The importance of pickups in guitars
While the fundamentals of a guitar are the tonewoods and the build quality; the pickups are also very important to capture all the tonal richness of the musical instrument. A good guitar with bad pickups won’t sound good, whereas a cheap guitar with good pickups will do more than decently. Thus, the pickups are also a fundamental part of your guitar. In addition to bringing out the best in your musical instrument and its tonewoods, they also change the character of your guitar. Thus, a guitar with certain pickups can be perfect for Blues, with other pickups it can become a Rock machine.
Here, we go over the different types of pickups for Strat guitars. The main ones are the single-coil pickups, but we also considered single-coil format humbuckers to cover all musical styles with your Strat. Also, we include cheap, mid-priced and boutique Strat pickups options to cover all budgets.
What are the best Stratocaster pickups?
The perfect Strat pickup does not exist, since each pickup works not only for a particular style, but for each instrument, each setup and of course, for each guitarist. Thus, it is necessary to consider the pairing with the instrument; A guitar with an alder body does not sound the same as one with ash body. Another issue to consider is the amp with which you are going to play. Maybe with a Marshall you want an extra brightness and definition, but with a Fender and Vox you prefer something rounder and warmer. Therefore, there are no magic recipes, but you have to try to see which is the pickup that best fits your Strat and your setup. The perfect pickup is one that fits perfectly with your guitar, your musical style, your setup and your music taste.
Basic Buying Tips for Strat Pickups
Singlecoil pickups with vintage or medium output are ideal for achieving classic Strat clarity, bell timbre, high-end snap and “twangy” and “quacky” tones. These pickups are ideal for clean and crunch sounds used in styles like Blues, Jazz, Country, Indie, Funk, etc. While they are a bit noisy when using distortion, their higher definition for their rich treble cuts through the mix uniquely.
Humbucking pickups, in addition to being silent, tend to compress more and have the frequency curve more focused in the mids, which in general translates into a fatter sound. Furthermore, Hum-cancelling also cancels frequencies, which results in loss of harmonics, which is more noticeable with clean audios. This is why guitarists who play clean and low gain tones prefer singlecoil pickups despite being noiser. But the distortion also generates harmonics that are not present in the original signal, and humbucker pickups perform better at high gain. Thus, humbucker pickups are ideal for playing with distorted tones and also for the guitarist looking for versatility to play any music style with their Strat.
Some humcancelling pickup options simulate singlecoil and perform more than decently and are very convincing, working great for clean sounds. Another thing that humbuckers do better is push your amp’s tubes harder and they break into distortion faster.
Most commonly used Stratocaster pickup setups
Remember that this guide only considers pickups with a classic Singlecoil format, so you don’t have to change or modify your pickguard, or your electric guitar.
SSS or Triple Singlecoil configuration
The three single-coil pickups are the original and traditional setup with which Leo Fender designed the Stratocaster. This configuration is still the most used, and is ideal for those who play styles of music such as Jazz, Blues, Classic Rock, Reggae, Country, Folk, Funk and others in which the tone of the guitar is used mostly clean or with low or mid gain. This setting will give you more harmonics for clean sounds, and more bass and treble but less mids. It will also give you a more dynamic audio with less compression. Something that stands out on the singlecoil pickups is the attack with the classic Twang and Quack.
As we saw, the downside to this setup is that singlecoil pickups always produce hum noise, which becomes very annoying as you increase the gain of your amp.
HSS or Humbucker / Singlecoil / Singlecoil configuration
This is one of the most used combinations when modifying your instrument. Since Eddie Van Halen added a PAF -a kind of Humbucker- to the bridge of his Stratocaster guitar, everything changed. This allowed the Stratocaster to handle high-gain tones, beginning what would become the Superstrats.
Normally, the bridge position is the most used for sounds with a lot of distortion, so the Singlecoil pickup is replaced by a humbucker. On the contrary, the middle and neck positions are the most used when playing clean sounds. Therefore, this configuration is the middle point, which gives more versatility. It gives you the best of both worlds. The magical tone of a Stratocaster in the neck position with all its harmonics, while allowing you to play with a lot of gain in the bridge position and also have harmonics generated by the distortion. This setting allows you to play any style of music perfectly.
