The Different Flavors of the Fender Stratocaster

Original 1954 Stratocaster in Fiesta Red

Today we will be taking a closer look at a few different flavors of one of the most popular guitars ever invented – the one and only Fender Stratocaster. In fact, along with the Gibson Les Paul, it is one of the most copied guitars in the entire world. First introduced in 1954, the original Stratocaster was designed by Leo Fender, George Fullerton and Freddie Tavares and has remained in constant production since then. The design featured several improvements over most guitars at the time, including Fender’s own Telecaster. The body itself was contoured and more ergonomic (known as the Comfort Contour Body by Fender) in contrast to the Telecasters flat slab design. Furthermore, the cutaways on both sides of the guitar enabled players to reach the highest frets on the neck which was also thinner than the Telecaster’s, among other marked changes. Among the more drastic of these changes was the addition of a third single coil pickup which did much to add to the versatility of this guitar. All in all, it was a breakthrough for its time, much of which is copied to this day.

With that said, the Stratocaster has sure come a long way – with plenty of variations to boot! While today’s article won’t focus on some of those older models that have come out over the guitar’s almost 60 years in the business, we will be focusing on some of today’s more standout designs. Specifically, we will be taking a look at the Standard SSS, the Blacktop HH, and the Paisley HSS. Although these three excellent guitars share many of the same specs they are each unique in their own right – especially when it comes to tone! But before we get into some of the deeper details as far as sound goes, let’s take a look at a few of their notable features. Make sure you pay particular attention to their pickup configuration – the single most distinguishing factor as far as what to expect in tone.



Standard Stratocaster

Blacktop Stratocaster

Paisley Stratocaster




Factory Special Run


3 Standard Single-Coil Strat Pickups (Ceramic Magnets)

2 Hot Vintage alnico humbucking pickup with nickel cover

Bridge Pickup: Standard Humbucking Pickup


Middle Pickup: Standard Single-Coil Strat Middle Pickup


Neck Pickup: Standard Single-Coil Strat Neck Pickup


Master Volume,

Tone 1 (Neck Pickup),

Tone 2 (Middle Pickup)

Master Volume,

Tone 1 (neck pickup), Tone 2 (bridge)

Master Volume,

Tone 1 (neck pickup),

Tone 2 (bridge)


21 Medium Jumbo Frets

22 Medium Jumbo Frets

21 Medium Jumbo Frets

Pickup Switching

5-Position Blade:


Position 1. Bridge Pickup

Position 2. Bridge and Middle Pickup

Position 3. Middle Pickup

Position 4. Middle and Neck Pickup

Position 5. Neck Pickup

5-Position blade:


Position 1. Full bridge pickup

Position 2. Two inside coils

Position 3. Full neck & bridge pickups

Position 4. Outer neck single coil

Position 5. Full neck pickup

5-Position Blade:


Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Front Coil of Bridge Pickup and Middle Pickup, Position 3. Middle Pickup, Position 4. Middle/Neck Pickups, Position 5. Neck Pickup

Scale Length

25.5” (648 mm)

25.5" (648 mm)

25.5" (648 mm)


Super 3250L NPS

(.009 to .042 Gauges)

Super 250L NPS

(.009-.042 Gauges)

Fender USA, NPS

(.009-.042 Gauges)






It’s all in the Sound

So, with the exception of the pickup configuration on each and the extra fret on the Blacktop Strat, they are pretty much the same, right? Well, as mentioned above, that difference in pickup configuration is a pretty big exception, especially in regards to sound! Yes, the body does play a role in the tone of the guitar, as do the strings, neck and electronics but as we can see, the pickups are the single biggest difference among these three guitars, so let’s focus on that with each of them.


Not sure about the difference between a single coil pickup and a humbucker? No problem! You can check out our article on that very subject right here! In the meantime, here is a quick snippet explaining the general differences in sound regarding these two types of pickups:

Single coil pickups are generally described as having a clear and bright tone while humbuckers are usually described as sounding warm and thick. The two sounds are very distinct so the choice between the two actually becomes very important depending on what style of music you tend to play. As far as guitars go, the most famous electric associated with the humbucker is the Gibson Les Paul while Fender’s Telecaster and Stratocaster (two single coil and three single coil guitars, respectively) are at the other end of the spectrum – all three of which are considered among the best guitars ever made. Furthermore, having multiple single-coil pickups on a guitar allow them to almost behave like as humbucker guitar (since, as we just learned, a humbcking pickup is essentially two single coils), such as selecting the neck and bridge pickup option on a Strat. 

