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Fender’s Stratocaster is a timeless solidbody electric guitar that has close ties to the genres of blues and classic rock. Countless guitarists in these genres have used a Strat to create their signature tones.
When it comes to customizing your Strat’s tone, your choice of pedals and amplifier has an undeniable impact. However, the pickups that are installed on the guitar are equally as important.
If you want to transform your Strat into the ultimate blues or classic rock guitar, this guide will help you to identify the best-suited pickups for achieving your goals.
- In a Rush Roundup
- How We Tested
- Best Strat Pickups for Blues and Classic Rock Reviews
- Strat Pickups for Blues and Classic Rock Buyer’s Guide
- Things to consider when buying:
- Essential Qualities of Strat Pickups for Blues and Classic Rock
- Alnico Magnets and Strat Pickups
- Installation and Hardware
- Strat Pickups for Blues and Classic Rock FAQs
In a Rush Roundup
How We Tested
The testing process of these Strat pickups involved assessing their ability to produce versatile rhythm and lead tones found in the genres of blues and classic rock. We did this by analyzing the sound they produce through various amp types and pedals.
Additionally, we also tested their dynamic range, and how they sound both in live settings and in recordings. Finally, we rated these pickups based on the quality of the components used to build them.
Best Strat Pickups for Blues and Classic Rock Reviews
Fender’s Custom Shop Texas Special pickups are designed specifically for blues Strat players. These passive single-coil pickups are overwound, which results in higher output and a hotter tone.
Using a combination of enamel-coated wire and Alnico V magnets, Fender has created a set of fire-breathing pickups. Their clean tone has a lot of depth and clarity, and when you add gain to the signal they soak it up beautifully.
Interestingly, to ensure that the pickups produce no hum, Fender has tweaked the design of the middle pickup by reversing its polarity and using a reverse winding technique.
Keeping with the vintage blues theme, these pickups have authentic cloth wire and a fiber bobbin that is a throwback to retro pickups. They also have staggered pole pieces, which smoothens out the dynamics across the board.
The low-end produced b these pickups is right and responsive, while the midrange frequencies have plenty of bite. The highs glisten and sing with an abundance of sustain.
- Alnico V magnets
- Enamel-coated magnet wire
- Reverse-wound middle pickup
- Sound great with tube amps
- Classic hot blues tone
- Ideal for lead guitar playing
- Upper mids are very prominent
Seymour Duncan has long been at the forefront of pickup production, and they have manufactured many single-coil sets for Stratocasters over the years. The Antiquity Texas pickups have all of the capabilities required for classic rock and blues guitar.
With their period-correct design, these pickups pay homage to those used on vintage Strats by iconic blues guitarists. They’re hand-designed, with attention paid to every small detail.
Using techniques like scatter winding and meticulous magnet calibration, Seymour Duncan has created these pickups to blend smooth clean tones, with the potential for powerful gain-heavy sounds.
Many vintage-style pickups lack authenticity, but the Antiquity Strat pickups could easily pass for being from the ’70s due to the care that has been taken when designing every component.
As these blues pickups are designed to be used exclusively with Fender or Squire Stratocasters, they are very easy to install. They simply slot onto the guitar without any modifications required.
I was particularly impressed by the way these pickups retained their low-end power when used either with a high-gain tube amplifier or run through a gain pedal, like overdrive or fuzz.
- Hand-crafted Strat pickups
- Vintage “north polarity” winding technique
- Based on original Strat specs
- Authentic vintage Strat tone
- Convincing aged design
- Thick midrange with singing highs
- Best suited to heavier styles of blues and classic rock
The late 1950s and early 1960s marked a golden era for Fender Stratocasters. It was during this period that the instrument became increasingly popular amongst blues and rock guitarists.
The Pure Vintage pickups are appropriately named. They are designed to look and sound exactly like the ’57 and ’62 Strat pickups, and who could do a better job of recreating them than Fender?
Using Alnico V magnets, Fender has ensured that the dynamic control, fast attack, and tonal balance are all present in abundance. They’ve also opted for a fiber bobbin and cloth wiring, which add to the vintage feel and sound of the pickups.
Installation hardware is included with this set, so you can quickly and easily mount them to your Stratocaster even if you have no experience with installing new pickups.
