Choosing the right humbucker for a Strat HSS can elevate your guitar-playing experience.
Whether you’re aiming for the smooth, bluesy tones of Stevie Ray Vaughan or the hard-rocking riffs of Ritchie Blackmore, the right humbucker for your Strat can make all the difference.
So, if you’re a songwriter or guitarist on the hunt for that ideal set of pickups, buckle up, and let’s get started!
The Stratocaster Guitar: An Iconic Item
Before we get into the finest humbucker for a Strat HSS, let’s take a moment to enjoy the Stratocaster’s beauty and brilliance.
Fender introduced the Stratocaster, or “Strat,” in 1954. The Strat has become a favorite among guitarists of all genres because of its sleek, contoured body, double-cutaway design, and three single-coil pickups. Because of its adaptability and vast range of tonal options, the guitar has been a favorite of innumerable performers.
A Stratocaster is easily identified by its loud, chimey, and bell-like tone.
The pickups on the Strat span from clean and warm to heavy and gritty, allowing guitarists to play with a broad spectrum of soundscapes.
The bridge pickup produces a bright, sharp tone, and the neck pickup has a softer, mellow sound.
Finally, the middle pickup adds quack and glitter to the Strat’s trademark sound.
Strat Pickup System
A Stratocaster’s pickup system is usually comprised of three single-coil pickups, each with a magnet and coil that picks up the vibrations of the guitar strings.
These vibrations are subsequently turned into an electric signal, amplified, and transformed into sound waves.
List of Stratocasters: Brands That Have Mastered the Strat Style
Many brands have taken inspiration from the iconic Stratocaster design and developed their own versions of this timeless guitar.
Below is a list of Stratocasters from various brands, each offering unique specs and features:
- Fender American Professional II Stratocaster HSS
- Suhr Classic S HSS
- PRS Silver Sky
- Ibanez AZ2204 HSS
- G&L Fullerton Deluxe Legacy HSS
Different pickup configurations of Strat
The HSS configuration is popular among guitarists who want to combine a humbucker’s punchy rock tone with the crisp, clear sound of single-coil pickups.
In this setup, the humbucker serves as the bridge pickup, providing added warmth and output, while the single coils at the middle and neck positions deliver sparkling clean tones.
The HSS configuration is ideal for players seeking versatility in their sound.
The HHS configuration features two humbuckers (one at the bridge and one at the neck) and a single coil in the middle position.
This setup offers a thicker sound with less hum, perfect for those who prefer a more aggressive tone.
The bridge humbucker provides the rock tone, while the neck humbucker offers smoother, creamier leads.
The middle single coil adds sparkle and chime, rounding the overall sound.
In the HSH configuration, a single-coil pickup sits between two humbuckers.
This arrangement combines the power and warmth of humbuckers at the bridge and neck positions while still providing the added benefits of a single coil in the middle.
The HSH setup is an excellent choice for players who want a versatile instrument that can handle various styles, from heavy rock to blues and jazz.
When selecting the best humbucker for your Strat, consider hole placement, pickup size, and the desired sound profile.
The ideal humbucker will complement your guitar’s vibrations and sound waves, enhancing your playing experience.
Humbucker for Strat: Seymour Duncan JB SH-4
It’s impossible to avoid mentioning Seymour Duncan stuff here, especially their SH-4 JB humbucker.
This is one of the most popular humbuckers on the market.
It’s not as specific in terms of its use, but it does an incredible job in a wide variety of styles.
In fact, I’ve seen this pickup in guitars of various musicians from jazz to modern metal.
This humbucker is extremely popular among guitar legends such as Jeff Beck, Dave Mustaine, and the iconic Kurt Cobain.
Although relatively balanced, there’s still some power in the pickup.
Chords emanate from it with a potent crunch, while individual notes maintain their clarity and definition.
I really love how it works with different levels of distortion, always managing to cut nicely through the mix.
At the same time, you can get that warm and smooth sound with some rich harmonic content.
From my experience, they are especially useful with tube amps, giving you some dynamic response.
Just make sure to use the volume knob when required since it’s a high-output pickup.
Like its counterpart, the Super Distortion, the SH-4 JB offers diverse colors to suit your taste.
Opt for modern or vintage tones or blend the two for a unique sound. I’m personally fond of the nickel cover, which adds a touch of P90 charm to the mix.
You’ll find this amazing pickup here:
Humbucker for Strat: DiMarzio DP100 Super Distortion
An absolute classic, DiMarzio’s Super Distortion is your go-to high-output pickup.
Now, one thing that I need to point out is that this one can potentially “eat up” single-coils in the mix.
But it’s nothing that a simple pickup height setup couldn’t solve.
