10 Best Strat Pickups of 2024

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Stratocasters are one of the most popular and versatile electric guitars. Designed in 1952 by Leo Fender, these guitars are loved across the music industry and used in any music genre. 

You can find Stratocasters and Strat-style guitars in a range of budgets and styles – and many times, you might consider swapping out their stock pickups for an upgrade or change in tone. 

But this isn't an easy decision – choose the wrong pickup set, and you're going to end up hating the tone of your guitar and will have to replace them again. You might even pick a set that sound worse than the originals...

That's why this article is important to read: I'm going to help you find the perfect pickups, and avoid the style that doesn't work for you.

One of our favorites is the Fender Original '57/'62 Stratocaster set. These are incredibly faithful in design and sound to Strat pickups from the original era. However, if you're looking for something a bit more modern, I recommend something like the EMG SA/SA/81 Active . In my experience, these have more of a modern, aggressive tone.

I also recommend looking at the Seymour Duncan Little '59 Humbuckers if you want to get the humbucker sound without cutting holes in your guitar.

There are countless other great options, so keep reading to discover the best Stratocaster pickups!

Best Strat Pickups

Here are the best Strat pickups in a range of styles. Note that many of these links are for bundled sets, but you can pick and choose individual pickups on the Sweetwater website.

Authentic Vintage

Reverse-engineered from a 1963 Stratocaster, these offer a truly authentic vintage Strat tone, from the guitar's early years.
Why We Love It
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True vintage tone
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Authentic retro aesthetic
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Dynamic & focused sound

SPECS

  • Type: Single Coil
  • Position: SSS Set
  • Magnets: Alnico V
  • Tone Style: Vintage, glassy highs, warm lows

For fans of classic '60s Stratocaster tones, these Fender Originals are the way to go. These were cleverly reverse-engineered from a set of original 1963 Fender Stratocasters to bring you the exact same components and design methodology.

From the magnets to winding and cloth-covered wires, I can tell that every element has been meticulously designed to create the most accurate recreation of the originals – resulting in a truly authentic early Strat tone. I love how these convey the well-pronounced mids, glassy highs, and warm low end that helped Strats claim their fame.

I think these are some of the best single-coil pickups I've ever tried, so don't sleep on these. I love the sound of these for classic rock, blues, and other genres of music from the original era.

Due to the popularity of this set, we dedicated quite some time to write a detailed Fender '57/'62 Stratocaster Pickups review.

What could be improved:

  • Build quality could be nicer

Affordable Set

If you're looking for an affordable upgrade to some true Fender pickups, this Deluxe set is a great choice.
Why We Love It
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Modern take on a classic
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Affordable but quality
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Well balanced

SPECS

  • Type: Single Coil
  • Position: SSS Set
  • Magnets: Alnico III
  • Tone Style: Supercharged, fat, high-output

For a basic upgrade, I recommend these Fender Stratocaster pickups as an affordable but reliable choice. These would be an improvement over the generic pickups found in Squiers and other off-brand Stratocasters.

These are high output, overwound pickups, meaning they're ideal for a high gain setup - but are equally nice on a clean setting. I found them to be a bit noisier than a lot of models on this list, but they're also one of the lowest-priced sets.

When I tried these, the tone didn't completely blow me away, but I thought it was nicer than a lot of factory Strat pickups.

Compared to the set above, these are far more affordable, so do check out our full Fender Deluxe Drive pickups review if you are on a tight budget.

What could be improved:

  • Bridge is a bit thin, neck is a bit muddy, high noise.

Best for Low Noise

Minimise noise interference and maximize your vintage tone with this gorgeous-looking (and sounding) Fender pickup.
Why We Love It
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Incredibly low noise
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Iconic vintage aesthetic
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Classic Strat Tone

SPECS

  • Type: Single Coil
  • Position: SSS Set
  • Magnets: Alnico II
  • Tone Style: Noiseless vintage, bright

I loved playing this revolutionary pickup set from Fender, which delivers the classic single-coil sound but without the hum and noise. Compared to the other pickups on this list, these have some of the lowest noise and a pretty vintage sound.

Experimenting with these helped to achieve a more cutting and dynamic tone without interference. I'm a big fan of the definition, clarity, and vintage harmonics, which we went over in our Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups review.

