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At Music Industry How To, we’ve talked a lot about how to get the tone you want as a guitarist.
One of the most important components that determines how your guitar sounds is your pickups.
In this guide, we’ll be looking specifically at the best Stratocaster pickups, so if you have a Strat and you want to change its tone to something you love, this guide is for you.
But even if you don’t have a Strat, there might be some ideas you can take away from what I’m about to share.
So, let’s get into it – here are the best Stratocaster pickups for your guitar.
Fender Strat Hot Noiseless Pickups, Aged White
One of the number one issues guitarists tend to encounter with single coil pickups is noise.
Single coils sound great, no doubt, and while humbuckers typically produce considerably less noise, they would also alter the tone of your guitar.
If you’re already happy with the tone of your guitar, it doesn’t make sense to change over to humbuckers.
That’s where Fender Hot Noiseless pickups come in. There are a lot of other great pickups on this list, but before we even get to those, I think it’s important that we make you aware of this upgrade.
Designed upon the request of guitar legend Jeff Beck, Hot Noiseless pickups give you both warmth and punch, and of course, they are quieter than stock pickups, helping you cut down on noise, hum and buzz.
Now, for better or for worse, noise is just something you’re going to have to live with if you’re using single coil pickups.
You can cut down on it significantly using a pickup set like this one or by using a noise gate or something like that.
But it’s nice to know you can reduce the unwanted noise, which is especially noticeable when recording in the studio with sensitive mics.
In a noisy mix with drums, bass, keyboards, vocals and more, you probably won’t notice it. But you would hear it in soloed guitar parts.
So, pick up the Fender pickup set if you’re ready to cut down on unwelcome noise.
Lace Sensor Blue-Silver-Red Pickup Set
The next obvious upgrade worth mentioning is the Lace Sensors.
These clean-looking pickups come in Black, Cream and White, depending on your preferences and what you think would look best on your guitar.
The Lace Sensor pickups each have a color designation – Blue, Silver and Red.
The Red Sensor has the hottest output, which makes it perfect for the bridge position, offering a punchy humbucker-like sound.
The Blue Sensor has a slightly increased output with a warm, 50s humbucking tone. This one would go in the neck position.
The Silver senor has a fat, 70s single-coil sound with boosted output and midrange. You’d want to put this pickup in the middle position.
To me, the Sensors have an incredibly smooth and clean sound. With the right effects, they can be incredibly mean. They can also be gentle and delicate.
The Lace Sensors wouldn’t be for everyone, as they will alter the tone of your Strat. I would say they change the tone in a good way, but not everyone will agree on that.
I think the Lace pickups are 100% worth checking out.
Fender Tex-Mex Strat Pickups
Another Fender upgrade worth considering is the Tex-Mex Start pickups. In addition to being affordable and easy to install, they give your Strat a classic 60s vibe.
To my ears, the pickups offer a round tone, perfect for all the playing styles Strats are known for – classic rock, blues, funk, country and the like.
These babies come with alnico V magnets wrapped with Formvar wire and an overwound bridge pickup for hotter output.
Reviews are mostly positive, with some commenting on issues with quality control. If the first set isn’t working quite right, you might have to return it for another one.
But the sounds coming from the Fenders are legit. This is another pickup set you might want to check out.
Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster Pickups
Eric Johnson is one of guitar’s largely unspoken heroes. His playing and technique are simply incredible, and his obsession over tone and polishing every lick he plays is legendary.
No surprise, then, that the Eric Johnson pickups would make this list.
The pickups were created in collaboration with Johnson himself. The bridge pickup offers hotter output compared to vintage pickups. They are also highly dynamic and balanced.
These babies were made with alnico 3 and 5 magnets, and the reverse-wound middle pickup helps reduce hum.
The pickups sound great, and where most pickups are great for rhythm or lead, these strike a careful balance that allow you to get the tones you need when you need them for different sections of a song.
Will these pickups make you sound as good as Eric Johnson? Sadly, that feature is noticeably absent. You have no choice but to practice and work on your technical skills if you want to sound like Johnson.
Nevertheless, users of the Fender pickups absolutely love them, even if they are a little on the pricey side, making them a sure bet on this list.
Seymour Duncan California 50s Strat Pickup Set
Seymour Duncan is another known player in the pickup space, and yes, they do make awesome-sounding Strat pickups in addition to all their killer humbuckers.
As the name would suggest, the Seymour Duncan California 50s pickup set are vintage style pickups for those who love the classic Strat sounds. And, they sound a lot like the stock Strat pickups from the 50s.
The pickups use an alnico V rod magnet, wound with heavy Formvar magnet wire. They’ve also been wax potted, which helps eliminate squeal.
These pickups would be especially great for country, funk, blues and classic rock. Naturally, they’re not going to give you enough thump if you’re thinking about using them for metal though.
