Fender is one of the most common brands in the world of guitar.
The company was founded in Fullerton, California, in 1946, and has since grown into the giant guitar and guitar accessory manufacturer we all know and love.
The Fender Stratocaster was first released in 1954 and has become arguably the most iconic electric guitar of all time.
If you’ve seen rock bands play, you’ve likely seen a Fender Stratocaster without even realizing it. Fender has created hundreds of various Stratocaster models, and countless other companies have capitalized on making copies of the electric guitar standard.
Aside from the sleek design, lightning-fast action, and diverse pallet of tone possibilities, the Fender Stratocaster produces a bright and unmistakable tone that many guitarists strive to recreate.
One of the most common ways to modify or reinforce this holy grail of guitar tones is by replacing the existing pickups in their Fender Stratocasters.
Below, I’ve outlined 13 of the best Stratocaster pickups for your Fender Strat.
Table of Contents
- Best Stratocaster Pickups Reviewed
- 1. Bare Knuckle Boot Camp Old Guard
- 2. Fender Gen IV Noiseless
- 3. EMG DG20 David Gilmour Signature Loaded Pickguard
- 4. Seymour Duncan Everything Axe
- 5. Fender Eric Johnson Signature Series
- 6. ToneRider TRS2 City Limits
- 7. Seymour Duncan California ‘50s
- 8. EMG SA Series
- 9. Wilkinson Vintage Voice
- 10. Fender Tex Mex Loaded Strat Pickguard
- 11. Musiclily Loaded Strat Pickguard
- 12. Seymour Duncan Billy Gibbons Red Devil
- 13. Lace Sensor Ultimate Triple Pack
- What are Pickups? the basics Explained
- Best Strat Pickups – Final Thoughts
Best Stratocaster Pickups Reviewed
1. Bare Knuckle Boot Camp Old Guard
If you’re going for the classic sparkle of the Fender Stratocaster, these pickups will make your sonic dreams come true.
Bare Knuckle is a company founded in 2003 by Tim Mills in England, UK. All of their pickups are hand-wound, resulting in a much higher quality of sound, but unfortunately at a cost.
Many of their boutique-quality pickups run nearly twice the cost of any other aftermarket pickup you can find.
Lucky for you, the Boot Camp series of pickups were made with both quality and cost in mind. The Bare Knuckle Boot Camp Old Guard pickups are single coil, staying in-stride with the classic design, but with higher quality Alnico II rod magnets.
You can order a set of Bare Knuckle Boot Camp Old Guard pickups directly from their website, for right around $260.
2. Fender Gen IV Noiseless
Fender Gen IV Noiseless pickups are the latest in noiseless design from Fender.
Finding the right balance between a vintage dynamic sound without the hassle of added noise due to the single-coil design has been the challenge of pickup manufacturers for the last fifty years.
These noiseless pickups from Fender don’t compromise any of the classic Strat sound you’re after, while also greatly reducing that annoying hum. Fender has equipped these pickups with the alnico V magnets, guaranteeing a strong and balanced response.
3. EMG DG20 David Gilmour Signature Loaded Pickguard
If you’re not exactly electronics savvy, you might be interested in one of these loaded Pickguards by EMG. It comes with everything you need to install, and is as simple as replacing your old pickguard, and wiring up a new input jack.
The pickups themselves have been built to David Gilmour’s standards, so you can sound just like Pink Floyd! EMG’s proprietary Guitar Expander and Presence knobs will replace the standard tone knobs on your Stratocaster.
The beauty of EMG is that you know you’re going to get truly noiseless operation, and this completely solderless installation kit makes it hard to say no. These pickups require a 9V battery for operation, so you’ll be losing a touch of expressiveness, but it could be perfectly suitable for you depending on your preferred musical style.
4. Seymour Duncan Everything Axe
The Seymour Duncan Everything Axe truly lives up to its name. Common problems among Strat enthusiasts are the unwanted noise due to the single-coil pickups, and the only option being single-coil pickups because of their size.
Seymour Duncan has brought you a way to get around both issues with one set of pickups! These pickups are dual-coil, humbuckers built to be the same size as standard single-coil pickups. Not only does this eliminate noise, but it opens the door for vast tonal possibilities.
You could wire them up to a seven or nine-way pickup selector, and have all the classic Fender strat tone, as well as tones that would have never been possible otherwise.
5. Fender Eric Johnson Signature Series
Eric Johnson is one of the most iconic guitarists to ever play a Fender Stratocaster, and now you can purchase pickups so that your strat sounds just like his!
The Eric Johnson Signature Series features all single-coil pickups with alnico III magnets in the neck and middle, and alnico V magnets in the bridge pickup. This unique combination creates a well-balanced response, all while keeping true to the classic strat sound.
