Whether you’re upgrading an old guitar, or you just fancy switching things up a bit, swapping out the stock units on your S-style guitar for some of the best Strat pickups is a surefire way of livening things up with your tone.
With its three single coil pickups, the Strat has become one of the most popular guitars in the world, having been used by legends from every corner of music imaginable. Its unique bright, glassy, chimey tone can be heard on countless classic records over the decades. Most Strats have a 5-way pickup selector that allows for very different sounding combinations and is part of what we love about it.
The best Strat pickups can completely change the sound of your guitar. If you want more output so that your amp breaks up sooner, you can do that. If you want better dynamics, a slightly different EQ, a more vintage sound, something more contemporary – you can do that too. There are loads of different options out there to suit your needs.
We’ve put together our list of the best Stratocaster pickups that are available today, to cover all manner of wants, needs and budgets!
Best Strat pickups: Our top picks
If you’re seeking the classic Strat tone, then the Suhr V63 are some of the best pickups available. They’re based on a 1963 model, which many consider one of the best eras for Strats. They’re built closely to vintage specs, and actually utilize magnets made by the same company that made them for Fender in the ‘60s!
For players that want something a little spicier, then the Fender Texas Specials are a safe choice. They’re perfect for that SRV style spank and will help give your amp that extra push into beautiful natural overdrive. We also really like the Seymour Duncan JB Jr – it’s a classic sounding humbucker shrunk into a Strat-sized pickup.
Best Strat pickups: Product guide
These offerings from Suhr are pretty darn close to the original early ‘60s Fender Strat pickups. Those early-60s pre-CBS Strats are incredibly sought-after, with many players claiming models from this era to be the best. The magnets used in these pickups are actually made by the same company that made them for Fender in the 60s, and are built to the same specs.
Using a particularly nice sounding original 63 Strat as a baseline, John Suhr set out to create a set of pickups that would offer players this legendary sound for a fraction of the price of an original 60s Strat. They’re lovely and chimey, very articulate, dynamic, crisp in the top end without being too harsh, and nice and warm, but with a bit of edge in the low end. They also feature modified staggered pole pieces to accommodate for a modern, flatter fingerboard radius.
The Texas Specials have become known for being some of the best Strat pickups for players seeking the famed Stevie Ray Vaughan sound. They’re fairly bright and hot and are bursting with attitude. These pickups are overwound for maximum output, whilst still retaining that classic Strat tone.
The bridge pickup has quite a lot of presence in the mids, as well as that clear, cutting top end – if you want to be heard through a mix, then these are great pickups! The neck has a ton of warmth, with a smooth low end but still retains good note definition. The middle pickup is reverse wound so you don’t get any hum in positions 2 and 4.
These pickups are really good at pushing a tube amp into natural overdrive. They also work well with drive and distortion pedals, though rest assured they also sound fantastic clean too. They’re great all-rounders, but as the name suggests, they excel at that spanky, aggressive Texas blues rock tone.
The Seymour Duncan JB Jr is a humbucker that has been shrunk so that it fits into the single-coil sized space in your Strat. This has a really nice upper-mid range punch, as well as clear highs and a strong low end, and is perfect for lending a bit of extra power to your Strat.
The JB is one of the most popular aftermarket pickups in the world. It’s used by players of all genres, so regardless of whether it’s punk, blues, rock, metal, jazz or anything else that you’re into, the Seymour Duncan JB Jr can help you do it. Compared to a regular Strat bridge pickup, this can help thicken up chords and lend a little more weight to lead lines; it’s the perfect way to fatten up your tone. It’s fairly high output, but does clean up nicely too.
One of the main features of these unique pickups is the multi-voice option. You can wire these up so that you’ve got access to two different Strat voicings – it’s essentially like having two sets of pickups in one guitar. One voicing is very vintage sounding – classic Strat, clear and chimey with a nice warmth. The other goes for the hot, overwound ‘Texas-blues’ tone – this is slightly more aggressive sounding and will push your amp a little more.
They’re great sounding pickups, with both voicings keeping all that inherent Strat character intact. They’re also noise-free, so you won’t have unwanted hum or noise to worry about; something that has plagued many Strat users over the years. Overall, these are super versatile and very practical Strat pickups; they’re modern but with a vintage flavor.
These pickups aim to deliver the sonic character of a legit 50s Strat, albeit with a few modernized tweaks. Expect lots of top end sparkle and chime – in fact, they can be really cutting, especially in a naturally bright guitar, but that’s sort of to be expected with a Strat bridge pickup. With the right amp settings though, it sounds great and cuts through a live mix really well.
