The Fender Stratocaster is widely considered to be not only one of the best Fenders ever produced, but one of the all-time great electric guitars. An amazing guitar needs amazing pickups, but which ones are right for you? Today we’re looking at the best strat pickups available on the market.
Leo Fender has designed some of the world’s most revered electric guitars. But with the Stratocaster, you have potentially his finest ever work. Introduced to the world in 1954 this versatile instrument is iconic and sounds just as good as it looks.
Some of the greatest to ever do it have used Stratocasters. The likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Buddy Holly, The Edge, David Gilmour, and Ritchie Blackmore to name but a few.
However, no matter how great the guitar is or how many legends choose to play it, an electric guitar is nothing without a great set of pickups to convey your sound. Today we’re looking at just that, a list of five pickups that sound great with your Strat.
We’ll outline each one and why we like it, along with any downsides it may have, as well as answering some of the most commonly asked questions and queries about Strat pickups before making some recommendations on which pickups will suit which players.
Bear in mind that, whilst some Strats use a humbucker and two single-coil (HSS) configuration, we’re focussing on only single-coil sets or individual single-coil pickups here. This is simply because we think they sound the best.
But before we dive into the details, let’s take a look at an overview of our five favorite pickups for Strats.
5 of the Best Strat Pickups
|Seymour Duncan California 50’s||White/Black||Set of three pickups, user manual||$$|
|Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster Pickup Set||Cream||Set of three pickups, user guide||$$$|
|Fender Custom Shop 1969 Strat Pickup Set||White||Set of three pickups, user guide||$$$|
|Fender Vintage Noiseless Strat Pickup Set||Cream/Black||Set of three pickups, user guide||$$|
|Fender Pure Vintage ’65 Strat Pickups||White||Set of three pickups, user guide||$|
What is a Stratocaster and Why are They Considered so Good?
As we mentioned, the Fender Stratocaster is one of the most popular and sought-after electric guitars in the world. A pop culture icon in its own right, the number of household names to have used one means the 1950s instrument remains hugely popular to this day.
It is the standard to which all solid body guitars are still judged today and has remained at the forefront of public consciousness for well over sixty years. But why exactly is this?
Perhaps the most important factor behind the Strat’s success has been its well thought out design. Leo Fender wasn’t actually a musician himself so when designing this model he enlisted the help of various professional musicians around at the time. He essentially took the feedback from these musicians and built the perfect guitar using the Telecaster as a base.
Some of the key changes Fender made to the Telecaster included improved ergonomics around the forearm and midriff, 3-pickup arrangement, better access controls, and the groundbreaking tremolo. It’s these additions that helped to make the Strat what it is today.
If it Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It!
Classics never go out of fashion. That is true about many things but in particular, guitars. Despite a shift in the latest fashions over the years, the Strat has remained a good choice for both experienced players and those totally new to the world of guitars.
Different variations on the Strat have come and gone over the years but the original remains the most popular. So much so that a brand new model still to this day comes with some of the exact same features as the original ‘54 models did. For example;
- Alder/ash body
- Double cutaway
- Forearm/midriff contours
- Maple neck
- Maple/rosewood fingerboard
- 25.5“ scale
- Blade selector switch & 3-knob control layout
People love to customize their belongings, particularly when it comes to expensive personal items like instruments. When Fender decided to make the Strat super easy to customize they added to its desirability significantly.
With a Strat people have the option to easily change pickups, pickguards, add tremolo blocks and locking tuners as well as a whole host of other options. These allow players to change both the look and sound of their guitars.
Because these customizations are so easy to make, the Strat is a dream for fans of modded instruments. It also means you can tailor any Strat to an individual’s specific playing style and tonal preference. Add to that the fact that with over 60 years since its release there is a whole host of aftermarket accessories available and you’ve got one popular model.
Another key to Strat’s success is that it appeals to a wide range of audiences. Where some guitar manufacturers have pigeon-holed their products into specific genres and styles, the Strat appeals to many.
This feeds back to the idea that this model is highly customizable. Because you can fundamentally change the sound to suit your style, literally anyone can use it. From bands like Slipknot right through to Nile Rodgers & Chic, a Strat is the go-to regardless of musical taste. Many professional guitarists have gone on record to say that if they could only have one guitar at a gig, it would be their Strat.