These pickups aren’t made to be especially quiet, so you might run into the same hum and hiss problems at higher volumes, but you’re guaranteed to get closer to Eric Johnson’s tone than ever.
You can find a set of these pickups directly on Fender’s website for $219.99.
6. ToneRider TRS2 City Limits
The ToneRider TRS2 City Limits set is designed to give strat players a hotter sound with unrivaled versatility.
The neck and mid pickups are wound to emulate late 50’s style pickups that many vintage enthusiasts have sought after for a classic blues sound, while the overwound bridge pickup gives your strat the added punch it needs for any rock and roll application.
These pickups are a bit on the noisy side, but they’re more on the affordable side, and would make a great addition to any rock player’s strat arsenal.
7. Seymour Duncan California ‘50s
If you’re a Stratocaster purist, these pickups might just be the closest you’ll get to the original 1950’s strat sound without having to find an original strat.
Seymour Duncan has built these pickups to the same specifications that Fender used when the strat first came out, making them almost noiseless, balanced, expressive, and powerful.
Each pickup is hand built in Seymour Duncan’s warehouse in California, so you know that what you’re getting is high quality and true to the Stratocaster.
8. EMG SA Series
Typically, active pickups provide a stronger, hotter, balanced, and noiseless response from your guitar, and the EMG SA series brings all of that to your Strat.
The EMG SA Series pickups each feature an alnico V bar magnet, with a single-coil design, giving you all the classic strat chime, with the added flexibility and mid boost that comes from an active pickup.
You won’t lose too much expressiveness with these, and you’ll gain a whole lot more sustain, making them great for lead lines and melodic playing. These pickups will give your strat a unique voice with a boosted midrange, so they may not be ideal for those seeking a classic strat sound.
The EMG SA Series pickups are completely noiseless, and installing them is easy and solderless. You can find EMG SA Series pickups here.
9. Wilkinson Vintage Voice
If you’re after that vintage Fender sound but aren’t able to fork out hundreds of dollars to replace your standard pickups, you’re in luck.
These pickups capture everything great about the classic fender strat sound without having to break your bank. Each pickup comes in at around $10 a piece, and can be purchased on amazon, making it even easier for you!
These pickups are extremely affordable, but that means that they’ll come at a slight cost. They might be a little bit on the noisy side, and quality control may be an issue, as several reviews state that they received dead pickups and had to request a replacement.
That’s not a huge issue if you can return and replace them though! You can find these pickups on Amazon in white, cream, or black to match any Pickguard.
10. Fender Tex Mex Loaded Strat Pickguard
Whether you’re new to aftermarket pickups or simply don’t want the hassle of learning how to install new ones, there are plenty of loaded pickguards on the market just for you, and the Fender Tex Mex Loaded Strat Pickguard should be on your list of potential replacements.
This beast of a loaded pickguard features three single-coil pickups, each armed with alnico V magnets, helping to boost your sound, while maintaining the sought-after strat tone.
These pickups have been built to the standards of Jimmy Vaughn, making them just as punchy and bright as ever.
The middle pickup is reverse wound to reduce hum, so you don’t have to worry about too much unwanted noise that might come from hotter pickups.
You can find a set of these on Amazon in three different colors.
11. Musiclily Loaded Strat Pickguard
If you’re looking to upgrade your Fender Stratocaster’s tone without breaking the bank or causing too many headaches, look no further than Musiclily’s Loaded Strat Pickguard.
This is one of the best upgrades you can make at this price point and requires very little wiring for installation. All you have to do is solder the hot and ground leads to the input jack.
This loaded pickguard provides a solid vintage-like tone, and comes in several different pickup configurations, including SSS, SSH, and HSS, so you can decide on how versatile you want your upgrade to be.
You can find the Musiclily Loaded Strat Pickguard on Amazon for right around $30.
12. Seymour Duncan Billy Gibbons Red Devil
If you love the tone of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, you can upgrade your strat to sound just like him.
The classic strat sound is beautifully bright and sings like a bell choir, but it lacks the body and punch of a humbucker pickup. Seymour Duncan has given us the remedy with their Billy Gibbons Red Devil.
These pickups will fit in any standard single-coil sized pickup slot, allowing even the youngest Squires to explode with tone and raw power. You won’t be able to produce the classic strat tone with these, but a whole new world of punch and grit can be explored instead.
You can find a set of these on Amazon for $299, making them one of the more expensive options, but not compromising anything in quality.
13. Lace Sensor Ultimate Triple Pack
For those of you who are uncertain about which direction to take your tonal adventure – whether it’s classic and vintage, or punchy and fat – the Lace Sensor Ultimate Triple Pack might be just the thing you need.
Each of the three pickups is designed to produce a slightly different tone, resulting in a unique blend of sonic potential.
