Best Stratocaster Pickups – Fender, Squire and Others (2020 Reviews)

There are few guitars in production that are more recognizable than the legendary Fender Stratocaster. Since it was first produced back in the early 50’s the Stratocaster has been popularized by some of the most iconic guitarists across multiple genres.

In order to get the best tone and performance out of the guitar, it’s important to install the best Stratocaster pickups possible. Pickups have a huge impact on overall Strat sound, and with so many options available it’s hard to identify which are best suited for your desired tone.

In this comprehensive guide of Strat pickups we will look in detail at the capabilities of each set, and discuss some of the main points you need to consider when making your selection. After reading through our Stratocaster pickup reviews, you will have all of the information you need to make a calculated decision.

View the Best Stratocaster Pickups Below

Seymour Duncan SSJBJ-1B

Seymour Duncan needs no introduction. For decades they have been at the forefront of premium pickup production, and the SSJBJ-1B is another example of their expertise in this area. With a twin-coil design, this Strat pickup provides all of the warmth of a humbucker while retaining the clarity of a single coil pickup.

This pickup is ideal for a Stratocaster due to its ability to focus on sweet harmonics, and enhancing the high end of the guitar. Whether you want to bring out the natural warm tone of the Strat or push it to the limits for heavier styles of playing, the SSJBJ-1B is capable of producing both.

You can choose between white or black housing depending on the color of your guitar. This bridge pickup is equally suited to rosewood or maple fingerboards, and comes equipped with a four-conductor connection cable. For screaming blues solos, clarity in the high end and a warm natural tone, look no further than this Strat pickup.  

Magnet Type:  Ceramic

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 6K (Bridge)

PROS

CONS

The reason the SSJBJ-1B is in our opinion, well suited to a Stratocaster is because it gives you all of the benefits of a humbucker in the style and size of single coil pickups. Therefore, it reduces unwanted noise but you still get ample power for shredding out solos.

Fender Tex-Mex Stratocaster Pickup Set

Obviously the manufacturer who knows the most about getting producing the best Stratocaster pickups is Fender. Their Tex-Mex Stratocaster Pickup Set focuses on producing detailed highs, a higher output and a warmth to the overall tone.

Let’s take a look at the technical aspects of this single coil Strat pickup set. Fender have used the trusted Alnico 5 to enhance the focus and dynamic range of the Strat. To counteract any potential hum, the middle pickup utilizes reverse polarity. The output wires are vinyl-coated to improve the longevity of the Fender Tex–Mex pickups.

Producing the legendary hot tone that the Fender Stratocaster is renowned for is no issue with these pickups. With an over-wound bridge pickup, the output is capable of being pushed to the maximum. With this Strat pickup set, you get all of the necessary mounting hardware and installation is straight forward.  

Magnet Type:  Alnico 5

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 6.5K (Neck) 6.4K (Middle) 7.4K (Bridge)

PROS

CONS

The standout feature of Fender Tex-Mex Strat pickups is the clarity they provide in the high end. For the iconic colorful Hendrix style of combining rhythm and lead at the same time, these pickups are brilliant.

Seymour Duncan Vintage Staggered SSL-1

Seymour Duncan makes a few appearances on this list of the best Strat pickups due to their unrivalled quality. Their Vintage Staggered SSL-1 Strat pickup is their most popular set of pickups for enhancing the Strat sound. For guitarists who want a high-output, slightly distorted tone, the SSL-1 is a great option.

The hookup cables that come with this pickup are embodied in waxed cloth, and you get a vintage styled bottom plate. It produces a light bass response while bringing out the clarity of the mid and treble tones. If your Strat has a rosewood fingerboard, the SSL-1 is highly compatible with this variety of wood.

The great thing about this Seymour Duncan pickup is that it is versatile. Although it’s best suited as a bridge pickup, it produces interesting results in the neck position too. Wherever you decide to position it, the result will be a full-bodied, higher output sound that stays true to the warm tone of a vintage Strat.  

Magnet Type:  Alnico II and Alnico 5

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 6.5K (Bridge) 6.5K (Middle) 6.5K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

One of the things we love about the Seymour Duncan SSL-1 is the way it stays true to the vintage tone of a Strat. You also get the best of both worlds with the combination of Alnico II and Alnico 5 magnets.

Wilkinson Lic White ST

Wilkinson produce a range of pickups for Strat players at an affordable price. The Lic White ST set was specifically made to bring out all of the articulate details that the guitar produces, especially when played on a clean setting. The set includes three ceramic magnet pickups that belie their price tag in terms of quality.

