Upgraded pickups can improve the sound of a Stratocaster significantly, and this is especially true of the Squier and even the Fender Standard models.
Most Stratocasters come equipped with stock Fender pickups (which are not the same ones that I’ll highlight here from the Fender custom shop) unless you’re dealing with upper-tier Fenders American Strat models such as the American, Deluxe, Pro, or Custom Shop model.
The Stratocaster’s factory pickups can and should be replaced with others of your choosing. In this piece, we will offer some replacement options for what you could use instead of them.
WHY WE DON’T LIKE STOCK STRAT PICKUPS AND WHAT WE PREFER INSTEAD
It’s not that stock pickups necessarily sound bad; rather, they’re meant to encompass a broad spectrum of Stratocaster tones. On the other hand, upgrading to custom pickups gives your sound a lot more specificity and character than it would have otherwise had.
CONFIGURATION OF THE STRAT PICKUP
The vast majority of Stratocasters use a pickup configuration known as SSS, which is an abbreviation for “three single coil pickups.” This can even result in a diverse assortment of pickups being available at each of the three positions.
WOULD IT BE WORTH THE MONEY TO INVEST?
What factors determine whether or not purchasing a Stratocaster is a wise financial decision? The Stratocaster that you decide to upgrade shouldn’t be overly cheap or overly expensive as a general rule. When it comes to guitars on the more affordable end of the spectrum, there are some models that simply do not have a solid foundation upon which to build.
On the more expensive end, nicer Stratocasters — perhaps from those Fender series we discussed earlier — already have really nice pickups and parts and don’t really require anything else to be upgraded to.
Take, for instance, the Fender V Mod II pickups that come standard on this American Stratocaster; these pickups are already among the very best available:
For the vast majority of pickup upgrades, we will want to concentrate on Stratocasters priced approximately between $300 and $800.
For the purpose of enhancing the sound of a Stratocaster electric guitar, I will be recommending six different single coil pickup sets, which I will discuss in this article.
Pickups that sound best on Stratocasters (top 6 picks)
Within this section, you’ll find a list of links to Strat pickups that we recommend, each of which has its own entry on Sweetwater or Amazon. We have formed a partnership with Sweetwater to provide you with hassle-free access to guitar gear at no additional cost, in addition to providing a straightforward method for you to contribute to Guitar Chalk. Please take into consideration making purchases for your guitar gear via these links as a means of contributing to the continuation of this content. I am grateful.
The Seymour Duncan California ’50s single coil set is responsible for some of the most enticing and faithfully recreated versions of the classic Stratocaster sound that I’ve ever heard.
The response is undeniably crisper, and there are a lot of high-end sparkles that result in a tone that is glassy and well-suited to blues playing. It is especially useful for lead guitar work or any kind of vintage style, in which you frequently need to cut through the mix and have the guitar serve as the melodic focus. I find that this effect is particularly appealing.
They are less ideal for high gain settings and appear to be much more “at home” with a smaller amount of amp breakup than with higher gain settings.
This style of playing is the most appropriate for the era of the 1950s. When it comes to your playing, lead, technique, and touch are everything. The California ’50s are not the best choice for those who are looking for a sound that is more substantial and weighty.
It is interesting to note that Deva includes a Boss Blues Driver and a Peavey Envoy tube amp as components of his setup.
PRICING AND VALUE
The California ’50s Strat set is priced at approximately $160 at the majority of retailers.
This particular equalization setting has an upward tilting EQ bend, which emphasizes the treble frequencies while lowering the midrange.
- Alnico 5 magnets
- A tone that is crystalline and bell-like makes soloing really addicting.
- Sounds fantastic when enhanced with reverb, tremolo, or a moderate to low amount of gain.
- We did not experience any issues with noise or humming. THE
- Not one considering the cost.
Although the Antiquity II Surfer set and the single-coil pickups of the 1950s share some similarities, the Surfers have a higher DCR rating on the bridge pickup, which results in a brighter sound overall.
They have more “pluck” and “twang,” which gives them the feel of almost being finger-picked in a country style.
A higher level of “quack” in the picking response is one way that some people have described it.
This set sounds best when used with a clean, sparkling lead, which is a tone that is reminiscent of what you might hear coming from a John Frusciante Stratocaster.
Even with higher gain settings, the response isn’t bad, which is particularly notable given that we are still discussing high-register lead. When using these pickups, tremolo picking, bends, hammer-ons, and vibrato all produce a sound and feel that are very pleasing to the ear. Each of those movements has a distinct, bluesy sound, and playing them is a little bit more addicting.
This pickup set is perfect for any and all playing styles that lean toward vintage blues or classic rock due to its staggered and aged Alnico 5 magnets. Everything about this pickup set screams the ’60s, from its name to its design.
PRICING AND VALUE
The Antiquity sets typically have a higher price point, with most markets setting them at approximately $270. Because of this, they are the most expensive set on this list, which is one of the reasons we do not like them as much as the California set.
The California set and the Antiquity set are both single coil pickups, but the Antiquity set has slightly more midrange and slightly less treble than the California set.
If you want to make your Stratocaster more versatile, the Hot Rails Stratocaster set from Seymour Duncan is a fantastic option to consider.