To my ears, they offer both warmth and cut. It all depends on what style of music you play, but I think they are all-around awesome sounding pickups.
Go have a listen to the Seymour Duncan pickups for yourself. You’re sure to be impressed.
Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Strat Surfer Series Pickups
With a name like Antiquity II Strat Surfer Series pickups, you’d assume these noisemakers would be best suited for classic surf music.
Certainly, there’s a rich history of surf music paving the way for future generations of guitar music and guitar heroes, but honestly these tone carriers are just as effective for the blues.
To my ears, they offer considerable bite and chime. Some users even say there isn’t a brighter pickup available for Strats.
That means they’d be perfect for country too, although they would still be usable for a host of other genres.
The in-between pickup settings are particularly smooth, and again, even in the middle and neck positions, you can get a lot of bite.
The pickups really cook when you dial in a bit of overdrive or distortion, which means they’d even be okay for some heavier stuff.
As you would expect, they also work well for surf guitar.
Seymour Duncan Jimi Hendrix Signature Strat Pickup Set
There are plenty of amazing Stratocaster artists out there, but perhaps there are none as iconic and influential as Jimi Hendrix.
And, that’s saying something, because Eric Johnson, Eric Clapton, Yngwie Malmsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour and many other luminaries are part of that legacy.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that has, at one time or another, wanted to sound like the late and great Jimi Hendrix. And, if that's your heart's desire, you'll want to have a look at the Seymour Duncan Jimi Hendrix Signature Strat pickup set.
From breathtaking bell-like clean tones to fuzz-drenched Uni-Vibe and wah madness, his sound is still instantly recognizable, despite the overwhelming volume of famous Strat players.
And, best I can tell, these pickups offer one of the best ways to get your hands on tones reminiscent of the psychedelic 60s guitar hero.
Not surprising, because the official Jimi Hendrix signature set were hand-wound to the exact specs they were in 1968.
They may be pricy, but they seem worth every cent to me. This is another Seymour Duncan set that’s hard to ignore.
Fender Original ‘57/’62 Strat Pickups
I’m sure there are more than a few vintage pickup lovers out there.
The Fender Original ‘57/’62 Strat pickups come with alnico V magnets, Formvar magnet wire, staggered hand-beveled pole pieces, cloth wiring, fiber bobbin and aged white pickup covers. And, the middle pickup is reverse wound.
What this adds up to is that these pickups offer balanced output and bright, glassy tone with focus and dynamics.
So, if you’re looking for that classic Strat sound, and you aren’t impressed with the stock pickups on your Strat, you’ll love these.
Again, customers speak of quality control issues, so if you’re not satisfied with the first Fender set you get, you may need to reorder.
But overall, it’s a relatively cost-effective solution.
Fender Custom ’69 Stratocaster Pickups
These pickups do live up to their name and offer a great classic tone, clean or dirty.
They provide plenty of brightness and bite without being overbearing. I wouldn’t say they are the warmest pickups, but then again, if you’re playing a Strat, that may not be what you’re going for to begin with.
They also keep noise to a minimum, which is always helpful.
So far as price is concerned, these are on the higher side, but if classic rock is your thing, you might want to check out these Fenders.
What Should I Look For In Stratocaster Pickups?
With so many great products to choose from, it’s hard to know exactly what you might be looking for in a Stratocaster pickup set.
Of all the parts that affect your guitar’s tone, it probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that your pickups are the number one influencing factor.
And, we also know that tone is subjective and highly personal.
What one person calls “harsh and unnecessarily bright” might be “just perfect” for another axe-wielding musician.
What one calls “too much midrange” might be “just the sound I’ve been looking for” for another.
So, you must choose based on what you like and what you know is going to work best for the music you play.
Still, we’ve picked out five criteria to consider below. We hope this helps you narrow down your options.
A Sound You Love
If you’re going to buy new pickups, there probably isn’t much point is settling for any less than a sound you love.
Different pickups have different tonal characteristics, which is why guitarists are generally choosy with selecting pickups.
If you’re still a beginner and haven’t played guitar for long, you’re probably not going to notice some of the subtler differences in sound.
But experienced players know. They’ve come to identify how all frequencies sound – the lows, mids and highs – and pay attention to things like noise, output, dynamics and more.
This isn’t to say beginners won’t enjoy new pickups. But they may be less equipped to find exactly what they want and may not be able to tell the difference either.
Regardless, sound and tone are worth paying attention to when hunting for pickups. If you’re unsure, try watching a few reviews/demos on YouTube to get a sense of how each pickup sounds to you.
As I’ve already said, what works for one may not work for another, so it’s important that you find the product that’s suited to you.
Single-coil players have come to accept a certain amount of noise, buzzing or hum from their guitars. It’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world, even on recordings.
But all things being equal, some players prefer less noise.
