If you’re a Rock or Heavy Metal Stratocaster guitar player looking to upgrade and improve your sound, check out this list of the best Rock pickups for the Strat.
Perhaps your guitar tone is getting stale, or perhaps it never sounded that good to begin with. Well, before you buy a new one, review this post and put some thought into upgrading your pickups instead. If you play Rock or Metal through a Stratocaster then this information should be especially useful to you. In making our selections, we looked at a number of things. For example, since Rock guitar players are probably going to use a lot of overdrive and distortion, they’ll need a high output pickup capable of delivering a lot of voltage to the amplifier, to push the preamp harder for a better sounding overdrive. But, lots of overdrive and distortion can also be very noisy, especially in a Strat, with its stock single coil pickups.
So, because noise is a serious issue, it’s probably best to use a humbucking pickup. For those who don’t know, a humbucking pickup is two coils working together to cancel out noise and just leave the pure guitar signal, in much the same way a balanced XLR mic cable does. Because a humbucker is two coils, we need those that can fit into a single coil space. Of course, all of the other things that you might look for in a pickup — such as even, clear tone across all strings — are still important. So, all that said, here are what we consider to be some strong candidates for the best Rock pickups for the Strat.
Seymour Duncan JB Jr Pickup
The Seymour Duncan JB Jr has the tone of a humbucker in a single coil-sized pickup. It features a twin coil design, making it an actual humbucker and not just a humbucker emulator. The JB Jr features a ceramic magnet for increased output and bright tone, and it has adjustable poles to help fine-tune the way the pickup reacts to your strings to get that tone you seek. This pickup is high gain but not so aggressive that it loses high-end clarity and low end definition. It’s installed with a four-conductor lead wire allowing for parallel and split wiring, which means that you can wire it to a pull switch on your volume knob to split it into a single coil.
Each pickup is hand-built in Santa Barbara, CA to ensure perfect quality and tone. Many great players are known to use the JB Jr, including Janick Gers from Iron Maiden, Joe Perry from Aerosmith, and Derrick Whibley. Seymour Duncan recommends the Little ’59 Strat or Duckbuckers Strat for the neck position when using the JB Jr in your bridge position.
DiMarzio DP218 Super Distortion S
The DiMarzio DP218 Super Distortion S is based on the famous Super Distortion humbucker pickup, but in a single coil size. It has been a favorite of strat players since 2005. This is meant to be a bridge position pickup and, as such, it has been designed to take into account the classic slanted bridge pickup style. This pickup uses four-conductor wiring for parallel humbucking and split-coil modes for added tonal flexibility not usually present in mini-humbuckers. The DiMarzio DP218 uses a ceramic magnet for higher output and boosted highs. It’s meant to beef up the sound of your single coil pickup with a much higher output, driving the amp harder and leading to more crunch and distortion. The two coils add humbucking qualities to the pickup, greatly reducing the amount of noise presented to the amplifier.
The mini-humbucker also warms the highs, thickens up the lows, and adds sustain to your sound. It is also very articulate and sensitive, and it allows you to hear the slightest nuances, even with heavy distortion and effects. The DiMarzio DP218 Super Distortion S pairs very well with the Pro Track, The Chopper, and the Fast Track 1.
Seymour Duncan SHR-1
The SHR-1 is called the Hot Rails Strat and is another great humbucker made by Seymour Duncan. The Hot Rails Strat is one of the highest output pickups that they make, and it is also one of their most popular. It contains a strong ceramic magnet for its high gain and bright highs, and the powerfully wound coils give this pickup its massive output and sensitivity. The SHR-1 gives the player a warm, thick sound with plenty of sustain and loads of midrange harmonics. It sounds good with any genre of music, but it really excels at Rock, Hard Rock, Grunge, and Metal where you need a thick distortion with heavy and chunky chords.
The four-conductor lead wire install allows the player to use the pickup as it is or to split the coil, creating a single coil, for more versatility with your tone. As with all Seymour Duncan pickups, each is handmade in Santa Barbara, CA to ensure quality and tone perfection, and this one is made in a bridge and a neck version. Great players of the Seymour Duncan SHR-1 include Dave Murray from Iron Maiden, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age.
DiMarzio DP187 Cruiser
The DiMarzio DP187 Cruiser is a mini-humbucker designed to fit into the space of a single coil pickup with no modifications to the guitar. This is a particularly unique creation, featuring a side-by-side coil design, but instead of the traditional two identical coils, it utilizes two different coils. One coil is designated as the Woofer, and the other is designated as the Tweeter. The two-coil system extends the range of the noise-canceling design, and it allows for the enhancement of each coil while fine-tuning the overall output. DiMarzio calls this their dual-resonance design, and it’s exclusive to their line.
The DP187 Cruiser features a ceramic magnet for brightness and power, and there is 40% less magnetic pull on the strings. This weaker magnetic pull leads to a more “open” tone and increased sustain, while still sounding clean, clear, and bright. With less magnetic pull the pickup can be placed closer to the strings for more power. This is a covered pickup and it is installed with a four-conductor lead wire. It’s used by guitar greats such as Andy Timmons, Jason Loughlin, Phil Collen, Art Rodriguez, and Kiko Loureiro.
Lace Sensor Red
The Lace Sensor Red is the only single coil pickup on this list, but it still has plenty of surprises. It’s the hottest output electric guitar pickup available in the Sensor Pickups line, offering your amp plenty of juice to turn into overdrive. The Lace Sensor pickups have a unique radiant Field Barrier system which is metal slides that frame the inner core of the the coil and the magnets, thus getting rid of unwanted noise and hum. The patented Lace Micro Combs system replaces traditional bobbins, creating a wider tonal range and better string balance than traditional pickups. Standard electric guitar pickups sense string vibrations using six magnetic posts that create four to 12 magnetic fields. Lace Sensors generate 36 separate magnetic fields which can pick up even the slightest nuances in your playing and transmit them to your amplifier.
Lace Sensors also read a greater physical area of the string than standard pickups, so a wider range of harmonic content can be realized. Lace Sensors utilize much lower energy magnets than ordinary pickups, and this leads to a more open tone with increased sustain. These pickups were used exclusively by Fender until 1996 and since then they have continued their legacy of high quality and great sound.