What are the Best Stratocaster Pickups?

Stratocaster PickupsThe 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 regards to your customization options. Whether you want to change the sound or the feel of your instrument, you are only limited by your imagination. 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 : – )

http://www.fralinpickups.com/stratstyleVH.asp


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 youve got more puch / growl for your leads. Also important: these clean up very nicely.

http://www.fralinpickups.com/stratstyleBS.asp


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 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.

http://www.seymourduncan.com/pickup/quarter-pound-staggered-strat


Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Strat Pickups

Very hot, very blusey. That is pretty much it. These pickups really handle drive well. They are 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.

http://shop.fender.com/en-US/accessories/pickups/fender-texas-special-strat-pickups/09921110

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.

http://www.seymourduncan.com/pickup/classic-stack-plus-strat-bridge


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.

http://www.fralinpickups.com/stratstyleSB.asp

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 strait forward; just an active single coil pickup. It does clean very well, and when using high gain, the tone is very aggressive.

http://www.emgpickups.com/sa.html

EMG Pickups SAV

It may seem like an un-likely 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.

http://www.emgpickups.com/guitar/single-coil/strat/sav.html

Seymour Duncan SHPR-1s P-Rails – a P-90 and a Strat Pickup in a Humbucker-Sized Package

Seymour duncan hpr p-railsIf your guitar has humbucker-sized mountings, yet you dream of the sounds of a P-90 or a Strat, the Seymour Duncan SHPR-1s P-Rails can make this a reality.

First things first: If you are looking for a full-fledged humbucker, go out and buy a full-fledged humbucker. Just wanted to put the whole “…well, it’s not really a real humbucker” argument aside. This pickup is meant for folks who have a humbucker-fitted guitar, yet are looking to get P-90 and or Strat tones out of it.

Some might say: “well, why don’t you just put a P-90 or a Strat pickup in the guitar?”

A: Because some folks cannot or do not want to make such a change. A perfect example would be a Les Paul or SG, which if already routed for a humbucker, is not a good candidate for further cutting.

So, if you have to stay with your humbucker-sized mounting, the SHPR-1s P-Rails from Seymour Duncan is lovely. All three of the sounds in this pickup are terrific. Keep in mind though, when you are in “humbucker” mode (i.e. both coils in series), this one is not going to sound like a normal full-fledged humbucker. It’s not. You will still have that “Strat-ish” kind of sparkle and snap, but then again, that is what you came here for.

Search eBay for Duncan shpr-1s

Keep in mind that you will need to get jiggy with a mini-toggle switch (double-pole / double-throw is probably your best bet) and a soldering iron. But let’s assume you are, or you know someone trustworthy who is. Once you pop these babies in and wire ‘em up, you are in for some pretty fun stuff. P-90 kinda stuff, Stratty bell-like charm, and fun combinations of both are on the menu. Of course if you play a Les Paul Jr or a Strat, when then… duh! But if you are stuck with a mucho-macho humbucker-focused guitar and really want to get these two classic sounds under your fingertips, the Seymour Duncan SHPR-1s P-Rails are a brilliant product that kill two birds with one stone.

Fender Texas Specials Stratocaster Pickups really are Special

Fender Texas Specials
Fender Texas Specials

If you want a vintage Strat pickup that is extra hot, these pickups are seriously worth considering

It’s hard to believe that these pickups just celebrated their 20th anniversary. They first made their debut in January 1992 as the stock pickups in the Stevie Ray Vaughan Stratocaster. Not too long after, they became available as a standalone product. SInce then, they have become quite popular.

Keep in mind: these are Stratocaster pickup; they are dripping in Strat-ness. So again, not meant for situations where you need a humbucker. But if you are a Strat player, and the vintage realm is where you tend to spend your time, the Fender Texas Specials have a lot to offer.

What always impresses me so much about these pickups is the versatility. They do super-clean extremely well. But they also sound incredible with moderate amounts of gain. Granted, these are not meant for crazy amounts of distortion, so if you are a Metal player I don’t think these are the right pickups. But, if you play Blues, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Rock and Roll, Funk, etc… these pickups are quite versatile.

The clean sounds are second to none; plenty of snap, and twang, and bell-like chime. When you start to apply drive, all kinds of wonderful squeaks and squawks start to pop out of your amplifier. While they are vintage pickups (i.e. non hum-canceling). they are surprisingly quiet for vintage pickups. If you are considering upgrading your Fender Stratocaster pickups, and do not want hum-cancelling, Texas Specials are seriously worth considering. Take a listed to the videos below for a pretty good sampling of how they sound.

