The best electric guitars to buy in 2023: 12 best single-pickup guitars

Looking for a new guitar with minimalist electronics?

Best Single Pickup Guitars 2022
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Ever look down at the array of switches, knobs and pickups on your guitar and long for a simpler life? Luckily, the single-pickup electric is a tradition that dates all the way back to the 1950s.

Whether you need a minimalist riff machine or a vintage-style beauty, there are countless options.

Why do guitarists use single-pickup guitars?

There are a number of reasons to use a guitar with only one pickup, most of which boil down to the appeal of limitations in a creative environment (we’ll touch on the physics in just a minute). For some players, the more switches and knobs there are on a guitar, the more mental RAM is taken up by keeping track of them as you play.

On a guitar with Les Paul-style dual-humbucker switching, you’ve got four knobs and a pickup selector switch to keep track of. Compare that to using a guitar with a single pickup with a single volume control, where if you look down and see a “10”, you’re good to go.

Having just one pickup can help you find creative ways to change up your sound, too: the dynamics of your playing have to take centre stage if you can’t just switch to a quieter pickup. Having reduced options, electronically, can lead to more interesting results musically.

And finally, there’s the approach of not having what you don’t need. Hence, rock and metal-focused guitars with only bridge pickups and jazz guitars with only neck pickups.

Magnets – how do they work?

If you’re in the market for a single-pickup guitar, you might have come across the following argument: single-pickup guitars sound inherently better than their multi-pickup counterparts because of physics. And it’s true – in theory.

As there’s less magnetic pull on the strings, they can move more freely. But it’s not long before subjective words like “chime”, and “punchiness” start to get thrown around. Essentially, yes, removing one half or two-thirds of the magnets from underneath your strings does in theory have an effect on their motion. But is this effect actually audible? That’s hard to say. Some swear that a guitar’s sound is made livelier with the removal of a neck pickup, whereas others can’t hear a difference at all.

There are often other factors at play. Often, the removal of a pickup isn’t the only change being made. And as hearing is so subjective (especially when you’re listening out for changes), it’s hard to truly quantify the sonic differences.

And so the effect of magnetic pull or a lack thereof can be overstated – whether it’s marketing from a manufacturer or someone telling you to ditch the neck pickup as it’s more “rawk” that way, tread carefully. Moving to one pickup won’t magically revitalise your sound, any more than changing from a maple to a rosewood fretboard will. But, if you try it out and prefer the sound, the feel or just the overall approach – then single-pickup guitars might just be for you!

The best single-pickup guitars to buy in 2023 at a glance:

  • Eastman SB55DC/v
  • Collings 290 DC S
  • Gibson Les Paul Junior
  • Epiphone Les Paul Junior
  • Reverend Sensei Jr
  • Squier Classic Vibe Esquire
  • Fender Noventa Telecaster
  • ESP LTD Arrow Black Metal
  • EVH Striped Series
  • Ibanez PM200NT Pat Metheny
  • Guild T-50 slim
  • Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin P90

Eastman SB55DC/v

Eastman SB55DC/v

+ Classic no-nonsense take on the junior
+ Gorgeous finish
– Not many concessions to modern design

Here we have a traditional Les Paul Junior-inspired guitar, with a double-cut body and a set neck. The body and neck are both made of okoume, with a single piece for each – leading to an incredibly solid yet lightweight feel.

Hardware consists of a Faber wraparound tailpiece. This can’t be intonated on a per-string basis – however, it is compensated. Other build specs remain true to the guitar’s vintage inspiration, with a 12-inch radius and 24.75-inch scale length.

The electronics do lend the guitar a modern edge: ​​the Lollar dogear P90 is wired to a no-load tone control, which lets even more treble through when you’re on 10. This means the guitar doesn’t have as “warm” a character as some vintage-inspired instruments, instead offering plenty of bite.

