The Stratocaster has one of the most recognizable sounds and a large part of that sound is because of the humble single coil pickup.
But a harsh truth about single coil pickups is that they aren’t the best at canceling out the dreaded 60 cycle hum. Luckily, noiseless strat pickups are the perfect substitute to reduce unwanted hum while maintaining the classic Strat sound.
5 Best Noiseless Single Coil Pickups for Stratocaster Guitars
Table of Contents
- 5 Best Noiseless Single Coil Pickups for Stratocaster Guitars
- Are Noiseless Strat Pickups the Same Thing As Single Coil Sized Humbuckers?
- Buying Only Pickups vs. Pre-wired Pickguards
- Active vs. Passive Pickups – Which Offer Better Noise Cancelation?
- Should You Go for Less Known Brands?
The Fender Gen 4 Noiseless pickups are touted as the closest sounding alternatives single coils ever made. While they do come fairly close, I don’t think they are as close as Fender would make them out to be.
At least that was my experience comparing them side by side. I don’t mean that they aren’t close, they are, very. But there is a slightly noticeable difference between the pickups.
On clean, with the neck pickup selected, I noticed a bit more bottom end on the Gen 4's compared to the single coils. That extra bottom end did fade as I switched to the middle pickup and disappear almost completely on the bridge pickup.
I also noticed that the Gen 4's are slightly less bright than normal single coils. The Gen 4’s are a bit crisper sounding, with none of the slight dullness on notes like the single coils.
Moving over to overdrive and distortion, I actually noticed less of a difference between the pickups. The single coils are very slightly brighter than the Gen 4’s. I feel like the Gen 4’s do have a little bit more twang on the bridge pickup, but they are otherwise almost identical.
The situation is similar with distortion. The two pickups are very close tonally, although I think the Gen 4’s have a bit more bite. It is very minor and I am not sure if it was just because I was comparing them so closely.
The only issue I really have with the Gen 4’s is that the sound does get a bit dirty when pushing the gain too high. Other than that, I think Fender has done an incredible job making a noiseless pickup that is so close to true single coils.
They do also come in a vintage variant if you’re looking for that old-school Fender sound.
The Mojo Tone ’58 Quiet Coil is a fantastic replacement kit for any Stratocaster. It’s super easy to install and sounds great.
The best way I can describe the sound on these pickups is ‘lively and bright’. On clean, the pickups have a nice and smooth tone. It has a bit of warmth that I really like, while still having a vibrant brightness.
Even when I switched to overdrive, the pickups kept their liveliness and brightness without becoming harsh like some other pickups tend to do. I did notice a bit of hum with both the bridge and middle pickups selected.
It isn’t too big of an issue and probably just because the bridge pickup is an auto-tapped humbucker.
That bridge humbucker does set the ’58 apart from other single coil pickup sets. This is a change that I like though since it lets you play a wider variety of genres.
I play a bunch of different genres and styles, and this kit lets me quickly jump between styles and sound on the same guitar.
Perhaps the real selling point of the ’58 Quiet Coil, for me, is that the bottom tone knob acts as a blender. What this means is that it blends the tones of different pickups depending on the selector switch’s position.
For example, position one blends the neck pickup in with the bridge, and position four blends the bridge in with the middle and neck. I think this lets you fine-tune your guitar tone to get exactly the sound you want.
I have never really been a fan of these pre-wired pickups and pickguard kits. They usually aren’t as easy to install as they claim and need a bit of tinkering to make fit on a guitar.
The ’58 Quiet Coil did surprise me in this regard, however, and was actually a fairly simple installation. My only complaint would be that it wasn’t entirely solderless like Mojo Tone claims. The input jack did still need to be soldered.
I have become increasingly fond of Fishman Fluence pickups over the last couple of years. I think they just have this full, rich, and clean tone that is unlike any other pickup out there. These Strat-style single coils are no different.
My first impression when testing these pickups was just how well-balanced Fishman has made these pickups with regards to frequency response. I feel it helps capture that special something that makes the vintage Strat tone so renowned.
This balance means that you’re getting a very full tone that combines that vintage twang of a classic Strat with smooth mids and a very nice bottom end. This fullness is underpinned by a clear and open top end.
