If you’re curious about the HH vs HSS pickup configuration and how they compare, you’ve come to the right post!
I’m not exactly a guitar expert, but I have played since 2003 and know a thing or two about the instrument.
So which setup is better?
I’ll unpack this more in the sections below.
Pickup Configurations Explained
What’s great about electric guitars is that they are super-flexible. Of course, the instrument itself doesn’t do much without amps or other devices. But it’s the pickups that make a big difference in the guitar’s tone.
As you may already know, there are several different pickup configurations. Although the possibilities here are endless, we have three basic positions. These are:
In most cases, we have two or three pickups. And these can either be single-coils or humbuckers.
We can classify guitars according to pickup combinations in different positions. H stands for humbucker and S stands for single-coil. So you can probably see where I’m going with this when you see two or three letters in a row. They represent pickups from the bridge to the neck position. If there are two letters, then it’s only about bridge and neck, unless specified.
These are some of the most common pickup configurations:
- SSS (single-single-single)
- HH (humbucker-humbucker)
- HSS (humbucker-single-single)
- SS (single-single)
- HSH (humbucker-single-humbucker)
There are, of course, other combinations. Some of them are:
- S (single-coil in the bridge or neck)
- H (humbucker in the bridge or neck)
- SH (single-humbucker)
Both HH and HSS configurations are pretty common. And, in most cases, we’re guitarists use these configurations for hard rock or heavy metal. HH is what you find on most Gibson or Gibson-style models. HSS is common with some Fender Stratocaster models.
Sure, we know what they are. But how do these two pickup combinations compare in practice?
The humbucker-humbucker (or HH) pickup combination is what you originally found on old Gibson models. Originally blues-oriented, it turned into a standard for hard rock, heavy metal, and plenty of metal subgenres.
Humbuckers on their own have a noticeably smoother tone compared to single-coils. This reduces the attack, although it can help you sound tighter in high-gain settings. Sure, you can play heavy riffs on single-coils. However, humbuckers are the standard here.
Humbuckers in the neck position sound much smoother. They’re useful for lead sections, especially in genres like blues or blues-rock. Meanwhile, humbuckers in the bridge position are sharper and tighter-sounding.
The HH configuration isn’t that versatile. It comes with a 3-way position switch. This gives you three main sonic options. However, most of the time, guitarists use two of those three. It’s either one or the other pickup.
The middle one sounds a bit twangy and nasally. It’s interesting, but it has less practical use compared to individual pickups.
Despite the lack of sonic options, the HH pickup configuration is very practical. Humbuckers sound tighter and more modern. Although the attack is smooth and you might lack some dynamic response, they have their use. Plus, they can totally eliminate hum from the mains.
These days, however, the HH combo comes with other controls as well. This includes coil-split, coil-tap, or the series/parallel option.
Coil-splitting is particularly useful as it practically lets you use individual coils of your humbuckers. So the HH configuration can also be versatile.
Additional tone-shaping comes from two-volume pots and two-tone pots. This is the most common control configuration with HH guitars.
The SSS combination, usually seen on Strats, is famous for its versatility. Such instruments come with a 5-way pickup selector switch. In addition, they often also have one volume pot and two controls for treble roll-off.
But although versatile, the SSS combo sounds a bit weak on the bridge side. You lack the classic Gibson-like power for heavy riffing. That’s where the HSS combo steps in.
So instead of a single-coil pickup in the bridge position, we get a humbucker. This way, you keep the versatility and have an option for tight heavy riffing. In short, this configuration can make the instrument more versatile.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the SSS combo is worse. It’s just more specific and focuses on old-school principles.
But even your HSS can functionally become SSS with just a flick of a switch. Well, more like a pull of a knob. Most HSS guitars these days come with the coil-split option for the humbucker.
But even without splitting the humbucker, you have these awesome in-between combinations. Therefore, you can get both those sparkling tones as well as tight heavy ones.
HH Vs HSS: How Do They Compare
The first thing that I would like to point out is that there’s no better or worse option here. Both HSS and HH combinations are good in their own way. Even having one single-coil or one humbucker has its advantages.
However, I would like to point out that the HSS is more versatile in basic settings. You get 5 combinations, including those sparkling in-between options typical for Strats. It’s still possible to play some heavy riffs and get a good tone for funk, pop, and old-school blues.
Meanwhile, the HH option brings an overall heavier and darker tone. It’s usually popular for blues rock, metal, hard rock, and jazz.
However, when we include the additional features, things get complicated to compare. Honestly, with the coil-split option, an HH guitar gets extremely versatile. This is especially the case if it also comes with 4 knobs (2 for volume and 2 for tone).
If you’re looking at cheaper guitars, I’d recommend HSS over HH. It brings more options. However, if you’re buying high-end stuff with additional features, then it’s hard to say what’s better.
HH Vs HSS: Conclusion
I hope this article has clarified some of the pros and cons of the HH vs HSS pickup configuration.
And if you want to read more about pickup configurations here on the blog, check out:
Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar topic!