Price: £1,239 / $1,499
Build: One-piece okoume body, set okoume neck, ebony fretboard with 12” radius, 22 Jescar 47104-P frets, bone nut, custom Bakelite pickguard
Hardware: Faber compensated wrapover aluminium bridge, Faber vintage-style tuners, Gotoh strap buttons
Electronics: Lollar dogear P-90, master volume, no-load tone control
Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm

Read our full review here.

Collings 290 DC S

Collings 290 DC S

+ Some modern updates to a classic design
+ Top-of-the-line build quality
– Expensive

Collings’ 290 DC S is an ultra-premium take on the classic double-cut Junior. It’s constructed from hand-selected Honduran mahogany, with an extra-long tenon for the neck join, a slight comfort carve on the back of the body, and a very slightly longer-than-Gibson 24.875-inch scale length and a rosewood fretboard. It’s finished with an ultra-thin nitrocellulose, for a worn-in, resonant feel.

The pickup is a high-wind Lollar P90, wired in the traditional 50s style to 500k pots. This means lots of versatility, from pushing your amp to the edge of breakup to clear, restrained clean sounds on lower volumes.

And, of course, there’s Collings build-quality, which is notoriously excellent – if you’ve got the budget, this guitar could be worth every penny.

Price: £2794 / $2950
Build: Honduran mahogany body and set neck, 22 fret rosewood fingerboard with 12” radius
Hardware: Wraparound Kluson stop-bar, Gotoh tuners
Electronics: Lollar P90, volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 24.875”/632mm

Gibson Les Paul Junior

Gibson Les Paul Junior

+ Classic design straight from the source
+ Great pickup
– Chunky 50s neck not for everyone

Of course, while lots of builders are offering their own take on the formula – Gibson still makes its own Les Paul Junior. Its current single-cut offering features a mahogany neck and body, with a rosewood fretboard carved to 50s specifications. This means it’s quite the hand-filler, perfect if you want that classic Les Paul feel.

Hardware is also classic Gibson USA fare, including a nickel-plated wraparound hardtail. And as you might expect, the scale length measures in at 24.75 inches.

The pickup is a standard Gibson P90, offering a good full tone with modern-wired 500k pots.

Price: $1,599 / £1,349
Build: Mahogany body and set neck, 22 fret rosewood fingerboard with 12” radius
Hardware: Nickel wraparound tuner, vintage deluxe tuners
Electronics: Dog-ear P90, volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm

Epiphone Les Paul Junior

Epiphone Les Paul Junior

+ Affordable
+ Comfortable slim-taper neck
– Finish isn’t as good as the above

If you’re on a bit more of a budget, Epiphone’s latest Les Paul Junior offering (in its Inspired By Gibson range) is also a great entry point into the world of single-pickup guitars. It has very similar construction to its Gibson counterpart, with the most noticeable differences being the slim-taper neck rather than the 50s profile and an Indian Laurel fretboard rather than a Rosewood fretboard.

There’s also an Epiphone Pro P90 pickup, CTS pots, a mahogany body and neck, and a nickel Lightning Bar wraparound tailpiece. In all: a very solid single-cut Junior for the price

Price: $429 / £489
Build: Mahogany body and set neck, 22-fret Indian Laurel fingerboard with 12” radius
Hardware: Lightning Bar wraparound tailpiece, Epiphone tuners
Electronics: P90 Pro pikcup, volume and tone controls.
Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm

Reverend Sensei Jr

Reverend Sensei Jr

+ Reverent bass contour control adds versatility to single-pickup
+ Korina is light, resonant but full-sounding
– Offset, spiky looks not for everyone

Reverend’s Sensei Jr takes a classic Les Paul Junior guitar and puts a number of Reverend-specific twists on it. Firstly, the neck and body are constructed with Korina, providing a along with a rosewood fretboard. The offset, double-horned body is a unique and angular take on the shape, and the dramatic swoop on the lower horn provides tonnes of access to all 22 frets.