The ‘Fat’ in the name comes from an enhanced bass response – this beefed up low end helps these pickups sound really big and chunky, though they’re still super dynamic and delicate when you want them to be. All three pickups work well together, offering a balanced frequency range. They’re fairly hot and pokey, though they’re not as high output as some others on this list – they are based off 50s pickups after all. Whether you’re playing clean or overdriven, these vintage-modern pickups will have you covered.
This signature set of single coils from EMG are based on what Gilmour has in his famed red Strat. They’re very typically Strat sounding, but they can be made to sound a little thicker, plus they are noise-free in all positions. This makes them perfect for studio use, and also for using with overdrive and fuzz pedals where you’d tend to notice unwanted hum a little more.
There’s lots going on under the hood with these pickups, including an EXG Guitar Expander which increases the treble and bass frequencies. Add to that an SPC presence control that lets you enhance the guitar’s mid-range and you’ve got a mighty powerful set of pickups that shine throughout the whole frequency range.
They really are some of the best Strat pickups for honing in on Gilmour’s legendary tone – even though they’re not what he used in the Pink Floyd days, you can certainly achieve that sound with ease.
Unless you’ve been hiding away in a cave for the last few years, you’ve probably heard of Cory Wong. Making his name with the undisputed masters of groove, Vulfpeck, Wong is known for his perfectly timed choppy funk rhythms. As such, his signature Strat pickup set from Seymour Duncan is perfectly equipped to handle clean, but fat sounding funk tones.
The middle and neck pickups are nice and warm, sound great clean, and retain clarity well, with a strong attack. The bridge is actually a stacked pickup with a stronger magnet so sounds a little fatter – almost humbucker-esque. This can handle overdrive really well too, though of course it still sounds fantastic clean, making this pickup set a little more versatile than perhaps its name suggests.
This is a high output humbucker condensed into a Strat single-coil sized pickup – a secret agent of distortion, if you will. As the name suggests, this pickup is geared towards playing with distortion. It’s a high output pickup, so will push an amp to break up quicker. Expect a big, fat sound, with plenty of sustain.
The regular Super Distortion has become somewhat of a classic, with lots of rock and metal players gravitating towards it to achieve huge, chunky tones. DiMarzio have taken the same pickup and repackaged it so that it can fit into a Strat, though have also made a few tweaks to accommodate for the angle at which it will be placed, and the 25.5” scale length. Tonally, it’s not as bright as a regular Strat bridge pickup; it’s a lot warmer, with a tighter and more focused bottom end.
Best Strat pickups: Buying advice
There are lots of options when it comes to shopping for the best Strat pickups, but how do you know what is right for you?
Single coils or humbuckers?
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The Strat is known for having three single coil pickups, however, it’s not uncommon for a humbucker to feature in there somewhere – usually in the bridge position. Some of the best Strat pickups are even humbuckers but in a single coil format. So, at first glance, they look like a regular Strat pickup, but they’re actually packing a lot more punch.
A Strat bridge pickup is normally quite bright – it’s too much for some (though for others, it’s perfect). A humbucker will be warmer and thicker sounding. You don’t have quite as much top end, but you get lots of mids, and a powerful bass. They’re also usually more powerful, so if you want to drive your amp with your pickups, then a humbucker in the bridge position might work well for you.
A quick look through the history of the Strat will show you that there have been many variations of what looks like the same guitar. Strats from the early 60s are particularly sought-after, as are the early ones from the mid-50s, and whilst they definitely share many of the same tonal qualities, there are some subtle differences. This is why many companies offer pickups based on particular eras. So, if you like the clean and chimey sound of those early Strats, or the nuance of a ’63, then you can hone in on your favorite time period.
Look to your heroes
If you’re playing a Strat, then chances are, some of your favorite guitar heroes have also played a Strat. If you like their tone, look at what pickups they use, and if possible go for something similar. If you’re a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan, then anything claiming to have the ’Texas blues’ sound should do the trick. By default, John Mayer fans will also probably like the same thing! Some of the best Strat pickups are even signature models endorsed by the player themselves, making them a great choice for fans of that particular artist.
Any discussion about pickups will usually include talk of output, or how ‘hot’ a pickup is. The higher the output of a pickup, the stronger the signal that gets sent to your amp. When using a tube amp, a hotter pickup will push it into natural overdrive sooner. Strats aren’t particularly known for having high output pickups, with a lot of stock models having a low or medium output so, if you want a bit more juice sending to your amp, then replacing it with a hotter pickup can help you on your way. Whilst it’s not a perfect way of measuring output, a good thing to look out for is the DC resistance.
Find out more about how we make our recommendations and how we test each of the products in our buyer's guides.
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