If you’re shopping for Stratocaster pickup upgrades, you’ll be pleased to learn that these days you’ll find tons of different options to fit all kinds of players. Whether you are a Strat purist, a reluctant single coil player, or anything in between, swapping out your pickups can have a massive impact on your sound and tone.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we tested seven of the best Strat pickups available in the market today. During the testing, we ran them through a Fender Twin Amp and an Ibanez Tube Screamer for overdrive and distortion. We were looking to see how each set performed in terms of tone, clarity, and noise mitigation. Keep on reading to see what we learned
Top 3 best strat pickups in 2022
The Fender Original 57/62 with RWRP Middle Position was our top pick for this list. They provide an authentic single coil tone for your strat, with that unmistakable quack and bite, as well as sharp responsiveness. This set was reverse engineered from a 1963 strat and delivers that beloved vintage tone.
The Fender Tex Mex Stratocaster Pickup Set is our best budget option. They offer high output and an authentic single coil sound with a Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas vibe in an SSS configuration.
And finally, the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Psychedelic Single Coil Set was our Editor’s Choice. These pickups feature period correct winding and materials to emulate the single-coil tone of the late sixties with great precision. If you are a discerning player with a soft spot for the golden era of single coils, this set is for you.
- Top 3 best strat pickups in 2022
- 7 Best Strat Pickups in 2022 Review
- Buyers Guide
- Final Thoughts on the 7 Best Strat Pickups
7 Best Strat Pickups in 2022 Review
A vintage strat pickup set for the modern player.
This 57/62 Stratocaster set of pickups from Fender offers a spot-on recreation of the original strat tone. This set was reverse-engineered using a 1963 Strat. The result is a particularly authentic vintage tone, feel, and overall vibe.
The Fender Original 57/62 with RWRP Middle Position pickups gave us genuine Stratocaster tone from one of the most sought-after eras for vintage sound. This set includeed an RWRP mid pickup for hum-free function. This reverse-wound, reverse-polarity middle pickup allowed us to play with a decent amount of gain, without having to worry about excessive hum.
In our tests, these pickups provided the sparkling highs and warm lows that have helped make Strats such a beloved and useful guitar. The clean sound we got (plugged straight into the amp with no effects) had that beautiful Fender Strat openness to it.
We then put this set of pickups through its paces through the Tube Screamer. Even though these pickups have an output that is considered low to moderate, they sounded great with high gain.
The bridge pickup provided that classic overdriven bite that just cuts through a mix. On the other hand, the neck pickup provided a warm and present sound when overdriven.
The reverse-wound middle pickup sounded great when we switched it on with the 2nd and 4th positions, both overdriven.
When we dialed in a bit more of an aggressive distortion, positions one and two were our favorite, offering that characteristic Strat chime and bite. It had a bit of a Stevie Ray edge to it, with a nice sustain and powerful tone.
Verdict: The Fender Original 57/62 with RWRP Middle Position set offers a classic tone without excessive hum. Besides sounding great in a variety of situations and at differing levels of tube saturation, they were well made, and gave us no challenges when installing them.
Increased output set of strat pickups at a low price.
This set of strat pickups gives you a Texas-sized tone and grit that will surely fit your budget. Whether you are looking for those sparkly clean Strat tones or the saturated bite that they're known for, this set of pickups delivers.
The Fender Tex Mex Stratocaster Pickup Set gave us that renowned Strat clean tone, as well as some great distorted tones at a great price. This pickup set was designed with increased output and comes with Alnico V magnets.
We started with our strat on clean and got that open sound. These pickups featured vinyl-coated lead wires, as well as staggered pole pieces, for a classic sound that is balanced and quite useful for today’s player.
Although all three pickups in this set delivered what we had expected, our favorite was the bridge pickup. It gave us some serious output as it is overwound, and we loved how it paired up with our Tube Screamer distortion dialed in at various levels. We got some serious growl that was a bit more aggressive than standard wound pickups, but still found them to be balanced and focused.
We also liked how position 4 sounded, especially when clean. The sound we got was great for blues and similar applications. Here we got a nice combination of bite and balance that can come in handy in a variety of situations.
