Best Overall: Porter Smooth/Classic Humbucker Set
Runner-Up: Bare Knuckle Rebel Yell Set
What Is A Boutique Pickup?
The best boutique pickups are generally handmade small batch pickups produced as they were back in the early days of electric guitar manufacturing.
These pickups are often fairly expensive due to the care and effort that goes into research, sourcing, assembling, and development.
You may be thinking, “it’s just wire and magnets. What’s the big deal?”
You take that back. Creating boutique pickups is an art form!
I regret to inform you that we are not discussing this kind of boutique.
You can also talk to people at many of these companies to walk you through how to make the sound in your head a reality.
Some companies will do a custom wind to get you just what you need. Ooh la la! You can find extremely faithful reproductions of 1950s Telecaster pickups or PAFs, for example.
We all love playing the DiMarzios and Seymour Duncans, but it can be fun to explore these specialized shops and see what gems we can extract.
Here are 9 of the best boutique pickups on the market. And there are so many more to explore. Have fun with this process; it’s arguably the main determinant of your guitar’s tone.
Porter Smooth/Classic Humbucker Set (Best Overall)
Coming out of Idaho, the potato state, this company has a stellar reputation for customer service and willingness to customize. And don’t forget the excellent pickups!
This set wins best overall for supremely balanced tone and stellar performance in multiple genres.
In fact, I was so impressed by this set I’m using it for my second crazy mod project. Stay tuned!
The Smooth Humbucker contains an Alnico II that provides fantastic balanced tone. Porter can adjust the wind on these based on your needs. Can you really put a price on this level of service?
Nice mid range tones and smooth transition into overdrive. Excellent sustain allows you to hit a note, kick your drunk brother-in-law out of your house, and still hear the note ringing when you return.
Crystal clean tones do not get muddy, making this a versatile pickup well-suited to multiple genres.
Porter Classic Humbucker Pickups are designed for vintage tones and distortion. They feature an Alnico V, and can also be custom wound to your desired output.
Cuts through the mix with sharp-yet-rich sounds. That warm vintage vibe makes this pickup a delight to play.
“Don’t behave as if you have a disorder, go out now and buy a Porter.” I want a cut if this gets used for t-shirts.
Bare Knuckle Rebel Yell Set (Runner-Up)
The Steve Stevens signature pickup from Bare Knuckle. Awesome.
Bare Knuckle pickups are expensive, but I have never, ever been disappointed with the results. People are going bananas for the Emerald in my first crazy mod project.
This is a hard rock humbucker, with highs that don’t get shrill and ice picky with intense gain. Like J-Lo, tight and articulate low end is apparent.
Exceptional versatility, great dynamic range. Precise. Clean harmonic overtones in coil split tone, if you’re into that scene.
A ray gun design is available for the pickup cover.
I don’t want to encourage physical violence, but you need more Bare Knuckle in your life!
Tom Anderson H Series
I’m going to pull the H Series details directly from the website:
H 1-: The perfect neck pickup to balance with the H2+ or H2 at the bridge, full, throaty neck humbucker tones that are never bloated, open, clear and rich, splits really well.
H 1: Same as the H1- above but with a little more output and fullness for additional oomph. Perfect balance for an H3 bridge pickup or those that want more neck fullness.
H 1+: Same layout as the H1- and H1 but with even a little more mids and lows for bigger neck tones. Occasionally this pickup can even find its way into the bridge position.
H 2: Medium hot and nicely balanced for mid power supported by clarity and thump.
H 2+: Perhaps our most popular bridge humbucker. Not too hot, not too cold but just right with a big low end. Full mids without giving up all the highs and lows.
H 3: Thicker, fuller and hotter than the H2+, this is where musical legato begins. Makes the picking hand feel completely fluid while still presenting more than just midrange-only tone.
H 3+: A step up from the H3 with a touch more gain and low end power.
I have only played the H1, which is fantastic and beefy, but based on my research and discussions, this entire line is well-loved by great guitarists.
These pickups are designed to be mixed-and-matched, so you crazy kids can go nuts and mix a 3+ with a 1, if you desire.
