Every electric guitar uses one or more pickups to transfer sound from the strings to an amplifier. HSS (humbucker, single-coil, single-coil) defines a particular pickup configuration, in which a humbucker pickup is located at the bridge position with one single coil pickup near the neck, and another single coil pickup located in the center position. Popular guitar makers like Fender and Jackson offer HSS guitars, or guitarists can modify guitars to an HSS configuration.
All guitar strings produce sound when they vibrate. Acoustic guitars are designed so that the actual guitar body amplifies the sound of the strings. Electric guitars use pickups to convert the string vibrations into sound. An electric guitar's metal strings interact with the magnets in the pickup to create voltage that is converted into sound in the amplifier.
Single coil pickups use a single coil of wire to wrap around the pickup's magnetic poles. These poles are small magnetic rods spaced so that one lies under each guitar string. Single coil pickups have a clean, bright and undistorted sound, but they can produce a loud, unwanted hum.
A humbucker pickup is basically two single coil pickups linked together. This configuration increases the pickup's output power and reduces its hum. Humbuckers also have a "fatter" sound, producing more mid-range frequencies. The single coils of a humbucker are usually placed side-by-side, but some humbuckers are stacked, with one single coil sitting on top of the other.
Pickups positioned at the bridge of a guitar provide a sharper sound, but because there is less string vibration at the bridge they also have lower overall output. Pickups at the neck have a sound with fuller mid-range frequencies and have a higher overall output because the strings vibrate closer to the neck of the guitar.
Guitars often use a "hotter" or higher output pickup in the bridge position. A higher output pickup compensates for the lessened output of bridge pickups. Using a humbucker in this position also adds more mid-range and a fuller tone. The two single coil pickups don't need the high output of a humbucker because they are placed in higher output positions. HSS guitars also provide more sound options by allowing guitarists to use one, two or all of the guitar's pickups at once.
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