Another great feature of the Tex Mex pickup set is the middle pickup which was designed with reverse wound and reverse polarity. In our tests, we noticed that positions 2 and 4 greatly benefited from this, as there was no audible hum.
Verdict: The Fender Tex Mex Stratocaster Pickup Set is great for players looking to upgrade their Strat on a budget. You get higher output and standard strat tone with some of that Texas bite and sparkle, and all for a fantastic price.
A fantastic Strat Pickup Set featuring materials and winding from the 1960s.
These pickups are designed with period-correct materials, in order to give you that chime and single-coil tone from the sixties. Wound in the classic way, this set is for that discerning player that is willing to go the extra mile in the name of authenticity.
The Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Psychedelic Strat Set delivered late sixties tone with period-correct materials and attention to detail. These pickups were hand-wound in the traditional way in order to reproduce vintage strat tone.
We found that the pickups in this set were voiced with a scooped-mid sound. Our tests revealed a deep and full tone in every position, in both clean and distorted settings.
We particularly liked our clean sound on the bridge pickup as well as position 2. In both, we got a very clear clean that was present but never with that ice pick quality that Strats sometimes display. We did not even have to roll down the tone knob, as both positions 1 and 2 sounded great at different tone levels.
Position 4 was also one of our favorites, not only for that typical blues sound and bite but also for some jazz fusion once we dialed in some overdrive. The sound here was balanced and warm, thanks to the mid-scooped voice that these pickups have.
For more aggressive distortion, our favorite position was 2. We found that the bridge and middle pickup worked great in tandem to produce a nice bite that was controlled and balanced. The distorted sound here worked great for a blues solo and even for some power chord chugging.
Verdict: The Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Psychedelic Strat Set offers an authentic sixties tone for the discerning player. These pickups are voiced with the mids slightly scooped, which makes them sound fuller but without deviating from that beloved sixties sound. In short, a fantastic set of strat pickups for those that seek the best.
A combo of pickguard and single coil set for true David Gilmour tone.
If you are a fan of David Gilmour's unique sound this EMG set of strat single coils is for you. It features EMG's exclusive solderless Quik-Connect design and comes with a pre-wired Pearloid pickguard in white. Alternatively, you can also get the DG20 in black.
The EMG DG20 David Gilmour Signature Pre-Wired Pickguard features the company’s ivory alnico SA single-coil pickups. Additionally, it comes with an EMG EXG expander for increased fatness, and an EMG SPC (Strat Presence Control) meant as an enhancer for your strat tone.
Starting with clean tones, our tests revealed a bright and chimey Strat tone with a nice bottom and no hum. The clean sounds were quite balanced and round, but still authentically strat.
One of our favorite tones in clean came from the neck pickup or position 5. It was nicely rounded to play some jazz, with a tone that was still strat-like but with a deeper depth to it.
The fatness on this set of pickups comes from the EXG design, as it is for a fuller sound that remains focused and does not turn muddy.
With a bit of overdrive, we got a very expressive blues tone, especially in position 2. The sustain here was nice, but we were especially happy with the bite and pep in the tone.
When dialed in with more saturation, position one really came through with a forward but very musical tone with clear note separation for power chords. We also liked position three for a bit of soloing in a distortion-heavy context.
It is important to mention that this pickguard and 3 pickup set are pre-wired with solderless connectivity, making it easy to install in your strat.
The one drawback of this pickup set is its price, which some may find to be too much, especially for those that are not particularly interested in mimicking David Gilmour’s tone.
Verdict: The EMG DG20 David Gilmour Signature Pre-Wired Pickguard and its set of three single-coil pickups provide great tone that resembles the iconic guitarist’s sound. While many would pay handsomely for Gilmour’s tone, some might find this set to be a bit costly, especially non-Floyd fans.
A single coil pickup set that delivers vintage Strat tone with no noise.
This set of Strat pickups offers authentic Fender tone with that timeless vintage flavor but without the burden of noise. Featuring a shielded wire design, as well as Alnico V material for the magnets, these pickups produce classic strat sound for today's guitar player.
