Love your Fender Stratocaster but want to upgrade the stock tone with the best replacement Strat pickups on the market? Not a problem! As one of the most influential guitars ever made, the Fender Stratocaster has a huge aftermarket pickup scene that offers nearly any Strat tone imaginable. Whether you're looking for something as close to vintage as possible, a set that's hotter than stock or maybe just single-coil pickups that can cancel the hum, we've ranked the very best Stratocaster pickups around.
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The company’s best-selling set to date, these pickups are wound with 42 gauge Heavy Formvar wire and have beveled magnets and cloth leads. The neck and middle pickups are average 50s specs, while the bridge is as hot as possible with this wire. Slightly hotter than stock Fenders but not as aggressive as the Texas Specials, Fralin’s Vintage Hot pickups allow for more chimey harmonics that highlight the upper frequencies. When paired with a classic tube amp, these babies produce a very lovely growl and it’s pretty clear that the company didn’t mind sacrificing output for top-end and clarity. These hand-wound pickups are definitely for tone connoisseurs!
These babies are an amplified set of vintage-style Stratocaster electric guitar pickups that feature staggered, hand-beveled Alnico 5 magnets and Forvar magnet wires wound for classic bell tones and clear harmonic enhancement, but those aren’t the only reasons they made our list. The bridge pickup is calibrated for increased, balanced output. Overall, there’s more emphasis on the lower-end compared to the standard plastic bobbin variety found in today’s Strats. There is enough bite on the treble without losing its mellow flavoring that really makes the CS ‘54s shine. Those looking for a more modern sound might find the tone a bit thin but if that vintage sparkle and glassy voice of a ’54 Strat is what you crave, you will find these pickups can certainly sing! Just make sure to remember one thing; these are NOT hum canceling – real Strat fans only
Although Van Zandt Pickups was started in the late ‘80s, founder W.L. Van Zandt had been repairing and rewinding pickups around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area since the early ‘60s in his garage. He began by rewinding the magnets on pickups for friends and other players and pretty soon he had a small business going as his reputation grew by word of mouth. Today, they are among the best hand-wound pickups around and the Rock Model set itself is one of the company’s most popular brands. Built for rock, heavy metal, and alternative rock, the Rock Model has a lot of top-end and growl to allow for overdrive of amp or distortion box. Boasting a stronger output than stock for better lead work while still allowing the Strat’s signature chime and quack to shine, these pickups might not be as well known as some of the others on this list but they definitely deserve much praise!
Long story short – this set is brimming with that classic ‘60s tone that made the Stratocaster a legend in the rock world! Fender’s Custom Shop ’69 Stratocaster pickups were designed to produce one of the most signature and sought-after sounds in popular music history – the thick, punchy late ‘60s blues rock tone that ruled the era and can still be heard in today’s modern records as well. Because of the transparency and clarity created by unique coil wind and magnet stricter, the Custom Shop ’69 pickup design works extremely well with pedals, allowing the high-end frequencies to stand out without degrading the high end one bit. Think Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix or even David Gilmour. These pickups have a typical scooped mid tone with very clear top along with a well-balanced lower end. The transparency of the tone in particular along with the fairly low output makes these pickups ideal for keeping your sound clean when called for. It’s no surprise that Fender remains firm in their support of the Strat’s classic sound as the search for the tones that defined an era are still as popular as ever!
While there are several different techniques that guitarists employ to get different sounds from a single set of pickups, such as coil-tapping or switching, those sounds are still bound to a general type of tone. In other words, you can’t convert your pickups' tone from vintage to hot, or from hot to line-in quality clean, at least not without a noticeable loss in output level. With the Fluence line, Fishman created a set that do just that, offering pickups that feature two truly distinct and useful Stratocaster sounds in one setup. Do you want the clear and present sparkle of legendary vintage Strat single-coil? Or maybe you prefer the increased output of the overwound Texas-Hot Specials? Well, you can now have both in a single set. Better still, these single-coil pickups also feature a hum-free design. While they are a little pricier than other pickups on this list, you're essentially getting two great sets in one.
Matched and calibrated, these vintage staggered Strat pickups have that signature biting tone perfect for surf, country, blues and classic rock. If you want incredible, full lows, smooth yet not overpowering mids, pristine highs and an overall sound that is not too harsh (much less than the Texas Specials for one), these California ‘50s make an excellent replacement for the stock set. They are also very responsive to pick attack and finger picking. If you’re looking for a set of hot pickups for increased signal strength, don’t buy these; buy SSL-1s for the love of that pure, vintage Strat bell tone.
Wound hotter for added fullness, these pickups are both magnetically and physically aged to sound and look like genuine ‘50s pickups but with an added punch! Each Texas Hot is carefully assembled and hand-wound just like the traditional classics. Careful attention to detail like scatter-winding ensures that the Texas Hot looks and sounds like a classic Strat should. The magnets are calibrated and the coils are wound "top going" with "north" magnetic polarity, the same as the early vintage models. The Seymour Duncan Antiquity Texas Hot set was made specifically for players wanting the closest re-creation of a vintage pickup — period.
Although EMG is best known for their metal-centric humbuckers, the company also manufactures top quality single-coils as well, such as the EMG-S set. These pickups feature the same construction as the SA replaces the Alnico magnet with ceramic. It has the equivalent output of the SA but the S features a brighter tone quality accentuated in the upper middle to high frequency response (similar to later model Stratocaster pickups). Country artists such as Vince Gill prefer the EMG-S system because it can translate a player's technique faithfully. Each S set includes a five-position selection switch, volume and tone controls, and output jack that's ready to install onto your pickguard with only three solder connections required, making installation as easy as it gets.
In conclusion ...
Well, there you have it, our picks for the top replacement pickups for the Fender Stratocaster. Of course, there's a lot more where that came from so if you didn't like our picks, there's assuredly a set of pickups out there perfect for your style.
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