HHH or Triple Humbucker configuration
This is the most modern configuration, and one that is gaining more and more followers. When we say Humbuckers, we mean any type of humbucking pickup such as the Stacks that are one coil over another -see the picture above-, Rails that are two coils in parallel next to each other but instead of having pole pieces, they have bars, and traditional mini humbuckers. This configuration is ideal for those who play heavy modern styles of music with a lot of distortion like Hardrock, Punk, Heavy Metal, Glam Rock, Trash, etc.
However, with the appearance of Stacks that emulate singlecoil tones in a very realistic and convincing way, this setup is also suitable for anyone looking for versatility. For this reason, many guitarists who used to use the HSS configuration, in recent years have switched to the HHH configuration, using a traditional humbucker type pickup in the bridge and hum-cancelling stacks with single-coil tones in the middle and neck position.
What pickup configuration do I use?
If you are a guitarist who plays only vintage audio, or clean and / or low gain tones, the traditional SSS setup with three singlecoils is perfect. If you are a musician who plays a variety, from vintage and clean audios but also needs to handle a lot of gain, an HSS option is the smartest. Guitarists who base their audio more on high-gain distortions but who also need good clean sounds and don’t want to lose the classic Strat character should opt for HHH with a common Humbucker or Rail on the bridge and with two emulating Singlecoil Stacks in the middle and neck. Finally, if you are a musician who only plays very saturated sounds and you like fat humbucker audio, a configuration with H-H-H with mini Humbuckers or Rails of medium and high output in all three positions is the ideal option.
Best Stratocaster pickups
- Seymour Duncan SSL-1 California ’50s Set (The starting point)
- Fender Original 57/62 (Classic tone with less brightness)
- Fender Tex-Mex (Best seller)
- Wilkinson M Series Vintage Tone Alnico V (The cheapest)
- Fender Texas Special Custom Shop (Best for Texas Blues)
- Lindy Fralin Vintage Hot (A boutique with extra bite and brightness)
- Klein 1962 Epic Series (Balanced freq boutique option)
- DiMarzio Area 61, 58 & 67 (Stacks with classic Strat sound without Hum)
- DiMarzio Injector Bridge & Neck (Stacks with fatter Strat tone)
- Seymour Duncan Billy Gibbons Signature Red Devil Set (Best PAF sound)
- DiMarzio Super Distortion S (A classic for Metal Tones)
- Seymour Duncan JB Jr. Strat (A classic for Heavy Tones)
Seymour Duncan SSL-1 California ’50s Set Tthe starting point)
Estimated Price: $ 160
If you don’t know where to start to achieve a balanced and classic Strat sound, the Seymour Duncan SSL-1 is your best option. At a mid-range price, these Alnico V singlecoil pickups tick all the boxes any Strat guitarist can hope for. With a classic sound from the late 50’s, it has a vintage Output, but with enough output to play any style. Balanced in its frequency curve, it gives a balanced and traditional Strat sound to your guitar. John Frusciante is one of the most popular guitarists who chooses them for his Strats.
These pickups are made with standard Alnico V magnets and come with classic staggered pole pieces for vintage radio fretboards. They are perfect for blues and rock of the 50’s and for Surf Rock. They are not the best pickups for more modern or heavier sounds. If you’re looking for something more versatile, we recommend looking for a hum-cancelling option with higher output for the bridge position.
Resistance: 6.5k bridge, 6.5k middle and 6.5k neck
Summary: This set is Seymour Duncan’s flagship for classic Stratocaster pickups. They are one of the most popular and widely used pickups for upgrading Strat guitars. If you are looking for a high quality classic sound without spending too much, this is the perfect set of Stratocaster pickups.