Overall, I’d recommend DiMarzio Super Distortion with some hotter single-coils.
What I love about this one is that it’s bass-heavy.
The high-ends aren’t as pronounced which, in my experience, provides a nice balance.
This pickup is powerful, bold, and fierce – just as true rock should be.
It offers enhanced lows and mids, creating an immense, full-bodied sonic landscape.
A swift and incisive attack complements this robust wall of sound.
Your guitar gets enough versatility with this setup to do chugging heavy riffs, as well as jangly “in-between” tones.
I particularly like how it adds some bass with the middle pickup on a Strat.
But, most importantly, it’s one of the most famous pickups for distorting a clean tube-driven amp.
Just plug in your Strat, crank the amp, select this humbucker, and you’ll get that sweet tone and dynamic response.
Humbucker for Strat: Seymour Duncan Dimebucker SH-13
But what if you want something more compressed and that works incredibly well with high-gain settings?
Then I’d suggest Seymour Duncan’s SH-13 or the so-called Dimebucker.
Here we have a super-high-output humbucker with a double-blade design.
But aside from its high output, this pickup also delivers a razor-sharp tone.
It’s also slightly scooped, but it really works well for high-gain settings.
From my experience, pairing it with something like Marshall’s DSL amps yields some pretty great results.
Or, if you want serious Dimebag Darrell vibes, then it works well with a solid-state or a hybrid amp.
I’d suggest adding some mids in the mix to help it sound fuller.
What might be an issue for some is that it might be too hot for some single-coils in HSS Strats.
Nonetheless, it’s still a passive pickup, and you can balance things out with a hotter set of single-coils.
If you want to try this Dimebucker, you can get yours from Guitar Center:
Humbucker for Strat: Seymour Duncan Little ’59 SL59-1
In case you want a humbucker but aren’t up for modifying your Strat to fit one, there are plenty of single-sized dual-coils pickups.
I’d suggest the Little ’59, or SL59-1, by Seymour Duncan.
Don’t be deceived by the name of Seymour Duncan Little ’59s – their sound is anything but small.
They retain an appealing twang touch and offer a slightly warmer and richer sound than single coils.
This small-sized humbucker can pack quite a punch in the style of Gibson’s classic P.A.F. concept than contemporary humbuckers.
This endows them with a distinctly vintage sound charm.
It comes with a medium-high output that can work well with single-coil pickups.
It’s also treble-heavy but just about enough to give it some sparkle.
In my opinion, it’s a more vintage-oriented pickup, although it can handle a variety of styles.
What really stands out to me is the responsiveness of these pickups.
They easily handle dynamic changes, allowing for an expressive sound as you switch up your picking style or transition to fingerpicking.
This exceptional pickup excels in musical styles such as blues and jazz.
You can explore various combinations, like HSS, HHS, or HSH, to name a few.
Given its compatibility with single-coil pickups, it’s worth taking the time to tinker with different setups to find your perfect sound.
This makes it one of the perfect choices to pair with single-coils on your Strat.
Check out this little dude in black and white here:
Humbucker for Strat: EVH Frankenstein
While most will focus on Seymour Duncan or DiMarzio when buying pickups, Eddie Van Halen’s old brand also has a lot to offer.
Although EVH Frankenstein isn’t the cheapest on the market, it’s more than worth it.
The EVH pickup is outstanding, which is no surprise given the superb quality of everything the brand produces.
The moment you look at this pickup, its top-notch craftsmanship is evident. This is a well-constructed piece of equipment.
One aspect that particularly caught my attention was the wiring.
The Frankenstein features a braided wire, ensuring it won’t break easily.
This pickup truly packs a ferocious growl.
Of course, it’s marketed as a pickup that will give you that “Eddie Van Halen tone.”
Once you start playing, you’ll be welcomed by a tone that harkens back to the legendary Van Halen.
But it’s more than just that.
Firstly, the tone is rich and full yet allows you to cut through the mix when needed.
Secondly, it helps you achieve dynamic versatility, especially if you use the volume knob and play through a tube amp.
And finally, notes sound pretty clear even on high-gain settings.
You can even play a 3 or 4-note chord without it sounding messy.
I have a hard time entirely describing this pickup’s tone.
It’s as if you have thickness and punch, all while being able to sizzle in the mix.
This makes it a great choice for both lead and rhythm sections.
Overall, EVH Frankenstein is one of the best options for HSS guitars of any kind.
You can get this EVH Frankenstein from Guitar Center:
Humbucker for Strat: Gibson Dirty Fingers
A Gibson humbucker in a Fender or a Squier HSS Stratocaster?
Something like their Dirty Fingers will bring your classic Les Paul vibes into your Strat.