Full of Personality
The famous bell-like tones of the Strat have a reputation for really allowing playing character to shine through during performances. Some of the world’s most legendary guitarists have carved out their signature sound using a Strat. For example, Jimi Hendrix’s fuzz fade, Nile Rodger’s direct-to-board tones, and SRV’s dumbles are all the result of the personality of their Strats shining through.
Why do Their Pickups Make Such a Difference?
A guitar’s pickups are one of its most important features. A pickup literally picks up the signal generated by your guitar’s strings and sends it through your wiring and out of your amp as sound.
These signals that are picked up can be interpreted in different ways and no two pickups are built the same. The way that your chosen pickup converts this signal has a huge impact on your overall sound so it is important to choose a set that compliments your sound well.
Different types of pickups include Humbuckers, P90s, and Single Coils. Other differences to be aware of include whether your chosen set is active or passive. Each of these different types of pickup is designed differently and produces a very different sound. Make sure you pick the right one for your Stratocaster by reading this feature today!
5 of the Best Pickups for You Stratocaster
Seymour Duncan California 50’s – A Great Option for Creating Bite That is Ideal for Surf, Country, Blues, and Classic Rock
There’s a very specific sound the original Strats made when they were first released back in the mid-1950s. If you opt to upgrade your guitar with Seymour’s Duncan California 50s then you’ll be adding that 50s twang with warmth, character, and punch in abundance.
These pickups do a pretty good job at emulating the originals and are expertly crafted using the same construction methods and materials. These are a brilliant choice if you like your guitar sounds drenched in nostalgia.
Installing one of these on your Strat is sure to provide that familiar vintage sound, look and feel. According to Seymour, these pickups are built by hand using sand-cast, Alnico-5 magnets assembled in the same way the pickups of the 50s were, hence how they produce their sound!
- 100% authentic reproductions
- Matching set
- Biting tone
- Suitable for 6-string guitars
- Pickup configurations: S/S/S
- Authentic and warm sounds
- Vintage look and feel
- High build quality
- Not overly expensive
- Can be hard to get hold of
Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster Pickup Set – Acclaimed Guitarist Eric Johnson’s Version of his Perfect Pickup
Fender teamed up with renowned guitarist and tone connoisseur Eric Johnson to create the ideal pickup for his unique sound. Striking the perfect balance between Fender’s traditions and Jonhson’s modern style, the resulting Strat pickup is now a key part of his setup and a highly popular model the world over.
The Fender EJ pickup set is made up of three components. The bridge pickup consists of Alnico 5 magnets and is specifically designed to be warmer without any lapse in the top ends. The middle pickup is based on the ‘63 Strat and uses specially treated Alnico magnets whilst being reverse wound.
This allows for the cancellation of any excess humming. Finally, the neck pickup draws its inspiration from the original ‘54 model and comprises oversized alnico 3 magnets.
The overall output of the Fender EJ pickups is a little warmer than your usual vintage model due to its combination of powerful magnets. The balance Fender has managed to find produces beautifully clear lead tones sure to satisfy players of all ages and abilities.
- 3 single-coil pickup set
- Warmer output than most vintage-style pickups
- Very dynamic & balanced output
- Alnico 3 & Alnico 5 magnets
- DC resistance: Bridge; 6.7k – 6.9k, Middle; 6.3k to 6.5k & Neck; 5.8k to 6.0k
- Versatile and suits many styles of play
- Suitable for beginners
- Produces very clear tones
- Not ideal if you are after a vintage sound
- Can be pricey
Fender Custom Shop 1969 Strat Pickup Set – Perfect for the Punchy Blues Sounds of the Late ‘60s
The Custom Shop 1969 Strat pickups are known for producing some of the most well-received and well-loved guitar sounds of all time. The late 1960s is regarded as a golden age for guitar music and the blues-rock sound was king at the time.
The transparency and clarity produced by the unique coil design with its magnetic structure helped the 1969 pickup to recreate these sounds beautifully and has led to it becoming one of the go-to pickups for any strat player looking to emulate that ‘60s style.
Another triumph of Fender’s design here is the way in which this pickup works with pedals as it really allows the low ends to pump through whilst letting the highs be heard in all of their glory.
When looking deeper into the attributes of the ‘69s it becomes clear that they possess typical scooped mid-tones, crisp and clear tops and balanced lows.
The relatively low output means these pickups are well suited to keeping sounds clean when needed as well as allowing you to manipulate your sound when used with pedals. They also offer a little more low end when compared to similar pickups in the range.