Lollar Imperial Humbucker
A boosted P.A.F.-style pickup with medium output and rich, full sustain. The bridge pickup’s output is higher than that of a pure vintage-style.
Woody notes with none of the muddiness that can plague some Les Paul-style pickups. Shimmering high end that doesn’t get weird and screechy. Perfect for hard blues.
Many people seem to love these in an SG, so keep that in mind.
Available in low-wind and high-wind varieties, a nice touch not often seen in the boutique pickup stratosphere.
The low-wind sounds rich, clear, and lively. Based on vintage 335 P.A.F.s, articulated low end and exceptional presence come standard with this model.
The high-wind is high output and tears into distortion so fast it will make your head spin! But it’s smooth, so the tonal transition isn’t jarring or scary. Pushes the upper limit of what’s considered vintage tone. So badass.
Imperials aren’t the best for coil splitting, but you won’t need it anyway. There are enough great tones in standard formation.
“Don’t buy eBay Chinese pickups to save a dollar, have some self-respect and order a Lollar.”
Tone in between vintage Gibson and Fender pickups; accented midrange fuzz with some Telecaster twang. Compressed sound that can get bass-heavy. I should get an award for trying to describe what these sound like.
Famous for use on Gretsch guitars, this set is focused on capturing the vintage sound of original Filter’Tron pickups. Smooth and balanced frequency response for rock, jazz, and rockabilly.
Slight ‘phaser’ layers sound very nice with medium overdrive. Balanced output level doesn’t send any of these tones into the stratosphere, which could easily happen with a hastily designed product.
Jangly. That’s the word I’m looking for. Put these in your Gretsch right now!
Monty’s PAF Humbucker
Amazing attention to detail sets this PAF replica apart.
Built using period-correct parts, you can even get ‘Patent Applied For’ stickers on the back of these pickups! Wow! These might even fool Norman’s Rare Guitars!
Microphonic, stereosonic, bionic. Sorry, I went into Beastie Boys mode.
Controllable microphonics and surprising pick articulation for this style of pickup. Wide dynamic range lets you easily cut through the mix.
Like original PAFs, these are wound by hand. Considered to be hot output pickups in the 50s, these now are on the lighter, more balanced end. There are some insane pickups out right now that would have Seth Lover quaking in his boots!
Look, these are the best PAF replicas you’re going to find on Earth, or even in the Milky Way! Install them ASAP!
Coils Mashup Strat
Coils Boutique is an interesting company out of Israel with a nice variety of pickups (including P-90s and Jazzmasters).
All pickups are hand-wound to order. Coils will make you a custom pickup based on what you describe as your desired sound. This is a nice service, but I’m not sure what I would say. “Make it sound good.”
The Mashup is a single coil pickup designed with versatility as the main goal. Slightly compressed with a wide frequency range, this pickup works well on stage or in the studio.
Rich, bell-like cleans and smooth, balanced distortion make this an incredibly useful professional pickup that will be perfect for your Squier mod.
ThroBak Broadcaster A5 Tele Set
Hand wound, alnico V magnets. Less twangy than traditional Telecaster pickups.
Designed for rock players. Higher output than you might expect.
Traditional in some ways, i.e., potted bridge pickup. This means that the coils are sealed with wax to prevent the wires from moving. This mitigates unwanted noise and microphonics.
Vintage correct pushback wire and flatware. Someone who isn’t paying attention will think they’re getting a true vintage pickup and have a heart attack after hearing the high output!
Klein Nocaster Epic Series
Nerd alert: Klein sent vintage fender magnets to a lab for analysis and then recreated the magnets based on the results.
The bridge pickup contains a unique blend Alnico III, and the neck pickup contains a unique blend Alnico V. I love when people get down to this level of detail! Truly one of the best boutique guitar pickups.
Klein also had vintage Telecaster wire analyzed. Can you guess what happened next? They recreated it!
Tone designed to replicate the famous blackguard Telecaster. Creamier than extra strength mayonnaise. Robust lows, fat mids, and smooth highs. Lord have mercy!
The Telecaster baseplates are custom designed based on vintage specs. They’re thicker than current plates and are zinc plated using 1950 methods.
If you want to go all in on a vintage Telecaster reproduction, you know who to call.