Best Humbuckers for Stratocasters – Bridge, Neck & Sets!

Author: Dedrich Schafer | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

The Stratocaster is known for its unique look and sound. Its iconic three single coil configuration is a big part of that look and sound.

But what if you want a Strat with a twist? What if you want a Strat that has a bit more growl and bite to it?

You put a humbucker in it, of course. Here are 7 of the best humbuckers to put in your Stratocaster.

Best Humbuckers for Stratocasters

1. Seymour Duncan Hot Rails

The Seymour Duncan Hot Rails are perfectly named. It gives you a clear idea of what this pickup sounds like.

This is indeed a hot pickup. It actually sounds more like an active pickup than a passive. It has some real attitude and bite to it.

There is a very lovely midrange crunch. A lot of the top end has been rolled back compared to a standard Strat bridge pickup. But there is still enough brightness present.

The clean tone is also great. It is a lot fuller and warmer than a stock Strat bridge pickup.

That actually describes the overall tone of this pickup really well. It is just full, rich, and hot.

This pickup is quite sensitive. I noticed that finger picking created a bit of noise. You have to play really clean if you want your finger picking to sound good.

The look might also be an issue for some. I like the modern look of the pickup, but I know a lot of people prefer their Strat to keep its vintage look. 

If you want to give your Strat some extra edge, this is a great bridge pickup to have.


2. Seymour Duncan Little ‘59

Don’t let the name of the Seymour Duncan Little ‘59s fool you. The sound of these pickups is anything but little.

These pickups have a really cool sound. They are closer to PAFs than modern humbuckers. This gives them quite a vintage sound. 

These are great if you want to keep your Strat’s vintage tone. It is a bit warmer and thicker than a single coil, but still has a nice bit of twang to it.

The clean tone leans more in to the warm and bassy tone. There isn’t as much brightness compared to when you have the gain turned up.

I was also impressed by how responsive these pickups are. They handle dynamics very well. You will be able to have a very expressive sound by changing your picking or switching over to finger picking.

This is a great pickup for genres like blues and jazz. While the set is a bit expensive, I would recommend going for it. The pickups are available individually, but the set makes it easier to experiment.

You can use any configuration of pickups, HSS, HHS, HSH, etc. And since these pair great with single coils, experimenting with it would be very worthwhile.


3. EVH Frankenstein

The EVH Frankenstein might be the most expensive pickup on this list, but for what you are getting, I think it is more than worth the price.

This is just such a fantastic pickup. But then again, everything EVH makes is fantastic.

Before you even play anything through this pickup, the quality is on display. This is just a well made pickup.

I was especially impressed with the wiring. The Frankenstein has a braided wire. So, no worries about the wire ever breaking. Then you start playing and are greeted with a tone very reminiscent of Van Halen himself. This pickup has some serious growl.

The overall tone is very well-balanced. But I would say that it leans more to the low end. The low end is very powerful and chewy. You can get some really big, crunchy rock chords. Individual notes also squeeze out very nicely. Solos are able to really screech and scream.

Eddie was quite known for his harmonics. So, naturally, I played some to test them out.  And to little surprise, but a lot of amazement, harmonics sound incredible through this pickup.

If you want to give your Strat a massive, energetic rock tone, this is the pickup for you.


4. DiMarzio Super Distortion

After market pickups might be common these days, but it wasn’t always like that. It wasn’t until 1972 when Larry DiMarzio introduced the world to the Super Distortion, that guitarists had options beside the stock pickups their guitars came with.

The Super Distortion didn’t just change the pickup game, but arguably changed rock ‘n roll. This pickup might even be considered the OG sound of rock.

And I am inclined to agree. This pickup is fat, mean, and aggressive. The way rock should be. The lows and mids are boosted, giving you a big wall of sound. That wall of sound is accompanied by a quick and sharp attack. 

The clean tone of the Super Distortion is quite pleasant, but I think playing anything other than a ton of gain feels wrong. This pickup should be played at 11. Anything less just isn’t quite as fun.

DiMarzio also offers a variety of different colors. Go for the black for that modern look, or cream if you want to keep your Strat looking vintage.

If you are willing to spend extra, I would highly suggest the chrome. It is just such a cool and sharp look. 


5. Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB

The SH-4 JB from Seymour Duncan is an exceptional pickup. So exceptional, in fact, that it has been used by guitarists like Jeff Beck, Dave Mustaine, and even Kurt Cobain. 

The Sh-4 JB is a bit brighter than humbuckers usually are. There is nice definition in the highs and mids. The lows are also still present to prevent the pickup from sounding thin.

It performs very well under high levels of gain. Chords are crunchy and powerful, while notes are crisp and clear.

The clean tone is also good. It has a nice brightness and defintion. Although, it isn’t completely clean as I did notice a slight crunch was still present.

Just like the Super Distortion, the SH-4 JB comes in a variety of colors. You can choose between modern, vintage, or a mix. There is even a nickel cover that I like for more of a P90 look.

Of course, this is a full sized humbucker. So, you will either need space in your Strat already, or you will need to make space to fit this pickup.

But the quality, along with the fairly affordable price, makes it a worthwhile upgrade for any Strat.


