Shootout: Our Favorite Strats with Humbuckers – Uncompromising Tone, Classic Design

The Stratocaster is one of the most popular electric guitars in history. That popularity seems unshakable, and the fact that you can mix and match electronics, design details, tonewoods, and more, all but ensure that there is a Strat for just about any player out there. 

One of the most common ways to alter the original Strat released by Leo Fender is to switch out a single coil (or more) for a humbucker. This modification has become a staple of Strats, and plenty of brands (including Fender) offer them, particularly in an HSS configuration.

The reasoning is simple: By combining humbuckers with single coils, you get the best of both worlds, while still remaining mostly true to the spirit of the Strat. Companies know this and offer different Strat pickup configurations for different users. With so much out there, how do you make sense of it all? In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we cover the 7 best Strats with humbuckers to help you figure out which is best for you. We’re here to help. Read on if you love the Strat style and feel, but you’re after thicker tones.

Read more about our review process.

Editor's Choice
EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic

EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic

Features: Direct Mount Wolfgang Humbucker, Floyd Rose bridge, D-Tuna switch

Benefits: Authentic Van Halen tones, Exceptional playability, Easy drop tuning

Best Value
Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX

Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX

Features: Jackson bridge humbucker, Compound radius fretboard, Floyd Rose Special bridge

Benefits: Excellent tuning stability, Massive lead tones, Extremely comfortable player

Best Budget
Kramer Focus VT-211S

Kramer Focus VT-211S

Features: HSS Pickup layout, Mahogany body, Custom Kramer hardware 

Benefits: Fantastic price point, Warm tones, Great reliability

Our Top 3

The Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX is our top pick for this list. It features an HSS configuration for versatility and was designed in conjunction with the legendary Iron Maiden guitarist. 

The Kramer Focus VT-211S is our Best Budget Choice. This is a fantastic option for beginners that want the best of single coils and humbuckers on a Strat, and it comes in a beautiful Pewter Grey color. 

Finally, the EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic is our Editor’s Choice and a great instrument for dedicated players. This is a replica of Eddie Van Halen’s legendary Frankenstrat guitar and features the traits from the guitar virtuoso’s original with great detail.

Individual Reviews

Top Choice
Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX

Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX

A versatile and great-sounding solid body for the modern musician.

Jackson has been a renowned guitar maker for decades, so it's no surprise that they teamed up with Iron Maiden's axeman to produce this signature model. The Adrian Smith SDX gives the user humbucker and single coils sounds and delivers legendary tone at your fingertips.

The Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX comes in an HSS configuration. This configuration is one of the most common for Strat-type guitars with humbuckers, as it offers a lot of versatility, and for many, it’s the best of both worlds. 

We were really excited to try out this guitar and plugged it right into our Marshall combo amp for these tests. The first thing we loved about the Adrian Smith SDX was its playability. With a 12″-16″ compound-radius fingerboard, we were able to fly up and down the maple neck, with a rounder feel at the nut, and a flatter feel higher up the neck. 

The flatter higher frets also help keep the action on this guitar really low, while still allowing us to do extended bends without any issues. Power chords felt nice and with a great grip, while soloing had a smooth feel to it. 

Regarding the sound, the Adrian Smith SDX also delivers. We loved the twangy single-coil tones from the neck and middle pickups, both made by Jackson. We particularly liked position five in clean and the middle pickup for a bit of overdrive.

Naturally, for distorted sounds, the high-output Jackson humbucker on the bridge is where you’ll want to be, especially with the tone knob all the way up. We got an aggressive tone via our Tube Screamer, great for heavy riffing and power chords. For leads, we preferred the bridge pickup as well but with the tone dialed around the middle. 

Add to that a Top Mount Floyd Rose Special vibrato, and you’ve got a shred machine for Strat lovers, but with the benefit of a high-output humbucker. 

Verdict: The Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX features a versatile HSS configuration and a Floyd Rose bridge, specially designed for the famed Iron Maiden guitarist. With fantastic sound and playability, this guitar is a string choice at this price.

Budget Choice
Kramer Focus VT-211S

Kramer Focus VT-211S

A fantastic choice for beginners.

This is a stylish guitar with a strat-type body on an HSS configuration, ideal for beginners. With an honest sound and comfortable enough to start on, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better instrument at this price.

The Kramer Focus VT-211S comes in unique and striking Pewter Grey color and gives the beginner good tone and playability in a truly affordable instrument. 

We plugged it into our Fender Twin Reverb to run our tests and started with the two custom Kramer Alnico V SC-1 single-coil pickups, located at the middle and neck positions each. When playing clean, these single coils delivered that unmistakable twang and forward tone that Strats are known for. These pickups also got the job done when we added distortion via our Tube Screamer pedal, and worked best when overdrive. 

