Tex Mex Vs Texas Special: What’s the Difference & Which Is Better?

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If you’re wondering about Tex Mex vs Texas Special strat pickup setups, this post is for you.

In short:

Tex Mex Stratocaster pickups have a stronger output than a Strat’s baseline pickups and are generally a step up from them with great versatility for playing in different genres. On the other hand, Texas Specials have an even stronger output than the Tex Mex pickup setup with excellent dynamic response but also a higher price tag than the Tex Mex setup.

I’ll unpack this more in the sections below.

Classic Stratocaster Pickups

Some say that the Stratocaster is the perfect electric guitar. And in a way, they might be right. After all, this guitar comes with the same timeless features that it had back in the 1950s. And these features have become timeless because of their extraordinary popularity.

This includes the pickups. Sure, there have been some minor changes. But in most cases, Stratocasters still come with three single-coil pickups as they have had for decades. Despite the evolution of these pickups, they always aimed for that sharp, jangly tone.

The guitar also comes with a 5-way selector switch. And what’s especially interesting is the in-between pickup positions. Bridge and middle or neck and middle give that bright snappy tone.

These days, you can find a lot of variations to Stratocaster-style single-coil pickups. However, they usually have the same basic character that many have grown to love over the years.

And in this guide, we’ll explore the Tex Mex and Texas Special Stratocaster pickup setup. We’ll compare them and see how they perform and which might be best for you.

Tex Mex

Tex-Mex Pickups | Fender
You can get a sense of Fender’s Tex Mex pickup sound in this video!

For the most part, Fender’s Tex Mex pickups are the classic Stratocaster set. However, they come with a little twist. Compared to the regular Strat pickups, they have a stronger output.

At the same time, the manufacturers at Fender kept most of the classic Strat tone features. For instance, it still has staggered pole pieces. This is what you find on most Fender pickups, balancing the output of all strings. This is all due to their rounder fretboard radiuses of Strat.

They also have Alnico 5 magnets as well as Polysol-coated magnet wire. These features bring well-known brightness to the tone. Plus, they help retain the much-appreciated dynamic response.

However, you’ll find that the bridge pickup is the most overwound one. This may reduce the dynamic response. But it can also help you get a dirtier tone. It’s really interesting to hear it plugged into a vintage or vintage-style Fender tube amp.

In some ways, you could say that Tex Mex pickups are a combination of modern and vintage features. From my experience, they gravitate more towards modern tones. Sure, they’re still single-coils. But they’re very useful for modern instrumental prog rock. I’m talking about stuff like Chon, Polyphia, Intervals, and Plini.

By adjusting volume and tone knobs on your guitar, you can also get some vintage tones. I find them to be pretty versatile if you know how to use them.

Custom Shop Texas Special

Texas Special Pickups | Fender

Texas Special pickups are some of Fender’s finest. However, with that also comes a substantially higher price. You’ll find these on plenty of Fender Custom Shop guitars.

Once again, they have a classic Fender single-coil design. The pickups come with staggered pole pieces. These are Alnico 5 magnets and they come with polysol-coated magnet wire. These traits also help bring the classic Fender Strat tone.

And they once again have a stronger output. In fact, they’re hotter than Tex Mex. Maybe not as much as active pickups. However, you’ll most likely have to use your volume knob and adjust to different settings.

But there’s one thing that really makes these pickups impressive. Despite their hotter output, they still retain some of the sonic traits that we love about Strat pickups.

Firstly, they have a pretty solid dynamic response. You can notice all of the nuances if you’re playing through a tube-driven amp. This is all especially pronounced on tube amps. And if you play through a Fender amp with classic 6L6 tubes, you’re in for a treat. In simple terms, you’ll get the ultimate blues and blues-rock tone.

Secondly, these pickups sound like Strat pickups. Sure, they have some of their characteristics as well. But even blindfolded, you’ll notice the classic Stratocaster tone.

In the end, I should point out again that they’re expensive. They’re not unobtainable and they fit any standard Strat. But they cost as much as a Squier Strat Affinity guitar.

Tex Mex Vs Texas Special: How Do These Pickups Compare?

Without hesitation, I can confidently say that Texas Specials are the best single-coils on the market that I know of. Of course, this is subjective. But, on the other hand, you see plenty of different guitar players rocking them.

They’re great for prog rock, blues, jazz, hard rock, and even some heavy metal. And in my experience, they’re the best option for blues music. So if you’re aiming for that Stevie Ray Vaughan tone, I highly recommend Texas Special pickups.

Tex Mex are a cheaper variant, although they’re still what I’d call pro-tier pickups. From my experience, they’re a bit more versatile. It’s like a Jack of all trades kind of deal. They can get you covered for plenty of genres. They’re even more versatile than Texas Special pickups.

However, Texas Specials are objectively better for many use-cases. They’re versatile, although not as versatile as Tex Mex. But you’ll find them to be the best option for blues music. A Texas Special set is an essential component for the classic Texas blues kind of tone.

As far as the price goes, some may be discouraged by it. But trust me, I’ve heard the cheapest Squier Strat equipped with Texas Special pickups. And they turned it into a real mean blues machine. In my opinion, it’s a purchase you won’t regret, especially if you play blues-rock music.

You can’t go wrong with Tex Mex pickups either. But if you ask me, Texas Specials are the investment if you want to hot-rod your Strat.  

Tex Mex Vs Texas Special: Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you think through which pickups are best for you and your situation!

And if you want to read more about pickups on this blog, check out:

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

5 Responses

  1. Very clear and useful info. Thanks!

    1. Thanks!

      Glad this post could help!

  2. TJ Minasi says:

    Ok, 2012 Fender Player Plus Top Standard pickups sound shrill and harsh compared to the 2000-ish Strat Lonestar Texas Specials. Can I get that tone with Tex-Mex PUs on the MIM Player Plus Top?.. playing through Recent DRRI with Alessandro 12SCeramic Speaker.

  3. Martyn Addison. says:

    Very very useful indeed. I knew the sound of Texas specials but had never heard tex mex next to them.

    1. Glad to hear that Martyn! Thanks for your kind words!

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