There is no denying the great sound of the single coil pickups of a 1950’s or 1960’s Strat. People pay tens of thousands of dollars for vintage Stratocasters just to get that sound. However, single coil pickups can also pickup some unwanted hum from the A/C current of your building.
Humbucking pickups were invented to combat this. They have two coils wound in opposite directions to cancel out the effect of the A/C hum. The trouble is they don’t have that beloved Stratocaster sound.
Fender has solved this problem in its modern Stratocasters in several different ways: Modern Stratocasters have the middle pickup wound in the opposite polarity from the bridge and neck pickups. Playing the guitar with the 5 position selector in positions 2 or 4 will activate either the bridge and middle (position 2) or the neck and middle (position 4) to cancel hum and give the guitar a satisfying “quack” sound (as in Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” recorded using position 2). Fender developed the Vintage Noiseless, Hot Noiseless, and the new N3 Noiseless pickups.
Fender Noiseless Pickups
Fender Vintage Noiseless Pickups came out in 1998 using Alnico 5 magnets with two coils of enamel coated wire stacked on top of one another. Using the same principal as a humbucker in a different configuration produces the vintage sound without the hum. These are
Fender Hot Noiseless Pickups (also known as Ceramic Noiseless Pickups), originally developed for Jeff Beck, these pickups use
ceramic magnets and have a bigger sound than the Vintage Noiseless pickups which were a bit mellow for some tastes. The sound is clean, warm and bluesy and screams at high gain. Found on:
Fender N3 Noiseless Pickups: Like Fender’s Vintage Noiseless pickups and Hot Noiseless Pickups, the N3 achieves hum canceling by stacking two single coils. Fender has improved the noiseless design by using three different types of Alnico (aluminum, nickel, cobalt) magnet alloys, Alnico 2, Alnico 3, and Alnico 5 to provide a sound that has all the power, warmth, and harmonics of the vintage Strats.
- N3 pickups are found only on the American Deluxe Stratocaster.
Many Strats are available with a humbucker instead of the traditional single coil pickup in the bridge position – this is known as an HSS configuration. This gives the player a choice of traditional Strat sounds and the sound of the Humbucking pickup. Most of the popular Strat models, from the Squier Affinity Strat HSS up through the Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS and beyond, have this configuration.
There are also Strats with dual humbuckers including the newly released value priced Fender Blacktop Stratocaster, and with HSH configurations, but the sound is not the same as the traditional Strat. Dual Humbucking Strats include:
- Fender Blacktop Stratocaster
- Jim Root Signature Stratocaster
- Dave Murray Stratocaster (in an HSH configuration)
Other Great Fender Strat Pickups
Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Pickups: Produced by the Fender Custom Shop for the distinctive sound of the Texas blues exemplified by Stevie Ray Vaughn, Texas Special Pickups are overwound with vintage style Alnico 5 magnets and enamel coated wire. Known for their distinctive bass, clear highs, and midrange chirp, the Texas Specials are available as a separate kit or as original equipment on:
- Stevie Ray Vaughan Artist Strat
- Bonnie Raitt Artist Strat
- Mark Knopfler Artist Strat
- American Special Stratocaster
- Fender Deluxe Lone Star Strat has 2 Texas Special pickups (neck and middle position) paired with a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Plus humbucking bridge pickup for that incredible Billy Gibbons ZZTop Texas sound.
Click here to view an Installation Guide for Texas Special Pickups.