What could be improved:

  • Could be more authentic to the originals in terms of tone

Hand Built

Some deluxe hand-built Strat pickups use aged components and accurate engineering to create an authentically vintage sound.
Why We Love It
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Superior hand-made quality
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Aged components
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Reverse wound middle pup

SPECS

  • Type: Single-coil
  • Position: SSS Set
  • Magnets: Alnico II
  • Tone Style: Hot Vintage

Why We Love It

  • Superior hand-made quality
  • Aged components for authentic dirt
  • Reverse wound middle pickup

Hand-made pickups are known for their nuanced and well-defined sound. These Texas Hot pickups from Seymour Duncan are some extremely nice handmade models which are really stood out to me.

An exciting feature of the Texas Hot Pickups is the aged components, which create an authentic appearance and sound due to the purposeful degradation. Additionally, the reverse wound middle pickup allows you to achieve a humbucking effect in certain positions, creating a fat and noise-free tone - I'm a big fan of this function, as it means you can quickly make drastic changes to the tone of your guitar.

In comparison to others on this list, these are definitely hotter but also bit more versatile. A good choice for players looking to coax some authentic Texas blues tone out of their tube amp.

Don't miss the full Seymour Duncan Antiquity Texas Hot pickups review if you think these might be the set for you.

What could be improved

  • Too hot for some

Single-Sized Humbuckers

This pristine set of pickups might deceive you - these are actually a set of humbuckers, shrunk down to the footprint of single-coils.
Why We Love It
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Single coil size humbucker
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Thick, rich sound
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Super low noise

SPECS

  • Type: Humbucker
  • Position: HHH Set
  • Magnets: Alnico V
  • Tone Style: PAF-Style, warm humbuckers

At first I mistook these pickups as single coils from looks alone - however, I was happily surprised to find out these are actually humbuckers. Seymour Duncan has collaborated with Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top to create these Strat-sized humbucker pickups.

Listening to these, it was clear that they deliver the punch, depth, and low-noise that humbuckers are loved for, but in a single-coil-sized pickup footprint. This means that you can easily convert your Strat from a single coil to a humbucker setup, without needing to modify the body of your guitar. Typically you would need to re-route the holes to make room for humbuckers.

These are a perfect choice for players looking to get more of a thick, humbucker tone out of their Strat. They work really well with distortion and high-gain setups too - and are a lot fatter and thicker than many others on this list.

What could be improved:

  • Improve mids and reduce highs

Aggressive Active

Get the distortion-loving, high-gain attitude of active pickups in your Strat with this set from active experts EMG.
Why We Love It
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The power of active pickup
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Perfect for high gain
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Clean, detailed tone

SPECS

  • Type: Active mixed set
  • Position: HSS
  • Magnets: Ceramic/Steel (bridge), Alnico V (neck, middle)
  • Tone Style: High gain, aggressive, meant for distortion

Active pickups give you the benefit of a built-in pre-amp, allowing you to achieve a louder tone from the get-go. These are also designed to respond better to distortion and high-gain setups.

This particular set of EMGs gives you two EMG SA single coils and an EMG 81 Humbucker in the bridge position. This configuration gives you a nice range of tones, from bright and cutting to thick and punchy.

You may need to do a fair amount of modification to your guitar to be able to fit the pickups in, as you will also need to add space to include a 9v battery to power the pickups. This is admittedly a bit of a downside compared to standard pickups.

EMG is known as one of the best manufacturers of active pickups, and this set certainly lives up to its reputation. These aren't for the faint-hearted! If you play any kind of high-gain, aggressive genre, this set is a strong choice.

I personally prefer more old-school style pickups, as the high-gain style of EMGs aren't suited to the genres I play - but I still have a lot of respect for these bars.

What could be improved:

  • Too aggressive for many situations, requires more modification.

Fat Vintage

These hot-rodded vintage-style single coils are perfect for getting a sweet crunchy tone, capturing the true nostalgia of Fender Stratocasters.
Why We Love It
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Hot rodded for extra bass
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Reverse wound middle pup
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Vintage styled aesthetic

SPECS

  • Type: Single Coil
  • Position: SSS
  • Magnets: Alnico V
  • Tone Style: Fat Vintage

These Fender Custom Shop pickups give you a taste of the classic Strat tone but with a bit of extra punch and weight.