Fender Texas Specials Product Page

Search eBay for fender texas special

Guitar pickups that changed my life

Pickups that transformed both my playing and tone

This is a celebration of my favorite pickups. The title may seem a bit much, but it is true; these pickups absolutely changed my playing style as well as my tone. I am a bit of a pickup nut. At one point I owned over 100 different pickups, but had only about a dozen or so in a guitar. This is a pretty clear indication of obsessive compulsive disorder. But, at the same time, it’s much better than spending your money on beer : – ). In all seriousness, I have spent the last 30 years in search of the holy grail. Granted, different pickups are often suited to specific styles of music; you would not use a vintage strat single coil for heavy metal, but with that in mind, quite often within that style, there are usually many different pickups that can improve your tone.
Why do I say that some pickups “Transformed my playing:? I say so because in some cases, the sheer physics of a particular pickup inspired me so much that my playing really improved. Because I was able to elicit certain kinds of sounds from my guitar that I had previously not been able to create, my playing would drift into new territories.
This is highly subjective stuff. But, in many cases I only discovered a pickup because of an article I read or when I saw another guitarist live. So, sometimes, you discover new and exciting things based on the previous adventures of another guitarist. I hope that some or even a little of this lens inspires you in the sane way. Enjoy!
Pickups can make a big difference
Pickups can make a big difference

This is a celebration of my favorite pickups. The title may seem a bit much, but it is true; these pickups absolutely changed my playing style as well as my tone. I am a bit of a pickup nut. At one point I owned over 100 different pickups, but had only about a dozen or so in a guitar. This is a pretty clear indication of obsessive compulsive disorder. But, at the same time, it’s much better than spending your money on beer : – ). In all seriousness, I have spent the last 30 years in search of the holy grail. Granted, different pickups are often suited to specific styles of music; you would not use a vintage strat single coil for heavy metal, but with that in mind, quite often within that style, there are usually many different pickups that can improve your tone.

Why do I say that some pickups “Transformed my playing”? I say so because in some cases, the sheer physics of a particular pickup inspired me so much that my playing really improved. Because I was able to elicit certain kinds of sounds from my guitar that I had previously not been able to create, my playing would drift into new territories.

This is highly subjective stuff. But, in many cases I only discovered a pickup because of an article I read or when I saw another guitarist live. So, sometimes, you discover new and exciting things based on the previous adventures of another guitarist. I hope that some or even a little of this lens inspires you in the sane way.


Fralin Steele Pole Strat Pickups

What would happen if a single coil and a P-90 had a baby?

Fralin Steele-Pole
Fralin Steele-Pole

These Strat pickups are quite a departure from the norm. Instead of six pole magnets wrapped with wire, it is six screws that straddle two magnets. This is the basic design of a P-90. What is particularly cool about these is that because they use screws instead of flat poles, you can adjust each pole piece so that the height to the string is just as you want.

The bottom of a Fralin Steele Poled
The bottom of a Fralin Steele Poled

Tone – These pickups have all the “Bell Like” chime that you would want in a single coil, but also have the bite of a P-90. They are not hum-canceling, but they can be reasonably quiet with a moderate amount of drive. They shine particularly in the bridge and middle positions. They do sound great in the neck position, but it is in the bridge and middle position that you often need more thickness. In each case, they have a warmth and body that you will not find in normal vintage-style single coils.

Summary – Lindy Fralin’s shop is a pretty special place. They are religious about pickups. If you go to their website, http://www.fralinpickups.com/ you can get plenty of details about their custom winding options. If you play a Strat, these pickups are seriously worth checking out.


Mini Humbuckers

Truly the best of both worlds

Gibson Mini Humbuckers

Probably the pickup that has the biggest impact on my playing is the Mini Humbucker. I was first drawn to these because of my fascination with the tone of the guitarists from Lynyrd Skynyrd. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that these guitarists did not use Mini Humbuckers as much as I thought. But in many photos, I would see Gary Rossington using a Gibson Firebird. Since this guitar had Mini Humbuckers, I became very obsessed with using these pickups.

Custom Pick Guard
Custom Pick Guard

The biggest challenge to using Mini Humbuckers is that unless you are using a Firebird or Les Paul Deluxe, they cannot be simply dropped into place. The easiest way to start experimenting with these pickups is to use a Strat with a “Swimming Pool” route and a custom cut pick guard. You do have to make a bit of a commitment here as routing your strat in such a way cannot be un-done, but that decision is up to you. I am obsessed by pickup experimentation so these kinds of decisions usually take me about 9 seconds to work through in my brain. For the custom cut pick guard, just go to http://www.warmoth.com, they have a page that allows you to order customized pick Guards.