The pickup is Reverend’s own CP90. You’ll notice there are three knobs here: the standard volume and treble control are joined by a bass contour control, a passive bass-roll-off knob that allows you to change between a full, bassy voice and a more classic, biting sound.

Price: $899 / £729
Build: Korina body and set neck, 22-fret Blackwood Tek fretboard with 12” Radius
Hardware: Two-piece hardtail, Reverend Pin Lock tuners
Electronics: Reverend P90, volume, tone and bass contour controls
Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm

Squier Classic Vibe 60s Custom Esquire

Squier Classic Vibe 60s Custom Esquire

+ Classic Esquire designs
+ Great pickup and switchin option
– Laurel fretboard might deter some

Along with the Les Paul Junior, the Fender Esquire is a classic amongst single-pickup guitars. It is essentially a Telecaster with no neck pickup. Or, the Telecaster is an Esquire with an added neck pickup, depending on your outlook on life).

At the moment, Fender doesn’t offer a mainline Esquire guitar, but one does exist in Squier’s excellent Classic Vibe range. This has a good selection of vintage specifications, including a three-saddle bridge, and a vintage-voiced (and Fender-designed) Alnico single-coil.

The switch, rather than choosing between pickups, chooses three different tones: either bypassing the tone pot, having it operate as normal, or heavily filtering the sound. This adds some versatility to the single-pickup approach, letting you change things up mid-song without too much trouble.

Price: £381.99 / $539.99
Build: Nato body, bolt-on maple neck and 9.5” radius laurel fretboard
Hardware: 3-Saddle vintage-style string-through bridge, vintage-style tuners
Electronics: Fender-designed alnico single-coil, volume control, tone control, tone selector switch
Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm

Fender Noventa Telecaster

Fender Noventa Telecaster

+ Striking looks
+ Best of both worlds
– Might not convert those strongly in the corner of either Gibson or Fender camps

Fender’s new Noventa Telecaster resembles a The Fly-style teleporter accident between an Esquire and a Les Paul Junior. There’s a single P90 in the bridge, wired to just a volume and a tone control (no tone-adjusting blade switch here). These controls find themselves in a stylish cut-off Telecaster control plate, which is joined by a three-brass-barrel-saddle hardtail Telecaster bridge.

The body is made of alder, and joined by a bolt-on fully maple neck. It is in some ways the best of both worlds: the brightness and snap brought by Fender’s bolt-on construction and longer scale, with the power and character of a bridge P90 pickup.

Price: $999.99 / £699
Build: Alder body, bolt-on maple neck with 9.5” radius maple fretboard
Hardware: 3-Saddle Custom “Cut-Off” Vintage-Style Tele bridge
Electronics: Fender Noventa P90, volume and tone control
Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm

ESP LTD Arrow Black Metal

ESP LTD Arrow Black Metal

+ No-nonsense design tuned for fast, aggressive playing
+ Sleek, minimalist look despite the metal stylings
– Overtly metal design might deter those looking for a more versatile instrument

The LTD Arrow Black Metal isn’t going to find itself on many ‘best guitars for blues rock’ lists any time soon – it’s a bona-fide modern-metal monster, with a single high-output humbucker, locking vibrato and supremely angular design.

The thin neck and flat ebony fretboard make it perfect for speedy shredding across the neck, while the single EMG 81 active humbucker in the bridge position is a tried-and-true metal staple. There’s even a killswitch, too, and the satin finish gives the guitar a sleek, premium look to complement its none-more-black design.

Price: £1,059 / $1,099
Build: Mahogany body with neck-through maple neck, 24-fret Macassar ebony fretboard
Hardware: Floyd Rose 1000
Electronics: EMG 81 humbucker, volume control, kill switch
Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm

EVH Striped Series

EVH Striped Series

+ Fine-tuned superstrat with a fun look
+ D-Tuna is very helpful for the setup-averse
– Classic rock look might deter some

For a stripped-back riff machine that evokes retro rather than modern metal, EVH’s Striped Series is a great option. Featuring the classic striped superstrat look unique to Eddie Van Halen, a single volume control managing a Wolfgang humbucker. The neck is fine-tuned for speedy shredding, with a 12-16-inch compound radius fretboard and a hand-rubbed satin finish on the back in

The vibrato is an EVH-branded Floyd Rose with an EVH D-Tuna – this allows you to quickly put your guitar into drop tunings without having to re-balance the entire setup, something that can be a pain with a regular double-locking vibrato.

