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HSH vs HSS: Which Is a Better Guitar Pickup Setup? [2021 Guide]

If you’re curious about the HSH vs HSS setup on an electric guitar, this post is for you!

And if you’re still not clear on what these acronyms mean exactly, don’t worry!

I’ll explain that and more in the following sections!

Also, be sure to check out some of my other articles like:

What a hot-rodded guitar is exactly and whether PRS or Ibanez guitars are better!

Pickup Configurations on an Electric Guitar

The electric guitar is one of the most flexible instruments. We take its seemingly simple design for granted these days. However, every component is a result of years of meticulous work.

This especially goes for its electronics, most notably its pickups. In fact, pickups are an essential part of every electric guitar. This is where most of the tone is formed. Although some argue that it’s the wood on the electric guitar, I think there are more important factors. But this is a discussion for some other occasion.

A combination of pickups on an electric guitar is really important. It determines the main tone and diversity of tones of an instrument. The two main combinations of pickups on electric guitars remain the same from the 1950s. These are:

  • Three single-coils
  • Two humbuckers

Three single-coil pickups are typical of Fender Stratocaster and similar guitars. They often also come with a 5-way selector switch. Meanwhile, the dual-humbucker variant is typical of Gibson Les Paul, SG, and similar guitars. These usually come with a 3-way switch.

However, there are plenty of other combinations. Here’s a list of some pickup configurations that you can find out there. I’ve also included abbreviations of these names as they’re most commonly used among guitarists.

  • Two single-coils, or SS
  • Humbucker-single-single, or HSS
  • Humbucker-single-humbucker, or HSH
  • Single-coil in the bridge and humbucker in the neck position, or SH
  • Humbucker in the bridge and single-coil in the neck position, or HS
  • Three humbuckers, or HHH

The SS combo is typical of Fender Telecasters. However, some Gibson guitars also come with two P90 single-coils. The SH combination is pretty rare, but it comes on some Telecasters.

The HS is also somewhat rare. However, there are Telecasters, some Les Pauls, and other guitars with it.

HSH vs HSS: Which Is Better?

But what we’re interested in here are HSH and HSS.

So which one is better? Let’s dive into this topic and explore it in more detail.

HSH Combination

The HSH configuration consists of three pickups. There’s a humbucker in the bridge, a humbucker in the neck, and an additional single-coil in the middle position.

Such a combination typically also comes with a 5-way pickup selector switch. But this is where things get interesting. The “in-between” combinations actually split humbuckers. In most cases, it uses the inner coil, the one closer to the middle pickup. This way, you get a closer tone to the classic Stratocaster setting.

The end positions select the individual humbuckers. And the middle position sets only the single-coil in the middle.

However, a lot of HSH guitars have additional controls. Some guitars have additional switches, push-and-pull pots, or both. These are usually typical of more expensive models.

Either way, these controls allow you to pick many other combinations of pickups. For instance, you can select both humbuckers at the same time. Or, you can even select all three pickups.

There are even some weird combinations, like only the inner coils of the two humbuckers. Some guitars even allow you to use humbuckers in both parallel and series modes.

However, these combinations depend on the exact models. But some guitars with the HSH combination allow for 10 or more combinations in total. The only downside here is that HSH guitars may get a bit complicated for practical use.

Here’s an interesting video showcasing what a more advanced HSH guitar can do:

HSS Combination

The HSS combination is a bit more common. It’s often used as an alternative to the standard SSS configuration. The humbucker in the bridge adds more options for some heavier tones. This is especially the case with some hard rock and metal riffs.

But other than that, the combination is a pretty standard deal. It comes with a regular 5-way switch and a total of 5 combinations.

Some guitars may include a few additional combinations. Most commonly, you may find those that allow you to split the humbucker and use it as a single-coil pickup.

Some may also include additional controls, just like with the HSH configuration. For instance, some guitars may allow you to use the bridge and neck pickup at the same time.

But this is not that common. HSS guitars usually come with a push-pull pot that splits the humbucker. Or they might even come without any additional controls.

HSH vs HSS: How Do They Compare?

You can compare this HSS setup to the HSH setup in the video above to get a better sense of their sound differences.

In most cases, HSS is simpler than the HSH combination. Even if an HSS guitar has advanced controls, HSH will almost always have more combinations. After all, there’s technically one more coil on them.

But which one is better, HSS or HSH? As usual, it comes down to personal preferences. However, I can make some comparisons that hopefully help you out.

Like I mentioned, HSS is usually much simpler but comes with fewer options. Additionally, you won’t have the option to use the humbucker in the neck position.

As I also mentioned, HSH is more complex, at least in most cases. And this is both its advantage and disadvantage. The thing is, most HSH guitars come with additional controls. And although having more options can be great if you have a very specific sound you’re looking for, more options can sometimes be too complicated. After all, not everyone wants to bother with so many pickup combinations.

So if you prefer a simpler setup, then the HSS pickup combination is better. If you want an abundance of options and a humbucker in the neck position, then get a guitar with an HSH pickup configuration.

HSH vs HSS: Conclusion

In short, you would be able to choose which setup you prefer after having played two different instruments with these setups.

But, if you can’t do that, check out plenty of YouTube videos showcasing these setups.

I’ve included two videos in this post for just that reason.

And lastly, remember that the HSH setup will likely have more options.

So if it’s a toss-up and you prefer something simpler, go with the HSS pickup setup.

I hope this article has helped you understand the difference between these setups.

And, as usual, let me know if you have further questions in the comments!

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