Gibson describes them as the perfect combo of “power and dirt.”
This is a great way to describe them since they have that raw vibe.
Nonetheless, you won’t make things sound too messy.
Although we’re looking at a super-hot humbucker, it can also be set up to work with single-coils.
I’d recommend this one if you need something for chugging heavy power chords while your single-coils would handle most of the lead work.
The most notable user of these pickups is Tom DeLonge of Blink-182.
Humbucker for Strat: Gibson ’57 Classic
Another Gibson humbucker that I’d like to mention, the ’57 Classic also comes in handy.
This is one of my personal favorites.
It delivers a reasonably warm tone with medium output.
At the same time, you can still retain all of the much-appreciated humbucker sonic traits.
While it’s a more bluesy or old-school hard rock pickup, it can handle a lot of stuff.
There’s still some “jangle” to its tone, which can work well for those “in-between” pickup combinations.
But, most importantly, you’ll get that Gibson-ish thickness and warmth.
This complements single-coils incredibly well.
If you’re looking for some of those jazzy and bluesy vibes while also keeping the dirt and ruggedness of a humbucker, then the ’57 Classic is for you.
You can check out the Gibson ’57 Classic at Guitar Center below:
Why Opt for a Humbucker for Strat?
Stratocaster’s pickup configuration plays a crucial role in shaping its sound.
While the iconic single-coil pickups provide a bright, crisp tone, many players opt for a humbucker for Strat setups, particularly in the HSS configuration, to expand their tonal options.
Humbucker For Strat: Sound Difference
The key difference in sound between single-coil and humbucker pickups lies in the humbucker’s ability to cancel out unwanted noise while providing a fuller, richer tone.
This makes them ideal for genres like classic rock, where a warm sound with a treble emphasis is sought after.
The humbucker’s inherent noise-cancellation makes it more suitable for high-gain overdrive situations, allowing players to explore new sonic territories without unwanted hum or interference.
Which Strats Can Have Humbuckers?
Now that you know why a humbucker for Strat can be a game-changer, let’s discuss which Strat models can accommodate one.
Generally, any Stratocaster model can be modified to house a humbucker pickup, but the HSS (Humbucker-Single-Single) configuration is particularly popular.
This setup maintains the classic Strat sound in the neck and middle positions while the bridge humbucker adds a fatter, punchier tone perfect for solos and heavier rhythms.
When searching for the best Strat pickups, it’s crucial to consider a Strat pickup set that provides a balanced sound across all positions.
The low end should be tight and defined, while the high end should have a distinct clarity.
With the right humbucker for Strat in your HSS configuration, you’ll experience a versatile range of tones, from the classic chime of single-coil pickups to the warm, full-bodied roar of the humbucker.
Humbucker for Strat: FAQs
Do you need a humbucker in a Strat?
While you don’t necessarily “need” a humbucker for a Strat, installing one can provide various benefits, such as reducing hum and noise, increasing output, and offering a broader range of tones.
A humbucker for Strat can enhance your playing experience and make your guitar more versatile.
Which is better: HSS or SSS configuration?
Whether HSS or SSS is better depends on your playing style and preferred music genre.
HSS (Humbucker-Single-Single) configuration offers more tonal versatility, with a warmer, thicker sound from the humbucker and classic single-coil tones from the other two pickups.
SSS (Single-Single-Single) configuration provides a more traditional Stratocaster tone with three single-coil pickups, ideal for players seeking that classic, bright sound.
Which pickup is best for solos?
The best pickup for solos depends on your preferred tone and style.
Many guitarists favor bridge pickups, such as a humbucker for Strat, for their increased output and more aggressive sound.
However, some players prefer the neck or middle pickups for a smoother, warmer tone during solos.
Ultimately, the choice is a matter of personal preference.
What pickups does Eric Clapton use in his Stratocaster?
Eric Clapton uses Fender’s Vintage Noiseless single-coil pickups in his signature Stratocaster.
These pickups provide the classic single-coil tone while eliminating the unwanted hum often associated with single-coil pickups.
Can you replace a single coil with a humbucker in a Strat?
Yes, you can replace a single-coil pickup with a humbucker in a Strat.
However, you may need to modify the guitar, such as enlarging the pickup cavity and changing the pickguard.
Alternatively, you can use single-coil-sized humbuckers, like the Seymour Duncan Little ’59, designed to fit into standard single-coil slots without any modifications.
The Best Humbucker for Strat HSS: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you think through which humbucker is best for your Strat HSS!
And if you want to read more about pickups on this blog, then check out:
Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts!
Have you tried any of the humbuckers mentioned in the article, or do you have a different favorite?
Drop a comment below, and let’s get the conversation rolling.