For heavier distortion, we preferred the bridge position, featuring a custom Kramer Alnico V humbucker. It gave us a solid growl that is more forward than what you’d get with a single coil at this price range. To finish up the package, this Strat-type guitar comes with the typical five-way selector switch.  

One of our favorite features on this guitar is that it comes with a mahogany body, as opposed to poplar, which is more common for budget instruments. Mahogany delivers a richer tone, and does not limit sustain like poplar often does. 

Regarding playability, we enjoyed the feel of the slim-profile maple neck on its 12-inch radius Maple fingerboard. This is a great guitar for beginners, at an unbelievable price.  

Verdict: The Kramer Focus VT-211S comes in an HSS configuration and is a nice choice for beginners. With good tone and playability for the price, you get a versatile instrument at a fantastic price.

Editor's Choice
EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic

EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic

A special instrument with superior sound and playability.

Eddie Van Halen, one of the greatest guitar players to ever live, assembled the Frankenstein guitar in order to create a single-cut solid-body guitar with the features and tremolo bar functionality of a Fender Strat. He is still closely associated with this instrument, and so EVH decided to pay the master a tribute with the Frankenstein Relic.

The EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic is this company’s take on Eddie Van Halen’s iconic Frankenstrat guitar. Designed with a basswood body, dummy neck pickup, and just a humbucker at the bridge, this guitar replicates the visual aspect of Eddie’s original with great detail.

With our Marshall DSL40CR at hand, we plugged this guitar in to try it out. EVH paid close attention to the bridge pickup, a Direct Mount Wolfgang Humbucker. Among many other things, Eddie was known for trying different pickup windings in order to achieve his sound. We paired it with our EHX Big Muff Pi and got scorching distortion, with nice highs, well-represented mids, and a fat bottom. Needless to say, we were in heaven playing some heavy riffs. 

For solos, this guitar delivered a pure rock tone with high quality. We got a balanced and well-articulated sound across the entire fretboard. We tried several of Eddie’s licks and loved how it all sounded, despite our severe limitations to reach the master’s touch. 

This guitar also feels as good as it sounds. We loved the feel of the 12″ to 16″ compound radius felt, which gave us a good grip at the low frets and speed at the higher ones. With the typical strat scale length of 25.5″, this guitar excelled in playability and added that familiar Fender feel. 

Another fantastic feature on this guitar is the EVH-branded Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo system. With an EVH D-Tuna, we were able to go to Drop D to try some heavier riffs and go back to standard tuning on a whim.

Verdict: The EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic is a replica of Eddie Van Halen’s legendary Frankenstrat guitar. Designed with basswood, a compound neck, and a Floyd Rose tremolo, this guitar is a great instrument for professionals. We thought this was a great replica of the great-sounding and fast-playing guitar that was originally designed by Eddie Van Halen himself. 

Also Consider
Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster

Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster

A good choice for folks starting out.

Squier instruments are made under the umbrella of Fender, the creator of the Stratocaster. This guitar comes in a versatile HSS configuration, and offers nice tone and playability with striking looks, at a low price.

The Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster gives you the authenticity of single coils tones with the growl of a humbucker at the bridge position. For this test, we plugged into our pedalboard going to our Fender Twin Reverb. 

The first thing we liked about this instrument was its lightweight poplar body. This tonewood is a budget alternative for other pricier choices, and has the advantage of being easy on your back as it tends to be lighter. The downside is that you also lose a bit of sustain for the sake of affordability.

Despite this, we enjoyed playing this Squier and liked how the “C” shaped maple neck with its 9.5″ radius felt. This maple neck gave us a snappier feel, and we liked the response of the Indian laurel fingerboard. With 21 medium jumbo and your typical Fender 25.5″ scale length, we loved the familiarity that this Squier provides. 

We started with the ceramic humbucker at the bridge position and got a nice forward tone, which can be used in a vast variety of distortion and overdrive contexts. The bridge pickup paired sounded good with our Ibanez Tube Screamer, as well as other time-based effects we added for some single lines. 

The pickup in the middle position is a ceramic single coil and gave us that position 3 twang, which worked well with both clean and distorted sounds. Moving on to the neck pickup, we got a warmer tone that still retained that single-coil flavor but with a darker tinge

Ultimately we thought this was a good guitar for the price, especially for those that want to start out with a quality instrument. 

Verdict: The Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster gives you an HSS pickup configuration, with single coil tones as well as the power of a humbucker at the bridge position. With a true Fender feel and tone, this is a good option for those looking for a good instrument to start out on.

Also Consider
Fender Player Stratocaster HSH

Fender Player Stratocaster HSH

Muscular tones on a beautiful design.