6. DiMarzio Area 58

Single coils and humbuckers are quite different pickups. Both have their own unique sounds, and come with their own pros and cons.

The DiMarzio Area 58, however, manages to combine the two. Creating a pickup that will appeal to both single coil and humbucker lovers.

I think the Area 58 is actually quite close to a Strat single coil in terms of sound. It has a similarly sparkling, bright tone.

There is a touch of warmth to it, though. This rounds out the sound a bit more, and since this is a humbucker, it also has some more weight.

You won’t compromise on the Strat’s iconic sound with this pickup. If anything, I think the Area 58 can even improve the sound, giving you a Strat that can do even more than it already can.

The Area 58 is also great if you are concerned about the look of your Strat. It has a look similar to standard Strat pickups. They also come in Aged White, if you want a vintage look.

Overall, I would say this is the perfect upgrade for single coils. It has a tone that doesn’t differ too much, with the advantages that come with a humbucker. 


7. Seymour Duncan Duckbuckers

The Seymour Duncan Duckbuckers are in the same vein as the DiMarzio Area 58. It is a pickup that aims to retain that single coil sound, with the added benefits that come with humbuckers.

I think this is something that the Duckbuckers achieve quite well. But that isn’t to say that the two pickups are the same.

The Duckbuckers have a brighter, twangier tone, even more than some standard Strat pickups I have heard. That brightness is countered by a bit more low end, giving the Duckbuckers a more rounded and fuller sound.

Since this is a humbucker, it also handles high levels of gain much better. You can really push the distortion for a heavier sound.

My only issue with the Duckbuckers is the output. It has quite a low output for a humbucker.

I am not sure if it is my mind playing tricks, but they even sound a little weaker that a single coil. I had the volume on my guitar all the way up and had to really push my amp as well.

But other than that small issue, I still really like the Duckbuckers. They are a great choice if you want a humbucker that is quite close to the sound of a single coil.


Why Put a Humbucker in a Strat?

Apart from the change in sound, humbuckers also reduce noise. This is because they are wound in such a way that they cancel out the 60 cycle hum.

This can help to give you a cleaner sound, especially when you play with a lot of distortion and other effects.

Humbuckers also have more output and are hotter. You don’t need to turn your volume up as much, and are left with more headroom. This allows you to get even more volume out of your guitar, as well aiding better sounding distortion.

Difference in Sound

As I just mentioned, the change in sound is a big reason for many to put humbuckers in their Strats. Humbuckers are warmer and fuller than single coils.

But it isn’t just going from a bright tone to a warm tone. Humbuckers can differ a lot in terms of sound.

Some humbuckers are very warm, with a lot of low end. Others are more balanced and have a more rounded tone. And some humbuckers are designed to be as close to the single coil sound as possible.

You can get humbuckers to completely change the sound of your Strat. While other humbuckers won’t change the sound that much, but will still get rid of the single coil noise.

Configuration

Strats typically have three single coils. We refer to this as an SSS configuration, S meaning single coil.

Replacing one or more of the single coils allows you to change the configuration of your pickups. You can either have one humbucker and two single coils, have all humbuckers, or any other type of configuration.

For example, you can have a bridge humbucker, with a middle and neck single coil. This would be an HSS configuration.

Or you can have a bridge and neck humbucker, with a middle single coil, HSH. Or maybe remove the middle completely for an HH configuration.

What this means is that you can put the humbucker and single coils in any position, depending on the type of sound you want.

If you want a more aggressive sound for lead and rhythm, put a humbucker in the bridge position. Maybe you like the single coil sound at the bridge, but you want warmer cleans. You would then put a humbucker in the neck position.

The options for customization on a Strat when you are using both humbuckers and single coils are nearly endless.

Which Strats Can Have Humbuckers?

Technically speaking, you can put a humbucker in any Strat. Your only real limitation is the size of the pickup cavity.

Most Strat have single coil sized pickup cavities. Luckily, plenty of humbuckers are single coil sized, like the Duckbuckers or the Hot Rails.

There are Strats like the Squier Classic Vibe that have a bridge cavity big enough for a full sized humbucker. There are also other pickup configurations like the Player Stratocaster HSH.

There isn’t really much of a difference in sound between a single coil sized humbucker and a full humbucker. Many guitarists do say that single coil sized humbuckers don’t have quite the same tone or power. But it is so small that no one other than guitarists are ever likely going to notice.

If your Strat doesn’t have the right size cavities, or doesn’t have enough, you can make them bigger. This does require that you cut into your guitar’s body.

Unless you know what you are doing, or know a good luthier, I wouldn’t really recommend this. The risk of damaging is just too great for it to be worth it, not to mention the cost involved.

Your best bet is just to get humbuckers that are going to fit. That way you can also easily swap them out for different ones, or if you don’t like the humbucker sound.

Conclusion

If you are looking to give your Strat some more bite, humbuckers are a great option. It is also easier than ever to get a humbucker that will fit, and plenty of Strats even come with humbuckers as standard.

The options for great humbuckers are also so many. And I hope this article has given you a few of those options. Maybe you even decide to pick one of the pickups on this list.

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About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitar player, songwriter and sound engineer with extensive music production and studio experience. He mostly listens to classic rock and punk bands, but sometimes also likes listening to rap and acoustic songs.

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