If you’re curious about the Stratocaster HSS vs SSS pickup configurations, what they mean, and which is best for you, you’ve come to the right post!
I’m not an expert on this subject exactly.
But I have played the guitar since 2003 and know a thing or two about the guitar.
So I thought I’d share what I know about these pickup configurations in this article!
Stratocaster Pickup Configurations
Fender Stratocaster is, without a doubt, one of the most influential guitar models. And most of its original 1950s traits are almost unchanged. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
But there have been some significant modifications to it. Most of them remain the same with all of the classic features. But you can find different fretboard materials, fret count, fretboard radiuses, bridges, and other features.
One particularly important distinction on Strats is the pickup configuration. Most Strats come with three single-coil pickups. But there are other variants. These include
- Humbucker-single-single (HSS)
- Two humbuckers (HH)
- Humbucker-single-humbucker (HSH)
Of course, there are also some other examples. But they are somewhat obscure. In short, aside from the triple-single-coil formation, the HSS (humbucker-single-single) is the most common one.
Stratocaster HSS Vs SSS
With that said, a lot of guitar players tend to compare these two options. There seems to be no definitive answer to which one is better. So I decided to look more into the matter and clear things up. Here are the main differences between these two Strat types.
I’m not completely sure when Fender actually introduced HSS Strats. But my research suggests the 1980s. This was the era of Super Strats which brought new twists to the model’s sonic diversity.
Fender’s HSS Stratocasters come with a very welcome addition of a humbucker in the bridge position. Sure, it’s a small change. It’s practically just one more coil in the mix, right?
Well, the truth is, this one coil changes the game. This simple modification enables you to have some heavier tones. In a way, it brought Fender Stratocaster guitars closer to classic Gibson fans. And they certainly took some of the Gibson customers.
HSS Strats also come with the regular 5-way position switch. You get essentially the same combinations of pickups. However, in most cases these days, there’s one awesome addition.
Using the push-pull action of one of the pots, you can split the humbucker. This effectively gives you a triple single-coil configuration with a flick of a switch.
These days, Fender manufactures quite a few HSS Stratocasters. For instance, there are some cheaper variants within the Player line. They usually come with only the 5-way switch and no splitting option. There’s also some Player Plus Strats that have push-pull tone knobs.
But then you have high-end examples, like the American Ultra Stratocaster HSS. You can also split the humbucker using Fender’s special S-1 switch on the volume knob. It’s a very convenient alternative to push-pull pots.
What I’m trying to highlight here is that there’s some versatility to HSS Strats. And higher-end models usually have advantages. This is especially the case with their S-1 switches.
The SSS Strats are pretty much the standard. It’s the classic configuration that’s been around since the guitar’s release in 1954. Interestingly enough, they originally had 3-way switches. You could select only one pickup at a time. The 5-way switch was introduced in 1977.
You essentially get five combinations. They’re pretty much the same as with the HSS except that there are no humbuckers to split. Instead, you get the classic single-coil in the bridge position.
This might not work for some guitar players. A lot of them favor humbuckers in the bridge position. Nonetheless, a single-coil pickup in that position has its advantages. It’s brighter and it has a much stronger attack.
You can smooth it out a little using a tone knob. And adding some compression could make it sound a bit heavier.
Which One Is Better?
If you want a short answer, then I’d easily say that HSS Strats are better than SSS Strats. And especially if they come with the humbucker split feature.
Of course, both HSS and SSS have 5-way selectors. This gives you the regular in-between options that select two pickups at the same time. This is a classic trait that Strat fans love. It’s the rich, bright, and twangy tone.
However, with a better HSS Strat, you get more options; two more and seven in total, to be precise. And to me, this is a huge advantage. For this reason, I’d always pick an HSS Strat over an SSS. You basically get both HSS and SSS guitars in one.
There are probably only two valid reasons to go with an SSS instead. Firstly, some guitar players just don’t like the hassle of having more controls. SSS is a classic pickup configuration and it’s pretty much the standard.
The second reason is that some guitar players just like the looks of it. Although it may seem weird, it’s what some expect of a Stratocaster.
So to sum it up, HSS is way more versatile and SSS is the classic simpler choice. HSS might be better for metal and hard rock due to having a humbucker. And the SSS is the classic option for country, blues, and funk.
Here’s a video of Fender’s American Ultra Stratocasters. You can also check out how SSS and HSS variants compare.
Stratocaster HSS Vs SSS: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you understand the difference between these pickup setups and which might be best for you.
If you want to read more about pickup configurations, check out my HSH vs HSS post!
And as usual, let me know in the comments if you have questions about this or another guitar-related subject!