This guitar offers an authentic Strat feel and playability but with the higher output and warmer tones of humbuckers on the neck and bridge. It is a good option for folks that want to play a Strat but with a bit more teeth and punch when it comes to the sound.

The Fender Player Stratocaster HSH comes with two humbuckers (bridge and neck) and one single coil (middle) to offer the best of what each pickup type has to offer. With an alder body and Buttercream color, we liked how this guitar looked and felt from the moment we picked it up.

We started our tests by trying out the bridge pickup, an Alnico II humbucker. Plugged into our Twin Reverb and going through our pedalboard, this bridge pickup gave us dynamic and balanced cleans

With the use of our EHX Big Muff Pi, we got powerful distortion with a nice punch for our riffs and power chords. We also liked the character that this pickup gave to our distorted single lines, especially when we added some reverb.

The middle position is outfitted with a Fender Alnico V single-coil. Here we got that usual twang and sparkle that we expect from a middle single coil pickup on a Strat. On the other hand, the neck position also features an Alnico II humbucker and sounded great both clean and with a bit of overdrive. We liked the darker quality that this pickup gave us, and would even venture to use this guitar for jazz, a la John Scofield.

The Player Series Stratocaster HSH also offers good playability, thanks to its comfortable modern C-shaped maple neck. We felt right at home with its 9.5″ radius, pau ferro fingerboard, and our beloved 25.5″ scale length on 22 medium-jumbo frets. 

Verdict: The Fender Player Stratocaster HSH combines two humbuckers and one single coil to offer you the best of both worlds. With an HSH configuration, the feel on this guitar is pure Strat and features a comfortable and responsive neck and fingerboard. As expected, this Fender was a very well-made guitar. Although traditionalists may say that this instrument has one humbucker too many for a Strat, the feel on this guitar is very authentic. 

Also Consider
Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HH HT E

Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HH HT E

Two versatile humbuckers for maximum punch on a Strat body.

Charvel is famous for creating fast-playing guitars that excel in tone and playability. The So-Cal Style 1 is no exception and combines the feel of a Strat with the higher output and muscular tone of a humbucker on both the neck and bridge positions.

The Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HH HT E  features an alder body and a 6-way pickup switching system to make the most out of humbucker and single-coil sounds. Besides being versatile and well made, this guitar also looks great, with a beautiful Candy Apple Red color. 

We plugged into our Marshall combo amp to try out the two Seymour Duncan humbuckers, featured on this Charvel. The neck position is outfitted with a Seymour Duncan Distortion SH-6N Humbucker, which gave us nice and warm cleans, that can be used for a variety of styles, even some jazz. With a bit of overdrive, we got great sustain and round tone, perfect for some blues-induced soloing.  

On the other hand, the bridge position features a Seymour Duncan Distortion TB-6 Humbucker. We dialed in some distortion via our Ibanez Tube Screamer and got a forward growl with a sustain that was more reminiscent of a Les Paul than a Strat. Naturally, this is due to the higher output nature of humbuckers. We also liked the sustain we got here, for both rhythmic and solo work. 

Although we also tried some of the single coil tones available via the 6-way push/pull coil-split switching system,  we felt this Strat is at its best with the humbucker sounds. Naturally, the single coil tones available make it far more versatile and deliver that characteristic twang. 

Regarding playability, we liked the comfortable 12″ to 16″ compound-radius ebony fingerboard. In order to provide more of a Strat feel, Charvel designed this guitar with a scale length of 25.5″ with a 1.6875″ nut width. 

This Charvel also comes with a string-through-body hardtail bridge. Although this is yet another unusual choice for a Strat-type guitar, we liked the enhanced sustain and fantastic stability we got during our tests. This was a great guitar with a nice tone and playability.

Verdict: The Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 1 HH HT E  features an alder body and provides great humbucker tones with the option to split-coil for single-coil sounds. With nice playability and two Seymour Duncan humbuckers, this is a great guitar for those that are not afraid to flaunt tradition.

Also Consider
Yamaha PAC012 Pacifica

Yamaha PAC012 Pacifica

HSS configuration in a well built guitar.

Yamaha has been one of the most respected brands in music for decades. Their Pacifica series of guitars encompasses a variety of models with plenty of choices from price to model. The PACCO12 is a Strat-type guitar with a versatile HSS configuration, at a great price.

The Yamaha PAC012 Pacifica comes with an Agathis body and a nice Metallic Blue color. With a custom Yamaha ceramic humbucker in the bridge position, and two Yamaha ceramic single-coil pickups in the middle and neck positions you get one of the most versatile combinations for Strats.