The Fender Gen 4 Noiseless set featured three single coil pickups with 10.3 K resistance each, for authentic Strat tone. The added benefit is that you get true strat chime, but far less of the hum that is often associated with single coil pickups.
We started by testing this set in clean. The sound we got had a defined high as well as a tight low end. The mids were a bit too forward, although that can still come in handy in a busy mix.
Position one gave us the classic Strat bite. It was very useful for bright rhythmic parts to cut through, although positions 2 and 4 also produced a nice tone, we found that the middle pickup (position 3) was a little overpowering.
Once we dialed in a bit of overdrive, we got a nice bluesy tone with a tight low end. This was particularly true in positions 1 and 2, which also responded well with more distortion, especially for soloing.
For a rock tone, we turned up the saturation and got a punchy and round tone for chunky chords on positions 1, 2, and 4. Interestingly, all three positions also worked quite well for single lines, with nice sustain and that unmistakable classic strat tone.
We also noticed that noise or unwanted hum was much less prevalent, which is a fantastic feature to have, particularly in more quiet settings or for recordings.
Verdict: The Fender Gen 4 Noiseless vintage white set delivers on its promise of offering an authentic strat tone but without the noise. Although they sounded good and had a tight low end and sparkly high end, the mids were a bit too aggressive, particularly on the middle pickup.
A set of humbucker pickups on a single-coil size.
This set of Seymour Duncans allows you to modify your start by replacing its single-coil pickups with humbuckers in an easy way. These humbuckers may look like single coils because of their dimensions but are capable of offering more sustain and output for your strat.
The Seymour Duncan Hot Rails are a great choice for any player looking to get the power of humbuckers on their strat without having to carve up the guitar itself. The three pickups here take up the same amount of space as single coils, and their installation is simple.
The fact that we were dealing with humbuckers became obvious as soon as we started playing with this set. Throughout our tests, we got fat tone, full sound, and remarkable sustain, all of this with very responsive playing.
We went straight for distortion, which is precisely where these pickups shine the most. You get a very powerful sound in all positions, with tons of sustain and with a tone that is appropriate to heavier styles of music than we’d typically associate with a strat.
Our power chords and riffs came through with less effort and a lot more in-your-face tone. Positions 1 and 4 were particularly good for rhythm playing, and position 1 was our favorite for aggressive lead guitar.
This set of pickups provided more output and a thick humbucking tone. Naturally, the quack and bite that strats are known for was no longer there, so there is a tradeoff here.
That said, many players love the strat because of how it feels when played, but may also want a powerful humbucker tone in all three pickups. If that’s the case for you, then these Seymour Duncans certainly get the job done.
Verdict: The Seymour Duncan Hot Rails are a set of humbucker pickups in a single-coil size. They offer more output, sustain, thickness, and power than a single coil and are great for metal, punk, and the like. As expected, you lose that typical strat tone, but that might be exactly what you are after.
Active pickup set with two distinct voices per pickup.
This set of active pickups offers a strat tone without the hum and comes preloaded in a white pickguard for easy installation. If you want a single coil sound but what to do away with the noise, this is a good option.
The Fishman Fluence Loaded Pickguard active single coil set features classic strat tone minus the noise and inductance issues. This is done via active electronics that require a power source (Fluence rechargeable battery pack or 9 Volt battery).
Fishman designed these pickups to offer two different voices, selectable via a push-pull mechanism on the tone knobs. In other words, each pickup features a classic single-coil sound, as well as a beefier hot texas type of tone.
We started our tests in position one clean. We got that unmistakable strat sound that we all know. We then pulled the tone knob and got a more muscular tone commonly associated with overwound pickups, but without losing those pronounced strat high frequencies.
We tried out all five positions in clean. At each one, we got that classic strat tone but none of the hum. The same was true when we engaged voice 2 by pulling on the tone knob: no hum on an overwound tone.
Moving on, we added some distortion to test out these pickups. Position 2 provided a really killer sound for blues, especially with voice two engaged. We got plenty of sustain, a balanced voice, and great responsiveness, but no hum.
