By Dave Eichenberger
Somewhere between 50 and 60 years ago was a magical time in music. Rock music was just getting popular in the mid 1950s, and Guitarists demanded a more modern look and sound from their instruments. Leo Fender tapped into Southern California’s car culture with their new and exciting colors and slapped them on an equally new and exciting Stratocaster design that is still among the most popular shapes today. The Stratocaster provided a thinner, more cutting sound than was was available in the mid-50s, and it is a sound that remained popular even though music drastically changed at the beginning of the next decade. Amps got more powerful, distortion started to sound good to the people listening to it, and through all of that, the Strat’s single coil pickup remained, from Buddy Holly to Ritchie Blackmore. Seymour Duncan lived through those times, and worked with many of the iconic musicians that used 50’s and 60’s-era Fenders. This article gathers all of the pickups designed to capture those sounds in one place.
Vintage Staggered Strat
The Vintage Staggered Strat is the ultimate 1950’s inspired production pickup. Also called the SSL-1, this pickup has a vintage output, and the clean and clear sound of those earliest Strats. Built with traditional Forbon keyed flatwork, it includes waxed cloth push-back wire just like Fender made back before the Space Age. You get a bell-like tone with a quick attack that really shines with cleaner styles of music. These are also available in a trio as the California 50’s Set, which includes a reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup for hum-free operation in positions 2 and 4. We even offer the set in a pre-wired pickguard all ready to rock for you.
Vintage Flat Strat
The Vintage Flat Strat, or SSL-2, is the same wind as the SSL-1, but has flat poles for better string balance when using modern string gauges and a more modern neck radius. It is available alone or in a set, which includes a reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup for noise-cancelling in positions 2 & 4.
Alnico II Pro Staggered Strat
Unlike the Alnico V magnets of the SSL-1 series, the Alnico II Pro Staggered Strat (also called the APS-1) uses alnico II magnets in its vintage reimagining of Leo’s original design. Alnico II magnets have a softer initial attack and a lighter treble response. They are a great choice for players that have bright guitars, or who like a warmer tone from their Strat. Also available in a set, they are built just like Fender used to make, with waxed cloth push-back wire, and Forbon flatwork. You can even get a reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup if you like the sound of a Strat’s 2 & 4 positions, but not the hum.
Alnico II Pro Flat Strat
The Alnico II Pro Flat Strat gives you the choice of a vintage sound with sweet high end for more modern instruments. If you use a plain 3rd string with 9s or 10s, and you have a modern radius (anything above 7.25”), you should consider a pickup with flat poles to balance out the string volumes. Like our other 50’s inspired pickups, you can buy these in a calibrated set, or even as a specially designed middle pickup which rejects hum when used with other pickups.
Antiquity II Surfer for Strat
The Antiquity Surfer II for Strat was designed as the ultimate pickup for the 1960’s Strat sound. Designed as separate neck, middle, and bridge models (or as a calibrated set), the scatter-winding and aged alnico V rod magnets sound like a 60 year old pickup, while the Seymour Duncan ageing process makes it looks like one. Don’t throw bright white brand new pickups in that old guitar! The Surfers capture that early-to-mid 60’s look and tone perfectly from a man who was there and lived it. The aged magnets give a sweet treble attack, and the bridge pickup has few extra windings for more midrange punch.
Lipstick Tube Strat
Back in the 1960s, Danelectros were some of the funkiest, cheapest electric guitars you can buy. Due to their use by a certain staggering, swaggering English guitarist in the 70’s, their unique crispy sound has really found a new popularity. While nothing like this ever existed in the 1960s, the Lipstick Tube Strat captures the unique sound of these 1960s pickups in a Strat form factor. Available as separate neck, middle, and bridge varieties, the Lipstick Tube Strat will give you a sound you remember from those funky guitars (though hopefully without the intonation issues).
Psychedelic Strat Set
Made-to-order from the Custom Shop, the Psychedelic Strat Set captures the essence of the late 1960s. If you like your Strat with a Marshall, a fuzz, a wah, and a Univibe, then this set is your best friend. Wound for a scooped sound to give that fuzz pedal room to breathe, The Psychedelic Strat Set is made with period-correct materials and has the sound that influenced a generation of guitarists and cemented the Strat’s place in heavier rock music.
Do you own an older Strat? What song captures 50’s or 60’s Strat tone the best?