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Unleashing the Stratocaster’s Potential: A Guide to Pickups

Introduction to Stratocaster Pickups

Since its introduction in 1954, the Fender Stratocaster has been one of the most iconic and influential electric guitars in music history. With its sleek design, versatile tone, and innovative features, the Strat has been played by countless guitar legends and helped shape the sound of rock, blues, and pop music.

However, one of the primary reasons for the Strat’s enduring popularity has been its pickups – the magnetic devices that convert string vibrations into electrical signals and shape the tone of the guitar’s sound. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of Strat pickups, their history, and some of the best models available today.

Overview of the Different Stratocaster Models

Before diving into pickups, it’s worth noting that there are several different types of Stratocaster guitars, each with its own unique features and specs. Here are some of the most common varieties:

– Standard Stratocaster: This is the basic model of the Strat, featuring three single-coil pickups, a synchronized tremolo system, and the classic Strat body design.

– American Professional Stratocaster: This is a higher-end version the Strat, featuring noiseless pickups, smooth-playing necks, and premium hardware and finishes. – Eric Johnson Signature Stratocaster: This is a special edition of the Strat designed in collaboration with guitar virtuoso Eric Johnson.

It features a unique set of pickups and custom wiring options that allow for enhanced tone shaping. – Jimi Hendrix Signature Stratocaster: This is a tribute model to the legendary Hendrix, featuring a reverse headstock, maple neck, and reproduction of his signature hand-painted “Sgt.

Pepper” guitar.

Importance of Pickups in Achieving Strat Tone

While the design and materials of the guitar itself certainly play a role in shaping the overall sound of a Strat, it’s generally accepted that the pickups are the most important factor in achieving the classic Stratocaster tone. The typical Strat pickup configuration consists of three single-coil pickups, each with a distinct sound and character.

The bridge pickup is bright and twangy, perfect for country and rock leads; the middle pickup is warmer and more balanced, suitable for rhythm and blues playing; and the neck pickup is the warmest and most mellow, ideal for jazz and soul styles. The combination of these pickups, along with a 5-way selector switch, allows for a wide range of tonal possibilities.

Top 13 Stratocaster Pickups Reviewed

Now that we’ve covered the basics of Strat pickups, let’s take a look at some of the best models available on the market today. We’ve included a mix of classic and modern pickups, as well as some signature models designed in collaboration with famous guitarists.

1. Fender Gen IV Noiseless

As the name suggests, these pickups are notable for their noise reduction technology, which eliminates the humming and buzzing that can sometimes be present in single-coil pickups.

They also have a balanced and clear tone that works well for a variety of genres. 2.

EMG DG20 David Gilmour Signature Loaded Pickguard

Designed in collaboration with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, these pickups feature active electronics that provide a high output and pristine clarity. They also have a versatile range of tones thanks to their custom wiring and tone control options.

3. Wilkinson Vintage Voice

These pickups are inspired by the classic Fender single-coils of the 1950s and 60s, with a bright and clear tone that’s perfect for vintage-style playing.

They also feature a wax potting process that reduces unwanted feedback and noise. 4.

Seymour Duncan Everything Axe

As the name suggests, these pickups are designed to cover a wide range of playing styles, from clean blues to heavy metal. They have a high output and a powerful midrange, along with a coil-tap option that allows for single-coil sounds.

5. Bare Knuckle Boot Camp Old Guard

These pickups are hand-wound in the UK and aimed at replicating the sound of classic Strat pickups from the 60s and 70s.

They have a wide dynamic range and a clear, ringing tone that’s perfect for clean and jangly styles. 6.

Fender Eric Johnson Signature Series

Designed in collaboration with Eric Johnson, these pickups are based on his personal collection of vintage pickups and feature a unique blending of different single-coil sounds. They have a bright and articulate tone, with plenty of midrange punch.

7. EMG SA Series

Similar to the DG20 pickups, these are active pickups that provide a high output and a noise-free signal.

They have a crisp and clear tone ideal for lead playing, along with a built-in preamp for enhanced sustain and responsiveness. 8.

ToneRider Vintage Hot Blues

These pickups are designed to replicate the sound of classic blues and rock players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. They have a warm and woody tone with plenty of bite and growl, perfect for expressive playing.

9. Seymour Duncan California ’50s

As the name suggests, these pickups are modeled after the classic Fender pickups from the 1950s.

They have a bright and glassy tone with plenty of sparkle and shimmer, and are well-suited for clean and jazzy styles. 10.

Fender Tex Mex Loaded Strat Pickguard

This is a convenient option for players looking to upgrade their pickups without having to do any soldering or wiring themselves. The loaded pickguard includes three Tex-Mex single-coils that have a classic Strat tone and plenty of output.

11. Lace Sensor Ultimate Triple

This pickup set features a trio of single-coils that have a unique design, with a patented Lace Sensor technology that reduces noise and increases sustain.

They have a balanced and versatile tone that’s perfect for a variety of genres. 12.

