tones are brighter and sharper, as I mentioned earlier.
And this makes them stand out and cut through in a mix. In plain terms, it is easy to hear treble pickup sounds over other musical instruments when they are all being played.
Treble pickup sounds also give a better note separation, which enables you to produce the classic rock and heavy metal guitar sound. Thus, you can play them through a heavily distorted amp without mushing up your tone.
Similarities Between Rhythm and Treble Pickup
Pickups are simply magnets with thousands of couple wires surrounding them that pick up the sound you play on a guitar string and amplify them. They enable you to color the sound you generate from your guitar.
A rhythm pickup and a treble pickup are basically made up of the same components. They are both made up of wires, magnets, cores, and a housing or packaging.
This part may sound a bit technical, but I’ll try and make it as simple as possible. But let’s continue.
The wires in rhythm and treble pickups help shape the sound produced from both pickups, while the magnet strengthens the impact of the sound produced by the pickup.
The cores are also responsible for creating a magnetic field that affects the tone produced. Finally, the packaging is basically the outer casing of a guitar pickup. It helps to shield the internal components and reduce unwanted noises.
Differences Between Rhythm and Treble Pickup
Rhythm and Treble Pickups Sound Different
One of the main differences between rhythm and treble pickups is the tone of the sound they produce. The tone of the sound produced by both pickups sounds distinctly different.
This is because you will not get the same tone when you pick near the bridge and when you pick at the neck. I will explain why this is so later in this article.
The tone produced by the treble pickup is brighter than that of the rhythm pickup. Rhythm pickup tones typically sound warmer and mellow, while sound from the treble pickup has increased treble content.
This means that the tone you get from the rhythm pickup is relatively softer and has more low-end than the tone from the treble pickup. But, on the other hand, treble pickups sound brighter than treble pickups.
Due to the characteristic tones produced by each pickup, the treble pickup is usually used for lead guitars and music with heavier styles. It enables the guitar sound to stand out from the rest of the band.
Just as its name goes, the rhythm pickup is typically used for rhythm guitars and for playing clean tones due to this crisp tone.
Rhythm Pickup is Louder than Treble Pickup
Apart from the pickup selector, most guitars come with tone and volume knobs for each pickup. However, even without using the volume knobs, when you listen critically, you will notice a volume decrease when you play at the treble pickup position.
This is because the rhythm pickup is closer to strings that are bigger and loose. These strings are more elastic and less stiff as well. Due to this, they have movement and vibrate more to produce louder sounds.
On the other hand, treble or bridge pickup is close to the part of the strings that are tighter and stiffer.
Due to this, their vibrations do not produce a sound that is as loud as that from rhythm pickups. This is why the sound produced by the rhythm pickup is louder than that which is produced at the treble pickup.
Why Do Rhythm and Treble Pickup Sound So Different?
The reason why rhythm and treble pickups sound so different can be mainly attributed to the difference in their positions on a guitar. This is because the movement of guitar strings differs from one position to the other.
Thus, the location of these two pickups directly affects the movement of the guitar strings in those positions.
At the treble/bridge position, the string tension is much higher. Strings that are at or closer to the bridge are less mobile and relatively stiff when you play them. The vibration of guitar strings at the bridge and the nut are tighter.
Due to this, the strings at the bridge produce higher frequency sounds when struck. The tightness of the string at the bridge is also responsible for the focused and bright sound produced by the treble pickup.
However, guitar strings tend to vibrate more in the middle of the string and are looser. This can be attributed to the fact that, as you move away from the bridge, the elasticity of the strings increases.
This means the strings get relatively less stiff when you move from the bridge and edges. Hence, they have greater room and potential for movement.
Rhythm/neck pickups are closer to these middle strings. Due to this, when rhythm pickups are struck, they produce more volume and output.
Therefore, the relative positions of the rhythm and treble pickups are what are responsible for the significant difference in the sound they produce.
When Should I Switch to a Different Pickup?
The truth is, there is no formula or rule that governs when you should switch from one pickup to the other. It all depends on your preference as a guitarist and the kind of sound you intend to create. Thus, all you need to do is to try out different pickup configurations and experiment with them to find the right one for you.
Thankfully, electric guitars with more than one pickup are also bound to have a pickup selector. A pickup selector is simply a blade or switch that is used to either independently activate the bridge pickup or neck pickup, or both.
This pickup selector is also known as a toggle switch. The pickup selector is usually marked as rhythm and treble, which enables you to choose the active pickup.
Guitars with two pickups come with a three-way pickup selector switch. Generally, while holding the guitar, a pickup selector that is pointed to the right or downwards activates the treble pickup. Likewise, the rhythm pickup gets activated when the pickup selector points to the left or upwards.
It is worth noting that you can use both pickups together. Placing this toggle switch in the middle allows you to select both pickups at once. Thus, doing this allows you to combine both pickups.
Using both pickups together gives you a great mid-range response. When you use both pickups together, what it essentially means is that you get to use the best of both pickups.
On the other hand, electric guitars with three pickups have a five-way pickup selector. Therefore, depending on your personal preference, you can switch from one pickup to the other or use both pickup combinations at any point in time.
Rhythm and treble pickups are also known as neck and bridge pickups, respectively. They get these names from the location they are found on a guitar. Rhythm or neck pickup produces a sound that is quite deeper, while the treble or bridge pickup produces a brighter and crisper sound.