Another interesting aspect of these pickups is the staggered beveled pole pieces, a process that was done by hand in Fender’s factories. This creates consistent dynamics and tone, with no weak spots in the frequency output.
- Alnico V magnets
- Formvar coated magnet wire
- Staggered pole pieces
- Balanced output
- Provide control over dynamics
- Authentic aged white covers
- Neck pickup can produce harsh treble tones
EMG are renowned for their heavy blues and heavy rock pickups. The SA Active Strat set is equipped with everything that a guitarist needs to ramp up the energy of their chord playing, or slice through the mix with their riffs and solos.
The standout aspect of these single-coil pickups is their bell-like high end. This is largely down to the inclusion of Alnico bar magnets, which make the treble frequencies more prominent and clear.
In addition to their sparkling highs, these pickups also produce an impressive amount of sustain. If you enjoy letting notes ring out, or performing long-lasting bends when blasting out a blues solo, the SA set will do the trick.
This pickup set has been used by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, which is evidence of the quality they possess. The matte black design is ideal for modern Stratocasters.
The set is pre-wired and includes a volume pot, a pair of tone pots, and the classic 5-way toggle switch for moving between the pickup positions.
- Alnico V magnets
- High output
- Three single-coil pickups
- Clear high-end
- Enhanced sustain
- Strong midrange output
- Modern black design may not suit vintage Strats
Blues guitar requires a range of tones. While many people think of the blues being a gain-heavy style of playing, many of the great guitarists from this genre use their clean tone more than an overdriven tone.
The Seymour Duncan SSL-1 California 50’s pickup set is brilliant for clean blues tones. They interact with the Stratocaster to enhance its natural, full sound with emphasis on the spanky midrange and smooth highs.
Don’t get me wrong – when you add gain to the signal these pickups don’t shy away from the heat. In fact, they sound pretty huge when played through a powerful tube amplifier.
The middle pickup has been reverse-wound, which causes reverse polarity. This means it essentially acts like a humbucker, preventing any unwanted sounds from being present in the output.
Alnico V magnets are employed to extract all of the sustain, attack, and clarity from your Strat’s strings. Additionally, there is a Formvar magnet wire on each pickup, which was popular in the 1950s on Strats.
- Alnico V magnets
- Fabricated bobbins
- Heavy Formvar magnet wire
- Produce the classic ‘50s and ‘60s Strat tone
- Sparkling high-end
- Compatible with high-gain amp settings
- Best suited to rosewood fingerboards
These are some of the best vintage Strat pickups for blues and classic rock to increase the heat of your guitar’s tone. Fender has used some tried and tested methods when designing these single-coil pickups.
Firstly, the midrange growl that many blues and rock guitarists crave is easy to produce when you have the Tex-Mex pickups installed on your Stratocaster. An overwound bridge pickup is a great tool for cooking the signal to optimal heat.
Fender has also intelligently reversed the polarity of the middle pickup. This causes it to buck the hum and reduces the possibility of interference or unwanted buzzing sounds to zero.
Alnico V magnets have been employed to enhance the clarity of the high-end and to ramp up the dynamic control that you have over each note that you strike with a plectrum or pick with your fingers.
To give these pickups an authentic vintage Strat appearance, the manufacturer has covered the wiring in vinyl and installed period-correct plastic bobbins.
All of the necessary installation hardware is included with the pickups, so you can quickly slot them onto your Stratocaster and get to work. Add a little gain to the signal, and you’re in for a treat!
- Alnico V magnets
- Reverse-wound middle pickup
- Staggered pole pieces
- Balanced, consistent output
- Plenty of power across the frequency range
- Focused dynamics
- Low-end frequencies may require a boost
Strat Pickups for Blues and Classic Rock Buyer’s Guide
Blues and classic rock are two genres that have distinctive guitar tones. Installing these Strat pickups shouldn’t be too difficult, as most of them come with clear instructions and all of the necessary hardware.
Things to consider when buying:
Consider the Alnico magnet type
Most Strat pickups use Alnico magnets. These essential components are hugely impactful on the tone and dynamics of the guitar. For example, Alnico II magnets produce a thick low-end, with a pronounced midrange. Alnico V magnets, on the other hand, produce a brighter tone with a higher output.
Think about the pickup winding
When searching for the best Strat blues pickups, you’ll encounter various windings. Hand-wound Strat pickups tend to sound clearer and brighter than machine-wound equivalents, which are more balanced.
