Telecaster Pickups for Rock – Buyer’s Guide for Telecaster Owners!

When Leo Fender created the Telecaster in 1951 he defined a generation of musicians. The guitar became one of the most popular electric guitars in the entire world. Built with the western swing in mind, the Telecaster is known for its bright, country-style tanginess and for its deep, rich, low-end tones. 

Despite its original intended usage, the Telecaster is popular among rock players. Sure, it might not have the versatility of a Stratocaster, but the Telecaster is a guitar capable of many genres — and it doesn’t always need the famous Telecaster1 tone.

You see, guitar pickups are easily changeable; musicians aren’t shoehorned into the tone for the style their guitar was designed for. The possibility of changing guitar pickups for ones that provide the sound you’re looking for is always there.

In this article, I’ll review the best-suited Telecaster pickups for rock and similar styles.

Best Choice
Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Telecaster Pickups
Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Telecaster Pickups
Best Telecaster Pickup for Rock
This is the only pickup capable of giving you the classic Telecaster sound. With this pickup, a guitar will sound like a Telecaster from the ‘50s. It excels in a clean tone, it’s good with distortion as well.
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When it comes to rock, you want pickups to handle large amounts of distortion and overdrive without sounding muddy. However, they should not be too dark — unlike heavier genres, such as metal, rock also relies on cleaner tones.

The pickups on this list are capable of handling both ends of the spectrum. Sure, they won’t be super bright, but bright enough to offer some versatility.

Best Telecaster Pickups for Rock — Comparison Table

ImageProduct 
best tele pickup for rock
Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Telecaster Pickups review
Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Telecaster Pickups
  • Sounds as a classic Telecaster should
  • Bright and snappy on the bridge, warmer and fatter on the neck
  • Sounds great both clean and distorted

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for classic rock
DiMarzio DP384 Special Chopper Tele Bridge Pickup review
DiMarzio DP384 Special Chopper Tele Bridge Pickup
  • Great mid and low-end
  • Crunchy, aggressive sound

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best choice
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Set review
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Set
  • Raw, Texas-style sound
  • Increased sustain
  • Punchy mids

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also great
Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Pickup - (Bridge Position) review
Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Pickup - (Bridge Position)
  • Shines with distortion
  • Aggressive
  • High output

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Honorable Mention
DiMarzio DP318 Super Distortion T Tele Humbucker Pickup review
DiMarzio DP318 Super Distortion T Tele Humbucker Pickup
  • Excellent for metal players
  • Aggressive and loud

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Best Telecaster Pickups for Rock Review

1. Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Telecaster Pickups – Best Telecaster Pickup for Rock

Features

  • Sounds like a classic Telecaster
  • Bright and snappy on the bridge, warmer and fatter on the neck
  • Sounds great both clean and distorted

Fender Custom Shop Texas Special pickups, simply put, they are fantastic. They make a Telecaster sound as it did in the ‘50s, perhaps even better.

When playing in a clean setting, these pickups have the brightness and the twang of a Telecaster. The bridge pickup is thin and brilliant with an amazing mid and high-end. Turn on the distortion, and the warmer neck pickup has a chance to shine offering a great rock and roll sound.

Despite sounding good when distorted, they sound the best when played clean. Remember, Fender is taking these pickups back to the Telecaster conception, and distortion wouldn’t be widespread until a few years later.

While the CS Texas Special is versatile enough to be used by most Telecaster players, it is better suited for individuals who love the classic Telecaster1 sound. They’re loud, clear, and with a vintage tone.

They’re not cheap but quality has a fee. Besides the price-to-performance ratio, these pickups are awesome. You can’t get a better Telecaster sound than with the Custom Shop Texas Special. 

Why does the neck pickup have three wires?

The third wire can be used to ground out the pickup cover or to install a 4-way switch with no need for further modifications.

Does the neck pickup sound like a Stratocaster or Telecaster?

Although it has some Strat-like qualities, it still manages to sound like an ordinary Telecaster pickup.

Do these pickups fit in a G&L Telecaster copy? 

Affirmative, if the guitar has two single-coil pickups with an ashtray bridge (like a typical Fender Telecaster would). If the guitar has humbucker pickups, these single-coil pickups won’t fit. 

Who this is for?

Someone who loves the classic Telecaster sound.

Why I like it?

These pickups sound as a Telecaster pickup should.

2. DiMarzio DP384 Special Chopper Tele Bridge Pickup – Best Telecaster Pickup for Classic Rock

Features

  • Great mid and low-end
  • Crunchy, aggressive sound

The Special Chopper is a rail-style humbucker that concentrates power on the low and mid ends and gives the guitar a mean, crunchy, aggressive sound.

Although initially designed for the bridge position, you can also install the Special Chopper in the neck — but pair it with a humbucker on the bridge. This pickup can be installed with a single-coil pickup on the bridge, but it might not proffer the best tone. 

This pickup asks for some distortion so it can unleash its full gritty sound. It also manages to sound decent when played clean; without the Telecaster twang, yet a more than acceptable tone.

Is there a string spacing problem using this pickup with a hardtail bridge instead of the regular Telecaster bridge?

A standard Telecaster, string spacing will not be a problem. This is a standard, not a pole-piece pickup.

Does this pickup match with a Special Texas pickup in the neck, or will there be a difference in volume?

The pickups should match. If there’s a noticeable difference in volume, you can adjust the pickup height until the audio of both pickups is similar.

What styles is this pickup good for?

Although there are hotter pickups available, this pickup sounds best when heavily distorted.

Who this is for?

Someone trying to achieve a heavier sound than that of the classic Telecaster.

Why I like it?

The Special Chopper sounds bold when paired with another humbucker and is decent when played clean. 

3. Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Set 

Features

  • Raw, Texas-style sound
  • Increased sustain
  • Punchy mids
One of the great things about music is the ability to express oneself. Sometimes that means not being constrained by convention and having to innovate. Why should a Telecaster have to sound like a Telecaster?

The Seymour Duncan2 Pearly Gates will alter the tone of a guitar. In fact, instead of a Telecaster, these pickups will make the guitar sound like a Billy Gibbons ’59 Les Paul.

These pickups will deliver that Texas outlaw tone- a raw sizzle with punchy mids that cut through any mix and with a twangy attack.

The Pearly Gates have an increased sustain and are great for southern-styles- anything that gets better with extra grittiness, from blues to hard rock and with everything in between.

Do these pickups come with new pots?

No. They do not.

Is it a long leg or short leg pickup?

The former- this pickup is long leg. 

Does this set come with all the necessary assembly hardware?

This set has the screws and springs. It doesn’t come with mounting rings. 

Who this is for?

Someone who thrives with some dirt on its guitar tone.

Why I like it?

These pickups make you feel like you’re in ZZ Top. 

4. Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Pickup – (Bridge Position)

Features

  • Shines with distortion
  • Aggressive
  • High output

The Seymour Duncan Hot Rails is another “humbucker-but-not-quite” pickup. They are dual-coil, but the coils are so close together (it can fit on a single-coil slot), the pickup ends up sounding like a single-coil pickup than to a humbucker.

Despite its tone being similar to a single-coil pickup, the Hot Rails shines with distortion. It’s fantastic for the more dynamic styles of rock since it supplies plenty of crunchy, high output mids.

With this pickup, we’re not going for a Telecaster sound; the tone will be punchier and more sizzling.

This is a great Telecaster Pickup if you plan on going heavy – it’s raw and crunchy, and the volume will not be a problem.

Is this a single pickup or a set?

This is a single pickup.

Is this a humbucker or a single-coil pickup?

This is a humbucker pickup designed to fit in a single-coil pickup slot.

Does this pickup have a two-wire or a four-wire connection?

It has a four-wire connection and it comes with detailed install instructions.

Who this is for?

Someone looking to play distorted sounds.

Why I like it?

The Seymour Duncan Hot Rails can go uproarious while still sounding great.

5. DiMarzio DP318 Super Distortion T Tele Humbucker Pickup

Features

  • Excellent for metal players
  • Aggressive and loud

The name of this pickup should be a caution. The DiMarzio Super Distortion T is the Telecaster bridge version of the renowned humbucker — a dirty, aggressive, and boisterous accessory.

The Super Distortion T is a fine choice if you’re looking for a loud and mean pickup, not the classic Telecaster sound.

This pickup is great for loud and heavy themes and a favorite among metal players. It’s a good way to change the Telecaster without spending too much.

This is not the best choice If you’re looking for versatility, then however, it’s still possible to achieve something akin to a single-toil tone by coil-splitting this pickup.

Who this is for?

Someone wanting to get a metal tone from a Telecaster.

Why I like it?

This pickup sounds terrific while having a great tone.

Best Telecaster Pickups for Rock Buyer’s Guide

Best Telecaster Pickups for Rock

Telecaster Pickups Wiring

How does a guitar pickup work?

Guitar pickups are made of coil wire wrapped around magnets. This creates a magnetic field that gets disturbed by a string’s vibration. Besides helping create the magnetic field, the wires also function as an antennae, which capture these small disturbances and translate them into an electrical signal.

This electrical signal can then be transmitted to an amplifier where it can be reconverted into audio.

How to change pickups on a guitar?

Before changing the pickups, some tools will be necessary:

  • Soldering iron and some solder
  • A Phillips head screwdriver
  • A sharp blade (such as an Exacto knife)
  • Wire cutters

Once you have the tools, access the wiring. The wiring location can change depending on the guitar, so look it up if need be.

Then, de-solder the pickup wiring to disconnect them. You might need to unscrew the pickups before you can remove them.

Revert the entire process afterward. Solder the new pickups in (most pickups come with wiring diagrams) and fasten them in.

How to clean guitar pickups?

Cleaning a guitar pickup is easy- wipe it down with a clean, dry cloth, and it’s done. Never use a fluid as it can damage the electronics.

How to get a rock sound from an electric guitar?

The tone of the guitar will depend on a combination of factors. The guitar components, its strings, and its pickups will define its tone, but the amplifier which is connected to is also important.

There is no magical setting that makes the guitar sound like rock. When people think about rock, they usually think of an overdrive sound — tinker with the overdrive setting on the amp until you find a tone that suits your ears.

Conclusion

Just because the classic Telecaster tone sounds great doesn’t mean that your Telecaster has to sound similar; guitars are adaptable, and you can make them unique.

If you’re just trying to get the Best Telecaster tone from your guitar, then the Fender Texas Special is the ideal choice.

There are plenty of viable alternatives in my list, however. If a more metal tone is what you’re after, the DiMarzio Super Distortion is an excellent choice.

The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates is great for that ZZ Top, unfiltered Texas sound.

Although each pickup3 has its character, you can’t go wrong with any of these. They all sound great to me. And what is your opinion?

  1. https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/20371/Final%20Thesis-Snook.pdf
  2. http://sites.science.oregonstate.edu/chemistry/blakemore/photogallery/guitar_collection.html
  3. http://www2.ece.rochester.edu/courses/ECE140/resources/Guitar-Project/Mag_pickups.pdf

About the author

John Tschop

John Tschop

I am a music fan who is fond of different instruments and genres. The member of Klinger-McFry Band. We launched StereoShore to discuss proven tips, tutorials, and insights.

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