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What Is an HSS Guitar? The Complete Guide (2022 Edition)

Table of Contents

If you’re wondering what an HSS guitar is, you’ve come to the right post!

Pickup Configurations Explained

If it weren’t for the invention of magnetic pickups, modern music just won’t be the same. Even to this day, simple concepts of single-coils and humbuckers are still present. However, things aren’t that simple.

As you already know, guitars come with different pickup configurations. You might see a two or three-letter abbreviation featuring only letters H or S, but don’t be confused by it. This is simply a way to point out the guitar’s pickup configuration.

You won’t often find it next to a model name unless it’s an atypical configuration for a guitar model. The letter H stands for Humbucker and the letter S stands for single-coil.

What’s also important to know is the order of letters. Going from left to right, it starts with the bridge and ends with the neck position. If there are two letters, then it refers to bridge and neck position. If there are three letters, then it refers to bridge, middle, and neck position respectively.

However, if there’s one letter, it usually refers to the bridge position. But you may also find some examples with one pickup in the neck position. It’s usually a single-coil. But these examples are not that common.

Examples

Here are some of the standard pickup configurations and their abbreviations:

  • SSS – Three single coils in all three positions. It’s the standard Stratocaster configuration.
  • SS – Two single-coils in bridge and neck positions. It’s common for Telecasters or some Les Pauls and SGs with two P90s. 
  • HH – Two humbuckers. It’s the standard Gibson-style configuration for Les Pauls and SGs.
  • HSS – Humbucker in the bridge with two single coils in middle and neck positions. You can find it on some Strats or Superstrat-style guitars.
  • HSH – Humbuckers in bridge and neck, single-coil in the middle. It’s present on some Superstrat-style guitars.

Aside from these, you may also stumble upon some other variations. Some of these are:

  • HHH – Three humbuckers. This was present on some of the earliest Gibson SG models, back in the early 1960s when they were still called Les Pauls.
  • SH – Single-coil in the bridge and humbucker in the neck. You may find them on some Telecasters, like today’s American Performer model.
  • S – One single-coil in the bridge position. It can also refer to one single-coil pickup in the neck or any other position.
  • H – One humbucker in the bridge position. You may find some rare variants with one humbucker in other positions.

What Is an HSS Guitar?

So as we already cleared it up, HSS refers to a pickup configuration. This can be any guitar model with the humbucker-single-single pickup configuration. In most cases, it’s a Stratocaster or a Stratocaster-style guitar. But you may occasionally find another model.

There’s no practical reason why this pickup configuration is almost exclusively associated with Strats or Sperstrats. It’s pretty much just tradition.

What’s So Special About HSS Guitars?

HSS pickup configuration is incredibly versatile. In all honesty, I’m not sure why there aren’t more guitars like these. In my opinion, it’s a better option than your regular SSS configuration.

Firstly, you get a humbucker in the bridge. This allows you to play hard rock and heavy metal riffs. Sure, you could do that on single-coils as well, but it’s just not the same. The tone gets too bright and crispy and it could be difficult to control.

Secondly, you get five positions with the pickup switch. Not to mention the classic jangly-sounding in-between options. Meanwhile, the neck position gives great results for lead sections in any genre.

Additionally, HSS guitars often come with an option to split the humbucker. This essentially brings the SSS combination. In practice, you get a total of seven pickup combinations.

Some Great HSS Guitar Models

Fender American Ultra Stratocaster HSS

Fender’s got a lot of great options with this configuration. The Americal Ultra Strat HSS is one of those.

For the most part, you have the standard Stratocaster configuration and design. But aside from the pickup combo, there are a few important changes. The guitar comes with 22 frets, a compound radius fingerboard, a 2-Point Fender Deluxe Synchronized Tremolo bridge, Fender Deluxe Sealed Locking tuners, and an S-1 switch on the volume pot.

That switch splits the bridge humbucker. However, it does that without lowering the output volume. It’s a pretty neat feature that takes this instrument to a new level. What’s more, the single-coils are Fender’s Noiseless ones that bring a significantly reduced hum.

Schecter Nick Johnston Traditional HSS

Schecter also has some pretty interesting HSS options. The signature Nick Johnston Traditional model is like a combination of a regular Strat and a Superstrat. While it retains classic design, you have a few upgrades on it.

For instance, the fretboard radius is 14 inches. Then we also have a Graph Tech XL Black Tusq nut and a Thin C neck. The HSS pickup combination is enhanced with a coil-split feature.

And here we’re looking at Schecter’s Diamond series pickups. Single-coils are Nick Johnston’s signature ones. Meanwhile, the humbucker is a Schecter Diamond ’78.

Ernie Ball Music Man Luke III HSS

Now, Ernie Ball Music Man is on a whole new level. If you want a pro-level instrument that’s worth every penny, then Luke III HSS is the way to go.

I would start with its wonderful roasted maple neck and rosewood fretboard. The profile is according to Steve Lukather’s own preferences and the radius is 12 inches.

Along with this, we have standard Ernie Ball Music Man headstock. The strings stay in a straight line as they break over the melamine nut. This ensures improved tuning stability.

Aside from its visually pleasing and ergonomic body, we also have custom-wound pickups. And they’re accompanied by an active preamp. There’s even an additional 12-decibel boost which is incredibly useful for tube-driven amps.

What I also find interesting about this one are its low and wide frets. It’s somewhat specific, but it comes in handy for virtuosic players.

Squier Classic Vibe ’70s Stratocaster HSS

If you need something cheaper with an HSS combo that’s still pretty awesome, then check this one out. Squier really outdid themselves with the Classic Vibe ’70s Strat.

In all honesty, I’m not sure how Fender is letting their subsidiary sell such great guitars at a low price. If you ask me, it outperforms some cheaper Fender guitars.

It could, however, use a coil-split option. But you can do this modification on your own. It shouldn’t be that hard.

Other than that, it’s a pretty standard Strat. The stock pickups are pretty good for a guitar of its price. And it even comes with 21 frets in the style of classic old-school Strats.

Jackson X Series Dinky DK3XR HSS

I’d also like to feature Jackson’s X Series Dinky, the DK3XR HSS model. It’s another cheaper model that outperforms its price category. This one is designed to be a metal-oriented shred machine.

There’s a pretty thin neck on this beast. And on top of it, we have a laurel fretboard with a compound radius. And there’s also a licensed Floyd Rose tremolo bridge.

Finally, the guitar comes with pretty decent Jackson pickups. The HSS combo is accompanied by a standard 5-way selector switch, although there’s no coil-split feature for the humbucker.  

HSS Guitar: Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you think through what an HSS guitar is and whether this instrument is for you.

And if you want to read more about pickup configurations on this blog, then check out:

Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!

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