Price: $1,349.99 / £799.00
Build: Basswood body with bolt-on maple neck, 12”-16” compound-radius maple fretboard with 22 jumbo frets
Hardware: EVH-branded Floyd Rose, EVH D-Tuna, Gotoh Tuners
Electronics: Wolfgang humbucker, volume control
Scale Length: 25.5”/648mm

Ibanez PM200NT Pat Metheny

Ibanez PM200NT Pat Metheny

+ Gorgeous aesthetics
+ Large-body for bright resonance
– Expensive

Here we move into the world of single-pickup jazz guitars. Rather than having only a bridge pickup, these guitars have only a neck pickup for the classic warm, full sound, accentuated by fully-hollow construction. First we have Ibanez’s signature model for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, loaded with a single Super 58 Custom humbucker. There’s a large maple hollowbody, with a set mahogany neck and ebony fretboard.

The Super 58 Custom is revered by players from across the genre, and its medium output allows for the full character of the guitar’s large maple hollowbody to shine through.

Price: $3,599.99 / ‎£2,555
Build: Fully-maple hollowbody with set mahogany neck and a 12-inch radius ebony fretboard
Hardware: Tune-o-matic-style bridge on ebony base, ebony tailpiece,
Electronics: Single Super 58 humbucker in neck position, volume and tone control
Scale Length: 24.7″/628mm

Guild T-50 Slim

Guild T-50 Slim

+ P90 offers clear, dynamic sounds
+ Thinline body for those who don’t like extra-deep guitars
– Non-cutaway design not for everyone

If the full-size jazzbox looks like it’ll be ergonomically problematic, but you still want that classic sound, the T-50 slim could be for you. It features a Franz dogear P90, wound to a medium-low output for articulate, clear cleans and light overdrive sounds. It certainly looks the part, too, with the iconic Guild tailpiece imparting a lot of character.

The fully-maple hollowbody has a 1.75-inch depth, definitely a lot slimmer than full-depth jazz guitars. One benefit of this shallower depth, alongside the ergonomic benefit, is that at louder volumes the guitar is less likely to create unwieldy feedback.

Price: $1,199
Build: Fully maple slim hollowbody, 2-piece set mahogany neck, 9.5” ebony fretboard with 20 narrow jumbo frets
Hardware: Guild harp tailpiece, pinned tune-o-matic bridge, Grover Stay-Tite open-gear tuners
Electronics: Franz P90, volume and tone controls
Scale Length: 24.75”/629mm

Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin P90

Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin P90

+ Affordable
+ Gorgeous aesthetics
– Flat fretboard radius not for everyone

This single-pickup archtop features a body made of Canadian wild cherry, along with a maple neck and rosewood fretboard. The fingerboard bears a rather flat 16-inch radius, making it ideal for either expressive lead playing or even retaining a slide setup without compromising the action.

The pickup, a Godin Kingpin P90, is voiced to be just a hair more aggressive than vintage P90s, meaning you can get an extra edge when things are set to 10 – dial back on the volume and tone a little bit, however, and classic vintage jazz tones are easily accessible.

The aesthetics are certainly here too, with a polished satin finish on the Canadian cherry body lending it a well-worn (but not relic’d) look.

Price: $699 / £719
Build: Canadian wild cherry top, back and sides, silver leaf maple set neck, 16-inch radius rosewood fretboard
Hardware: Graph Tech Tusq adjustable bridge, trapeze tailpiece, open-gear nickel tuners
Electronics: Godin Kingpin P90, one volume, one tone
Scale Length: 24.84”/631mm

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