The installation process is pretty simple, too. Included in the set are six chrome mounting screws and springs. The single coil pickups produce a vintage voicing that will take you back to the glory days of rock n’ roll guitar playing. If you use effects pedals, these Wilkinson pickups sound particularly great when combined with a touch of distortion or overdrive.

You get the choice of cream, white or black colors to match your electric guitar. As this is a complete set, you can guarantee consistency right across the fingerboard. For the price, the White ST’s really produce an impressively clear and full-sounding tone.  

Magnet Type:  Alnico 5

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 6.1K (Bridge) 5.8K (Middle) 5.8K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

In terms of value for money, these Wilkinson pickups are definitely an option worth considering. They produce a reliable vintage tone that seamlessly moves into a more distorted sound.

Fender Pure Vintage '65

The mid-sixties was a time when some of the most innovative music was being made on a Fender Strat. This Pure Vintage ’65 set pay homage to that era, both in the sound they produce and their construction. Fender have used original-era cloth wiring and vintage bobbin to really take you back in time to the golden age of rock music.

One thing that stands out about this set of pickups is the power they are capable of producing. Oftentimes you have to choose between power and clarity when buying pickups. but the Vintage 65′ set give you both in abundance. This is largely thanks to the use of Alnico 5 magnets combined with enamel-coated magnet wire.

If your style of guitar playing mixes chords, melodies and solos, these Fender pickups can do it all. All three are single coils, and lend themselves to a tex mex strat beautifully. Available in vintage white, not only do the pickups provide a retro tone, they also look like they’ve come straight from the 60’s.  

Magnet Type:  Alnico 5

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 5.9K (Bridge) 5.9K (Middle) 5.9K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

A lot of pickups claim to be in vintage style, but this set of Fender 65’s really do feel like they were made back in the day. The tone they produce is impressively versatile and suitable for many genres of music.

Seymour Duncan California 50's

The final addition to our list is another set of premium pickups for a Fender Strat from Seymour Duncan. This time, they’ve attempted to reproduce the original Strat tone from the 50’s. And as you’d expect, they’ve done a pretty impressive job.

Using hand ground Alnico 5 rod magnets in combination with a special wind pattern, these pickups produce a glassy, bell-like tone that is perfect for busy chord playing. The three pickups included in this set are all uniquely designed to get the best Stratocaster sound possible.

The neck pickup is standard wound, the middle pickup is reverse polarity to minimize hum in between notes, and finally the bridge positioned pickup has been slightly over-wound to create an overall balance. The result is a full-bodied tone which sounds just as good cranked as it does played softly. Playing with these pickups through a valve amp really brings the best out of your guitar.

Magnet Type:  Ceramic

Type: Single Coil

DC Resistance: 6.5K (Bridge) 6.5K (Middle) 6.5K (Neck)

PROS

CONS

You can really hear the attention to detail that went into making this Seymour Duncan 50’s style pickup set. Whether you have a Mex Strat, Fender custom or any other variety, these pickups will authentically transport your sound back to the original tone of the 50’s.

 

Best Value: Wilkinson Lic White ST

Despite there being some incredibly high-quality option on our list of the best Stratocaster pickups, this set by Wilkinson are really well priced. If you’re looking for great tone on a budget, these would be the recommended option.

Stratocaster Pickups Buyers Guide

When purchasing pickups for a Fender Stratocaster, there some key things to consider. Firstly, it’s imperative that you establish what your desired outcome is in terms of tone, appearance and capabilities. These attributes are greatly affected by the materials and techniques used by manufacturers to produce the pickup.

Many people think that the tone and sound produced by guitarists is mainly down to their choice of amp, effects and guitar. While these three obviously play a huge part, pickups are often overlooked despite their massive importance. You could have a powerful tube amp and a beautiful vintage guitar, but with the wrong pickups, your whole sound would be negatively affected. In the following paragraphs we will go into detail on why pickups are so important, the characteristics that affect tone and the different components that are worth looking out for.

Firstly, let’s look at tone. The sound produced by the pickup comes down to a few factors, which we will explore below.

Magnets

The magnet that is used will largely determine whether the sound is bright, gritty, or well balanced. Alnico 5 magnets are commonly used because they are great at honing in on the high end of a Strat, and reproduce the bass with reliable accuracy.

