What Are HSH, HSS and HH Guitars & Which Should You Buy

What Are HSH, HSS and HH Guitars & Which Should You Buy?

Have you ever wondered what the letters HSH, HSS, HH or SSS mean in relation to electric guitars? If you have, keep reading as in this article we’ll explain what those letters refer to, what they mean and more importantly what they mean to the guitarist.

What Are HSH, HSS And HH Guitars?

The letters H & S refer to the two main types of pick-ups used on electric guitars which are single-coil (S) or humbucker (H) the sequence the letters run in indicates the configuration on the guitar running from the bridge to the neck. For instance HSH refers to a bridge humbucker, centre single-coil and a neck humbucker. The HSH configuration was extremely popular in what is now known as the “super strat” days but it is still used today.

Pretty much every guitar manufacturer has at least one model with this configuration including;

  • PRS
  • Framus
  • Ibanez
  • Fender
  • Charvel
  • To name just a few

The original idea of using two humbuckers and a single-coil configuration allows plenty of tonal scope. You can choose to play each pick-up cleanly or pick any number of combinations to create a rich variety of sounds.

What Does Single-Coil Mean?

Before we get into the specifics let’s look at how a pick-up is constructed. All pick-ups are made in a similar way, a central pole piece (magnet), wound with copper wire. As the string vibrates, the electromagnet (created by wrapping copper wire around a magnet) sends the sound of that vibration to the amp where we hear it as a note.

Now we understand the basic design of a pick-up, let’s look at single-coil pick-ups. Single-coil pick-ups were the first pick-ups ever used on electric guitars and still have that same clear, bright sound today that characterised them from day one. The problem with single-coil pick-ups is they pick up interference which is what is meant by the so-called 60 cycle hum.

What Does Humbucker Mean?

Humbuckers are basically two single-coil pick-ups set up in such a way as to cancel out that annoying interference. They literally buck the hum, hence the name. The signal sent to the amp from a humbucker is a louder, deeper and richer sound compared to the signal from a single-coil pick-up.

Playing The Guitar

What’s The Sound Difference Between H & S Pick-Ups?

Single-coil pick-ups have a brighter, twangy sound, think country and Western, but add an amp with plenty of overdrive and they sound really gritty. Turn the overdrive down and they sound like classic 60s style guitar with clean cut tones.

Humbuckers sound far heavier, thicker or fuller than single-coils with the added bonus of no hum. Great for blues, heavy metal, rock, jazz and even pop, the humbucker is a popular choice of pick-up among the guitar world. But so is the single-coil, and that’s why the various configurations were set up. To accommodate the best of both worlds.

SSS Configuration

As the name implies, guitars with the SSS configuration have three single-coil pick-ups one at the bridge, one in the centre, and one at the neck. This is the classic Strat set up and it works great because not only can you play each pick-up singly, but at the flick of a switch, you can combine pick-ups to create various sounds. Plus by merging two single-coil pick-ups, you create a humbucker effectively killing that 60 cycle hum.

Playing a Strat with a SSS pick-up configuration allows you to choose between the three regular pick-up positions plus position two gives a sharp, funky sound while the fourth position is a brighter version of the neck pick-up.

HSS Configuration

A Strat with an HSS configuration has a humbucker at the bridge and a single-coil in the centre and neck positions. Some affectionately call this configuration a “hot rod Strat”. Whatever you care to call it, the bridge humbucker creates a far warmer sound than a single-coil bridge pick-up. 

The problem with this set up is the humbucker is harder to blend and also to match the volume with the centre and neck single-coils.That’s because the humbucker has a higher output than a single-coil this also means you lose the second position sound that’s generally associated with SSS Strats.

HSH Configuration

This configuration has a bridge and neck humbucker with a single-coil in the central position. This gives you many more sound options and in all honesty, more options than you’ll probably ever use. But it’s nice to have the options to experiment with.

HH Configuration

In this configuration the guitar has a humbucker pick-up in the bridge and neck position but no central pick-up at all. This is the classic Gibson Les Paul set up with a big rounded, full tone sound with lots of bass and mid-range tones. Most HH guitars have switches that allow coil splits so you can achieve a clear tone (like a single-coil). 

Electric Guitars

Which Type Of Guitar Should You Buy?

Buying the correct type of guitar is a long way towards creating the sound you’re looking for. So it’s important to choose wisely and get the correct type of guitar for your particular sound. The type of guitar you choose should be based on the type of music you play.

HH Guitar

Guitars with a two humbucker pick-up configuration have that full tone, plenty of bass and mid-range. They are great for guitarists that play clean guitar with absolutely no distortion at all. Conversely, they are also great for the guitarist that always plays with heavy distortion, no hum, great sound.

HSH Guitar

Having a humbucker, single-coil, humbucker set up allows you to get big, bold sounds and allows you to cover that gain. But with the ability to switch to a single-coil for that tonal quality that humbuckers just can’t achieve.

HSS Guitar

The bridge humbucker followed by two single-coil set up is the most versatile and covers most genres of music. Including blues, heavy gain, distortion, pop etc.

SSS Guitar

The three single-coil pick-up configuration is great for clear tones. Guitarists like Eric Clapton, Dave Gilmour and Stevie Ray Vaughan all play SSS pick-up guitars.

The Choice Is Yours

In this article, we’ve given you all the information you need to make an informed decision on which type of guitar will best suit your requirements. Single-coils, humbuckers, or a combination of both. What do you think is the best and why? Let us know in the comments.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are HSH guitars good for?

HSH guitars are good for pretty much every type of genre. They are the most versatile guitar type available.

Is HSH better than HSS?

Whether HSH is better than HSS depends on your point of view and the genre of music you play. HSS is the most versatile and can be used for many genres. HSH has its place but the middle single-coil can be too loud as it is often higher than the two humbuckers.

What are HH pickups?

HH pick-ups are humbucker pick-ups in both neck and bridge positions.

What does SSS mean in guitars?

SSS in guitars means all three pick-ups are single-coil pick-ups. That’s the bridge, centre and neck pick-ups are all single-coil pick-ups.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.