We plugged right into our Marshall combo to try this guitar out and started with the bridge pickup. We liked how it sounded when combined with our Ibanez tube screamers at different levels, from overdrive to heavy distortion. The sound was punchy and can be used in plenty of styles, and the tone was very good considering how little this guitar costs

For the single coils at the middle and neck positions, we got twang and forward tones. We particularly liked the sound at position four on clean, perfect for funky rhythms that can work in various situations. The neck pickup was a bit darker, and we enjoyed playing some clean chord solos with the tone dialed in around four. 

We also liked how this Pacifica guitar felt. It features a C-shaped maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard, a very common choice beloved by many players. With a radius of 13.75″ and a scale length of 25.5″, we felt comfortable playing a variety of styles, in both clean and distorted settings. 

In short, a well-built and very affordable guitar that is a great choice for beginners. 

Verdict: The Yamaha PAC012 Pacifica features an HSS pickup configuration on a lightweight Agathis body and is a great guitar for beginners. It offers one of the most versatile pickup combinations for Strats and features good playability with an authentic feel.

How To Choose The Right Strat For You

Strats with humbuckers have been popular for decades, and for good reason. Players as varied as Eddie Van Halen, Ritchie Sambora (Bon Jovi), and Mark Lettieri (Snarky Puppy) are known for their preference for humbucker equipped strats. 

Essentially, you get more versatility when you have a Strat-type guitar that employs single coils and humbuckers. You can go from the bright, snappy, and twangy tone that single coils deliver to the more muscular, rounder, bigger, and less noisy sounds that humbuckers are capable of. 

Keep in mind that like with most things guitar-related, you’ll find all kinds of opinions regarding not only which pickup type is better, but also how to combine them, which models to use, etc. The best way to go about this is to try out guitars with different pickups and different configurations and start developing your own criteria – and don’t forget you can always just replace the pickups to get the best combination for you. Below we share a few pointers that can help. 

HSS pickup configuration 

The HSS configuration features a humbucker pickup at the bridge position while the middle and neck positions are outfitted with a humbucker. This is a common configuration for many rock and blues players that want the punch and full sound of a humbucker at the bridge but also require the twang and bite that the other two single coils provide. 

The humbucker at the bride is especially good for high-gain amp settings, as it provides a more muscular distortion than your average single-coil pickup. The HSS configuration is also the most common one that involves a humbucker. In other words, this is the go-to variation for many players that want to try something different than the original SSS Strat configuration. 

HH Configuration

This configuration features two humbuckers, located at the bridge and neck positions. You can use them separately or together. However, some Strat models also come with a coil-split option, in order to offer more versatility by splitting the coil to give you single coil tones. 

Although this is a classic configuration for guitars like the Gibson Les Paul, it is not a traditional Strat configuration. That said, a Strat with a HH configuration will typically not sound like a Les Paul and more like a beefier Strat.  

HSH configuration

This one features a humbucker at the bridge, a single-coil in the mid position, and a humbucker for the neck position. This configuration became very popular in the 80s with guitars that became known as super Strats.  

Virtuosos like Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan, and others still employ them as their main instrument to this day. They offer versatility and often the ability to split coils as well.

Final Thoughts

Strats with humbuckers have been popular for decades. They offer versatility and the possibility to have a more girthy tone without sacrificing the personality of the Strat – so much so that humbucker equipped teles are becoming more and more popular too.

Naturally, players who love vintage instruments may strongly disagree with the statement above. 

However, the marketplace has spoken, and these configurations are here to stay. Besides versatility, these instruments offer the user the possibility to have a Strat that is closer to their preferred tone and use. 

To recap our choices, the Jackson X Series Signature Adrian Smith SDX is our top pick for this list. With a versatile HSS configuration, it replicates the features of Iron Maiden’s guitarist and gives the user great tone and playability. 

The Kramer Focus VT-211S is our Budget Choice. This is a wonderful option for anybody just starting out on guitar but who wants both single coils and humbucker flavor on a Strat. 

Last but not least, the EVH Striped Series Frankenstein Relic is our Editor’s Choice. This is a great instrument for dedicated players who value tone and playability. It is a replica of Eddie Van Halen’s legendary Frankenstrat guitar, with great attention to detail.

  • Rodrigo Sanchez

    Rodrigo is an award-winning songwriter (Best Popular Song Of 2018 for Ibermúsicas), and has worked with the prestigious EMI Music Publishing Latin America. He has production credits on artists such as Descemer Bueno, and has also composed alongside Grammy and ASCAP award-winners such as Sebastián De Peyrecave and José Luis Morín. For over ten years, he's been an editor/writer for Recording Magazine, and spent a year as head of translation for Brazilian magazine Musica & Mercado.