There are for the most part, two different flavors of Mini Humbucker that I recommend: Les Paul Deluxe and Firebird.

 

Gibson Firebird Pickup
Gibson Firebird Pickup

Firebird – These are my favorite. They have a very “Waxy” or “Squeaky” sound to them. They Seymour Duncan “Antiquity” series is quite good, but the best ones to use are older ones pulled directly out of a Firebird. You can find

Gibson Mini Humbucker
Gibson Mini Humbucker

these on eBay.

Les Paul Deluxe – These are great. They sound more like a normal humbucker than the Firebirds, but they have a much more open feel.

Summary – Mini Humbuckers offer you the best of both worlds; they are humbucking (i.e. no 60-cycle hum), they

are capable of great chime and clarity when you play clean, and when you use a lot of drive, they sound fantiastic. They will never sound quite the same as a full-sized humbucker, but they have a fullness and grit all their own. You really have to experiment and find the ones that are best for you, but it is worth the effort.


Gibson T-Tops

One of the best humbuckers that Gibson every made

Gibson "T-Top"
Gibson “T-Top”

From the late 60’s to the late 70’s, Gibson produced humbuckers that have come to be known at “T-Tops”. The name comes from the odd “T” that protrudes from the top of one of the bobbins. This is a result of the mechanism used to hold the bobbin when it is formed, and then when released, the “T” remained.

Tone – These pickups have all the girth and macho that you come to expect from a humbucker. But they have a certain kind of bite and open sound that you don’t often find in double-coils. Much of the classic rock that you know and love from the 70’s contains great T-Top tones. If you like humbuckers, but also like to get

What kind of Strat should I buy?

Fender Stratocaster
Fender Stratocaster

If you are thinking of purchasing your first Fender Statocaster, here are a few helpful tips

We have good news and bad news:

The good news is: There are so many models to choose from.

The bad news is: There are so many models to choose from : – )

Seriously, if you purchased a brand new strat from Fender, you really have so many different models to choose from. You may or may not have just about enough to purchase a brand new Fender Strat (depending on prices in your local store). So, with so many choices, what is the right Strat for you? Ironically, only you can answer that question. The reason I say that is because more and more, the guitar you choose to purchase really depends on the style of music you play. Since I don’t know what kind of music you are into I have to assume that you have chosen a Stat because you are into music that is not too aggressive (i.e. very heavy Metal, for example:

  • Rock and Roll
  • Blues
  • Funk
  • R&B / Soul
  • Punk
  • Pop

If you are into any of those styles (or anything similar), then a Strat would be a find choice for you. If you are into Very Heavy Metal or similar styles, You might want to consider a totally different guitar, and re-ask your question so that my answer can be more focused.

With that said, I think the main difference between the many Strats offered today by Fender are the pickups. Sure, there are other differences, but the main thing that will really change how the guitar sounds is the choice of pickups. The more “Vintage” Strats out there have three single-coil pickups. These pickups are pretty low output, and are not good for extremely aggressive music. They are better for Rock and Roll, Blues, Funk, Pop and maybe Punk.

If you are into a little more aggressive style of playing, consider the models that have a humbucker in the bridge position. A humbucker will give you a much hotter sound when you play lead, but because there are two single coil pickups in the middle and bridge positions, you have the option of nice clean sounds as well.

Some of the models have the new “S-1™ switching system”. This gives you even more tonal variations than the standard 5-way switch. Cool Stuff.

(Details for the “S-1™ switching system”): http://www.fender.com/products/s1/

Also, you mentioned the bridge. The bridge mostly comes into play if you use the whammy bar alot. In general, if you do not have a locking tremolo like a Floyd Rose or a Khaler, your guitar will definitely go out of tune when you use the whammy bar more than a little. If you are are really into serious whammy bar / dive bombs, then again, you’re barking up the wrong tree with a Fender Strat and should consider a more modern / high-performance guitar like an Ibanez JEM, etc..

Below are some links to the various models that Fender currently offers, and an eBay search link. In conclusion, I would say to really ask yourself mainly what music you want to play. Once you have made your mind up about that, take a good look at the detail for the pages listed below and be sure to ask yourself: What tonal options does this model offer? That is the main thing that will affect how useful the guitar is to you over the course of time. Playability is of course a factor, but that comes into play more when you actually hold the guitar in your hands and try it out.

