I plan to record in a few months and the studio engineer recommends direct input for electric guitar. I'm mainly a drummer and am new to this...

Based on what I've otherwise been advised, I assumed that although the bass would be DI, the guitar would not be. However I listened to songs this guy has produced using DI for guitar and the distortion (rock songs) sounds good. And I assume using this method means being able to choose from a wealth of software-produced distortion effects, rather than having to perfect things physically with just the right amp and/or distortion pedal.

Incidentally, I had been thinking about getting a guitar with humbucking pickups as I understand they're generally reckoned to be better for distortion. But using DI to record, do I need to worry about this any more? (Obviously a live situation is different, but I'll think about that later).

In other words, using my single coil Strat copy guitar, can I achieve the same effect as if I was using an SG/Les Paul-style guitar, given that presumably the sound of the guitar will be determined by the software?

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    FWIW I have a strat with Dimarzio Tone Zone humbucking pickups.(dimarzio.com/pickups/strat/hum-canceling-strat). I can also coil tap them and get a to get the single coil sound. So having the humbucker option doesn't necessarily mean a new guitar if you're happy to play with the pickups. Apr 17, 2015 at 11:25
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    This really depends on your musical influences and the sound you want. Who would you like to sound like? We could name plenty of players who have got great distortion sounds out of a single coil strat-type! A Strat and a Les Paul will sound different, but they're both capable.
    – Andy
    Apr 17, 2015 at 12:37
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    Go to a music shop and play every guitar you like on the same amp Apr 17, 2015 at 16:45
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    I've been thinking about this all day and my experience is that different types of distortion sound better with different types of guitar. For instance, huge amounts of germanium fuzz sound nice and thick and rich with a single coil strat, but can come off muddy and annoying with a Les Paul. On the other hand, a Les Paul sounds amazing through an all-tube amp that is set to light to medium overdrive. If I had to have one guitar sound for all uses, it would actually be a single coil telecaster style. Single coil bite, but nice wood tones also. Apr 17, 2015 at 21:10
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    There's still the option of having a humbucker installed with the option of coil-tapping it.
    – Pif
    Apr 20, 2015 at 10:25

4 Answers 4


The fact that you DI the guitar doesn't change the differnce between distorted single coils or humbuckers, so if you're thinking of getting a SG or Les Paul etc for nicer distortion, that'll still be the case if you DI.

Strats have a nice clear kind of distortion wheras Humbuckers are better for pure grunt. I'm not sure of the science behind it but the original sound is quite different:

Single coil = lighter sounding, full of character, lots of top end in the sound (="detail", if you like)

Humbuckers = generally a bit less top end, more output, and someting-I-don't-know-what that makes them sound the biz though a distorted amp.

So you'd think upping the gain on a single coil and bringing the tone down a bit would make it sound like a humbucker ?

Hmm .. I've modified my strat so that the bottom tone knobule works on the bridge pickup, so I can turn the tone down so it's less twangy. I also turnt he gain up on the amp (well, effects board in my case). This is specifically for playing things like ACDC. It works a bit, in that the distorted sound is better than if left with tone fully up, but there's definitely something else goiung on with humbuckers which make them sound like they do.

Getting a decent DI sound from a distorted guitar is quite an art. It might be worth finding out from the fella you mention which effect he uses to get that sound, to save trying loads out ?

I have an unjustifiable intuition that it might go lie this :

  • Single coil through humbucker effects in search of humbucker sound = fair amount of experimentation potentially resulting in goodly smiles

  • Les Paul/SG though fairly standard distortion effect = Immediate smiles and potentially some bouncing about like a loon

One othe thing to mention is that if you just plug a distortion stomp box into a recorder of some sort, you'll get a horrible buzzy sound (regardless of guitar) which I've heard best described as "like a wasp in a paper bag". That's because guitar amps do a lot to the sound, and things like that sound ace thogugh an amp but not if plugged right into (effectively) your nice hi-fi monitor speakers. So you need to use an effect designed for DI - or has an 'amp simulator' built in. I put that in inverted commas because some amp simulators are a bit .. kind of.. crap and frustrating. Hence recommendation to find out the make of the one you like the sound of.


If you want the sound of a humbucker, you need to get one. Emulations using single coils will not do. Sure, you could play around with EQs and compressors and maybe get you in the ballpark, but it will always be noticeable.

If you have to have only one guitar and want to get the widest range of sounds, your best bet would be humbuckers with coil split option (HSH layout). Split humbuckers do not sound exactly like traditional single coil pickups, but they are pretty close (since they effectively operate as single coils. It's just that the resulting single coil is a bit different than a single coil only pickup would be).

You can play most genres of music with single coils, but for authentic high gain 80's rock, stoner, doom and other metal genres, humbuckers are mandatory.

As for getting a new guitar: Some strat copies come with the bridge pickup slot already routed for humbuckers under the pickguard. Lift up your pickguard and check that. If it's already routed, you could just get a new pickguard and a humbucker and drop it in.

This way you'd get a popular SSH pickup layout which is also very flexible. IMHO, the bridge single coils in strats don't sound very good anyway, the neck and neck/middle configurations are where it's at.


The pickups aren't the only part of an electric guitar that affect the sound in noticeable ways. Construction of the body and the neck are high on the list, as are hardware items like the type of bridge, nut material, and so on. Even with just the electronics the specs of the tone and volume controls are a factor.

If you like the previous work of the producer you are working with, then they are the best person to ask any gear questions. They might even have some guitars that they like to use on recordings which produce sounds they know how to work with.

If you just want to buy a new guitar, and who doesn't? go to a store and play all the ones in your price range and get the one that grabs you. Better to find your sound than to chase anyone else's tone.

One more note: imagine a drummer asking if they need a solid brass snare. You'd probably say "it depends", and how they tune it and hit it will always be more important than how it's made. You might even suggest they find a snare that sounds great to them regardless of construction.


Humbuckers give you more distortion because more is being pushed down the wire.

On my humbuckers and my p90's I would estimate 30% distortion on my amp as its is about the same as 100% distortion with my p90's. But I would never need to put it above 75% for my humbuckers as its just noise.

My p90's have a sharper, more piercing and clear sound. My humbuckers are warmer and more fuzzy / slightly muddy.

If you want a new guitar and can afford one, then get one because they can be very different in character :).

However, if this is a stretch you would probably be better off having your "copy" guitars pickups changed for better single coils.

If this is a stretch, the simple and easy and cheap (and surprisingly effective) way would be:

  • Larger gauge strings give more beef
  • As will more hefty picks
  • You might have some more adjustment left in the height of your pickups

(remember increasing string gauge may need a truss rod and intonation adjustment)

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    In many cases, the 'pushing more down the wire' aspect can achieved with a separate gain stage. Apr 17, 2015 at 16:56
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    String gauge will come into play for feel, especially if you downtune, not much more tonally. It would be more effective to find the closest pickup height that has the most gain without pulling the string or losing any definition.
    – Pif
    Apr 20, 2015 at 10:23
  • While it is more common for modern humbuckers to have a higher output than modern single-coils, in my experience it's not common enough that I would assert that humbuckers have higher output as a rule. And higher output does not mean "better distortion" (the OP's assumption about humbuckers), more the opposite. And there is definitley a clear tonal difference between different guages - maybe it's really subtle between 9s and 10s but if you put on 11s or 12s with a clear signal path, you'll hear it right away. Apr 20, 2015 at 13:02

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