Anyways, if you think about your favorite guitarist and his or her signature tone, you can learn a lot about the guitar they use (but also consider the effects they use, which you can do so by looking through our artists page). When you think of country mega star Brad Paisley’s bright and twangy tone, you can already assume he’s using a single coil guitar, in this case, a Telecaster (which is a popular choice for plenty of country musicians). When you think of hard rockers such as Angus young or Zakk Wylde, you think thick, distorted, chunky guitar. You should also be thinking humbucker, such as a Gibson SG or Les Paul. 



FENDER Standard Stratocaster Maple Fretboard

SSS (3 Single Coil) Pickup Configuration

Alright, this particular guitar falls in line with that of your normal Strat’s pup configuration – hence the Standard – which means you’ll be getting that classic Stratocaster sound. This means a clean bright high end with a bit of a chime to it. Compared with that of a Telecaster, it’s not as twangy but instead can be described as a bit thicker – smokey even. A bit more brazen too, although it sounds thin compared to that of a humbucker.  Although Leo Fender himself designed the Strat to be used for country music, it has since found its way to a number of genres including jazz, rock, blues and even punk. There are a lot of fans out there of that love that classic Stratocaster tone so if that sounds like something you might be after, don’t be afraid to give this guitar a closer look. And at less than $500, there’s little doubt you’ll regret it!

FENDER Blacktop Stratocaster HH Electric Guitar Rosewood

HH (2 Humbucker) Pickup Configuration

Like the Blacktop Telecaster, this Strat comes equipped with two hot humbucking pickups not unlike Gibson’s popular Les Paul model. So, what does that mean as far as tone goes? Compared to that of an all single coil setup, it means a warmer, thicker and fatter tone – perfect for all of you hard rockers out there as it goes very well with high gain overdrive! Sure, it might not be a full blown metal guitar – as the pickups aren’t wound hot enough compared to “true” metal pups – there’s still plenty of crunch in them, something that sadly can’t be said about the Standard Stratocaster’s single coils. Much like the rest of the Blacktop series, you can tell Fender had hard rockers in mind for this one. If you like your guitar with that signature warm thickness of humbucker pickups but just have to have the look of a Strat – sounds like this guitar was made with you in mind! And like the other two Strats, this baby goes for only $499.99!



FENDER Black Paisley Stratocaster HSS, Electric Guitar Black Paisley

HSS (Humbucker, Single, Single) Pickup Configuration

Not so crazy about the sound of that pure single coil sound? Don’t want to commit to an all-humbucker experience? How about a little bit of both? Well, that’s exactly what you get with this beast! Equipped with two single coils located in the neck and middle position for that classic Strat sound as well as a humbucker in the bridge for some added beefiness at will. Much like the regular Strat, setting this baby on its neck or mid single coils and you’ll get nice bright clean with a lot of top or activate that humbucker for some added punch when needed. For those of you out there that can’t decide between the signature brights of the singles or the warm thickness of the humbucker, this guitar might just be the right one for you! Better yet, its only $499.99!



Looking for something a little different? Why not check out some of these other Strats? And as always, you can check out PAL’s entire selection of guitars – both electric, acoustic and everything else in between – right here!


Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster HSS @ $1,699.99

Fender Vintage Hot Rod ’62 Stratocaster @ $1,699.99

Fender Vintage Hot Rod ’57 Stratocaster @ $1,699.99

Fender Classic Player ‘60s Stratocaster @ $799.99

Fender American Special Stratocaster @ $899.99

Fender American Special Stratocaster HSS @ $899.99

Fender Roadhouse Stratocaster @ $599.99

Fender Lone Star Stratocaster @ $599.99

Fender Deluxe Power Stratocaster @ $999.99

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