Each of the three pickups comes with a different color. The Red Sensor is the hottest pickup, and is perfect for getting a punchy sound from your bridge. The Silver Sensor in the middle will produce a fat 1970’s single-coil sound, and the Blue Sensor is perfect for the neck, as it produces a warmer 1950’s humbucking sound.
What’s great about these pickups is the metal shielding used around each of the magnets, completely eliminating noise, so you can crank the volume up without any hesitation.
You can find a set of these on Amazon for right around $160, making them an affordable and worthwhile option for replacing your existing pickups.
What are Pickups? the basics Explained
Essentially the pickups in your electric guitar are weak magnets wrapped in wire. When you attach strings to your guitar, they become magnetized by the pickups, allowing the pickups to detect any vibration coming from the strings.
Using electromagnetism, the pickups create a weak electrical signal, and send it out of your guitar, through your instrument cable, and into your guitar amp to be transformed into an electrical current strong enough to move your amplifier’s speakers.
There are nearly countless ways to affect the sound before it ever gets to your amp’s speakers, but the best way to ensure the production of a clean, pure tone is to make sure you have high-quality pickups installed in your instrument.
Single-coil pickups are the simplest, and most common design for electric guitars. They feature a magnet with a single wire. The most common single-coil pickup design will feature a wire wrapped around a magnetic pole for each of the six strings. This helps ensure that each string is roughly the same volume.
The P-90 design is simple like the single coil pickup, except it has a magnetic bar instead of pole pieces. While it’s still a single coil design, the coil itself has more windings, producing a louder and fatter sound.
Single-coil and P-90 pickups are great at lower volumes, but when you crank the gain and blast lead lines, you run the risk of producing a lot of extra noise, and this is where dual-coil or humbuckers come into play.
Dual-Coil or Humbucking
These are much less common on Fender Stratocasters, since you typically need to make modifications to the instrument in order for them to fit, or purchase a Stratocaster that features a double bridge pickup, but if you can make it happen, you’ll save yourself a lot of hum, and feedback when the going gets loud.
Simply put, humbuckers feature two coils that are wired in a way that allows them to cancel out any extra noise and electromagnetic interference when you crank the volume. The extra coils also boost the volume and sustain of your instrument, making them ideal for melodies and lead lines.
Active vs. Passive
Now enters the era of active pickups. Traditional pickups are passive, meaning that the electrical signal they send is produced purely by the string, magnet, and coils. The passive design is typically more dynamic, meaning when you play quieter, it sounds quieter, and vice versa.
Active pickups feature a small power amp, powered by a 9V battery (most often), which amplifies the signal before it leaves the guitar, and is virtually noise-free. The biggest downside to active pickups is the lack of dynamic range, but depending on what style you play, this could be ideal!
Which is right for you?
While added volume and sustain are great for most applications, the downside is the loss of clarity and brightness on the high-end of things. A dual-coil design helps to pump up the volume on the lower and middle end of things, but fails to do the same for those bell-chiming highs.
If you’re looking to improve your Stratocaster’s classic tone, I recommend sticking with a high-quality (possibly even hand-made) single-coil design, as it will keep true to the classic Fender Stratocaster tone that we all know and love.
The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most popular electric guitars ever created, and as such, has been adapted in various ways to suit the needs of different musical styles.
Two of the most common pickup configurations you’ll see on a Strat are:
SSS – Single, Single, Single
SSH – Single, Single, Humbucker
Normally, players would replace the bridge pickup with a humbucker, since the bridge pickup has always been the most susceptible to excess noise.
However, in today’s world, technology has allowed manufacturers to create single-coil sized humbuckers, giving players the opportunity to replace any or all of the single-coil pickups in their Strat with a humbucker, eliminating noise, and boosting the potential for better tone.
With a single-coil sized humbucker, you might see some pickup configurations like the following:
HSH – Humbucker, Single, Humbucker
HH – 2 Humbuckers
HHH – 3 Humbuckers
Why is the bridge pickup slanted?
While it might just appear to be a purely aesthetic attribute to the Fender Stratocaster, it’s actually a tactful and calculated design. When plucking or strumming the strings, the closer you get to the bridge, the brighter (or the more high frequencies) the sound will be.
Fender was able to use this to their advantage. By slightly slanting the bridge pickup, they were able to naturally boost the low-end frequencies of the bass string, as well as the high end frequencies of the treble strings.
As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of reasons why countless other companies have copied the design of the Fender Stratocaster.
Best Strat Pickups – Final Thoughts
Whether you’re going for a bright and chiming vintage Stratocaster sound or something punchier and more balanced, you’ll be happy with any of the best stratocaster pickups mentioned above.
Upgrading pickups isn’t the only way to improve your sound, but because the pickups in your instrument directly affect the sound your amplifier will produce, they’re the best place to start.