If you are thinking of replacing the pickups on your Strat, you have to decide if you are going to go for an upgrade to the traditional sound or go for something new? Finding the Best Stratocaster Pickups is, therefore, not going to be that easy.
Regarding the Fender Stratocaster itself, people can’t quite put their finger on what it is. Was it the shape? Or maybe it was who played them. Was it Buddy Holly grinning at us through his glasses with his? Possibly Hank Marvin of the Shadows who had the same glasses, who owned the first Strat in the UK.
Maybe it might have been Jeff Beck or Richie Blackmore, Rory Gallagher, Mark Knopfler, or Dave Gilmour. Possibly even Pete Townshend, who admits to not wanting to smash them up, they were too good. Then there was Ry Cooder, who showed it could be a great slide guitar.
There was some bloke from Seattle who came to the UK, whose name escapes me. He played it upside down and tried to eat it and finally set fire to it. It is a guitar with a history. A guitar played by some of, if not, THE best. But what was it about it?
Yes, it was nice to play and beautiful to look at. But it was that single-coil sound. Pleasant, warm, and gentle it could be. But turn it up and attack, and it ripped your hand-off. It took us from ‘Wonderful Land’ by the Shadows to ‘Foxy Lady’ by the bloke from Seattle… oh, what was his name.
Getting new pickups is going to be a challenge, but we have the best of the best to review, so let’s go through them and find the perfect set of Fender Strat Pickups for you…
Top 10 Best Stratocaster Pickups in 2023
1 Fender Strat Hot Noiseless Pickups
If you are going to replace the pickups on your Strat, one of the first places you are likely to look is Fender, and this set is their Noiseless option.
One of the problems with early single-coil pickups, as we know, was hum and background noise. That has been eliminated with these pickups, and whilst they were doing it, they have beefed them up a bit. Fit these, and your Strat becomes a ‘souped-up’ rock and blues machine. Being a Fender product, they are bound to be considered one of the best noiseless pickups for a strat around.
They are set up in the traditional Bridge, Middle, and Neck positions, and, of course, are passive. They have ceramic magnets; however, you will immediately notice that they have a much hotter sound than the usual single-coil. They still have a full-tone, but they have much more of a punch.
On stage, the Strat was a rock n roll weapon. But it could be a problem sometimes in the studio with its natural background noise. With the noiseless pickups, Fender has developed here those problems have gone.
Whereas some pickups can make a difference in some tonal ranges. These add that little bit extra to all the tones right across the pickup selections. But it is most apparent with the gritty bridge pickup.
If you have a favorite Strat, then you don’t need to upgrade your guitar with these around. Fender has managed to ensure the original vintage design is maintained so that the change doesn’t alter the aesthetic of an icon. They have been given what Fender calls the ‘aged white’ finish. This to simulate some age to them. So they don’t stand out on a guitar that has a few years behind it.
They will, of course, fit the Squier Stratocaster. So if you want to give Fender’s budget range cousin a bit of a boost, then that will work.
They are easy to fit and are set at a very attractive price point. If you love your Strat, but it is beginning to sound a bit tired, this could well be the answer.
- Noiseless replacement pickups with a bit of extra kick.
- Easy to fit with a vintage look at a great price.
- None at all.
2 Fender Tex-Mex Strat Pickups
Any product from Fender that had Mexico written on it has often taken its share of criticism over the years. Some of it to be fair has been realistic, but the majority hasn’t. The Mexico Fenders were never designed to replace anything and were only a cheaper version. The plus point is that it put a Fender into the hands of someone who couldn’t afford a more expensive version.
Some people have short memories. They forget that after the CBS takeover in 1965, a lot of Fender guitars were worse than anything produced in later years in Japan or Mexico. That, in some quarters, is conveniently forgotten. Fortunately, that is mostly laid to rest now, and we have a set of Tex-Mex pickups as replacements for your Strat. And some replacement they are.
These are a great set of pickups with bright highs combines with that neck pickup warmth. But they are also a little more. They give a greater output than what you would normally expect.
They can rock a bit. Fender has put together the best modern ideas with the vintage designs that have worked so well. They have staggered pole pieces, and polysol coated wire Alnico V magnets and coated lead wires. These ensure the tones are traditional with those quality highs.