Sometimes, these magnets are combined with Alnico II’s which are better known for their ability to sound warmer in the mid tones, but have less overall output than the former. Blending the two gives you the best of both worlds. Another popular choice of magnet is ceramic. These are identified by a large black magnet at the bottom of the pickup, and produce a stronger field then the Alnico’s, resulting in a hotter tone with more treble response.

Coil Type

Another impacting contributor to the overall output of Strat pickups is the type of coil used. The number of coils used will greatly impact the sound. A humbucker is commonly used on other guitars but not so much on a Strat. This is because single coils generally enhance the hot tone of the guitar more effectively.

Humbuckers became the popular choice for many guitarists in the late 60’s because they were so tired of having to contend with the unwanted noise that single coils produced. The production of double-coil pickups really revolutionized the electric guitar because they allowed musicians to crank their amps up high without the fear of hum overpowering their playing. Thankfully, modern technology has made single-coils much less prone to noise than they were back then. Now the choice is made purely out of preference, rather than necessity.

Some guitarists prefer humbuckers due to their noise-cancelling properties, but in truth, single coil pickups produce more power and accurate output. Dual-coils are unique in that they are fitted with two single coils and so provide the benefits of humbuckers in the compact size of single coils.

Winding

The third factor that greatly impacts the sound of a Fender Stratocaster is the winding technique used within the pickup. To put it simply, the more windings the wire has, the higher the output it will produce. Another side-effect of this tight winding is that it deadens some of the treble frequencies and produces less dynamic range, which is undesirable to some guitarists.

On the other hand, the less windings the copper wire has the sharper the tone will be. Many vintage styled pickups are wound by hand in an uneven manner, as this is thought to produce a more unique tone. Ultimately it depends on what sound you want from your guitar.

Poles

The pole-pieces are the pieces of metal that the strings are placed above. These are usually composed of either steel or Alnico magnets. On most Stratocaster pickups, you’ll find Alnico pole pieces because they brighten up the overall tone and produce a response that is tighter than their steel counterparts.

Potting

Last but not least, potting is also a factor that influences the sound of your Strat. Many pickups feature potting nowadays as a method of protection the coils from being moved around and feedback occurring as a result. This process usually involves hosing the coil in a wax substance to shield them from damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the frequently asked questions regarding the best Stratocaster pickups.

1.) What are the best noiseless Strat pickups?

As previously mentioned in the above section, the type of coil used in the pickup is the greatest factor when it comes to limiting or producing unwanted noise. Most of the options on our list are single-coil as these are really great for producing the hot noiseless tone we all love from a Strat. However, when talking specifically about hot noiseless pickups, the Seymour Duncan SSJBJ-1B set win hands down. These pickups provide a great balance between the sharp articulation of single coils and the noise-limiting capacity of a double coil, or humbucker pickup.

2.) What is the best pickup for a Mexican Fender Strat?

The difference between American made and Mexican made Stratocasters isn’t as vast as it used to be, in fact, many guitarists now prefer the Mexican models. To get the best out of a Mexican Strat, it’s a good idea to go with the Fender Tex Mex Strat pickup set. These pickups feature Alnico 5 magnets and really bring out the mid range and treble of the guitar. And, because they are made by Fender, you can guarantee that the Tex Mex Strat pickups will be well suited to the Stratocaster. Another option worth considering is the Fender Custom pickup set.

3) How high should pickups be on a Strat?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but a good general rule to obey when installing your Strat pickups is to measure the exact distance between the bottom of the first string to the top of the pole piece, then repeat this with the bottom of the sixth string. Generally speaking, the space should be at its longest at the position of the sixth string by the neck pickup, and it its closest at the first string position by the bridge.

Conclusion

Hopefully this extensive list of the top Stratocaster pickups on the market will point you in the direction of the best suited choice for your desires. Essentially, it all comes down to what tone you want to produce from your guitar. Establishing this before you purchase your Strat pickups will save you lots of time and effort. Many guitarists overlook the impact that a pickup can have on their overall sound, but in truth, there a few factors that impact it more. The only thing that’s left to do now, is go and enjoy the sweet tones that one of these pickups will provide you with!

Expert Tip:

If you’re a fan of effects pedals, try positioning your reverb pedal before distortion in the chain. This is a rare technique that few guitarists use because they think it makes the sound muddy, but it can produce some really interesting results, especially with a Stratocaster!

Did you know?

In 1968, Seymour W. Duncan gifted Jimi Hendrix, who was known for playing a single coil-pickups strat, with a bag of Strat pickups that he had personally rewound. The pickups were installed that night, and Jimi used them on stage. He was so impressed with the pickups that he used them in his guitar from that day onward.

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