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.
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 Stratocaster 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 Deluxe Players Stratocaster
- Fender or Fender Custom Shop Eric Clapton Stratocaster
- Fender Fishman TriplePlay Stratocaster HSS (Neck/Middle Pickups)
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 Noiseless pickups are found on the:
- Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster
- Fender American Deluxe Strat Plus
- Fender American Deluxe Strat Plus HSS (Neck/Middle Pickups)
- Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster V Neck
- Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster HSS (Neck/Middle Pickups)
- Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster Ash
- Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster HSH (Middle Pickup)
Stratocaster Models with Humbucking Pickups
Humbucking pickups were invented to combat the unwanted hum that single-coil pickups may produce. 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.
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. Stratocaster HSS models include:
- Squier Bullet HSS Strat
- Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster HSS
- Squier Black and Chrome Standard Stratocaster HSS
- Squier Vintage Modified Stratocaster HSS
- Fender Modern Player HSS Stratocaster
- Fender Standard Stratocaster HSS
- Fender Standard Stratocaster HSS Plus Top
- Fender Deluxe Stratocaster HSS Plus Top
- Fender Standard Stratocaster HSS Floyd Rose
- Fender American Special Stratocaster HSS
- Fender Fishman TriplePlay Stratocaster HSS
- Exclusive Fender Sam Ash 90th Anniversary Stratocaster HSS
- Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS
- Fender American Deluxe Strat Plus HSS
- Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster HSS
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. Strats with dual humbucking pickups include:
- Modern Player Stratocaster HSH
- Fender Blacktop Stratocaster HSH
- Dave Murray Stratocaster
- American Deluxe Stratocaster HSH
The last configuration with humbucking pickups used on the Stratocaster is the HH configuration, featuring a humbucker in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge position. Some Stratocaster models with the HH pickup configuration include:
- Fender Blacktop Stratocaster HH Floyd Rose
- Fender Blacktop Stratocaster HH
- Fender Classic Player HH Strat
- Fender American Standard Stratocaster HH
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 Vaughan, 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:
- Fender Vintage Hot Rod ’50s Stratocaster (Bridge Pickup)
- Fender Stevie Ray Vaughan Artist Strat
- Fender American Special Stratocaster
- Fender Deluxe Roadhouse Stratocaster
- Fender Deluxe Lone Star Strat has 2 Texas Special pickups (Neck/Middle Pickups) paired with a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Plus humbucking bridge pickup for that incredible Billy Gibbons ZZ Top Texas sound.
Fender Custom Shop Fat ’50s Pickups: New for 2012, the Custom Shop Fat ’50s pickups have staggered Alnico V 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:
- Fender American Standard Stratocaster with a hum-canceling reverse-polarity middle pickup
- Fender American Standard Stratocaster HSS with a Diamond Back humbucker in the bridge position
- Fender Limited Edition 60th Anniversary American Standard Stratocaster
- Fender Limited Edition American Standard Stratocaster with Channel Bound Fingerboard
- Exclusive Fender Sam Ash 90th Anniversary Stratocaster HSS with an Atomic humbucker in the bridge position
- Fender Custom Shop 1957 Heavy Relic Stratocaster
- Fender Custom Shop 1956 Relic Stratocaster
Tex-Mex Pickups: Fender’s Tex-Mex pickups are overwound vintage style Alnico V 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:
Fender Custom Shop ’69 Strat Pickups: For a short period at the end of the 1960s Fender used staggered height Alnico V 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.
Fender Original ’57/’62 Single-Coil Strat Pickups: These pickups are reverse-engineered from a Stratocaster from 1963 to deliver that classic vintage Strat tone with a warm low end and bright highs. These pickups are made with Alnico V magnets to offer superb dynamics & focus while formvar magnet wire provides additional glassiness and brightness. Additionally, the Fender Original ’57/’62 Single-Coil Strat pickups boast staggered hand-beveled polepieces that balance output and volume from E to e. Vintage-style pickups like this can be found on models such as the Fender 60th Anniversary Classic Player ’50s Stratocaster.
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.
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 and Fender Custom Shop, DiMarzio, Joe Barden, Fishman 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.