Thanks to the reverse wound middle pickup, you can get an extra clean, noiseless tone when using the switcher in positions 2 and 4, as this cancels out interference and noise. These are pretty fat compared to the other choices on this list.

Overall, I thought these are a very tasty set of pickups, with a bright but well-balanced output that sounds great for '50s and '60s-style music. When I played these, they really reminded me of classic guitar tones from '50s and '60s records.

What could be improved:

  • Neck pickup could be warmer

Vintage Humbuckers

Some vintage-style humbuckers in a single coil format to beef up your Stratocaster axe.
Why We Love It
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Full humbucker tone
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Rich vintage sound
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Stylish Minimal aesthetic

SPECS

  • Type: Humbucker
  • Position: HHH set
  • Magnets: Ceramic
  • Tone Style: Fat Vintage

This set of vintage-style humbuckers is another great option for players looking for some extra warmth in their Stratocaster. Again, these humbuckers have been shrunk down into the smaller footprint of a single-coil pickup to remove the need for modification.

These really stand out for their vintage and thick tone.

I think these are a perfect choice for blues, jazz, country, and rock thanks to their mellow, warm tone. This set includes 1 x SL59-1b bridge pickup and 2 x SL59-1n pickups for the neck and middle - giving you a nice amount of variety.

What could be improved:

  • Bridge is a bit thin-sounding

Iconic Blues Tubes

While the look of these alone is enough for me to buy them, they also have a unique sonic character.
Why We Love It
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Just look at it!
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Jangly Danelctro tone
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Feedback Reduction

SPECS

  • Type: Single-coil
  • Position: SSS Set
  • Magnets: Alnico V
  • Tone Style: Jangly, Bright, Smooth

Recreating the classic Danelectro Lipstick pickups, this set of Seymour Duncan Lipstick tubes have equally as unique a tone as their appearance.

With feedback-reducing vacuum wax potting and a reverse wound middle pickup, these gave me super low noise and create smooth, clean signals. They capture the classic gritty, jangly tone of Danelectro Lipsticks, and respond well to distortion.

These have much more of a country/blues vibe compared to the rest of the pickups here.

I'm a big fan of the look and tone of these, I think they really capture the nuance of vintage-styled strat pickups while providing something aesthetically off-the-beaten-track.

What could be improved:

  • Too "twangly" for some in search of thicker tones

Best for Vai Fans

If you love the little Italian virtuoso, these gorgeous pickups might be a strong choice.
Why We Love It
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Gorgeous golden styling
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Sweet sparkling tone
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Wide range

SPECS

  • Type: Single coil (humbuckers available)
  • Position: All available
  • Magnets: Alnico V
  • Tone Style: Sparkly and dynamic

DiMarzio collaborated with guitar icon Steve Vai to create these unique and tasty pickups. With a golden Baroque-style decoration, I think these pickups both look and sound the part.

While you can't buy these as a set, you can order the pickups individually to suit your preference. You can find the Bridge, Neck, and Middle pickup in either single-coil or humbucker varieties. Just select what you're looking for on the Sweetwater website.

When I tried these, I was really impressed with the tone. They are very articulate and clear, and I felt like there was less separation between the guitar ideas in my head, and how they sounded when I played them. Everyone should try these out at some point.

What could be improved:

  • Slightly over-pronounced mids

Stratocaster Pickups Buyer's Guide - Things to Consider

Three Strat Pickups

I find that there is an endless level of variety available to choose from when picking a new Stratocaster guitar pickup. This can be a bit overwhelming if you’re not aware of how each choice affects the sound and performance of a pickup. 

From basics like the type to more nuanced variations like the winding style and polarity, there are a lot of choices to make to ‘dial in’ the perfect pickup sound you're looking for. 

Now I'll share all the key decisions to make and will point you in the right direction of what type of pickup you should go for. 

Type of Pickup

One of the largest defining factors is the type of pickup you choose - and there are a few options and categories available. 

