Visit any online guitar forum, and you’re sure to stumble into heated, lengthy debates on the decades-old question: what is the difference between Seymour Duncan pickups and Duncan Designed pickups? Are Seymour Duncan pickups better?
Honestly, yes, they probably are. But don’t write off Duncan Designed pups just yet! Read on for a better understanding of the differences between the two, why and how they are used, and what that means for your sound.
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What Exactly is the Difference?
Seymour Duncan Pickups
Seymour Duncan is a revered brand that has been making quality pickups since the 1970s. Some of the most iconic guitarists of all time have rocked Seymour Duncan pickups, including Jeff Beck and Jennifer Batten, Dimebag Darrell, Bill Frisell, David Gilmour, Dave Mustaine, and Thurston Moore.
These pickups are manufactured in the United States of America to Seymour Duncan’s quality standards. You will find them installed in brand-new, high-end guitars that usually cost upwards of $1,000. Or, you can purchase them individually to modify and upgrade your own beloved axe.
Duncan Designed Pickups
Duncan Designed pickups are just that: designed by Seymour Duncan, but produced elsewhere.
Many Duncan Designed pickups are modeled after Seymour Duncan’s most popular pickups, but they are manufactured in studios in Korea as a more cost-effective alternative to the “real deal”. There is no Seymour Duncan seal of approval to speak of and no Seymour Duncan warranty.
You can purchase them second-hand, but Duncan Designed pickups are produced exclusively to be installed OEM in a brand new entry to mid-level guitars in the $300 to $800 price range. Think Fender Squiers, the Schecter Diamond series, Aria Pro II guitars, and Samick’s Greg Bennett series.
Let’s Talk Tone
If you have reached the point in your musicianship where you’re comparing pickups, then you must have a pretty good idea of what kind of tone you want to produce. Let’s explore the differences.
One of the reasons that Seymour Duncan pickups are so widely celebrated is that the brand creates quality pickups in numerous styles for a vast range of musical genres. Specifically, their performance on the treble end is bright and articulate.
For a vintage, crystal clear, chime-y tone, Seymour Duncan’s single coil Vintage Staggered Strat pickups are an obvious choice.
Arguably their most popular pickup, the JB model humbucker, provides a great deal of versatility. It’s suitable for warm or bright guitars, jazz or metal, clean or distorted.
For precision bass players who frequently drop tune or compete with heavy guitar tones, Seymour Duncan’s Quarter Pound P-Bass pickup lends a welcome heft.
In general, Seymour Duncan pickups generate focused and clear signals that free you to hone your tone and craft your own personal style.
Duncan Designed pickups are only found installed in brand new entry to mid-level guitars, so there are no particularly popular or well-known models.
The models you can purchase in the second-hand market have been removed from the guitars they came in, likely in order for the owner to upgrade to proper Seymour Duncan pickups!
These second-hand units are often the Duncan Designed versions of popular Seymour Duncan pickups. For example, the Duncan Designed HB-101 is the Duncan Designed version of Seymour Duncan’s ‘59 Model SH-1.
The general consensus is that Duncan Designed pickups are fatter, warmer, and muddier in tone than their Seymour Duncan counterparts. This may be even more pronounced if you play with distortion.
Comparing Apples and … Apples
The way that these differences play out in practice largely depends on two factors: your ear and your funds.
When to Use Seymour Duncan Pickups
If you have a highly-trained ear and you’re not hearing what you want out of your rig, upgrading to high-quality pickups like Seymour Duncan could be the cure.
Seymour Duncan even has a helpful pickup finder on their website where you can enter your guitar style, musical genre, and desired outcomes to determine which of their pickups might aid you in getting the tone you want.
Frankly, Seymour Duncan pickups are relatively affordable, starting at $59 for their most popular acoustic guitar pickup.
Of course, if you’re in the market for a brand-new axe and have $1,000 or more to spend, go for the guitar with the Seymour Duncan pickups. You won’t likely be disappointed.
When to Use Duncan Designed Pickups
The case for using Duncan Designed pickups is slightly different. Duncan Designed pickups are designed to be the perfect middle point between most stock pickups in their price range and high-quality, expensive pickups. And they do a great job in this role.
So, if you are in the market for a brand new guitar and do not have $1,000 to spend, you can’t really go wrong with a model that comes with Duncan Designed pickups. The tone will be superior to guitars that come with off-brand or guitar-brand pickups installed.
Second, if you are at the beginning or intermediate stages of training your ear and your favorite guitar has low-quality pickups, consider transitioning to Duncan Designed pickups. For the right price, they might give you some useful insights along with a noticeable boost in tonal quality.
Conclusion: Different Strokes
Seymour Duncan pickups are high-quality pickups made in the USA by a respected brand.
They come already installed in many high-end guitars, or you can purchase them brand new to upgrade your own favorite guitars. They are well-known for producing a bright, clear, and focused tone.
Duncan Designed pickups offer a reasonable mid-grade pickup that is designed by a respected brand but manufactured abroad.
They are an ideal alternative to off-brand or guitar-brand stock pickups for guitarists on a budget, no matter how you plan to purchase. The tone they produce is a bit warmer, fatter, and muddier than high-end Seymour Duncan pickups but superior to low-quality pickups.
Ultimately, trust your ear and consult your wallet!