Seymour Duncan Billy Gibbons Red Devil

Designed in collaboration with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, these pickups have a hot and fat tone that’s ideal for aggressive blues and rock playing. They use a custom alnico magnet that provides plenty of snap and bite, with a touch of compression.

13. Musiclily Loaded Strat Pickguard

Another convenient pickguard option, this one features three ceramic magnets single-coils that have a bright and scooped tone with plenty of clarity.

They’re well-suited for heavy overdrive and distortion sounds.


In conclusion, Stratocaster pickups are a crucial component of the guitar’s sound and tone, and there are plenty of options available for players looking to upgrade or customize their sound. Whether you prefer a classic vintage sound or a modern high-output tone, there’s sure to be a Strat pickup out there that suits your preferences.

We hope this article has been useful in providing an overview of the different types of Stratocaster pickups and some of the best models available today. Happy playing!

Stratocaster Pickup Buying Guide

If you’re looking to upgrade the pickups on your Stratocaster guitar, it can be overwhelming to wade through all the different options available. Whether you’re looking for a traditional vintage sound or a modern high-output tone, there are a variety of pickup types, configurations, and features to consider.

In this article, we’ll break down some of the key factors to keep in mind when choosing Stratocaster pickups.

Types of Pickups

The two most common types of pickups found on Stratocaster guitars are single coils and humbuckers. Each type has its own distinct sound and character.

Single Coils:

Single-coil pickups are the original pickup design used on the earliest Stratocaster models. They feature a bright and clear sound with plenty of treble and midrange, and are ideal for clean playing and jangly styles.

The typical Stratocaster configuration features three single coils in the neck, middle, and bridge positions. However, some players may choose to swap out one or more pickups for a different type of single coil to achieve a specific tone.

Some of the most popular single-coil pickups for Stratocasters include the Fender Pure Vintage ’65, Seymour Duncan SSL-1, and DiMarzio Area 58. Humbuckers:

Humbucker pickups are a more recent innovation, first introduced by Gibson in the 1950s.

They feature two coils wound together in a hum-canceling design that reduces unwanted noise and feedback. Humbuckers have a fatter and warmer sound with more bass and midrange than single coils, making them ideal for heavier rock and metal playing.

While they’re less common on Stratocaster guitars, there are plenty of players who use humbuckers to customize their sound. Some popular models of humbucker pickups for Stratocasters include the Seymour Duncan JB Jr., DiMarzio Fast Track 2, and Fender Shawbucker.

Active or Passive? Another factor to consider when choosing Stratocaster pickups is whether to go with passive or active electronics.

Passive pickups are the traditional type of pickup found on most guitars, and they don’t require any external power source to function. They have a warm and organic sound with a high degree of dynamic range, meaning they can respond well to subtle variations in playing style.

Active pickups, on the other hand, require a battery to function and feature a preamp circuit that boosts the signal output. They have a higher output and a tighter, more focused sound that’s ideal for heavy distortion and high-gain playing.

Choosing between active and passive pickups is largely a matter of personal preference and playing style. Some popular models of active pickups for Stratocasters include the EMG SA and the Seymour Duncan Blackouts.

Pickup Configuration

Another key consideration when choosing Stratocaster pickups is the pickup configuration, or the arrangement of pickups on the guitar. There are several different configuration options available, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

The basic Stratocaster configuration features three single-coil pickups, with the neck and middle pickups in the same position and the bridge pickup slanted. This is often denoted as SSS on pickup specification sheets.

However, many players choose to modify their Stratocasters with different pickup configurations, such as:

– SSH: This configuration features a humbucker pickup in the bridge position and single coils in the neck and middle, offering a wider range of tones. – HSH: This configuration features a humbucker in the neck and bridge positions and a single coil in the middle, ideal for players who want high output and flexibility.

– HH: This configuration features two humbuckers, providing a thicker and heavier sound than a typical Stratocaster configuration. – HHH: This configuration features three humbuckers, offering a wide range of tonal possibilities and high output for heavy playing.

Why is the Bridge Pickup Slanted? Finally, you may be wondering why the bridge pickup on a Stratocaster is slanted.

There are a few different theories as to the reasoning behind this design choice, but one commonly cited explanation is that it helps to balance the overall sound of the guitar. Because the bridge pickup is typically brighter and sharper than the other pickups, slanting it slightly helps to offset this tonal imbalance and create a more balanced sound overall.


Choosing the right Stratocaster pickups is an important decision that can greatly impact the sound and performance of your guitar. Whether you’re a seasoned player or just starting out, keeping these factors in mind can help you make an informed decision and find the pickups that work best for your style and preferences.

In conclusion, choosing the right Stratocaster pickups is crucial for achieving the desired sound and tone for a player. Factors to consider include single coils versus humbuckers, active versus passive pickups, pickup configuration, and why the bridge pickup is slanted.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, taking these factors into account will help you select the best pickups for your playing style and preferences. The importance of choosing the right pickups for your Stratocaster cannot be overstated, so it’s worth taking the time to research and experiment until you find the perfect fit.

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