The middle pickup is reverse-wound and, therefore, reverses the polarity. That ensures there is no hum when using the two and four positions on your pickup selector.
But if you want some Texas grit from your Strat, these will give it to you. It is especially noticeable with the bridge pickup. This has been overwound and gives a huge output. The sound fairly sizzles. They will, of course, fit most of the Squier Stratocaster versions, as well as other guitars that pay homage to the Strat, if you know what we mean? As well as, of course, a Fender.
These are set at a very affordable price, and they come with all the installation hardware you will need. They have been given that ‘aged white’ look as a finish. Excellent pickups with a very good sound. Are they a possible contender for the Best Staratocastr Picks for Electric Blues? Of course, they will be, especially at this price.
- Great gritty sound but with a boost to all the sound options.
- Brings the best out of your Strat at a very affordable price.
- Nothing at all.
3 Seymour Duncan California ’50s Strat Pickup Set
Here is a pickup manufacturer that will need little introduction to most of us. Seymour Duncan was founded in California in 1976. They aren’t a particularly big organization, but they produce some great guitar and bass guitar pickups.
They also manufacture some effects pedals, but it is for their pickups they are best known. It is what has gained them a near-legendary worldwide reputation with the quality of what they produce. On that basis, these obviously have to be included in a review of the Best Classic Stratocaster Pickups.
These California ’50s Strat Pickups are single-coil pickups designed to capture the flavor of that golden era of music. Rich warm, yet with that inimitable twang, Seymour Duncan has stayed quite close to the tone of the 50s and early 60s Strats. Gibson might not agree, but most of the sounds of the 50s and 60s came from the sound of these single-coil pickups.
They have used vintage materials, ensuring they get as close to those sounds as they can. Alnico V magnets and Formvar magnet wire with hand made bobbins are all included. They produce a warm bottom end and bright top, and they manage to recreate that Strat’ quack’ when playing rhythm patterns.
The middle pickup has a reverse polarity. The reverse-wound design giving you a wider set of tones, but also eliminating any hum on positions two and four of your pickup selector.
They receive personal recommendations from Shania Twain’s guitarist, David Levitt, and the same for Alanis Morrisette’s player, Doug Pettibone. You can hear why. Authentic tones plus a little bit extra makes these a great set of pickups set these apart.
For those that might be playing in 60s cover bands, Beach Boys, Shadows, etc. these are a perfect choice. But they drive on a bit as well, so it is not just that sound. They are not a particularly cheap option, but at the price point, still exceptional value. If that is the sound you play with or the sound you love, you might not find better.
- Great 50s and 60s vintage sounds.
- Seymour Duncan quality design and build.
- Some might feel they are limited to that particular sound.
4 Fender Pure Vintage ’65 Strat Pickups
Fender has produced another set of pickups for a Strat with an authentic vintage sound. This is the sound of the mid-60s Strat. Fender has carefully recreated the original designs. Even down to the cloth wire used and the bobbin, which holds the pickup wire in a consistent shape.
That wound shape is important for getting that precise tone. They have Alnico V magnets, which give plenty of dynamics. The wire in the magnets is coated with enamel, which is an essential design feature in delivering the tone of the mid 60s Strat. The polepieces are staggered; this provides a balance of output and volume across all the strings.
They are powerful, and they are very clean sounding. Some are not going to like them because the sound can appear quite thin, especially in the neck position. But across the pickup sound ranges, they have a warm, clear early Beach Boys sound. However, the middle pickup is not reverse wound as some are, so these will be noisier.
There is a little natural hum from these pickups. In a way that only confirms there authenticity as it is something, the originals were known for. They are also interchangeable. They all have the same resistance and therefore, can be placed in any of the three positions.
These are not what you might call a ‘standard’ set of replacement Strat pickups – if there is such a thing. The sound is very unique and limited to a relatively short period of time in Fenders’ 60s years. These probably are best described as being 65-69 in the sound they produce.
As mentioned, they do produce that bright, clean Beach Boys sound. But let us just remember that bloke from Seattle at times played a 69, as did David Gilmore. Mmmm.
