The hidden fact - Q-factor. Short for quality factor, it is the amount of signal voltage that comes out - divided by the amount of resistance. This method describes pickups as well as other electronic circuits and components. No small thing. Consider this; there are two ways to make a pickup louder: use a stronger magnet, and/or: wrap more turns of wire around it. If you simply add more turns then the DC resistance goes up. So why do people ask "how many Ohms does it put out"? Because as you add more turns you are getting more resistance as well as output. So it can be a rough estimate of how "hot" a pickup is. However, that is a generality not a rule. If you use thicker wire and use the same number of turns, then you get less resistance. I explain it this way because the two pickups sound different. The one with lower resistance (and different q-factor) will have better definition, more note separation, clarity and articulation.
Q-factor is the "vibe" of the pickup, the inescapable mojo that make a pickup useful for one thing and sometimes not for another. "Distortion" pickups are characterized by high resistance, and in most cases they suck for trying to get a good clean articulate sound. If its a hum-cancelling design, you can wire the distortion pickup coils in parallel, which will not be quite as loud and will most importantly have a fraction of the resistance - making a nice "Clean" pickup out of it. All you need is access to to all four wires, and possibly a DPDT capable switch and you now have 2 hum-cancelling voices from one pickup. One is no better than the other, just different.
Neck position humbuckers need all the articulation they can get. The Duncan "Jazz" model really nails it. Any neck pickup wired parallel will work well enough to use it with amplifier distortion! The sound does get brighter and less bassy. Sound too thin? Go to a hotter pickup (I mean more resistance, not louder)!
Seymour Duncan - Having made and hot-rodded pickups for many legendary guitarists, Duncans' relentless persuit of tone has led them to drasticly understate one thing. Vintage reproduction taken to an art. They just don't seem to know how to say it. The early model humbuckers and single coil pickups were made to exact specifications of the vintage era. Following that, variations and entirly new designs sprung. They made such exacting copies of the early pickups that nodody will ever touch them.
Consider this; the 59' Humbucker is an exact replica of an exceptionally good sounding 1959 Gibson P.A.F. humbucker! The actual machine used by Gibson is used, not only for this model but other vintage models and Custom Shop Models. The actual plastic is replicated, the pigments used for coloration, the tiny maple strip, the type of insulation on the wire, the screws, magnet, the baseplate and bobbin dimensions, material, the string spacing. All exact.
The Fender single coils? Yes.
The P-90's, the staple pickup, the Rickenbacker, Musicman Stingray 75'.
The custom shop logs the specifications of all repairs and special designs ever built for anyone! That means that my special order pickup can be reproduced for anyone, for me if I need another. Very very nice.
Seymour Duncan has quietly stolen Yngwie Malmstein from DiMarzio! The new FURY is badassness out of control. The Gibson style STAPLE is a great secret. You have to hear one. Used for four years in high-end Gibsons, like the Les Paul Custom and L5-CES. The 5-2 (V-II) really works to get the tone right across the strat. The Strat-Bro or Stra-Bro is a new Strat sized pickup that gived P-90 tone! Get your pickups here at a very competitive discount! Even on Custom Shop pickups!! The customer service at Duncan is excellent. The website has sound bites.
TV Jones - Tom Jones is Brian Setzers' guitar tech, and all the pickup designs are listen tested and approved for autenticity by Mr. Setzer. My favorite - the MAGNETRON, available in Gretsch fron 1957-1959 by special order only. I was lucky enough to have played one, now I have a strat with one. Very nice options, nice people over there, all. The website has sound bites.
DiMarzio - Known for entry level pricing, and tons of 1980's MetaL shredders endorsements. Factory equipped on very few guitars. One of the first upgrade pickups offered way back when. The Super Distortion is still probably thier best sounding pickup, and the original model.
EMG - Known for thier active pickups (battery required). Active pickups can offer very good articulation and at higher output levels. It is the accessories that make them really useful. Very simple circuits can do alot for nailing down the tone and solving some problems that creep in as you change venues and stage volumes.
Gibson - Many new pickups. Tony Iommi does it all.
Fender - Continues to add to the already incredible series of Noiseless Stratocaster pickups N3 at 6.8k with 3 different magnet types. Super 55 at 12 to 15k. My favorite - VINTAGE NOISELESS