If you have or are after a bright-sounding guitar then these could well be the perfect option for you. Similarly, if you are in the market for that Stratocaster tone that became so famous in the 1960s and ‘70s, these will help you achieve it. They’re at the pricier end of our list but won’t leave you disappointed.
- Set of 3x Custom 1969 Strat pickups
- Suitable for neck, middle, and bridge positioning
- 5.8k DC Resistance
- 2.2 Henries Inductance
- Great for achieving that classic sound
- Produces crisp tones
- Work very well with pedals
- It’s at the top end of our list in terms of price
Fender Vintage Noiseless Strat Pickup Set – Ideal for Those Looking to Reduce That Annoying Hum
The Fender Vintage Noiseless Strat set is designed and made using Alnico 5 magnets with custom wires. Topped off with aged white covers for that authentic look and feel, these noiseless Strats are ideal for the player looking to strike the perfect balance between a great sound and reduction of that often annoying hum caused by static.
They achieve this reduction in noise through their clever design. The noiseless pickups are essentially two single-coil pickups but stacked on top of each other and encased in the same outer shell. Doing this gives them similar qualities to humbuckers, which employ a similar design but with coils positioned side by side.
Fender first released this product range back in 1998 and has continued to build upon and develop the design and concepts ever since. This means that the latest model available is their best to date, so if static noise is a concern to you definitely check these out.
- Stacked single coil design
- 60 cycle hum
- Vintage tones with crips and clear highs
- Punchy low end
- Dramatically reduces the impact of static noise on your performances
- Good all-round pickup set
- Clear tones
- There may be better pickups if you specialize in a specific sound
- Quite pricey
Fender Pure Vintage ’65 Strat Pickups – Another Classic Fender Strat From the Mid 1960s
The Fender Pure Vintage comprises several genuine ‘60s construction techniques. The original cloth wiring and 1965 spec tension help this pickup achieve the epitome of classic Fender performance and tone. There really aren’t many other options out there if you’re after the clean, clear, and powerful tones of a mid-1960s Stratocaster.
It plays beautifully well thanks to the low-end output and manages to still sound just as good through fuzz and distortion pedals. Even when you crank the volume right up these pickups continue to shine.
The tones these classic pickups create are akin to some of the best in the business. Particularly if that vintage surf rock sound is your thing.
We found these Strats to be amongst our favorites as they produced clear sounds through the high, mid, and low sections even when playing through various pedals and effects. This one is for the real guitar purists out there.
- Authentic cloth wire & fiber bobbin construction
- Aged white covers
- 5.9k ohms DC resistance
- Bass/Mid/Treble output rating: 5/5/6
- One of the best sounding pickup sets on our list
- Not overly expensive
- Perfect if 1960’s surf rock is your thing
- Only cater to a specific sound
Frequently Asked Questions About Strat Pickups
In this section, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most frequently asked questions and queries about Strat pickups. Read on to find out more.
Answer: There are a few main differences between the two.
Both passive and active pickups have two essential components; a magnet, and some copper wire. Vibrations from the guitar strings are converted into a current that is then sent to your amplifier where it is turned into sound.
They differ in that passive ones have a weaker signal, thus relying more heavily on your amplifier to produce a good sound. Active pickups, on the other hand, have a much higher output due to the fact that they have a dedicated power source, such as a battery. They will therefore give you a stronger signal and provide more consistency than passive pickups.
Answer: You will be able to tell which type of pickup you have installed on your guitar by the power source. If your pickup has one, it is active. If it does not, you have a passive set.
Conclusion: Which is the Best Pickup Set for my Strat?
The great thing about upgrading your pickups is that you have so many options at your disposal. Depending on your preferred style and sound you can really help to improve your playing through a new set. That said, let’s have a look at a couple of our overall favorites.
The Seymour Duncan California ‘50s gets our pick for vintage sounds. We thought that overall if you’re looking for pickups to give you that country and blues twang then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better set. Their price was a big bonus for us, too.
Our other favorite from our list was the Fender Pure Vintage ’65. True in its tones and rich in its lows, the Pure Vintage ‘65 is what it’s all about for us. If you’re looking to recreate the sound of the golden era of rock music then look no further.
Jodie is a trained classical guitarist. She is also a full-time blogger and loves to write about different types of guitars. Just give her 60 seconds of your time, and she’ll tell you all that you need to know about any guitar of your choice.