Best Strat Pickups – Time to Upgrade Your Pups

pink stratocaster with pickups

Want to change up the sound of your Strat?

Then you’ll want to consider changing the pickups. Doing so can bring a whole new lease of life to your guitar.

In this article, we look at some of the best options out there.

At a Glance: Our Pick of the Best Strat Pickups Available

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information on Amazon.

Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Strat Pickups

1

Fender Pure Vintage ’65 Strat Pickups

Best Overall

These Fender Pure Vintage pickups are wound to precise specifications for authentic, traditional Fender tone and performance.

True to the original design, they have the original vintage bobbin construction and genuine original-era cloth wiring.

If you’re looking for the clean, surf rock tones of the mid-’60s Stratocaster then you can’t go wrong with these meaty-sounding pickups.

Features:

  • Warm vintage-style tones
  • Alnico 5 magnets for improved dynamics
  • Staggered polepieces balance volume and output across every string
  • Wax-potted

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2

Fender Custom Shop Texas Special

Premium Pick

These are the pickups found on Fender American Special Stratocaster guitars (which incidentally we review over here).

They are characterized by their midrange ‘chirp’, crystalline highs, and tight bass.

They feature an overwound single-coil construction that produces a big Texas-blues tone. Think Stevie Ray Vaughan.

With staggered pole pieces to ensure that the output is balanced across the strings, there’s a reverse-wound middle pickup to reduce the hum that you often get with classic single-coils.

Have no doubt, these are superb sounding pickups and will make your blues or rock playing come to life.

Features

  • Alnico 5 magnets with enamel-coated wire for warm vintage tone
  • Staggered pole pieces ensure a balanced output
  • Reverse-wound middle pickup reduces hum
  • Overwound calibrated pickups for scorching output

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3

Seymour Duncan Hot Rails

Budget Pick

The Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Set is made of strong, ceramic magnets and has overwound coils to produce a high gain, big tone.

Offering the perfect tone for rock and heavy metal, with their punchy, in-your-face sound, they also have dual blade construction which means that even heavily bent strings will get full pickup coverage.

Wax potted, which eliminates the risk of microphonic feedback and makes them an even stronger option for those who like to play loud, these pups are designed to fit a Strat and work to transform it into a completely different, heavy rock instrument. On the pricey side, but not in comparison to buying a whole new guitar.

Not suited to those who want the classic, vintage tones, the Hot Rails will be perfect for guitarists who like the shape and style of a Strat, but require the heavier sound of Jackson or Ibanez guitars.

Features:

  • High gain gives it the perfect tone for rock and heavy metal
  • Strong ceramic magnet and overwound coils deliver a big, balanced sound
  • Dual blade construction provides the ultimate string coverage

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4

Lace Sensor Blue-Silver-Red 3-Pack S-S-S

Recommended

The Lace Sensor Blue-Silver-Red single-coils are a versatile set of pups which offer a fat, punchy output and use low energy magnets that give you increased sustain. They’re color-coded red, silver and blue, with the red one suited to the bridge position, the silver to the middle and the blue to the neck position.

The red one has a higher gain than the others, giving it a full, powerful sound. The silver one has a pronounced midrange as well as quite a high gain, and the blue pickup has a lower gain, giving it a warm tone that’s ideal for the neck position.

Like the Texas-set, there’s a reverse-wound middle pickup to reduce hum, and like both of the sets already mentioned, the Blue-Silver-Red pups are suited to a Strat.

It’s perfect for those who require a Strat’s renowned versatility with Gilmour-esque sustain. It will be less suited to those looking to completely transform their guitar into a heavy metal instrument.

Features:

  • Reads a larger proportion of the string than other pups, while picking up less outside noise interference
  • Lower energy magnets, leading to an increase in sustain
  • Includes CD with wiring diagrams

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5

Seymour Duncan STK-S4S Classic Stack

Recommended

The Seymour Duncan STK-S4S are stacked, meaning we do not need to deal with unwanted humming.

Although stacked, this set also has adjustable wiring, giving us the option to make them back into ‘true’ single-coils. Even when the ‘true’ single-coil option is chosen, the mid-pickup retains hum reducing qualities, enabling you to quickly eliminate any hum by using the neck or bridge pickup in conjunction with the middle one.

They have a traditional tone, thanks to their Alcino magnets, and will be well-suited to those looking for the classic, vintage tone of a ’50s Strat but without the hum.It will be less suited to players who like the ’50s hum, or to those looking for a high-output, heavy sound.

Features:

  • Alcino magnets offer a warm, vintage tone
  • Pretuned ‘negative hum’ is injected into the circuit, reducing the hum while remaining single-coil
  • Comes with a cable that can be split to allow for true single-coil mode, while still silencing hum when pups are used in conjunction with the middle pickup.

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6

EMG SA Active

Recommended

The EMG SA is the only active pickups in this list.