The great sound of that period, well made and put together with vintage design features. Set at a great price point.
- A clean, bright sound reminiscent of an era.
- The authentic vintage design features create a great sound.
- Not going to suit everybody.
5 Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Flat SSL-4 Pickup For Strat
Seymour Duncan is a well-known manufacturer, but here is a little secret for you. They have had a very serious customer who installed one of their pickups in the bridge position on his ‘black strat’ Guess who? It is actually on sale now as their SSL-5 model.
So next time you hear ‘Comfortably Numb’ live from London at Live 8 ( yes we were there) or anywhere else, just think. That pickup selector is kicked to the right, and the Seymour Duncan is cutting through. Can you get a better recommendation for a manufacturer?
This pickup is not about vintage sounds or recreating 60s Strat tones. This pickup is about two things, Power and Volume. Seymour Duncan is quite upfront about this. There are those who prefer the thick humbucker sound and fit them on their Strats. With this pickup, maybe you don’t need to. These sound more like P90s than a Fender single-coil pickup.
The SSL-4 has twice the power of that you might get from a traditional single-coil. This gives you a thick, punchy sound that will raise a few eyebrows. For that reason alone, they are going to be considered as one of the Best Sounding Stratocaster Pickups on the market.
This is generated by the design of the SSL-4, which has Alnico V magnets but which are oversized and the powerful windings. The result is a massive increase in the rougher sound and the amount of sustain you get.
It is not just a one-sound pickup, though. You can still have the clean and bright sounds the single-coil produces, but it can transform into a screaming beast of a sound very quickly. If you fit these be warned, they bite. Quite suddenly, your Strat becomes a little more than Leo designed it for.
This is going to suit some styles of music and playing more than others. They have got heavy rock and metal written all over them. Well, not literally, but they could have.
These are a single-coil Strat pickup, not a humbucker. But they deliver a much thicker and louder sound than what you would expect to hear. They can be fitted on any of the three positions.
These probably won’t suit the Start purists who like the crystal clear highs of the 50s and 60s originals. But there will be some who will embrace this slightly alternative Strat sound.
As an individual pickup, they might be considered a reasonable price. If you were to replace all three with them, it would get a little expensive. But you don’t need to do that. With the Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Flat SSL-4 Pickup, one will do.
- Powerful, distinctive sound.
- Made with good materials in a slightly different design.
- Might not suit the Strat’ purists’.
6 Wilkinson Lic White ST Strat Vintage Voice Single Coil Pickups
These single-coil pickups from Wilkinson are very much an affordable range of pickups produced for those on a budget. That’s is not say they are poor quality because they are not. They might just not offer the sound that some do, which is understandable and acceptable in our book.
These have been created in ways that echo the original designs. They have staggered polepieces and ceramic Alnico magnets. The Bridge pickup has a higher resistance level at 6.1k than the other two. This makes allowances for the extra string volume next to the bridge.
The middle and neck pickup have the same levels of resistance at 5.8k. Likewise, the pole spacing varies with the bridge pickup spaced wider to compensate for string width being wider at the bridge than in the neck position. The middle pick up is reverse wound and has reverse polarity.
As you know by now, this has the effect of drastically reducing any hum when in pickup selector switch positions two and four.
These pickups will fit Squier models as well, but because if sight wiring differences, you may need a tech to help. It will be worth it because they have a hotter sound than what is supplied as standard on Squier Strats. They come with six chrome screws for mounting.
As we said at the beginning, these are very much a budget alternative. But nevertheless, the sound is good, and the high frequencies crisp and clear. They really perform way above their price tag. This makes them a good option for those who may be on a budget.
- Nice sounds especially at the top end.
- Good alternative pickups at an affordable price.
- Some will just want higher quality.
7 Fender Generation 4 Noiseless Stratocaster Single-Coil Pickups
We return to Fender for a look at one of their top-end pickup replacements. The Fender Generation 4 Noiseless Stratocaster Single-Coil Pickups.
This is Fender’s attempt at producing authentic sounding pickups that sound like the vintage years with a difference. The difference being there is no hum or noise. Some will say that is something unheard of, if you excuse the pun. Others will say that it was the presence of the hum that helped make the sound and what they were, if you are talking vintage sound, of course.