Fender Original 57/62 (Classic tone with less brightness)
Estimated Price: $ 150
We have added this set, because it is always one of the options that appear under consideration. While we don’t consider it one of the best pickups for Strat, we included it so you can read our opinion. This is a very balanced set, but its price-quality ratio is not the best. It is traditional Strat tone pickup with balanced tone. It is priced similarly to the Seymour Duncan SSL-1, but the latter surpass them in quality. They have less brightness and definition.
We would only opt for these pickups in case you have a Strat and an amp that requires a rounder pickup set, with less high-end. If you are looking for a vintage sound from the late 50’s and early 60’s with a little less brightness and definition than the Seymour Duncan SSL-1, this may be the option for you.
Resistance: 5.6k bridge, 5.6k middle and 5.6k neck
Summary: This particular set of pickups works well for guitarists who like a balanced, round and warm tone with little sparkle. It has a classic vintage tone and is very balanced.
Fender Tex-Mex (Best seller)
Estimated Price: $ 100
If you are looking for a singlecoil set on a budget, the Fender Tex-Mex is one of the best options. This is the best-selling Stratocaster pickup set on Amazon. These are traditional single-coil pickups that deliver an extra output while maintaining sparkling highs and the warm tone of vintage Strats. An interesting difference compared to the Seymour Duncan SSL-1 and Fender Original 57/62, is that this set has the bridge pickup with more wounds that adds output and bite to make it more versatile.
These pickups are made with Alnico V magnets and also come with staggered pole pieces. They offer a good balance between vintage and modern at a low price. They work great for clean and distorted tones in traditional styles like Rock, Blues, Indie, Country, Jazz, and more.
Resistance: 7.4k bridge, 6.4k middle and 6.4k neck.
Summary: If you are looking for a classic Stratocaster sound but with a little more output at a low price, this is your option. These are probably the most popular and best selling Stratocaster pickups for replacement.
Wilkinson M Series Vintage Tone Alnico V (The cheapest)
Estimated Price: $ 45
This is an ideal set to upgrade your cheap guitar with vintage-style pickups without spending a lot of money. Wilkinson is known for making value pickups, you get more than you pay for. These vintage-toned Alnico V M Series pickups are made in China and are similar to the WVS 60’s from Korea, but at almost half the price. This is the perfect set to replace the ceramic magnet pickups of entry-level guitars. The middle pickup is reverse polarity, thus offering a hum-cancelling function for positions 2 and 4. There is also a High Output version that has a bit more output and has a rounder and warmer tone.
Resistance: 6.4k bridge, 6.0k middle and 6.0k neck.
Summary: Wilkinson pickups are one of the best options to upgrade your Squier, SX, or any cheap Stratocaster guitar. There is available the option of Vintage or High Output output -which actually has a medium output-. If you are looking to spend as little as possible, this is the perfect set.
Fender Texas Special (Great for Texas Blues)
Estimated Price: $ 230
These are the great pickups for Texas Blues. These pickups was designed to emulate the tone of Stevie Ray Vaughan who used high gauges strings -0.12 and 0.13-. The secret behind this unique sound is the extra wounds found in the Fender Texas Special. This gives you a fatter tone by adding low and mid frequencies. In this way, the pickups manage to deliver that much prized punch, all while retaining the sharp attack and sparkle that Strat single-coils are known for.
These pickups allow you not only to play Blues, they can actually play any style of music. They work great for heavier sounds without sacrificing the traditional Stratocaster audio. This is a great set for playing Driven and Distorted tones.
Resistance: 6.7k bridge, 6.5k middle and 6.2k neck.
Summary: Fender Texas Special singlecoil pickups are ideal for SRV lovers. These are one of the most popular pickups from Fender. They feature a medium Output with extra bass and mids, giving you a fatter tone within classic Fender audio.
Lindy Fralin Vintage Hot (Boutique with extra bite and brightness)
Estimated Price: $ 297
This is one of the most popular boutique Stratocaster pickup sets among guitarists. Classic Stratocaster sound from the late 1950s with the extra output and added sparkle that Lindy often brings to her pickups. The result is a tone with bell-like highs, dynamics and body, all in one pickup.
