Whether you want to change the sound or the feel of your instrument, you are only limited by your imagination.
The Stratocaster is one of the most flexible guitars ever made. When compared to many Gibson models such as the Les Paul or SG, there is a dramatic difference with regard to your customization options. One of the most popular areas of focus for Stratocaster modification is the pickups. This change will have the most dramatic effect on your guitar’s sound.
There are a zillion options out there for pickups. Some good, some great, and some just plain awful. Among the “great” options, the “right” pickup depends on not only your budget, but also your taste. This is a very subjective area and opinions differ. So while some may prefer a vintage-style / low-output Stratocaster pickup, others may opt for a noiseless or active model. There are no right or wrong answers here, just what works best for you. Hopefully this list will help you get started in making this choice.
Vintage Stratocaster Pickups
Lindy Fralin Strat Style Vintage Hots
Lindy Fralin pickups are very popular among serious tone-chasers. The Vintage Hots are not only popular, but they are dripping in serious vintage tone. Lindy goes all out with the beveled magnets and cloth leads, for a true vintage vibe.
Of course, none of this matters unless you remove your pickguard and actually look at the pickups, but for some, just knowing that the specs are “true vintage” is a good feeling : – )
Lindy Fralin Blues Special
A little bit hotter and darker than the Vintage Hots, these are a great choice for Blues. Not just because the name says so, but because it is just a good fit. There are more mids, so you’ve got more puch / growl for your leads. Also important: these clean up very nicely.
Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Staggered Strat
Imagine if you could fit a P-90 into the pickguard slot. That’s pretty much what you get with the Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound. Bigger alnico 5 rod magnets translate to a serious kick in the mids. You still get the chimey bell-like tone when you wanna clean things up, so there is plenty of range here. But make no mistake about it: these are passive / vintage style, but they are pretty loud, and have lots of head room.
Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Strat Pickups
Very hot, very bluesy; these pickups really handle drive well — that’s pretty much it! They’re vintage style, so you can get into a bit of trouble if you use too much gain, but most use these for Blues (so “too much drive” should not be in your vocabulary, right? : – )
These pickups are dripping in tone. Very tangy, but also very chimey when played clean. Forget the whole “SRV” connection; these just sound amazing.
Noiseless Stratocaster Pickups
Seymour Duncan Classic Stack Plus Strat
You really have to give it to Seymour Duncan: they pretty much invented the whole “noiseless” genre. Their Classic Stack was the first hum-canceling Strat pickup that I can remember. This reincaration uses the same reliable blueprint, with modern construction. Pure strat, no hum. Nice.
Lindy Fralin Strat Split-Blades
Lindy’s Split-Blade is a full humbucker that fits right into a Strat pickguard mounting. He’s really pulled off something pretty special here: these pickups have all the girth and attack of a humbucker, but retain that chimey Strat sound when cleaned up. The Youtube demos below are great and really show you what these pickups can do.
Active Stratocaster Pickups
EMG Pickups SA
When it comes to active pickups, EMG is considered by some to be the standard. The SA is very straightforward: just an active single coil pickup. It does clean very well, and when using high gain, the tone is very aggressive.
EMG Pickups SAV
It may seem like an unlikely combination, but if you want an active Stratocaster pickup that offers the look and tone of a vintage model, the EMG Pickups SAV is a great choice. Other than the “EMG” logo, it looks identical to a vintage Strat pickup, and is available in black, white or ivory. The sounds are great: shimmering cleans, plenty of Strat-ish “duck quack,” and serious kick when you dial in the drive. For Vintage enthusiasts who want an active Strat pickup, this is a “best of borh worlds” scenario.