Audio engineers certainly find it easier to work with guitars that produce minimum noise.
It makes sense – whether you’re on stage or in the studio, being able to control the sound is crucial to a sound tech’s overall success.
There are plenty of pickups on this list that will either reduce buzzing or eliminate it almost entirely.
Personally, I think tone is still more important than noise reduction, but that’s up to you. I wouldn’t sacrifice tone for noiseless operation, but with so many great options, you may not even have to.
Some players prefer pickups with a focused tone. Others like being able to pull a variety of tones out of their guitar.
Strats tend to be versatile by nature. But depending on your pickup selection, you’ll either be able to access more tones or fewer.
If you buy artist signature pickups, for instance, there’s a good chance you’re going to sound more like that artist.
It’s not a bad thing. You can still make it work to your advantage, even if you’re hunting for your unique perfect tone.
But it’s good to be aware that their preferences may not be yours.
Additionally, some pickups will allow you to play heavier styles, while others won’t.
If you’re playing a Strat, you’re probably not playing metal to begin with – unless, perhaps, you’re using the Strat for specific sections of music, like solos.
But vintage and classic style pickups aren’t made for heavier musical styles, so it’s good to be aware of this.
Ultimately, this is not a matter of how versatile a pickup set is, but rather how versatile you want it to be. Knowing your own preferences will help you narrow down your options.
An Output & Dynamic Range You Love
Some pickups are hotter than others. And, some players don’t like hot pickups. Still others don’t like that much variation in output from one pickup to the next.
So, yet again, this is going to be a matter of preference.
Dynamics are also important to consider – in other words, how do the pickups respond to your playing?
Do they clean up and sound quieter when you play softer? Do they break up and sound louder when you play harder?
Again, some players want their pickups to have a smaller dynamic range (kind of a compressed sound), and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Do some looking around and determine where you’d like the output and dynamic range to sit.
A Price You Can Handle
With most pickups costing somewhere in the $100 to $200 range (sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less), you probably aren’t going to be stretching your budget too far to buy pickups you love.
But at Music Industry How To, we always like to remind people to spend responsibly without going into debt. So, here’s our public service announcement.
Spend an amount that’s comfortable to you based on the pickups you want.
What’s The Best Pickup Set?
We like how you think. It’s clear you want to cut to the chase.
Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way with pickups, because everybody has different tastes.
Just because a pickup set costs more doesn’t mean you’re going to like it more. Just because it sounds good to someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to sound good to you.
To your ears, it may not be “better” in any discernable way.
There’s only a best pickup set based on what you hope to get out of them and how you intend to use them.
And, it’s best not to go in with any assumptions based on brands, either. Fender offers great products, but you might end up liking Lace or Seymour Duncan instead. They make great pickups.
So, we recommend doing a bit of homework on your end to find your ideal set.
What If I Want Humbuckers Instead Of Single Coils?
My number one recommendation would be to find another guitar because a Strat equipped with double coils still sounds like a Strat, only with more output.
But if you’re not trying to turn your Strat into a metal machine and you’re just looking to warm up the tone, increase the sustain, or reduce hum, you’ll be glad to know there is such a thing as a stacked humbucker, which takes up the same amount of space as a single coil pickup.
If you got a standard humbucker for a guitar equipped with single coils, you’d probably have to get your tech to do some woodwork on your guitar. If you’re comfortable with that idea, proceed.
Otherwise, you might consider using something like the Lace Sensors, Seymour Duncan Hot Rails or DiMarzio DP218 Super Distortion options.
Again, although switching to humbuckers might not revolutionize the tone of your guitar, it can offer you a little more by way of output, warmth and sustain. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is a good direction to go in.
Can I Mix And Match Different Pickups?
Yes, and this is exactly what some pros do.
If you do a bit of looking around on Amazon, you’ll probably see that in addition to pickup sets, you can also buy individual pickups for Strats.
So, you could get different bridge, middle and neck pickups from different sets, although you’ll probably want to ensure they play nicely with each other.
Also, mixing and matching can sometimes lead to unpredictable results. But that’s also the fun part, and sometimes how certain players find their signature sound.
If you know a thing or two about wiring, you could probably get everything working nicely together on your own, but if not, it’s always best to rely on the expertise of a qualified guitar tech.
Best Stratocaster Pickups, Final Thoughts
For guitarist’s in pursuit of their ultimate tone, hunting for the right pickups is an absolute blast.
And, the journey will prove especially rewarding when you swap out those pickups to find they’re everything you dreamed of and more.
If there’s one thing we know about Strats, it’s that they aren’t all the same. You could buy two of the same models from the same year and they could end up feeling like entirely different instruments.
What’s important is that they sound and feel good to you. And, if you like what you’re starting with, you’ll probably like the results of customization even more.
So, have fun pursuing your ultimate tone.