Wading through all of your guitar pickup options can sometimes be a bit intimidating. So we put together this list of our top 5 best Strat pickups for blues, it’s the perfect place to start. But first, lets dive into a little history…
History of the Blues Guitar
When it comes to the ultimate blues electric guitar, the Fender Stratocaster has been at the top of the heap for decades. Its three single-coil pickups exude a scooped, bell-like character that has defined the iconic tones of Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Philip Sayce, and many more. So, when discussing the culturally ubiquitous Strat, one must start with this ever-expanding list of its devoted players.
The Strat first hit the blues airwaves when used by Pee Wee Crayton to record his 1954 single, “The Telephone is Ringing.” Along with Crayton and Guy, Otis Rush, and Ike Turner also used the double-cutaway wonder to great effect.
However, it was the ’60s when the world first heard what those three single-coils could truly do. There is no better example, of course than the game-changing tones of Jimi Hendrix. Leaning heavily on his blues and R&B background, he slammed his Strats through a chain of effects. As well as a wall of devastatingly loud Marshall stacks. This created a new world of tone that Carlos Santana exclaimed, “Sounded like Mt. St. Helens!”
More and more blues players jumped on the Stratocaster bandwagon throughout the 1970s.
None were more iconic, however than Ireland’s Rory Gallagher and Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton. Slinging Fenders over their shoulders, they paved the way for the blues rock explosion that has thrived ever since.
Moving into the hair metal and synth-heavy ’80s, the Stratocaster’s bluesier side was resurrected the moment Stevie Ray Vaughan hit the airwaves. From the rotary-swamped sounds of “Cold Shot” to his famous, Tube Screamer-laden lead tones, Vaughan laid the groundwork for nearly every tone in modern blues.
Ever since its seismic shift created by Vaughan, blues has enjoyed a healthy existence. It’s been fueled by countless Strat slingers like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Gayles, Philip Sayce, and John Mayer.
It’s fascinating that each of the players mentioned above carved out their spot in blues history with similar versions of the same, simple single-coil pickups. Pull these pickups’ cover off, and you’ll find a familiar complement of coiled copper wire, magnetic pole pieces, and forbon-flatwork bobbins. Whether discussing the neck pickup’s tubular character, the aggressive attack of the bridge, or the reassuring ‘quack’ of the in-between tones, these materials boast an unmatched ability to translate every player’s unique personality and touch. It’s why, for the most part, Leo’s original design has stayed the same throughout the decades.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been changes.
As early electric blues blossomed into the higher-gain blues rock we know today, players were struggling with the trebly highs presented in the guitar’s first pickups. Their prayers were answered in the mid-’60s when Fender’s lauded ‘grey bottom’ became the standard. To this day, players often note these pickups’ smoother treble response, and a slight bump in output. From the day Fender first made this pickup change, the quest for the perfect set was on.
Today, you’ll find countless tweaked versions of those original designs, which remain largely the same as the originals. However, when it comes to tone, they couldn’t be more different. Whether utilizing sweeter-sounding alnico magnets, ceramic magnets for their more aggressive voice, or manipulating the materials and winding, simple changes make a massive sonic impact. And that’s just with standard single-coil designs.
You’ll also find Strat pickups that range from battery-powered active designs to full-on humbuckers crammed into a single-coil footprint. Thanks to modern technology, the market is also seeing the best-sounding noiseless, true single-coil pickups ever available. Also, let’s not forget the insanely flexible voice offered by dropping a full-size humbucker in the bridge position. Though not their typical setup, there may not be a better one-size-fits guitar than an HSS Strat.
As someone who personally wound pickups for Jimi Hendrix, Seymour W. Duncan and his team have been at the cutting edge of Strat-pickup design longer than just about anyone but Leo himself. So it comes as no surprise that we offer a wide variety of models, perfect for blues players of all stripes.
Because wading through all of your options can sometimes be a bit intimidating, we put together this list of the best Strat pickups for Blues, creating the perfect place to start. Enjoy.
Here are the 5 best Strat pickups for Blues:
If you’re looking for a modern pickup that nails every aspect of Fender’s original designs, the California ’50s set is where it’s at. We carefully craft these pickups with period-correct Formvar wire, bobbin material, and hand-ground Alnico V magnets, to deliver the treble detail, focused bass, and bounce of genuine ’50s tone.
For blues players that prefer their vintage-style pickups with some miles on them, we offer our highly rated Antiquity Texas Hots. You’ll find all of the classic chime and detail of vintage Strat pickups. It’s a slightly hotter bridge pickup and has our proprietary aging process. Giving it a sonic balance and smooth sweetness that is only otherwise available in the 60-year-old originals.
Plug in a vintage Strat, and you’re sure to be greeted with their frustrating, trademark 60-cycle hum. Many blues aficionados are more than happy to deal with the noise to nail their classic tones. However, thanks to our STK-S4 Classic Stack Plus pickups, you don’t have to. These pickups utilize a specially designed second coil to silence the buzz without changing the classic single-coil tone. All the old-school tone, none of the old-school hum.
If you’re a died-in-the-wool Strat fiend but need a warmer, jazzier blues tone, look no further than our Cool Rails pickups. We were able to condense the clear-yet-full design of our incredibly popular Jazz humbucker into a single-coil size pickup. And because they’re available with a 4-conductor lead wire, Cool Rails be easily split or tapped to deliver a more authentic single-coil sound.
When it comes to versatility, our Little ’59 Set delivers. If you want a guitar that can swing from Jimmy Vaughn spank to Gary Moore sustain, this trio of single-coil sized humbuckers is the way to go. They nail the tone of our beloved ’59 humbucker. And their 4-conductor lead wire also lets you switch to clear-toned single-coil operation on the fly.
As you can see, Strat-slinging blues players have endless pickup options for finding their voice. But don’t let the options scare you. It only means that we’re sure to offer your perfect set. Try our player-friendly online Guitar Pickup Selector that has audio examples of each model. We are committed to helping you find what you’re looking for. So if you’re ready to take your Strat-based blues tone to the next level, explore all of our Seymour Duncan Strat pickups here.