Consider the appearance of your Strat
Although this may seem like stating the obvious, it’s very important to consider whether the pickup suits the aesthetics of your Strat. Do the colors match up? Does the pickup give the guitar a vintage or modern look?
Identify your tonal and dynamic needs
The most important thing you need to figure out when choosing classic rock or blues pickups is the sound you’re aiming for. For example, if you want an aggressive tone, you’ll need high output pickups.
Essential Qualities of Strat Pickups for Blues and Classic Rock
The Fender Stratocaster is closely linked to blues and classic rock, with many guitar icons from these genres choosing the popular solidbody as their preferred instrument.
Strats almost always include three single-coil pickups, which was one of the reasons they were so unique when Leo Fender introduced the guitar in 1954.
Blues and classic rock guitar playing share several characteristics – red hot tones, clear note definition, and plenty of sustain. However, there’s lots of variation within these styles, depending on whether you’re a rhythm or lead guitarist.
If you’re a lead guitarist who predominantly plays riffs, licks, and solos, you’ll need a Strat pickup that has a higher output. These pickups are often referred to as being “hot”.
One of the main things that determine the output of a pickup is how many windings it has. The more windings of wire the pickup has, the higher the output will generally be, and the hotter the tone it produces will be too.
Higher output pickups are also a good choice if you like to use a gain and distortion when playing your Stratocaster. These single-coil pickups originally became popular amongst blues and classic rock guitarists in the 70’s when overdriven tones were all the rage.
Alnico Magnets and Strat Pickups
You’ve probably heard of the two most popular varieties of magnets that can be used in guitar pickups – alnico, and ceramic. For the Fender Stratocaster’s single coils, alnico magnets are most commonly used.
Alnico is an alloy material that is made up of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt – hence the name (Al-Ni-Co). Iron is also added into the mix to create this type of magnet.
There are four varieties of Alnico magnets in total: alnico 2, alnico 3, alnico 4, and finally alnico 5. Each variety creates a different tone and dynamic response when it is used in a Stratocaster and any other electric guitar.
Alnico 2 magnets are the second weakest, behind only alnico 3 magnets. This means that they create less pulling on the strings, and therefore produce a distinctive vintage tone when used on a Strat pickup.
The most commonly used magnet for Stratocaster pickups is the alnico 5, which has been a favorite of Fender’s for many decades. This magnet type is also used in Fender’s other popular guitars and basses.
The reason that pickups with alnico 5 magnets installed are the best choice for blues and classic rock Strat players is that they balance the lows, midrange, and highs very well, in addition to increasing note definition.
Installation and Hardware
Replacing the pickups on your Strat should be fairly straightforward. Be sure to check that the set you choose comes with all of the necessary hardware, which should include enough screws to mount the pickups to your instrument.
It’s important to check the instructions that come with the specific pickups you choose, but all Strat pickups are essentially installed the same way.
You’ll need to check that the phases of the pickup are correct and compatible with your Stratocaster. If you buy pickups from a trusted manufacturer like Fender or Seymour Duncan, this shouldn’t be an issue.
A useful practice is to cover your Strat’s body and finish with masking tape when removing old pickups and installing your new ones. This will prevent any aesthetic damage from occurring.
Strat Pickups for Blues and Classic Rock FAQs
Why Do Strats Have 3 Pickups?
Since the guitar was first introduced in the 1950s, Fender Stratocasters have always had three pickups. The most common pickup configuration is SSS, which consists of three single-coils.
The reason that Leo fender designed the Strat to have three pickups is that it increases the tonal versatility of the guitar compared to guitars that only have a neck and bridge pickup.
What Is The Middle Pickup on a Strat Good For?
The middle pickup on a Strat is commonly reverse wound so that it can cancel any hum caused by the two single-coil pickups installed in the neck and middle positions.
When the middle pickup is selected, it combines the warmer tone of the neck pickup with the brighter, sharper tone of the Strat’s bridge pickup.
How Do I Get More Sustain from a Stratocaster?
Getting more sustain from your Stratocaster will allow you to ring out notes for longer when soloing, or add length to your chords. An easy way to do this is by cranking up the gain on your amplifier to ahh more heat to the signal.
Alternatively, you could install some thicker strings on your Strat, or use a compression pedal and turn up the release control to cause notes to sustain for longer.