Using the Guitar Pickup Selector

Using the Guitar Pickup Selector

The Gentle Art of Using the Guitar Pickup Selector (or how to make your bassplayer happy!)

This is a slightly tongue-in-cheek post, but I thought it might be informative. As resident bassist in New River I am constantly engaged in the bitterest acrimony with our guitarist (in my capacity as musical advisor) regarding the gentle art of using the guitar pickup selector when playing Hard Rock. A bitter feud has emerged due to my contention that the most appropriate pickup select for distorted rhythm guitar is the bridge pickup, and of course being a “back-seat- guitarist”, I’ve found it next to impossible to contain my opinion on this subject.

In the opinion of your humble Narrator, here are the following situations when it is acceptable to use your neck pickup:


You are doing a George Benson


notice pickup selection at 1’30”

When playing straight ahead jazz, the bridge pickup is an acceptable choice for both Comping and Soloing. Hell, you can even roll all the tone off.  Since Jazz drummers are known for their tact and finesse you can play Jazz at reasonable volume level.


You are  doing a Carlos Santana



Carlos Santana’s Lead Guitar sound is a great example of a “Woman Tone” – a pleasing and well rounded solo voice that melts in the listeners ear like butter! The main points here are that it’s a smooth and sustaining distorted sound with reduced treble. Santana’s rhythm section isn’t the most aggressive in the world, so this kind of lead sound can still cut through. Eric Clapton managed a similar trick in Cream by virtue of the fact he was playing with a 3-piece.


You are doing a Nile Rodgers


notice pickup selection at 1’30”

Nile is famed for his bone-dry clean rhythm guitar sound, showcased in Chic hits like “Le Freak”. A clean rhythm sound will cut through the mix (especially on a Strat) or other single coil guitar) Nile’s guitar pickup selector choice reflects the harshness of the trebles of the Strat’s bridge pickup. You can also try neck & middle or bridge & middle positions would be a good bet (sometimes inaccurately referred to as the “out-of-phase” sound). You can experiment with this kind of sound when you play with a rhythm section that leaves lots of space.


“I’m just trying to find the Bridge…”

All these wonderful examples truly showcase the splendid sound of the neck pickup. But when it comes to Hard Rock and Metal, the best pickup choice is clearly the bridge!! This is doubly true if your guitar has humbuckers! The neck pickup is simply too dark to cut through the mix. So if you’re playing Hard Rock rhythm guitar, and you want to cut through, select the bridge! Or I will come down to your rehearsal room and do a Jimi Hendrix on your guitar.



Be Safe Out There People

If you enjoyed this blantant display of opinionation, I think you be subtly intrigued by this cheeky little post I idley tossed off the other day…


  1. Umar
    April 18, 2018

    Annnnd… when you’re looking for a john mayer esq tone:


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