Position 1 and 5 also sounded really good with heavier distortion. The tone was classic strat in voice 1 but a bit more modern and aggressive for voice 2, which was fantastic for a current rock sound.
This set of pickups sounds really good and gives you options, all of this without hum. However, you have to deal with a battery pack and make sure it is charged, or a 9 v battery.
Verdict: The Fishman Fluence Loaded Pickguard gives you the option of having classic strat sound as well as a modern overwound tone. This active pickup set sounds great and operates via a battery pack or 9-volt battery.
Stratocasters type guitars can have different types of pickups as well as different configurations.
The most common type of pickups for strat are single coils in all three positions, also known as SSS configuration. However, humbuckers have also become popular in the last 40 years, especially in SSH configuration. Here, a humbucker pickup is placed in the bridge position, while both the middle and neck position feature single coils.
Another type of configuration is HHH. Albeit not as common, this configuration has gained popularity among players of more aggressive styles of music like metal. Let’s see what the true difference between a single-coil and a humbucker is.
Stratocasters were originally designed with single-coil pickups on all three positions or SSS configuration. These were invented in the late 20s and later perfected by groundbreaking visionaries like Leo Fender and Seth Lover.
Single coil pickups have a unique tone and flavor that many players prefer. They feature a bright and twangy tone, with a superior high-frequency response. These pickups are responsible for the sound of guitars in the early days of electric guitar music, particularly in rock n roll and blues.
These types of pickups are designed with thousands of copper windings around a single coil. Their construction features individual magnets corresponding to each string or a single bar magnet that covers all six strings.
A magnetic field is generated by the pickup at the vibration of a string, and the signal turns into sound waves that go into an amp.
Single coil pickups are susceptible to hum and interference from various electronic sources, which is often an undesirable side effect. However, many players welcome the hum and consider it part of a true Strat sound, incorporating it into the music.
It is fair to say that an overwhelming majority of Strat players use at least two single coils in their pickup setup.
As their name implies, these types of pickups buck the hum. They came into prominence as an answer to the hum and interference that is typically present in single coils.
Humbuckers are characterized by their fuller and more aggressive tone, and they’ve been widely used in many contexts, especially rock and roll from the late 60s until today.
Humbuckers do a great job at rejecting hum and interference, as well as providing a more in-your-face tone. Although commonly associated with guitars like Les Pauls and hollow bodies, they have become relatively common in Strats and Teles. However, they do not have the liveliness and high-end response that made single coils so beloved.
Most humbuckers occupy twice the space of single-coil pickups, as they are essentially two single coils put together. However, companies like Seymour Duncan produce humbucking pickups in a single coil housing. This caters mostly to the Strat player that wants to have a humbucker (or three) without having to alter their pickguard.
Active vs Passive
Both single coils and humbuckers can be either active or passive. This is defined by how a pickup receives its power in order to pick up the strings’ vibration.
Passive pickups are characterized by thousands of copper windings around each coil, as well as a strong magnet that generates an electromagnetic field around the strings. They are the most common type of pickups today.
On the other hand, active pickups have far fewer copper windings as well as weaker magnets. These low wire windings that characterize an active pickup deliver a very low output. This in turn makes an active pickup far less sensitive to interference, so you end up with a quieter pickup.
Active pickups come with a preamp that boosts that low output to produce more volume and less noise than an active pickup. The preamp is powered by a 9 volt battery or chargeable battery pack.
Final Thoughts on the 7 Best Strat Pickups
One of the best things about Stratocaster ownership is the incredible amount of aftermarket parts and accessories available for modifying your guitar, including a huge number of different pickups. Pickup changes can completely transform the sound and performance of the instrument, and the Strat platform makes these changes pretty easy in most cases.
To recap, the Fender Original 57/62 with RWRP Middle Position is a very strong choice for authentic strat single coil tone. Those on a budget are going to love The Fender Tex Mex Stratocaster pickups, And for those whose main criteria is quality, the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop Psychedelic Single Coil Set offers genuine late sixties tone and feel with awesome detail.