The Fender Stratocaster is arguably the most iconic guitar of all time, and it’s appeared on some of the most significant records of all time dating back to the early 1950s. Over the years, Fender has made hundreds of different Stratocaster models, and other manufacturers have produced tons of popular copies.
All of these pickups tap into that classic Stratocaster mojo, but discerning players are always looking for ways to get closer to the holy grail of Strat tone. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of top pickup manufacturers making excellent options for your Strat. Today, we’re going to look closely at the 13 best Stratocaster pickups on the market.
Top 13 Stratocaster Pickups Reviewed
Before we do anything else, let’s dive right in and take a closer look at these excellent Strat pickups.
Best Noiseless Strat Pickup
For years, manufacturers have grappled with the challenge of making a noiseless single coil that doesn’t lose any of the emotion or nuance that these pickups are so loved for. The latest noiseless pickups from Fender manage to quiet hum beautifully without losing the signature Strat tone you’re after.
Fender equips these pickups with alnico V magnets, and each pickup measures in at 10.3K. This set offers a punchy and defined low end, and the crisp, clear high end that Strats are revered for. From classic Strat tones to brash overdrive, the Gen IV noiseless pickups are ideal for virtually all players.
- Truly noiseless operation
- Staggered pole pieces for superior response
- Incredibly versatile
- Only available with vintage white covers
Best Loaded Stratocaster Pickgaurd
Swapping pickups has never been easier thanks to these loaded pickguards from EMG. These kits include all the electronics you’ll need to give your guitar a tonal facelift, and installing them is as simple as dropping in your new pickguard and wiring the input jack.
The included pickups are made to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd’s exacting standards, and EMG’s proprietary Guitar Expander and presence controls have replaced the traditional tone knobs, so you can make your guitar sing just like the iconic David Gilmour. Beyond this set, EMG also has Steve Lukather, and Kirk Hammett loaded pickguards available.
- Completely solderless installation
- Unique tone controls
- Noiseless operation
- Requires a 9V battery
- Not as subtle or expressive as passive pickups
Best Inexpensive Strat Pickup
Players looking to tap into some serious vintage tone without breaking the bank are sure to love these single coils from Wilkinson, which cost just over $10 per pickup.
These pickups are vintage-voiced to capture the classic Strat sound of the late 50s, and they measure in at 5.8K for the neck and middle with a slightly hotter 6.1K bridge. The pole pieces are staggered to provide even response across each string, and these pickups are available with white, cream, or black covers to match any pickguard.
- Extremely affordable
- Great vintage tone
- Clear and even response
- A bit noisy
- Quality control seems to be an issue - many users receive dead pickups and must exchange
Most Versatile Strat Pickup
Arguably the most versatile pickups of all time, the Everything Axe set from Seymour Duncan features single coil-sized versions of their most iconic humbuckers, the Little ‘59, JB Jr., and Duckbucker.
These American-made pickups feature four-conductor wires that allow you to tap into tons of different wiring options. Pair these with a 7-way or 9-way pickup selector, and you’ll be able to tap into all the classic tones Strats are known for, as well as more humbucker-centric tones that most players would never dream of getting from a Strat with an SSS configuration.
- Unparalleled versatility
- 4-conductor wiring for tons of wiring options
- Made in America
- Noiseless operation
- Might be over the top for Strat purists
Best Overall Strat Pickups
Bare Knuckle set the world on fire when they arrived on the scene several years ago with their hand-wound boutique-style pickups. The only issue was that they were about twice the price of other high-end options. With their new Boot Camp series, they’ve managed to make Bare Knuckle quality available at a much lower price.
These pickups are hand-wound and feature flat alnico II rod magnets, custom red and black flatwork, and matching cloth push-back wiring. The neck and middle measure in at 6.2K while the bridge is a bit hotter at 7.1K. If you’re after the sparkle and chime of a vintage Strat, these pickups are going to blow your socks off.
- Incredible tone
- Alnico II magnets for more high-end
- Wound by hand in England
- Could use a bit more low end
One of the most iconic Strat players of all time, Eric Johnson, now has a signature set of pickups that allow everyone to emulate his iconic sound.
This set uses alnico III magnets in the neck and middle, which measure 5.8K and 6.0K respectively, and alnico V magnets in the bridge, which measures a hotter 6.7K. Each pole magnet is staggered to provide an even response across all strings. Vintage style push-back conductors complete this set of classic Strat pickups.
- Perfect for emulating Eric Johnson’s unique Strat tone
- Unique blend of alnico magnets
- Dynamic and well balanced
- Only available with vintage white covers
- Can be a bit noisy outside of the middle positions
An active Strat pickup that provides a modern take on a classic design, the EMG SA series offers some of the most versatile tones you’ll ever coax from a Stratocaster.
These pickups feature alnico V bar magnets for even frequency response, even when you’re bending strings halfway off the fretboard. They deliver much more midrange than a typical single coil, which provides a unique tone that’s fairly uncommon for Strats.