What Fender has actually done here, in our opinion, is create a great pickup, with no noise. But it does not have what we would call a vintage sound. They do not sound like those original single-coils of the 50s, and 60s did — no 60 cycle hum for one thing.
But they do sound very good and are Fenders’ best effort to produce a noiseless Strat pickup. That is, without resorting to the ‘evil humbucker’. The sound is just a little different and not what you would call, as we have said, vintage, even though they are good.
They have Alnico V magnets, and they have an extra shielded wire to cut down on noise. They are bright at the top end, as you would hope. But one of the big differences to our ears is the mids, which are certainly a lot more prominent. They do produce a lot more overdrive than what you would get from previous pickups, which some will see as a good thing.
They are a very good set of pickups and will reward you with crisp, clear, and warm sounds. If you don’t push them too hard, that is. But if you put the pedal down, you will see a different side of their character. Some will love them, and to be honest; we can see the advantages; however, some will be looking for more of an authentic sound. They are also quite expensive.
- Good innovative Fender sound with reduced noise.
- They will give you a little bit more power than the standard Strat pickup.
- Some will think of them as expensive.
8 EMG SA Active Single Coil Guitar Pickup
This pickup from EMG is not so much an attempt to recreate the past but more an attempt to move on from it. There will be advocates on both sides of that argument. Founded in 1976, EMG started to produce their ‘active’ pickups with a preamp that give it its gain. This, rather than relying on the magnets.
There is the flavor of the single-coil pick up in the sound, but it has a few extras to go with it. The mids are very much more pronounced and have a thicker sound; this tends to remove the effect of those bright, sharp highs the Strat was famous for. You also get a lot more sustain.
The mids then, when pushed, produce a level of overdrive and distortion not usually achieved from a single-coil. It does give greater versatility for creating different sounds. But it is moving away from the original sound of the Strat.
This is an active single-coil pickup with an Alnico V magnet. Any noise is reduced by using a low-impedance preamp and internal shielding. Installing is easy, and changing the battery not that much of a problem. You do get over 1000 hours of battery life, so you won’t have to do it that often.
They are a good pickup that adds a different sound to your Strat. They are, as individual pickups, not cheap though.
- Give a different type of ‘active’ sound to your Strat.
- Easy to fit and good battery life for the preamp.
- Not a traditional-sounding single-coil so it won’t appeal to some.
9 DiMarzio DP419 Area ’67 Hum Canceling Strat Pickup
Back in the day when you visited the US, and you were a musician high on the list of places to visit was Staten Island. That was because of the Mandolin Brothers music shop. A place that stocked thousands of guitars, some quite rare. Also, there was Larry Di Marzio and his fledgling replacement pickup company.
Founded in 1971, he released his super distortion models, and a different sound had arrived. Sadly, Mandolin Brothers are long gone, but DiMarzio is still producing great pickups. The DP419 is one such product. A single-coil designed as a Strat replacement pickup.
To give it its full name, it is the DP419-Area-67-Pickup. The ’67 was no accident in the title. In music circles, ’67 means just one thing, Monterrey. Monterrey means one thing, Hendrix… oh yes, that’s the name of that bloke from Seattle. And of course the single-coil Strat he set fire to.
That single-coil was clean and sharp, and so is this DiMarzio. They have added a little modern design technology, of course, but it still bears the hallmark sound. They have gone close to restoring that sound with this pickup. However, it does bear some differences. The tones are a bit sharper, and the mid-range more pronounced as are the lower frequencies. They have got rid of the hum as well.
There is a valid argument that by getting rid of the hum, you lose a bit of the character of the sound. We have already discussed this with the Fender Noiseless. But you don’t notice it with this pickup. Some say the reduction in the hum also reduces the sharpness.
DiMarzo has overcome that by using Alnico II magnets, which produce a sharper sound. It can fit in the middle or at the neck. Either way, it is something special. There is no doubt this is one of the Best Classic Stratocaster Pickups around. It is good, and it is powerful, and it sounds like, well, Monterrey in ’67.
- A great sound reminiscent of the bloke from Seattle.
- Very affordable price for such a great pickup.
