The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most iconic guitars of all time, holding its own amongst thousands of models since 1954. Its style and playability make it one of the most mass-produced guitars in history. From Eric Clapton to David Gilmour and Jimi Hendrix, it’s an easy favorite amongst musicians.
Looks aside, the real appeal behind Fender’s guitar is the sound offered by their Strat pickups. Each delivers a sparkling tone that’s pleasing to the ear whether you’re playing smooth jazz or hard rock. When it comes to refining your sound, there’s plenty of pickups to choose from for a Stratocaster.
So, how can you pick one single model out of the dozens available? Are some better than others, or does each offer a unique tone of its own? Not all Strat pickups are made equal, clearly shown by favorited models amongst casual and professional musicians alike. To help you find your sound, we’ve put together this list of top 10 best Strat pickups.
How We Chose Our Ratings
It doesn’t matter what our lists contain, the goal remains the same. We don’t want to sell you a product or copy everyone else’s choices; we want to create an honest and accurate collection of the best products on the market. To do that, we consider several things.
First, we look at customer reviews and testimonials. Company descriptions are enticing, but customers tell the real story behind any product. Guitar players around the world use the Fender Stratocaster, which means that plenty of individuals weigh in one which pickups rock and which ones don’t.
Second, we research the data surrounding a product. For Strat pickups, that includes things like what materials are used in their construction and what their tone sounds like. Each pickup is inherently different, so we wanted to view their specs in detail.
Finally, we look at brand reputation. Companies like DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan have a long history of excellent pickups and satisfied customers. There are excellent pickups from less known brands, but nothing compares to the kings of the industry.
After careful consideration, we pick the best of the best to be featured in our list. Each product is ranked on a scale of one to five (with five being the best) and ordered from top to bottom.
Top 10 Best Strat Pickups
Here they are, the best Strat pickups on the market. From squealing solos to low-end chugging, these products will take your guitar sound to the next level.
- Includes 3" mini data CD with color wiring diagrams
- Silver: fat '70s single-coil sound with increased output and midrange
- Red: hottest Sensor output, perfect at the bridge for fat, punchy humbucker-like output
Despite being single Strat pickups, these Lace Sensors deliver the power of a humbucker. Each model is an entirely different pickup, providing a unique sound (especially when combined). Each is excellent at eliminating hum, feature a vinyl cover, and have color-coded wording to denote their attributes.
The bridge is red, designed for fat tones and a massive rock sound. The middle is silver, offering a well-rounded, meaty tone that’s surprisingly balanced for s single-coil. The neck is blue, delivering a vintage humbucker sound that comes through smooth and clear.
While they don’t share the usual Strat pickup look, these unique models are capable of handling everything from hard rock to soulful blues. Mixing and matching their tonal effects is also a ton of fun.
Rating: 5 out of 5
The Little 59 is as small as single-coil but built like a humbucker. Designed to recreate vintage sounds of the late 50’s, this pickup can handle everything from warm tones to high-pitched twangs. The pole pieces are fully adjustable, as well, allowing you to fine-tune your sound.
Despite being crafted for a more classic style of playing, the Little 59 handles gain with ease. You can go from country to metal and back again without having to swap out guitars. This little humbucker offers the best of both worlds, which is why it earns a spot on this list.
Rating: 5 out of 5
- Set of 3 single-coil pickups designed in collaboration with world renowned guitarist Eric Johnson
- Hotter output bridge pickup than vintage-style pickups
- Highly dynamic, and balanced output for maximum versatility of creative expression
Eric Johnson is a guitar legend, which is why these signature pickups remain such a popular option. It isn’t just the namesake that earns this model a spot on the list, though. Comprised of three single coils, each with their own unique construction, these pickups offer a one-of-a-kind sound.
The bridge delivers an amplified version of Fender’s usual model, while the middle is a reverse-wound version of a ’63 Strat capable of canceling any hum. Alnico III magnets are built into the neck, with Alnico V used in the other two.
Rating: 5 out of 5
If you’re looking for a classic, Hendrix-style tone, then the Area 67 might be the pickup of your dreams. Designed for the middle and neck positions, each of these DiMarzios delivers a bright tone that comes through as natural as can be.
Alnico II magnets allow you to hold near endless sustain, adding to the treble end of each note. Upgraded from the original model, you’ll also notice less interference and hum. When it comes to recreating the sounds of the 70’s, the Area 67 has you covered.
Rating: 4 out of 5
- The bridge model is designed for bridges with traditional string spacing of 1.925" or 48.9mm measured over the bridge...
- Great for blues, classic rock, and country.
The SSL-1 is a modern take on classic Strat pickups of the ‘50s. All three single-coils use an Alnico V magnet rod wound in Formvar magnetic wire. They are also wax potted to eliminate the squeal of yesteryear’s models. The combination creates a sparkling, glassy, vintage tone.