Reader Question: Strat Bridges and Claw Mounting Screws

Strat Claw

“Mark” Writes:

hello, to who this concerns:

can you please tell me the what’s and hows of the screws are on the tail of the bridge. ( hopefully to make it clearer. the screws, if you were putting them in, the thread of the screw is acing the neck and head of the guitar and the head of the screw is facing the rear of the body ).

i have some adjusting to make with the action and a need to adjust each string to the curvature of the neck. i have a pretty clear understanding of how to do this. but, have not yet gotten the idea of the screw in mention. i am sure that ounce i get to working on it i will have a clear understanding of the screws in mentions purpose. i just want to be very caeful as i cant afford to take my guitar in to the shop and pay the going rate on a project like this and of course cant afford to damage my guitar. i am pretty handy and i am sure that this is’nt beyond my ability. i feel better about asking the stupid questions rather than stress over it and or damage my strat.

thanks to all who provide this information on line to all of us in need!!!

sincerely,  mark

Our Answer:

Hi Mark, thanks for your question. The good news is: there’s not too much going on there. These screws hold in what is known as the “Claw”. That odd piece of metal is what the tremolo springs hang onto. I know this is all very obvious, but I just wanted to provide a little context.

So, all that said, the main effect that these screws have is on the tension of the tremolo bridge. When you loosen these screws, the bridge will tend to lean towards the neck. When you tighten these screws, the bridge tens to lean away from the neck, ultimately laying flush against the body. For the most part, you don’t have to consider these screws when setting your action; sting height will be mostly affected by the height of the saddles and the tilt of the neck. Adjusting these screws can make for a slightly more slinky (i.e. “loose”) feel, or more tension. There is a small range where you can tweak as you like to suit your taste, but too tight and you pull the bridge all the way back, and too lose, and the guitar will be pretty much un-playable. So, I recommend that you set your action as you need, and then you can tweak the claw screws. You’ll want to find that “Sweet Spot” that provides the kind of string tension that you are looking for.

Summary: Don’t concern yourself too much with these screws. Set them so that the your string tension feels right, and then pretty much leave them alone.

DiMarzio DP408 Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro

DiMarzio DP408 Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro
DiMarzio DP408 Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro

Looking for a Vintage-Sounding single coil that is also hum-canceling? Look no further, Dimarzio nails it with the Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro

I cannot believe how good this pickup sounds. You get all the warmth and clarity of a vintage single coil pickup, but no hum. What about when you use a lot of distortion? No problem, this pickup produces some amazing over driven sounds as well. Perfect for Blues, but also works great for Rock.

One of the things that has always surprised me about the entire Virtual Vintage line is how loud they are. I’ve had these pickups in a Strat with humbuckers in the bridge and neck position and in a few cases, the Virtual Vintage was louder than either humbucker. I kid you not. This actually caused a problem as my balance on stage was all over the place. Even though the output is high,the headroom is great. I don’t use DiMarzio pickups exclusively. In fact, I don’t use DiMarzio humbuckers too much at all in the last few years. But the Virtual Vintage ’54 Pro is outstanding and has been in my Strat and Tele one way or another for the last five years.

How to adjust your Strat bridge angle

How to adjust your Strat bridge angle
Stratocaster Bridge

If your Strat bridge is leaning too much towards or away from the neck, these simple steps will get you back to the right angle
A reader recently asked how he could adjust the angle of the tremolo bridge on his Stratocaster. In his case, the bridge was leaning towards the neck. It is a very simply process to adjust this. The main thing to keep in mind is not to tighten the trem claw screws too much (covered in step # 3). Your goal is to have the perfect balance between the tension of the strings vs the tecnsion of the tremolo springs.

1. Loosen your strings a great deal. You don’t have to remove them, but loosen them almost to the point of removal.

2. Turn your guitar over and remove the tremolo cavity plate (a square piece of plastic on the back of the body that his held to the body with several small screws).

3. You should notice two rather large screws that hold the trem claw to the body. If your bridge leans too much towards the neck, tighten those two screws. Do not screw them all the way in, but tighten them so that they are substantially closer to the body. If your bridge leans too much away from the neck, loosen those two screws a bit.

4. Flip your guitar over and tune it up.

5. Check your action, make micro adjustments using the string saddle height adjustments if needed.

6. If needed, repeat steps 3-5 again if needed to get the angle of the bridge just right. You may have to loosen the two screws in step # 3, and that is ok. This process is mainly about finding the right balance, and that could take a few tries.

Don’t be afraid to consult a qualified guitar repair technician. If this is your first time making these kinds of adjustments, it might be a bit nerving. In the end, it is a simple adjustment that you can make your self in order to get the angle of the bridge right.