10 Fender Custom Shop Custom ’54 Stratocaster Pickups
It is only fair to end where we started with the company that gave us the Strat in the first place. Raise a glass to Uncle Leo, one of the three men that changed music forever.
They haven’t always got it right over the years. In fact, there have been times when they got it horribly wrong. We had the experience in the 70s with a couple of’ made in the USA’ Fender Precision basses that were far worse than you would find in an Asian low-level factory. So bad, they were shocking. But they got there act back together later on thankfully.
With these pickups, they have gone back to their roots. The Fender Stratocaster launched itself on the world in 1954. These are a revival of that early sound. They have some players who appreciate and use them, Stevie Ray Vaughan, for one. Why? Because they are good, very good.
Clean, crisp, bright, and with that inimitable style and sound that some today refer to as ‘thin’. Thin or not, they slice through the sound of a band. You can’t miss them. They have stuck with their favored Alnico magnets that they have used since day one. Some manufacturers have gone on to use Ceramic, but Fender has stuck with their Alnico, Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt.
Sounds like the Beach Boys gave us. But with there smiley, brushed clean image, they never jacked up the volume. If they had, then they would have heard the ‘other-single-coil’ sound. Bright, yes, but full of power and sustain and with quite a bit of a rough edge to it.
If they cranked it up, then the ‘Little Old Lady from Pasadena’ might have become a ‘Foxy Lady’ instead. Well, probably not, but you know what we mean.
These are great pickups form the company that gave us the sound in the first place. Surely one of the best single-coil pickups you can buy and one of the Best Stratocaster Pickups around. And also a pickup that is very affordable.
- Great vintage sounds from a great era of the Strat.
- Very affordable price.
- Nothing if you like the sound of a single-coil.
Best Stratocaster Pickups Buyers Guide
Back To Where It All Began
Replacing the pickups on what is an iconic guitar is not a decision to be taken lightly. We knew someone that did that because he said ‘his pickups were getting tired’ he changed them, it didn’t work. He put the old ones back, but his Strat was having none of it. That guitar just never sounded the same again.
Not everyone’s experience, of course, and at times replacements are necessary. The choice is quite simple, really in the first place.
Vintage or Something Newer?
Let’s cut to the chase. If you are looking for an exact replica of a vintage 50s or 60s sound, you are not going to find it. It is not possible to recreate it. Perhaps there was something in the water back then. Companies, including even Fender, get close, but it is not quite the same.
However, there is a way of getting a 50s Strat sound. Buy a 50s Strat. Good luck with that one, unless you feel like re-mortgaging your house.
The vintage sounds in the pickups today carry the hallmarks of the same sounds. They are still great to hear, and they get so close. But is that what you want? If it is, then there are quite a few options.
Maybe you want a little bit of that single-coil sound but just a bit extra to go with it. If so, DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan offer some good alternatives.
How many pickups are you going to change? Some come in sets of three, but others are single. It can get a little expensive. There is a very good budget range included which punch above their weight. If the budget is tight, then Wilkinson is worth a look.
What about being outrageous and having an ‘active’ pick up. Some might say sacrilege, but if you’re not one of them, EMG makes a good option of an active Strat pickup.
At the end of the day, it comes down to what sound you want. This is an iconic guitar with an iconic sound. You can get a pickup change that offers a bit more power, but it is still a single-coil. It is still at its roots that sound. And that is the beauty of the Stratocaster.
More Great Pickup Choices
So, you’ve decided to upgrade your start, but maybe it’s also time to update another guitar in the collection? If so, check out our reviews of the Best P 90 Pickups, the Best Telecaster Guitar Pickups, the Best Single Coil Pickups, the Best Jazz Bass Pickups, and the Best Precision Bass Pickups currently available.
So, What’s The Best Stratocaster Pickups?
What a near-impossible choice. So many great pickups and so many nearly recreating a golden time in music. We say nearly because we will never be able to exactly recreate those sounds. Should we stick with Fender, who makes great pickups, maybe the DiMarzio ’67 Monterrey special.
In the end, we decided that we would choose a pickup that just created a great and memorable sound. Therefore, we have chosen the…
A comfortably brilliant sound.
Our choice as the very best Stratocaster pickups currently available.