Alnico 3 Pickups: This is a traditional single coil Strat pickup as found in the Fender Highway One Stratocaster. Alnico 3 pickups were used in the Strats made by Fender in 1954-55. As with other modern Stratocasters, the Highway One achieves hum canceling with its
reverse polarity middle pickup and extra big sound with its Hot Single Coil Strat Bridge Pickup. The sound of the Alnico 3 pickups will be mellower than the Alnico 5 sound. Alnico 3 Pickups are found on:
- Highway One Stratocaster
- Squier Classic Vibe ’50s Stratocaster
Alnico 5 pickups: Fender’s Alnico 5 pickups are also traditional single coil models. The Alnico 5 magnets were used in the Stratocasters in the late 1950s and the 1960s. Alnico 5 is a more powerful magnetic material than Alnico 3 and has a punchier sound. Found (with hum canceling reverse polarity middle pickups) on:
- American Standard Stratocaster
- American Vintage ’70s Stratocaster Reissue
Fender Custom Shop Fat ’50s Pickups: New for 2012, the Custom Shop Fat ’50s pickups have staggered Alnico 5 magnets and Formivar magnet wire to deliver the vintage 1950s sound but with enhanced bass response and a clean mid-range. The Custom Shop Fat ’50s Pickups are found on:
- American Standard Stratocaster (SSS) with a hum canceling reverse-polarity middle pickup.
- American Standard Stratocaster (HSS) with a Diamond Back Humbucker at the Bridge position
Fender Select Pickups: Fender Select Pickups are specially-voiced pickups with a warm sound and extra sustain. They come in single-coil and in extra powerful humbucking versions. They are found exclusively on:
- Fender Select Stratocaster
- Fender Select Stratocaster HSS
Tex-Mex Pickups: Fender’s Tex-Mex pickups are overwound vintage style Alnico 5 pickups wired for reverse polarity in the middle position for hum canceling and come with an extra hot bridge pickup. Although the specs are similar to the Texas Special pickups most players who compare them find that the Tex-Mex pickups sound different with more treble than the Texas Specials. The Tex Mex pickups are found on:
- Jimmie Vaughan Stratocaster
- Road Worn ’50s Strat
- as the neck and middle pickups of the American Standard Stratocaster HSS.
Samarium Cobalt Noiseless Pickups (also known as SCN Pickups) found paired with the Dimarzio Tone Zone Strat bridge pickup on the Vintage Hot Rod ’57 Strat. Both the SCN and the Tone Zone pickups are stacked-coil humbuckers. The Tone Zone gives you very warm and heavy sound with lots of bass. The SCNs are another step in the development of hum canceling but have been superseded by the newer N3 Noise Canceling pickups. Found on:
Fender Lace Sensor Pickups: Lace Sensor Pickups are so named because they were invented by Don Lace as a solution to the hum caused by A/C current. Lace Sensor pickups are known for low noise and high volume. While the Lace Sensor pickups are still available from Fender, they no longer use the Lace Sensor pickups on new guitars although they were standard equipment on the original Jeff Beck Strat and the early (1983) versions of the Eric Clapton Stratocaster.
Fender Custom Shop ’69 Strat Pickups: For a short period at the end of the 1960s Fender used staggered height Alnico 5 magnets with a special grey bobbin. Each is hand wound by Abigail Ybarra who has been winding pickups for Fender since practically the beginning of production of solid body electric guitars. The closest thing you’ll find to these pickups on a guitar other than a Fender Custom Shop model is on the Classic Player Series ’60s Strat.
Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Flat – double the power of the traditional single coil strat pickup with a reverse polarity middle pickup for hum canceling. The Duncan Quarter Pound Flat Pickups have a fat punchy sound that is clean when played low and screams when turned to full volume. The Quarter Pound Flats are found on the Ritchie Blackmore Signature Stratocaster.
Squier Single Coil Pickups: The lower priced Squier Stratocasters come equipped with ceramic single coil pickups – they sound okay, but not like the vintage Strats that always came with Alnico pickups. Fortunately, all Squier Stratocasters are compatible with better Strat pickups. If you’re looking to upgrade your Squier’s sound, we have a great selection of easy to install Strat pickups from Fender and other great manufacturers.
More to Think About: There are plenty of “aftermarket” Strat pickups that fit right into your Stratocaster from many respected pickup makers, such as EMG (check out their David Gilmour Active Stratocaster Pickup Set, which comes pre-mounted on a pickguard for easy
installation), Fender, DiMarzio, Joe Barden, and Seymour Duncan. Installation is not difficult, but some even come mounted with electronics on a replacement pickguard for easier installation. The sonic possibilities of your Strat are endless.