It makes use of a high output ceramic magnet, which enables you to get heavier with higher gain levels or quieter when you dial back into softer, more subtle playing by allowing you to get heavier with higher gain levels or vice versa. Ceramic magnets in a Stratocaster produce a tone that is strikingly similar to the sound that emerged from the grunge scene in Seattle in the early 1990s.
Ceramic magnets have a silky feel and a warm temperature, but they also have a bit more grit and bite.
A significant portion of this demo was captured with a relatively high amount of gain for the majority of its duration, which is one of the strengths of the Hot Rails design. You can still get that twang and “quack” that we’ve noticed in other sets, but it’s a little smoother, and it adds some thickness, both of which work well with the higher gain.
Those individuals who want a heavier tone but like the vintage appeal of the Stratocaster will find this to be an excellent compromise.
It sounds a lot like the following players, don’t you think?
It was Billy Corgan (early Smashing Pumpkins albums)
Tom Morello (“Soul Power” Stratocaster with Audioslave)
In other words, they have a bluesy tone while also having a heavy weight to them, making them suitable for both lead and heavier rhythm playing. This is a fantastic modification for Strat players who are looking for the option to make their guitars a little heavier.
PRICING AND VALUE
Approximately $240 is the price for a complete set of Seymour Duncan Strat Hot Rails. If you were to buy each pickup separately, it would cost you approximately $90 for one.
The Hot Rails are a significantly heavier set than the vintage sets that we discussed earlier, and as a result, they produce a greater amount of output and warmth. From an equalization point of view, they place a greater emphasis on the low-end and the midrange.
- Tone with a lot of crunches and high output
- The pickup is versatile enough to bridge the gap between high-gain distortion and subtle clean tones
- A single coil design with a ceramic magnet produces an excellent sound.
- Sustain in abundance
Not one considering the cost.
The Texas Special pickup set from Fender does an incredible job of bringing out the snap and bluesy draw of your picking technique, whether you use a pick or your fingers.
In that regard, it is comparable to the Antiquity set, albeit with a touch more silkiness and considerably less brittleness. It has a gritty quality to it as well as some really understated aggression, both of which are reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s playing style and tone.
They are an excellent collection for people who like country or blues music, and if you play lead guitar, they will appeal to you in particular.
PRICING AND VALUE
The price of Fender Custom Shop pickups is typically a great deal lower than the price of a set of Seymour Duncan Strat pickups, though this can vary depending on the retailer. You should budget between $75 and $100 for Texas Special sets and closer to $200 for anything with the word “Noiseless” in the title.
A lot more “quack” can be heard in the response from the Texas Special set in particular, just like it can from the California set. Consider once more the tone of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar. In comparison to other vintage sets, it is silkier and warmer, but it still has plenty of “snap” and places a significant amount of emphasis on the right-hand movements.
- Alnico 5 magnets
- Low noise
- Excellent for blues as well as country music.
- Compared to the standard Stratocaster pickup, this one has a bit more growl and higher output.
Broken coils have been reported by some of our customers.
Their single coil set for the Stratocaster makes use of the same stacked coil technology that is found in the Fishman humbuckers that we recommend for electric Les Paul guitars.
It has a tone that is somewhat of a hybrid between the silky and full-bodied tone of an active pickup and the bright and ringing tone of a passive single coil pickup. Even though the single coils are voiced slightly higher for Stratocaster playing styles, they still sound incredible in almost any situation, including when the gain is turned up quite high.
You are able to achieve the sparkling high-end of a single coil set while retaining the smoothness and low-end power of humbuckers.
If you are looking for the most flexibility possible from your Stratocaster, this is the set that I would recommend to you above all the others.
They are one of the very best upgrades for a Stratocaster that we are able to recommend.
PRICING AND VALUE
When compared to the prices of some of Seymour Duncan’s sets, the price of the Fluence Strat set, which retails for approximately $225, is surprisingly reasonable. Because they are widely considered to be the best Strat pickups currently on the market, we have no problem whatsoever with the asking price. It will cost you approximately $110 for each one if you buy them separately, so it is highly recommended that you purchase them in a set.
The technology developed by Fishman provides you with a tone mixture that can be bright and sparkling or warm and heavy, depending on your preference. It’s an odd combination of passive and active pickup tones, but it results in a sound that’s completely one of a kind and gives your Stratocaster a lot of versatility.
The stacked coil technology incorporates characteristics of both passive and active pickups into your tone, allowing for a range of tonal possibilities, from extremely heavy and aggressive to light and subtle.
- High cost
- Requires either a battery or an optional battery pack that can be recharged.
This pickup set is one of the most classically voiced available for the Stratocaster from Fender. It generates a lot of brightness on the high end and has a resonance that is almost glassy.
The middle and neck pickup positions get warmer as lead picking notes are played, and they produce an excellent sound.
These are great for Stratocaster purists who are looking for a tone that is unmistakably Fender and harkens back to the rock and roll of the 1960s. We recommend them.
PRICING AND VALUE
The price of this set is typically a little bit higher, somewhere around $150. However, taking into account that Strat pickup sets manufactured by companies other than Fender typically cost more than $200, this is an exceptionally good deal.
