My Favorite Pickups for Fender Stratocasters®
I was a humbucker-kinda guy for years. Sparkle, chime, glassiness and notched tones? Not my thing. I needed power, aggression, tightness, harmonics, articulation! But when I finally got a great Strat I understood the attraction. Personally I still can’t cope with the standard bridge pickup in a Strat. The way I use a Strat and my amps (I only use single channel amps, set up with a decent amount of gain and I roll down my volume pot if I need to clean it up) I need the bridge pickup to be a humbucker and the neck and middle pickups to be single coils. That being said, there are a few nice pickups to go in the bridge position of a Strat, real single coils, that put a smile on my face. Let’s take a look at the pickups for Strats that really work for me!
The SSL-1 is one of the most versatile pickups I know for a Strat, especially in the neck and middle positions. They have a sparkle, chime and cleanliness that really makes them work wondrously well in a lot of applications. They have the chime, the sparkle and also the honky, ‘ducky’ notched tone in the second and fourth position. I like to pair them up with a not-too-hot humbucker, like the Pearly Gates, with a coil split on the humbucker, for a whole wide range of versatile tones. Guitars with a flatter radius may require the SSL-2. The SSL-2 is the same pickup as the SSL-1 but without the staggered polepieces.
The SSL-5 is what you get when you put the SSL-1 on a steady diet of steroids and protein: more power, more beef but without the sacrifice of the high end sparkle and chime. I am very fond of this pickup in the bridge position when paired with the SSL-1, for example in a ‘Hendrix’ kind of setup. I know, it’s not really that vintage correct, but for me it works. I need a slightly fatter tone in the bridge position than what the SSL-1 can offer me, and the SSL-5 works very well to that end. The SSL5 also has the option of a coil tap. With the coil tap you can tap off a part of the coil and in essence making it a much cleaner sounding pickup. Don’t confuse it with the coil split, which simply means splitting off one coil, in a humbucker. The SSL-5 is also a great choice in the neck and middle position if you use a hotter pickup in the bridge. My favorite bridge pickup in a strat with the SSL-5 is, by far, the SH-6n Distortion Neck, or as I like to call it, the SH-7 (which is its old name before it got renamed). The SH-6n is a 12.6k pickup with a ceramic magnet and isn’t that hot per se, but what it lacks in output, it makes up for in power and character.
The Quarter Pound is one of my favorite single coils for a Strat. Not because it has so much chime in the tone, or because it’s so clean. Rather the opposite. It feels and sounds like a blend of a hotter single coil, like the SSL-5, with a bit of P-90 DNA in the mix. It’s rude, raunchy, powerful but surprisingly clean if you dial down your tone. The dynamics are surprising, which makes this pickup very usable in a ‘one-axe-to-rule-them-all’ kinda setup. Add in a coiltap to clean this pickup up even more and if paired with the right guitar, right amp and the right pickups to go with this one, the Quarter Pound is a force to be reckoned with!
The Lil’59 is a single coil sized humbucker and is voiced to have PAF-like qualities such as an increased low end response, a thicker mid range and smoother highs. Since the focus of the magnetic field is much narrower than on conventional humbuckers, a certain ‘single coil like’ clarity will persist. It’s about as hot (to my ears anyway) as the Quarter Pounder. I like this pickup to boost the bridge position of a strat, if I don’t want to route a full humbucker cavity and I’m in need of more power and compression. It’s also a great neck pickup in a HSS setup when, again, I don’t want to route a full sized humbucker. It’s got the fluidity of a full sized pickup but the added clarity makes it particularly well suited for cleaner tones, especially if matched with a Duckbucker in the middle position.
The YJM Fury Yngwie Malmsteen Signature is a pickup I really like. It’s based on Seymour Duncan’s stacked design which makes this a very silent pickup indeed, even if submitted to the extreme levels of volume Yngwie loves to use. It’s got the true strat tone we all know and love but with a tad, just a tad more output. I heard that Yngwie used to test out many, many prototypes of his to-be signature pickup under extremely high volumes. All of them sounded epic but he was able to hear subtle nuances with high volume. Nuances I’m still trying to figure out. At any rate, the YJM (and if I had it my way, paired with the YJM signature pot!) is an amazing choice if you need a true strat tone but sans the hum or other noise under high volume. The bridge is more aggressive while the neck is provides a more fluid tone.