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I have seen a number of different pickup designs, like the ones in the image:

Notice how some humbuckers have a covering, and what look like screw heads.

Is this just style or do these different types serve different purposes in the guitar world?

What would be the difference if there is any?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

I used to pull off the covers on my old humbuckers, but, frankly, I couldn't hear a difference. I would hear a difference when I substituted new magnets.

I think it's possible there is a very, very minor change, but in general you're more likely to hear a change rewinding the coils, replacing magnets, adjusting the pole-pieces, or using a more-metalic string.

Many ads I've read for uncovered pickups make the comment that they offer an uncovered version for the people who like the look, implying that is the only difference.

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Great answer. It's 99% aesthetic. – Jduv Jan 16 '11 at 21:58
What about the "screw head" looking poles. Do they make a difference opposed to the flat looking poles? Is that just a style choice too? – Anonymous Jan 16 '11 at 22:04
You're talking about adjustable pole-pieces, which can improve pickup output a bit, but could also cause the sound to become unbalanced, or even muddy or sound out of tune if the pole piece is too close to the string, leading to the magnetic force affecting the string's motion. I recommend leaving adjustable and fixed pole-pieces pretty closely leveled. Otherwise, they're cosmetic mostly. – Anonymous Jan 16 '11 at 22:12

There's really no consensus. Many people will swear up and down that a cover adds warmth to the sound.

Anyway, I believe the original purpose of the covers was to reduce EM interference and protect the coils.

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