How to Find the Best HSS Pickup Configuration

Ever wonder how to choose the perfect pickup for your HSS Strat? You’re not alone. In a previous article, we pointed you toward three of our favorite HSS pickup combinations. But if you want to put your own trio of pickups together, we’ve got you covered.

These five steps are an easy way to sift through the options. Follow them for each pickup, and you should end up with the best HSS pickups for your guitar.

  1. Define your tone
  2. Focus on the pickup(s) you use most
  3. Consider your guitar’s acoustic voice (or tonewoods)
  4. Use Seymour Duncan’s online pickup resources
  5. Base your following pickup choices on your first

Tech Tips: These steps apply to choosing any pickup configuration. But we get a lot of questions about HSS sets. So we thought we’d help answer them here.


Define your tone

To find the perfect pickups for your tone, you have to define what that tone is. Do you want a balance of warmth and clarity for bluesy cleans? Do you want the touch response of a traditionally crafted PAF humbucker? Or are you looking for something that will push your amp to the extreme? Answer this question, and you’ll have a much easier time finding the perfect pickups for your HSS Strat.


Focus on the pickup(s) you’ll use most

When building your own pickup sets, it’s beneficial to focus on one pickup at a time. And you should start with the pickup you use the most. If your thing is edge-of-breakup from a Strat neck pickup, a Strat-style neck pickup is where you’ll want to start. If you hang out on the bridge humbucker the most, that’s where you’ll want to begin your search.

The reason for this has to do with complementing your main tone. You need to be happy with the pickup you use most. But when you venture outside of that sound, you want your other pickups to support and expand upon it.


Consider your guitar’s acoustic voice (tonewoods?)

In choosing the best HSS pickups, it’s essential to understand your guitar’s natural tonal properties. And tonewoods play a big part in this. Yes, we said it. Tonewoods do matter. And the most commonly used tonewoods do have some generally accepted tonal qualities that can help you narrow your pickup search.

Our friends and tonewood experts at explain them like this…

  • Mahogany: Warm and full with good sustain
  • Swamp Ash: A very musical wood offering a very nice balance of brightness and warmth with a lot of “pop”
  • Maple: Very bright with long sustain and a lot of bite
  • Rosewood: big warm tones with smooth high-end roll-off
  • Basswood: A nice, growly, warm tone with focused mids—Its defined sound cuts through a mix well
  • Alder: The tone is the most balanced, with equal doses of lows, mids, and highs

So if you have a mahogany guitar, but you want more cut and top-end, you’d select a brighter pickup. If you have a guitar made out of swamp ash with too much treble, a darker pickup is just the ticket.


Use Seymour Duncan’s online pickup resources

We’ve gone to great lengths to help you on your HSS Strat pickup journey. Our site includes a wealth of resources to give you the info you need to make a great choice. This includes sound samples, our Pickup Finder tool, and a ton of in-depth articles about many of our models.


sound samples amp

Sound Samples

Nearly all of our pickup product pages feature professionally recorded examples of that pickup in action. You can hear them within multiple contexts and with varying shades of overdrive. It’s the perfect opportunity to test drive each pickup before you buy.


guitar choices in our pickup finder

Pickup Finder

Our online Pickup Finder is one of the most powerful pickup selection tools we have. By answering a few simple questions about your guitar and tonal preferences, it can point you to time-tested and popular HSS pickup configurations you’ll love.


Articles, videos, and more

Our site is also full of videos, expert articles, and a vast knowledge base. From tips and tricks to new product info and how-tos, you’ll find it all right here.


Base your following pickup choices on your first

Now that you found your “main” pickup, it’s essential to base the other two on its voice. Think of it this way; a ’60s-style Strat neck pickup may sound incredible. But pair it with a Black Winter high output humbucker, and it will sound anemic by comparison. So, with your first pickup choice in mind, it’s time to head back to step one and find pickup #2. In no time at all, you’ll have a set of HSS pickups that’s perfect for your guitar, your tone, and you.


Let’s talk tone!

If you have any other questions about how to choose the perfect pickup for your HSS Strat, check out our Knowledge Base here. You can also email us here. And don’t forget to dig deeper into the Seymour Duncan blog! There’s a ton of in-depth info, how-tos, tone demonstrations, and a lot more.

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