Single-Coil Pickups

White Strat Pickup

These are the original types of pickups and use a single row of magnets to detect and transduce the string’s vibrations. I love single coils for a brighter, more dynamic, and more articulate sound and playing response. I think they are generally more suitable to lead tones (although it is all subjective).

I think the drawbacks of a single-coil pickup are that they are noisier, and are prone to more hum and interference - this can become even more exaggerated if you’re using extra gain and distortion in your guitar signal chain.

In my experience, this can be counteracted by using multiple single coils at once – like the mid and bridge (which essentially emulates a humbucker). 

Humbucker Pickups

Black Strat Pickup

Humbuckers use two rows of magnets together, essentially sticking two single coil pickups into one unit. This removes background noise and interference, creating a cleaner, hum-free tone (hence the name humbucker).

I find this combination also creates a warmer, richer, and thicker tone, with a slightly compressed dynamic. These are my favorite choice when I plan on using a lot of gain and distortion, as they create a thick tone with minimized noise. 

Noiseless Pickups

Some pickups come in a noiseless variety (either single-coil or humbuckers). These are designed to minimize noise, although are typically more expensive. 

Active vs Passive

Another choice to make is whether you go for active or passive pickups. The majority of pickups are passive, which is the standard type, and don’t require a battery. Active pickups are a more modern invention, which uses some form of powering (typically a 9v battery) to act as a pre-amp.

This has several advantages – namely, a louder output and better response to distortion and high gain. However, these are more suitable for heavier tones and can be too aggressive for mellower genres. Also, you must deal with the inconvenience of using a 9v battery in your guitar, which will need replacing often. 

I would only suggest active pickups if you play metal or other high-gain, distortion-based genres. 

Sound Characteristic

The tonal characteristic of the pickups you choose is arguably one of the most important things to think about – and there is a huge variety here. I would recommend listening to some demo recordings of pickups you are interested in to get a taste of their sound.

Vintage Sound: These use vintage-styled components and design to achieve more of an ancestral tone. Vintage style pickups are typically more on the warmer and richer end of the spectrum, with more pronounced mid-range, and reduced lows and highs. Vintage pickups are ideal for traditional genres like jazz, blues, and early rock. 

Modern Sound: Modern pickups are known for a more aggressive, dynamic, and brighter tone. These often have a cleaner top and bottom end, creating a thicker and more present guitar tone. Generally, these are better for genres like rock, pop, punk, alternative, and any other genre where a more defined tone is desired. 

Magnet Type

Alnico Magnets: Alnico magnets are a popular choice for Stratocaster pickups due to their warm, vintage tone. These magnets are composed of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt, and they come in different grades (Alnico II, Alnico III, Alnico IV, Alnico V) which affect the strength and character of the magnetic field.

Alnico pickups tend to offer a smoother, more balanced sound with natural compression, making them ideal for various music genres, especially blues, rock, and classic rock.

Ceramic Magnets: Ceramic magnets are known for their strong magnetic field and high output. They are often used in modern Stratocaster pickups to achieve a more aggressive and powerful tone.

I find that ceramic pickups tend to have a brighter and punchier sound compared to Alnico pickups, with enhanced clarity and articulation, making them suitable for genres like hard rock, metal, and modern styles where high gain and clarity are desired.

Construction and Winding

There are a couple of choices when it comes to the general construction and winding of a pickup.

Hand-Wound vs. Machine-Wound

Hand-wound pickups are crafted manually by skilled artisans, resulting in a more personalized and often nuanced tone. These pickups may vary slightly in terms of resistance, capacitance, and overall character due to the human touch involved in the winding process.

Hand-wound pickups are often associated with vintage-style tones and are favored by players seeking a unique sound.

On the other hand, machine-wound pickups are mass-produced using automated processes, ensuring consistency and uniformity in specifications. While they may lack the individuality of hand-wound pickups, machine-wound pickups offer reliability and are often more affordable.

Polarity and Winding Direction

The polarity and winding direction of a pickup coil play a crucial role in its interaction with the guitar's strings and overall tonal characteristics.

In single-coil Stratocaster pickups, the winding direction can affect the pickup's phase and output.

Traditionally, Strat pickups are wound in a counter-clockwise direction when viewed from the top, which contributes to their characteristic sound. However, there are variations in winding techniques, including reverse-wound, reverse-polarity (RWRP) pickups, which cancel hum when combined with another pickup in the middle position.