Active gives them a high output, which produces fantastic sustain and harmonics. The set is loaded with Alnico magnets, helping them to maintain a classic, vintage sound while being louder than traditional pickups.

There’s internal shielding to reduce any hum, and there’s a high mid-range response to bring out the guitar’s natural frequencies. The clarity that the EMG SA set brings makes it perfect for players who require precision and consistent dynamics.

They also come with a Quik-connect header and cable, making installation easy to do without visiting a professional.The EMG SA Active pups might not be suited to those who require the exact vintage tone of ’50s guitars, but to those who want something with more clarity, this is the set you’ve been looking for.

Features:

  • Quik-connect header and cable make installation easy
  • Alnico magnets offer a vintage, smooth sound
  • Active, encouraging higher output

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7

Wilkinson Lic Cream ST Vintage Voice

Recommended

If you want to spend the minimum possible, the Wilkinson Lic Cream ST Vintage Voice are for you. They’re a cheap set of ceramic single-coils, offering a clear, strong sound that will suit heavier players.

This has staggered pole-pieces, making the output well-balanced across the strings and the set also comes with mounting screws and springs, making it easy to take on as a DIY job. Ceramic magnets often give you less dynamic control than alnico alternatives but are perfect for those interested in playing loud.

Even though these are relatively inexpensive, the Wilkinson ST Vintage Voice pickups give out a quality, clean sound that will give your Strat a new punchiness. Less suited to those who require dynamic versatility, or advanced hum-reducing technology.

Features:

  • Extremely budget-friendly
  • Ceramic magnets give them a clear, strong sound
  • Come with mounting screws and springs

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What is a Single-Coil Pickup?

Single-coils were the first kind of electric guitar pickup, and are still extremely popular today – renowned for their bright, punchy tone.

People describe them as having more ‘bite’ than humbuckers, which usually have a thick, smooth tone. Although often accompanied by a hum, some guitarists think it offers them an authentic, 50s guitar sound.

If you’re interested to know more, check out our comparison of single coil vs humbucker pickups.

Many single-coil pickups now use techniques like stacking an extra coil, effectively making it work like a humbucker to eliminate the buzz.

How do They Work? 

Pickups are magnetic transducers which are slotted into your guitar’s body, capturing sound vibrations and turning them into signals.

Magnetic poles are positioned beneath each string, and the coil is wrapped around these magnets, producing and conducting an electric current.

The size of the coil determines the strength of the current, which is what results in either a medium or high output (or ‘gain’).

Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations

Normal vs. Stacked

Standard single-coil pups have just one set of magnets and circuitry.

‘Stacked’ pickups have two, stacked on top of each other.

Because they’re on top of each other, it looks from the outside like they’re single-coils, but actually, they work like humbuckers as one is wired out of phase with the other, to cancel out any humming sounds.

Because they’re on top of each other, they manage to maintain clarity and brightness, but are a little less ‘twangy’ than normal ones.

This is a worthwhile sacrifice if you are desperate to reduce the hum.

Style of Music

Are you looking to play heavy metal, blues-rock or bright country music?

If it’s heavy metal, it’s essential to go for something with a high gain, as this gives you clarity and precision as well as a louder signal.

Overwound or coated coils will do, or you could consider an active single-coil. Blues-rock is often more reliant on dynamics, so a medium output combined with alnico magnets makes sense.

Bright, country music is reliant on ‘twang,’ so the simplest pickups you can find make the most sense here, to maintain the classic tone of the originals.

Alnico vs. Ceramic

Alnico magnets – made of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt – were common in guitars in the 50s and 60s.

These are still popular today amongst those seeking a vintage, warm tone.

Ceramic pups have also been popular since the ’70s and have a higher output, giving them clarity and a stronger sound. They’re usually cheaper than alnico magnets too.

Active vs. Passive

Most pickups have passive circuitry.

Passive means they don’t require batteries. They use magnets to produce electric currents in the coils and create a medium gain.

If you’re looking for a classic, single-coil tone, passive circuitry is what you want.

Active pups on the other hand have a far higher output, making them better suited to shred-guitar or other heavy genres.

They require batteries, and also have less of a dynamic range than those with passive circuitry.


So, Which Should I Buy?

If you’re after a vintage tone, go with the Fender Pure Vintage ’65 Strat Pickups or at a slightly higher price point, the Custom Shop Strat Texas Special set.

For those who want it loud, try the active EMG SA Active or the Seymour Duncan Hot Rails set. The Hot Rails have ceramic magnets, to boost the output, while the EMG SA preserves a more classic tone with their alnico poles.

If you’re looking for the ultimate in quietness, the stacked Seymour Duncan STK-S4S work like humbuckers to eliminate the hum.

If you’re on a tight budget, the Wilkinson Lic Cream ST Vintage Voice will also do the trick.

Best of luck, and thanks for reading.