These single coil pickups are made with 42 gauge Formvar copper wire wound with Alnico V. Fralin offers the option of baseplate for the bridge pickup as do Telecaster bridgde pickup for increased output.
Resistance: 6.6k bridge, 6.0k middle and 6.0k neck.
Summary: Vintage Hot are Lindy Fralin’s most popular pickups. They are ideal for guitarists who want a top quality pickup set and require a classic tone with extra bite and high-end.
Klein 1962 Epic Series (Balanced boutique)
Estimated Price: $ 240
The Klein 1962 Epic Series along with their siblings, the 1959 Epic Series, are unique pickups recognized by every guitarist. We include the 1962 Epic Series in this selection because the 1959 are more similar to the other included options. Here, the 1962 Epic Series are vintage correct pickups, like everything Klein does, with a medium output, and more rounded highend. So, if what you are looking for is a classic sound with a little more output and a good presence of bass and mids, this is the set for you.
The Klein 1962 Epic are also constructed with Alnico V with flat copper wire. In addition, this boutique set has a great value for money.
Resistance: 6.3k bridge, 6.5k medium, 6.4k neck
Summary: These pickups are the best you can buy if you are looking for a set with a classic balanced Stratocaster tone with good lows and mids, without that extra high end that Lindy Fralin’s Vintage Hot has.
DiMarzio Area 61, 58 & 67 (Classic Strat Sound without Hum)
Estimated price: $ 240 a set / $ 80 each pickup
DiMarzio designed a Stack pickup without hum (noise) but sounding like a simple vintage singlecoil. Area pickups are built with Alnico II. The Area 61 captures the best qualities of the pickups we’ve heard since the late 50s and early 60s. Plus, they let you add tons of distortion without worrying about noise. The Area 58 pickup features lower output, more brightness and definition, ideal for middle and neck positions. Finally, the Area 67 pickup replicates the audio of the brighter late 60’s Fender pickups, widely used for mid position and neck as well.
These pickups are ideal for anyone looking for a classic Strat sound but who requires a pickup that can handle modern, distorted sounds without hum.
The recommended settings are three. The first is three Area 61s. Then the second is one Area 61 on the bridge and two Area 58s in the middle and neck positions. Finally, the third recommended setup is Area 61 at the bridge, Area 58 in the middle, and Area 67 at the neck position.
Resistance: Area 61 6.43k, Area 58 6.15k and Area 67 5.86k.
Summary: The DiMarzio Area 61, 58 and 67 are pickups that manage to keep your Stratocaster’s classic tone with hum-cancelling.
DiMarzio Injector Bridge & Neck (Pickups without Hum and more media)
Estimated price: $ 240 a set / $ 80 each pickup
DiMarzio together with Paul Gilbert designed a Stack pickup from the Area line with a bit more output and fatter tone for harder Rock audios. You can listen this pickups in Paul Gilbert – Fuzz Universe (2010). Paul played his Ibanez Fireman with a Injector Bridge / Area 67 / Injector Neck set.
Like the Area pickups, they are built with Alnico II. Injector pickups gives you a Fatter tone with more mids than traditional Strat audio. Also, you can use high-gain sounds without any hum problems.
Resistencia: Injector Bridge 11,35k, Injector Neck 8,56k.
Summary: DiMarzio Injector pickups give you a singlecoil sound with more bite and mids and no Hum. Ideal for anyone looking for the audio of Paul Gilbert in Fuzz Universe.
Seymour Duncan Billy Gibbons Signature Red Devil Set (best PAF sound)
Estimated Price: $ 300
If you are looking for the tone of PAF pickups without having to route the body of your Stratocaster or change the pickguard, the Seymour Duncan Red Devil – Billy Gibbons Signature is the set for you. These pickups will turn your Stratocaster into a Rock machine, with perfect sounds for Blues, Texas Blues, Rock, Hardrock and whatever you want. Built with Alnico V, these pickups achieve a very convincing PAF sound. What stands out is that they don’t compress the audio too much like most of their competitors do. The Seymour Duncan Red Devils have a relatively low output which allows you to achieve good clean, crunch and distortion tones. This will give you that “fuzzy” and “sizzling” tone, working very well in clean sounds, with bright tones in all five positions.