The ’57/’62 single coil set is one of the seminal Strat pickup configurations, giving you a classic tone that is fairly bright with some added midrange. This configuration is one of the reasons why Strat is so popular. You won’t get much of a punch from it, but the neck pickup does deliver some warmth that can be heard pretty clearly.
- A low end that is warm and bluesy in tone
- vibrant and glassy on the highs when played through the bridge pickup position
- The high-quality tone is consistent with the traditional design aesthetic of Fender products.
- The lead playing styles benefit greatly from bright tones.
- Alnico 5 magnets
There are none.
Can you explain what a Stratocaster pickup is?
Single-coil magnetic pole pieces make up the vast majority of conventional Stratocaster pickups. These pole pieces are typically arranged in groups of three: one each for the bridge, middle, and neck positions. They generate a tone that is brighter and more bluesy, but they are available in a wide variety of incarnations, each of which is capable of managing a varying amount of gain.
What’s the difference between the pickups on a Strat and a Tele?
Although they are similar to Strat pickups in that they use a single coil design, Telecaster pickups have a slightly warmer tone and are shaped differently to fit the bridge and body of a Telecaster guitar.
Both in Sound and in Tone
Stratocaster pickups, particularly some of the original designs, are voiced with a vintage tone that is more commonly used by lead guitar players who want to cut through a mix. This is because of the pickups’ ability to produce a clear and distinct sound. The crispiness and a bluesy quality are going to be present in even the Stratocaster single coil pickups that have a heavier tone because of the way they are designed.
Even though some Strat pickups are intended to produce deeper tones and heavier gain levels, these are not the Strat pickups’ signature tonal characteristics.
Those guitarists who favor a brighter tone that leans more toward vintage will find that Stratocaster pickups are the most suited to their playing style.
Best for Blues
The Texas Special set available from the Fender Custom Shop is one that we would recommend for blues playing styles. Although it is possible to say the same about the Seymour Duncan pickup sets, the majority of the Stratocaster pickups manufactured by Fender are going to be good for producing blues tones.
Simply put, Fender sets are significantly less expensive, which is a factor that should definitely be taken into consideration when attempting to keep the cost of upgrades to a minimum. All of those Fender sets are going to give you a powerful blues tone, which isn’t necessarily Seymour Duncan’s forte as a manufacturer of pickups.
The Very Best for Rock
Either the Seymour Duncan Hot Rails or the Fishman Fluence set is what I would suggest purchasing for your Strat if you are looking for a heavier and more rock-oriented tone. They will both provide you with additional warmth and low-end that is similar to the response of a humbucker.
What kind did Hendrix use?
Throughout his career, Hendrix played his right-handed Fender Stratocaster with the factory-installed pickups that came with it. Since then, there have been signature pickups developed for Jimi Hendrix, but all they do is replicate the manufacturing process that was prevalent in the 1960s, which is when Hendrix was at the height of his career. You can learn more about the pickups that Jimi Hendrix used and his tone by clicking on this link.
The Best Option for a Pure Sound
When it comes to the quality of the clean tones that can be achieved, it is very difficult to beat what you get from the Fishman Fluence Strat set. If achieving that is the most important thing to you, then we wholeheartedly endorse using them.
The Finest Value Available (best value)
The Texas Specials from the Fender Custom Shop are, without a doubt, the Strat pickup set that offers the best value for the money. You won’t find a much better deal anywhere in the range of $70 to $100, and that’s already more than 50 percent less than the price of the majority of other specialty Strat pickup sets.
Where do we stand with humbuckers?
The body of the guitar and the pickguard of the vast majority of Stratocasters are both outfitted with slots for three single-coil pickups. There are some, however, that have a dual pickup configuration similar to this one:
You’ll also come across Stratocasters with HSS pickup configurations, which consist of a humbucker installed at the bridge position and two single coil pickups installed at the middle and neck position:
If you own a Stratocaster that already has one of these pickup configurations, you can begin to investigate humbuckers as a potential upgrade for your guitar’s pickups. The following is a list of various brands that have earned our confidence:
The Best Humbuckers from Seymour Duncan
Best DiMarzio Humbuckers
With the right Stratocaster pickup upgrade, you can take your playing in a wide variety of stylistically distinct directions. You could either give your Strat a modern and heavy sound by installing modern pickups, or you could give it a vintage look by installing pickups from the 1950s. In my opinion, one of the most important questions you need to ask yourself is what kind of sound you want to achieve with your Stratocaster.
What kind of sound are you trying to achieve before you upgrade? Which musical genre are you attempting to perfect your skills in?
Make a decision about it in advance rather than simply stating that you want to sound better.
It’s not quite enough to say that you want your Strat to sound generally better if you’re going to upgrade its pickups because that’s a given if you do upgrade your pickups. There are so many options.
Give this a try: How would you like the sound of your Stratocaster to be?
What about David Gilmour? Eric Johnson? Is that Billy Corgan? Tom Morello?
Your response to that question will reveal a lot about the type of pickup set that will function most effectively with your Stratocaster.