- Solderless installation
- Completely noiseless
- Unique tone with a boosted midrange
- Not ideal for players searching for a vintage Strat tone
- Requires 9V battery
ToneRider has set the guitar world by storm after arriving on the scene a few years ago. No one had ever heard of the brand, but the tone of their pickups is instantly recognizable.
These classic pickups offer a 70s style Texas Strat sound made popular by players like Stevie Ray Vaughn. The bridge pickup is overwound to provide some extra punch, and the bridge pickup is RWRP to eliminate hum in the middle positions.
- Overwound bridge pickup for added heat and punch
- Texas-style hot blues tone
- A bit noisy, especially the bridge pickup
Strat purists looking to tap into the earliest Stratocasters' classic sounds are sure to love the California ‘50s set from Seymour Duncan.
Each pickup is handbuilt in Duncan’s California warehouse to the same specifications that Fender used during their golden years. Each pickup measures in at 6.5K, and the middle is RWRP to eliminate hum.
- True to the sound of the original Stratocasters
- Handbuilt in America
- Vintage style conductors
- Incredibly noisy outside of the middle positions
Tap into the iconic sounds of Jimmy Vaughn in record time with this loaded pickguard from Fender.
These pickups are made to Jimmy’s exacting specifications and feature alnico V magnets and Polysol-coated magnet wires for punchy response and maximum output. The middle is reverse wound for hum suppression, and everything is dropped into a premium Fender pickguard that’s ready to be loaded into your guitar.
- Minimal wiring necessary
- Great 70s style hot Strat tone
- Alnico V magnets
- Staggered pole pieces for even frequency response
- Bobbin material is plastic
An exceptionally versatile set from Lace Sensor, these pickups are some of the most unique passive models available. These pickups feature large metal buffers around each magnet, which help them suppress hum like no other true single coil can.
This set includes three of Lace’s most popular pickups, the Red, Silver, and Blue. The red is a super-hot bridge pickup, measuring at 14.5K for single coil performance with fat humbucker tone. The silver measures at 7.1K, and it offers the fat and round sound of the 70s, perfect for the middle position. The Blue pickup rounds out the set and measures in at 12.8K and provides a warm ’50s inspired sound.
- Virtually noiseless
- Unmistakable Lace Sensor tone
- No signal loss during bends
- Lacks some of the punch and high-end Strats are known for
If you love the look and feel of a Strat, but prefer the tone of humbuckers, this set inspired by ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons could be perfect for you.
This set features three custom-voiced PAF style humbuckers in single coil housings, and they allow you to tap right into the hot blues tones that have made Billy one of the most storied guitarists of the last five decades.
Each pickup has four-conductor wiring, so you’ll be able to split and tap coils to your heart’s content, which will allow you to lock into some tremendous single coil tones in addition to the hot and bluesy sound of the PAF humbuckers.
- Classic PAF-style tone with more bite than ever
- 4-conductor wiring for coil-tapping
- Specially designed alnico V magnets
- Not for anyone looking for classic Stratocaster tone
Looking for a dirt-cheap option to upgrade your Strat with? You’ll have a hard time beating this set, which performs incredibly well given its sub-$25 price tag.
This loaded pickguard comes pre-wired, and all you’ll need to do is solder the hot and ground leads to the input jack. It’s available in various pickguard colors so you can upgrade the look of your guitar and its tone.
- Minimal wiring required
- Solid vintage-style tone
- Includes deluxe pickguard
- Mediocre pots - tone controls are virtually useless
- Noisier than most single coils
Stratocaster Pickup Buying Guide
They might all look similar, but there are some significant differences that separate Stratocaster pickups. Read on as we take a closer look at the features and characteristics you’ll want to consider before making a selection.
Types of Pickups
Stratocasters can be equipped with either single coil or humbucker pickups. Here’s what you need to know about each type.
Single coil pickups are the classic Stratocaster pickup, which was first invented in the late 1920s, and they were later perfected by innovative designers like Leo Fender and Seth Lover.
Single coils are known for their bright and punchy tone, which offers excellent high-frequency response compared to other pickups. These pickups are lively and expressive, and they’re synonymous with the sounds of early rock ‘n roll, surf, r&b, and blues.
These pickups feature thousands of copper windings around a single coil (hence the name), with either individual magnets for each string, or a bar magnet that spans across all six. When strings vibrate, the magnetic field generated by the pickup translates the signal into sound waves, which can then be processed by an amplifier.
One issue with these pickups is that they are susceptible to picking up hum and interference from other electronic sources, such as lighting, monitors, or amplifiers.
Single coils are synonymous with the Stratocaster, and almost all Strat players employ a setup with at least two single coils.
Unhappy with the hum that’s common with single-coil pickups, many guitar companies began to look for an alternative that could eliminate the annoying hum associated with single coils. The answer was the humbucker, a dual-coil pickup that rejects hum and interference.
Humbuckers are known for their full and aggressive tone, and they’ve been synonymous with rock and roll's sound since the late 60s. These pickups do an incredible job at rejecting hum and buzz, but they don’t offer the same liveliness or high-end response that single coils are prized for.
