When trying to find the best pickups for your needs, preferences and budget you can see a lot of money fly out the window quickly between the pickups themselves and installations.
Saving money wherever possible is awesome when it comes to pickups because saving money means more gear for your buck. I have become kind of a used pickup ninja but not everyone is comfortable buying used and others are just always looking for quality at a low price, used or new.
Many lower cost options exist for those that don’t want to attempt to navigate the used market but can’t afford or justify going with a mid to higher priced option. Sure, some of them or even most of even the best of low-cost import pickups are pretty well just copies of popular pickups but let’s be honest, there’s been plenty of copy catting in the pickup industry. The difference in price often comes because the products are often made from lower grade materials in a much more rushed manner. Not many of them make the cut for me but there’s a few I will happily vouch for.
Irongear Pickups is a company based in the UK that delivers a huge line of solid quality products at very low prices. The pickups are all designed in the UK and I believe the prototypes are all made there as well. The pickups are then made at a more cost effective manufacturing site and sold to the world for prices that will fit any budget. We aim to test as many of these as we can in the future but so far the sets I tried (Tesla Shark & Steel Foundry) sure didn’t sound like any low-cost pickup I’ve ever heard. These are very high quality pickups for the price.
Tone Rider is another company selling really well made pickups that truly sound like they are from a much higher price point. I have tried the Rocksong bridge, Generator bridge and Octane though I have not spent a considerable amount of time with any of them. I recall the sets sounding really solid with really crisp attack. I have also read some quite nice testimonials on the Tone Rider Telecaster pickups from forum users whose opinions on tone I trust to a high degree. When someone you trust tone-wise recommends something, that can mean a lot more than any other recommendation. I hope to try more of these for myself.
Guitar Fetish has a GFS line of pickups that has some hits and misses but most of the pickups are well designed. The materials aren’t too bad at all, I ordered a few to see what the fuss was about and a couple of them blew my mind. The Mean 90 is one of the best humbucker sized P90 offerings out there at any price range. The Dream 90 also made me real happy, it paired very nicely as a neck pickup with the Mean 90. The Fullerton Lead Telecaster set sounds great as does the Hard Vintage set. I have not tried any of their humbuckers though a few of them interest me.
It’s worth noting that GFS also carry the only low-cost active option available. The REDactive line of pickups carries an overall strong rating and come in humbuckers, strat, tele and more options. I have not tried these but I have to say, the price of used EMG pickups is much too attractive for me to look too far into these but I will eventually demo a set. Remember you can get a nice selection of used EMGs on Reverb at really any time. GFS also have quick-connect options for those wanting to do minimal soldering.
At the end of the day, some people just can’t stand buying used items or at very least would prefer to be the first / only owner of something and I can respect that. I hope the above options provide something that helps everyone find great tone on even the tightest of budgets. If another company exists that provides solid quality pickups for low prices, please let us know, we would love to look into things further!