Understanding the polarity and winding direction can help in selecting pickups that complement each other for noise-canceling and phase-coherent switching options.

Aesthetic Preferences

While looks aren’t the most important thing to base your choice on, it’s still something to think about as there are a wide range of aesthetic options for guitar pickups. 

Primarily, think about whether you want covered or uncovered pickups. Uncovered has more of a raw, organic look, while covers can create a slicker and more stylish aesthetic. You can find covers and pickups in a range of colors and materials too.

Although it’s all subjective – just go for what you think looks nice on your guitar (but don’t prioritize looks over sound). 

Pickup Placement: Neck Pickup, Bridge Pickup, and Middle Pickup

Most Stratocasters have three pickup slots – the neck, the middle, and the bridge – each with a different response and tonal variety. Depending on the model of the Stratocaster and its electronics configuration, these can be switched and combined in a variety of ways. 

When you’re choosing new pickups for your Strat, you should think carefully about the relationship between the pickup slots, and how you’re going to choose the pickups between them. 

You might choose to install the same pickup type in every slot, giving you a more consistent tonal dynamic across the pickups. Or you might choose to exaggerate the innate characteristics of each position to give you a larger range of tonal variety when switching between.

Remember, the neck is warmer and thicker, the bridge is brighter and more nasal, and the mid is a balance between the two. You can use this to your advantage to perfectly sculpt the tonal performance of your pickups from top to bottom. 

Pickup Configuration

Another consideration is whether you use humbuckers, single coils, or a combination of the two across the slots. You can see Strats in a range of configurations like HSH, HSS, HHH, SSS, SSH, SHS, or any other combo (where S is single, and H is humbucker). 

Each of these offers a different range of tones. For example, using three single coil pickups creates the brightest and most cutting (and arguably classic) strat sound. Often a humbucker pickup set is installed in the middle and neck pickups to bring some extra warmth.

Do a bit of research and experimentation to work out what kind of configuration would be the best for your playing style. 

FAQs About Stratocaster Pickups

What pickups did Jimi Hendrix use on his Strat?

Jimi Hendrix famously used a variety of Stratocaster guitars throughout his career, and his preferences for pickups varied over time. However, he is most closely associated with early 1960s Fender Stratocasters, often modified with pickups from various manufacturers.

One of the most iconic pickups associated with Hendrix is the Fender Stratocaster pickup that came stock in the guitar he played at Woodstock in 1969. These pickups are typically referred to as "pre-CBS" pickups and are known for their vintage tone and character.

What pickups does John Mayer use in his Strat?

John Mayer is known for using custom pickups designed by the team at Fender Custom Shop for his signature model Stratocasters. His signature pickups are often referred to as "Big Dipper" pickups and are featured in his signature Fender Stratocaster models.

These pickups are designed to capture the vintage tones that Mayer favors, with a balance of warmth, clarity, and dynamic response.

What pickups does Eric Clapton use in his Stratocaster?

Eric Clapton's preference for pickups in his Stratocasters has evolved over the years, and he has used various pickups in his guitars. One notable set of pickups associated with Clapton is the Fender Vintage Noiseless pickup. These pickups offer the vintage Stratocaster tone but with reduced noise, making them suitable for Clapton's clean and smooth playing style.

Clapton has also used other pickups in his signature Stratocaster models, such as the "Mid Boost" pickups featured in his "Blackie" Stratocaster and the "Vintage Noiseless" pickups found in his signature "Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster."

Final Verdict

Strat Pickups in a red box

You now know all the important specs, components, and styles to think about when choosing a new Strat pickup. With the information above you’ll have no trouble choosing the Strat pickup set of your dreams. 

I'm a huge fan of the Fender Original '57/'62 Stratocaster pickups. I think these are a super accurate representation of the real deal originals and are made by Fender themselves.

I also love the EMG SA/SA/81 Active set for its aggressive active sound if you want something more distortable - although they have a totally different approach to the Fender's above.

The Seymour Duncan Little '59 Humbuckers are a great choice if you want the humbucker tone in a smaller format.

Hey, why not check out our review of the best Les Paul pickups too?

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