The 9 Best Stratocaster Pickups

Best Strat Pickups


WINNER: Fender Eric Johnson Strat

RUNNER-UP: Lindy Fralin Vintage Hot

BEST VALUE: Wilkinson Lic Cream ST

Congratulations to the winners! Continue reading for more information.


I know how hard it is to choose the right guitar pickups for your electric guitar. That’s why I did the research for you and put together this list of the nine best Fender Stratocaster-style pickups in existence.

These are all presented with a three single coil (SSS) traditional Strat setup in mind. 

Read on and learn about each one so that you can make an informed decision before using your credit card.

The best Stratocaster pickups are both powerful and versatile. The designs are elegant yet simplistic in form and structure.

Once installed, your guitar will have a new life and sound completely different – in a good way! With these pickups, you can play anything from fusion to folk without changing guitars. Vintage voice to metal mayhem. 

All nine of these pickups are excellent. It comes down to individual taste, so I’ll provide as much detail as possible. These outstanding single coil pickups allow you to feel the music in a way unheard of before their introduction. 

In this article, I will show how a single coil pickup works, describe what it’s good for, list some specs, discuss humbucker-sized single coils, and present some video demos.

What Is A Single Coil Pickup?

A single coil pickup uses a coiled wire wrapped around metal poles. Either the poles are magnetized, or there’s a bar magnet on the bottom of the pickup. When a string vibrates, it disturbs the field and creates an electrical current.

The poles are made with different materials like aluminum, nickel, cobalt, and iron (alnico). Ceramic works if budget is a concern, but more expensive options will produce better clarity. Staggered pole pieces are an option with some Strat pickups on the market.

Single coil pickups produce a brighter sound than humbuckers with greater treble bite. 

One downside to the single coil is its sensitivity; it can generate noise due to interference from external magnetic fields. Adding shielding paint or tape in the guitar cavities can mitigate this effect. 

Single coils are a great way to produce the fun, vintage Strat sound that everyone loves. Single coil pickups have great twanginess that makes lead tones pop out from the rhythm.

The lower output single coil Strat pickup is also favored in jazz circles thanks to the ability to react more readily to minute volume changes drawn from subtle finger work.

The 9 Best Stratocaster Pickups

best stratocaster pickups

We’re not interested in this type of single coil!

What Are Single Coil Pickups Good For?

  • Single coil pickups are great for those who want a more traditional sound.
  • A Strat pickup is perfect for playing different styles of music like jazz and country.
  • Try one of the best Stratocaster pickups if you’re going to play funk or rockabilly.
  • Creating a mellow sound that will make you feel relaxed on stage. 
  • Providing a solid base for use with distortion and overdrive pedals.
  • Typically brighter and sharper sounding than humbuckers.
  • Single coil tones can be sunny, glassy, crisp, sharp, biting, attacking, gritty, and smooth.

Best Stratocaster Pickups

What is Pickup Output?

Pickup output is the signal strength sent from the pickup to the amp. The more coil winds a pickup has, the higher its output.

As you keep adding winds, however, you will lose high end. This why at a certain point it makes sense to switch to active pickups. This gives you high output without unbalanced frequencies.

Humbuckers are traditionally higher output than signal coils because of size, but some single coils are available that can match high output humbuckers. The companies producing hot single coils are messing with the natural order of things and playing with fire.

Other factors influence output, like the magnets used. Ceramic magnets produce higher output than alnico magnets.

Wire gauge also influences output. The thicker the wire, the lower the resistance. The lower the resistance, the higher the output.

Most Strat single coils will be in the 6k to 8k range, but some of the hotter examples go up to 13k. High output humbuckers can hit 20k.

It comes down to the style you’re playing and the force with which you need the signal to hit your amp.

What’s Up With Single Coil-Sized Humbuckers?

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. We face many problems in the modern world, but you can install powerful humbuckers built in a compact single coil shell.

There are some subtle differences in design. You can buy stacked coils: two coils on top of each other instead of side-by-side like a traditional humbucker.

This is the design of noiseless single coils. These can provide fantastic Fender pure vintage tone, but they’re not necessarily perfect as a direct humbucker replacement.

The next option is rail humbuckers. Rails have two coils next to each other, with each being one-half the size of a traditional single coil. These can produce some juicy humbucker tones. I’m talking blues rock! 

I’m not sure I should list this design. I don’t want to scare anyone. Ready? It’s a combination of the two: coils stacked and coils next to each other!

This creates a high-output Frankenstein’s monster of a humbucker pickup. This is a traditional humbucker-sized pickup containing four coils. Totally nuts! 

Look for four-conductor pickups so that they can be coil-split. This is an essential feature if these things are ever going to become more popular. 

Best Stratocaster Pickups

Say you have one of these humbuckers in the bridge position of your Strat. You are going balls-to-the-wall, but you want to go back to that traditional, quacky Strat tone.

No, you don’t have to solder a new pickup in at set break. Just wire the humbucker with a coil split. You can pull up on a knob, and people will think Hendrix’s ghost is performing.

Of course, these aren’t perfect. If you want this versatility, there are going to be some minor tonal compromises.

But the variety of tones you can achieve is impressive, and these pickups are continuously improving. Seymour Duncan especially seems to be putting energy into developing this style.

I barely have experience with the tiny humbuckers, so I’m not going to do a review. Here’s a list, however, if you’re curious. Click-through on the pickup name for more details.