Most humbuckers are twice the size of a single coil, which makes sense since they are essentially two single coils sandwiched together. But, many manufacturers, including Seymour Duncan and Dimarzio, manufacture humbucking pickups in smaller single coil housing so they can be dropped directly into a standard Stratocaster.
Active or Passive?
Both single coils and humbuckers are available with active or passive electronics. This designation refers to how the pickups receive the power they need to pick up the strings' vibration.
Passive pickups feature thousands of copper windings around each coil, and a reasonably strong magnet generates an electromagnetic field around the strings. As the strings are played, a signal is sent from the guitar's jack to the amplifier, where the amp can then process that signal as soundwaves.
Active pickups are similar, but they feature far fewer copper windings and weaker magnets than passive pickups. These pickups generate a very weak signal that must be boosted with a battery-powered preamp before the signal is sent to the amplifier.
Passive pickups are prized for their expressiveness, organic tone, and superior reliability. Active pickups have a more digital sound that’s in line with today’s modern music. With the help of the battery preamp, active pickups tend to have extremely high output, so they’re preferred for metal and hard rock styles.
Today’s active pickups do a fantastic job of offering some of the expressiveness that passive pickups are so loved. They do so without any of the noise associated with most Stratocaster pickups. But, if you’re after that classic Strat sound of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, you’ll want to go with passive pickups.
Over the years, Stratocasters have come in a range of different pickup configurations to fit the needs of many different styles and players. These are the five most popular:
- SSS - Single/single/single
- SSH - Single/single/humbucker
- HSH - Humbucker/single/humbucker
- HH - Humbucker/humbucker
- HHH - Humbucker/humbucker/humbucker
The most popular and the most “Strat-like” configuration is SSS, followed by an SSH configuration, which maintains a lot of the classic Strat mojo by keeping single coils in the two top positions and replacing the bridge pickup (which is most susceptible to hum) with a humbucker to combat noise and provide a more modern tone.
Thanks to single coil-sized humbuckers, players can now place a humbucker in any position to make their Strats more versatile. These mini-humbuckers almost always have four-conductor wiring, so you can easily split coils for more traditional Stratocaster tones.
The other configurations are more popular with metal and shred guitar players, and they’re best suited to modern lead guitar playing. These guitars might look like Stratocasters, but they don’t sound much like them at all.
Why is the Bridge Pickup Slanted?
Since their inception, the bridge position single coil of a Stratocaster has always been on a slant. Many players think this is simply a stylistic quirk, but there’s a legitimate reason for the slanted pickup.
The closer a pickup is mounted towards the bridge, the high-end response goes up while the low-end response goes down. You can illustrate this concept by plucking a string on your guitar as close to the bridge as possible and comparing the sound to how it sounds when you pluck a string normally.
By mounting the bridge pickup like this, Leo Fender was able to increase the low-end response on the bass strings while increasing the high-end response on the treble strings. This design has been a major characteristic of every Strat ever made, including the thousands of copies made by other manufacturers.
Inside of every pickup is a magnet, and several different magnets are used in pickups, each with unique tonal characteristics.
Alnico magnets are the most popular, and their name stands for aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. Each alnico magnet is made up of a blend of these three metals, and there may also be other metals mixed in depending on the type of alnico magnet it is. There’s a total of nine alnico magnets, but three are especially popular for pickup making:
- Alnico II
- Alnico III
- Alnico V
Alnico II is one of the most popular pickup magnets, especially for neck positions and humbuckers. The magnet is relatively weak, and it provides a clear, defined tone with less high-end than other pickups.
Alnico III is even weaker, and it contains no cobalt, which is interesting since it’s still considered an alnico magnet. The tonal profile of alnico III magnets is quite similar to alnico II.
Alnico V magnets are the most common magnets in guitar pickups. They offer a bit more midrange response than other alnico magnets, and notes tend to blend into a thick and rich “wall of sound.”
Ceramic magnets are more inexpensive than alnico, so they’re commonly used in cheaper pickups. They’re also popular in active pickups and pickups voiced for metal and heavy rock. These magnets tend to offer a scooped mid profile and plenty of cut to help you make it to the front of any mix.
Consider Next: Great Telecaster Pickups to Buy
The 13 pickups we covered above are the cream of the crop when it comes to pickups for your Strat, but only one rises above and earns the title of the best Stratocaster pickups, and that’s the Bare Knuckle Boot Camp Old Guard set.
These vintage-style pickups are relatively noiseless, which is impressive considering the amount of classic Strat tone they’re able to dish out. Each pickup is wound by hand in England, so you can rest assured that the quality is top-notch. From the original tones of the mid-50s Strats through to their heyday in the 70s, these pickups seem to capture every tone with ease.
If you’re looking for something a bit more budget-friendly, the Wilkinson Vintage Voiced Strat pickups are tough to beat. Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for something a bit more versatile, you can’t go wrong with the Seymour Duncan Everything Axe set.
Of course, there are still plenty of other great Strat pickups on our list. Why not play them all before you select your favorite?
Last Updated on January 3, 2021 by Liam F. Admin