However, from our opinion, it has two cons, one is its aesthetics and the other is its price. Its design does not respect the appearance of a classic Strat pickup and its price is one of the highest in this selection. These Billy Gibbons Signature pickups are at the value of boutique pickups or even more expensive, priced at $ 300 a set.
Resistance: Bridge: 13.95k, Middle: 11.7k, Neck: 11.29k.
Summary: Seymour Duncan’s Red Devils are perfect for turning your Strat into a Rock machine, with three PAF-type pickups. Ideal for playing Hardrock and blues rock in the style of Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top. Their low point is their price, as they are too expensive.
DiMarzio Super Distortion S (The best for High-gain )
Price: $ 80 each pickup
The Super Distortion humbucker pickups released in 1972, marked the music of the 80’s and 90’s. They are an icon of Classic Metal, Glam Rock and Hard Rock. DiMarzio developed the Stratocaster format version called the Super Distortion S which offers a tone similar to the famous pickup. It features similar output and tone, and with 4-conductor wiring for parallel humbucking and split coil modes.
The DiMarzio Super Distortion S is a bridge pickup but you can use it in all three positions. Ideally, combine it with other DiMarzio pickups with lower output such as the Pro Track, The Chopper and Fast Track 1.
Summary: If your style is Hardrock or Glam Rock with a High Gain tone, the Super Distortion S will not disappoint, they are pickups that behave like a true high output humbucker.
Seymour Duncan JB Jr. Strat (a Hard Rock classic)
Price: $ 89 each pickup
It was unfair not to mention the Seymour Duncan JB Jr. Strat having included the Super Distortion S. This pickup, like the previous one, marked the music of the 80’s and 90’s and are an icon of Metal, Glam and Hard Rock. Seymour Duncan developed the Stratocaster format pickup version so you don’t have to modify your guitar or change the pickguard. This is a humbucking pickup with ceramic magnets that emulates the classic tone of Seymour Duncan’s most popular humbucker. As you would expect, it has 4 conductor wiring for use in parallel and split coil.
The Seymour Duncan JB Jr. Strat is a pickup designed to be used in the bridge position; but they also have their middle and neck versions, so you can use it in all three positions. As with the Super Distortion S, it is ideal to combine it with other lower output humbucker pickups for more versatility.
Resistance: bridge 15.2k, middle 10.1k and neck 10.1k
Summary: If your style is Heavy Metal or Hardrock with a High Gain tone, the JB Jr. Strat is a serious option to consider. They will turn your Strat into a Rock machine from the 80’s and 90’s.
Other Stratocaster Pickup Options
The 12 pickups we selected in our list of the best pickups for Stratocaster are the starting point. As we said at the beginning, the perfect pickup is the one that adapts to your instrument, your setup and of course, your style and music taste. Therefore, the perfect pickup for a guitar may not be perfect with another guitar. The same if that guitar is played by another guitarist looking for another tone, or even if the same guitarist plays with another amp or setup.
So you can see that the universe of Stratocaster guitar pickups is almost endless. Thus, you can find alternatives such as the Fender Custom Shop Fat 50 if you are looking for a classic Strat sound with more bass, just to give an example. We tell you a couple more alternatives so that you don’t limit your search to a few pickups.
For classic vintage tone with classic bell brightness: Suhr V60, Bare Knuckle Bootcamp Old Guard, and various Klein Epic Series are also good choices. If you are looking for something classic but warmer, the Suhr Michael Landau Standard with a vintage hot sound is excellent. You can also try the Seymour Duncan Twang Banger for a Telecaster-like tone in the bridge position. Finally, you can try the DiMarzio Fast Track 1 & 2, Pro Track and The Chopper or the Seymour Duncan Little ’59 Strat or Hot Rails if you are looking for a more humbucker-like tone.
Tell us about which Stratocaster pickups have you tried and your favorite ones.