These pickups stay true to their predecessors on the treble end but improve upon the low-end for better-rounded sound. You’ll also notice increased definition in every note if you’re used to an older Seymour Duncan single coil. These coils are excellent for recreating a vintage sound in the modern age.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Tex-Mex is a long-standing favorite amongst Stratocaster players. With a balanced, bright tone and high output, they embody what the guitar is all about. From blues to heavier rock, these three single coils can handle just about anything you throw at them. Plus, they look great on any model Strat.
All three Tex-Mex single coils include Alnico V magnets and Formvar wire like several other Strat pickups, but these incorporate an overwound bridge for increased output. If you enjoy wailing on the whammy bar or squealing solos, then these pickups are an excellent choice.
Rating: 4 out of 5
If you’re a blues player, then the SSL4 Quarter Pound was designed with you in mind. Fat tones and punchy notes roar through the raw power of this single coil, delivering a loud sound that remains iconic to the genre. Don’t be afraid to amp up the gain, either. The SSL4 can handle a lot of crunch.
Tightly wound coils help you hold those notes for a lot longer than the stock Strat pickups, rivaling several humbucker models. When it comes to clear, natural tones, you’ll be surprised at just how hot this pickup is. From the quietest pluck to the lightest chord, you can hear it all.
Rating: 4 out of 5
- A hot bridge pickup with a strong attack in the bridge position
- The Virtual Vintage Heavy Blues 2 replaces the Virtual Vintage Heavy Blues and the Virtual 2 bridge model
- Its Alnico 2 magnets allow the DiMarzio DP409 pickup to work very well in the neck position as well, for Strat players...
Another blues-centric model, these DiMarzios deliver ample power and warmth for a single coil design. The tones are fat on both the neck and bridge, the design cancels hum, and they work surprisingly well with overdrive. While these pickups are made for blues, they handle rock n roll like a champ.
The thin sound from this pickup works perfectly with lighter gauge strings but still manages to handle hard picking without losing your notes amidst a sea of noise. For higher frequency response, pair them with 500k controls.
Rating: 3 out of 5
These pickups have the classic ‘60s look that so many Fender players fell in love with, but they’re a complete overhaul of the old models. Place the single coil in any position to enjoy smooth highs, percussive lows, and an impressive middle range.
Each Antiquity II Surfer is reverse wound, mimicking the capabilities of a humbucker in the 4th and 2nd position. With high-output, your solos soar, and your clean notes come through crisp. It’s a classic sound with modern comforts, capable of satisfying a variety of styles.
Rating: 3 out of 5
These scooped Strat pickups are designed to mimic the sound of John Mayer’s SRV in the ‘90s. They focus on low and high-end tones, rolling back the midrange to create a unique sound. Duncan also under winds this model, giving them slightly less punch than the Tex-Mex to help recreate the musician’s sound on Where The Light Is.
The Big Dipper pickups might be the best choice if you want to recreate specific tones from John Mayer or if you just enjoy a scooped sound. Fans either love them or hate them, so you’ll have to figure out which side of the fence you fall on.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Choosing the best Strat pickups for your guitar is a challenging endeavor. No two are alike, and there’s a lot of personal preference involved. Everyone likes something a little different, but there are a few essentials to look for when making a decision.
Single Coil vs. Humbucker
Depending on the model Stratocaster you own, you might need both. Several versions of Fender’s most famous guitar feature humbuckers in the top or bottom positions, including one single coil in the middle. Some models only use humbuckers, like the Blacktop HH.
Choosing between the two relies entirely on your guitar’s design. However, you can modify your Strat to use either type of pickup. Ultimately, the Stratocaster made its claim to fame with three single coils.
Humbuckers are excellent for increased sustain, a thicker sound, and warmer tones. Single coil variants are known for their bright and crisp tones, offering more attack. If you like overdrive, then singles are going to provide you with the grit you need. The same goes for recreating that iconic ’60s sound.
Hot or Not?
Pickups are essentially antennas that transmit sound to your amplifier. Stronger signals come from higher output models, which allows the sound to be easily distorted. The more distortion you can get through the pickup, the hotter it is.
Tightly wound coils are used to make a pickup hot, pairing beautifully with gain and overdrive. Hot pickups work best with rock, metal, and heavier blues. If you like to play clean, then you might be better off with something else.
The capability of a pickup often pairs best in a particular position on the guitar. Those designed for brighter sounds with ample attack are suited for the neck, while hotter coils are used to make the bridge more powerful. When looking at reviews on the tone and sound, think about which position the coil would work best in.
In the same way particular coils are designed to work in different positions, they often work best with particular models. There are plenty of single coil models that come in sets of three, taking care of the guesswork for you. However, those that come as individuals can be paired with anything.
This is another matter of personal preference. You’ll have to experiment to find the right combination of tones and switch positions. At the same time, pairing the Area 67 with the SSL4 Quarter Pound might leave you with a funky sound (although, that could be your style).
Think about the purpose of each coil. All of them will ultimately work together to create the tone you’re looking for, but picking ones with similar qualities can help you refine that tone. For instance, three models designed for vintage sounds obviously work best when recreating a vintage sound.