If the vintage Strat tone wasn’t enough to get me to like these pickups, they also have a second, Hot Texas tone. The Hot Texas tone beefs up the mids on the pickups and increases the output that adds some real toughness. I like that even with the beefed-up mids, the pickups maintain their clarity and brightness.
These are active pickups, and I don’t usually like active pickups. I too have often had the batteries in active pickups die at inopportune times. They also sometimes feel like they lose a bit of character at the cost of higher output.
But I didn’t really notice them feeling flat compared to passive pickups. There is also an optional battery pack available for the kit that should get you through many more gigs than a standard 9V battery. I might actually recommend getting the battery pack.
As for installing the kit, it is definitely among the easier ones to install, but there is some assembly required.
It only took me about 15 minutes start to finish to get the kit installed and set up on my guitar, but it might take a bit longer if you’ve never installed a pickup kit.
One of the most common reasons for replacing the pickups that come with a guitar is to upgrade. Especially if you have a more budget or mid-level guitar that has fairly cheap pickups, but you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on replacements.
The Fender Hot Noiseless pickups fit that niche for me quite nicely. They are very affordable while providing a substantial upgrade over stock pickups.
I got a nice and clear tone from them while playing clean. Moving to overdrive, the pickups gave me a very snappy attack and hot tone. The pickups are also well-balanced and I didn’t notice any particular frequency range overpowering the others.
I had no issues installing the pickups either. They are completely solderless and it took me just a few minutes to take out the old pickups in my guitar and put the Hot Noiseless pickups in. I would suggest that anyone not that familiar with replacing pickups take their time and thoroughly go over the instructions.
For the guitarists that value aesthetics almost as much as they value tone, I would say the Fender Hot Noiseless pickups deliver equally in both regards. Their aged white color gives them a real vintage look.
They will fit perfectly with any Fender, especially if you don’t want your pickups to clash with the vintage aesthetics of your guitar.
My only real issue with these pickups is that there are pickups at this price point that have a bit more of a vibrant sound. I also noticed a little bit of noise bleed when I had the gain turned up to max.
I also think they are a bit better suited to jazz and blues. I can’t really picture using these pickups to play Zeppelin covers, but that doesn’t make them bad by any measure.
If you are like me, then you probably don’t really associate EMG pickups with a Fender Strat sound. But like Gill, Urban, and Gilmour have shown, EMGs can capture the Strat sound amazingly well.
The EMG SA Actives are hot pickups, very hot. The output on these pickups is fantastic, but if you feel they are too hot, I find that their height can easily be adjusted to cool them off a bit.
As for how they sound, I got very big, open, and airy highs with excellent presence while playing. I also really like the beefy mids and strong bottom end that the SA Actives provide.
I didn’t notice any frequency range being overpowering, and the pickups are really well-balanced. What I was especially impressed by was the balance going from string to string and note to note.
Both the pickups and the controls are very sensitive. I had precise control over the tone and volume while playing with the Actives. Very slight adjustments gave me noticeable changes to tone and volume.
Their sensitivity does mean that they pick up both the good and the bad. I think guitarists who have a dirtier playstyle should rather look at other options.
The SA Actives are also not what I would call quiet, but silent. Even though they’re called noiseless pickups, they still have a slight hum. These pickups, however, were virtually silent. I only noticed a slight hum when I got closer to my amp and really listened.
Even though the SA Actives are solderless, they do have a lot of parts. It took me some time to get them installed and I think a lot of guitarists will be put off by that.
It wasn’t difficult, the instructions are easy enough to follow and the quick connect cables are very convenient. I just felt it could have been a quicker installation process.
If you’re only looking to replace one of your pickups, the EMG SA pickups can also be bought individually.
Are Noiseless Strat Pickups the Same Thing As Single Coil Sized Humbuckers?
The short answer is no, they aren’t the same. While both noiseless pickups and humbuckers are designed to cancel out 60 cycle hum, they are designed to sound differently.
Humbuckers have a much bigger, warmer, and more aggressive sound than single coils. The problem is that many Fenders only have cavities large enough for single coils.
This is where noiseless Strat pickups come in. They provide the hum cancelation of a humbucker while maintaining the sound of a Strat single coil.
Buying Only Pickups vs. Pre-wired Pickguards
I would say that buying pickups versus buying a pre-wired kit is really up to what you’re looking for and your skillset.
Many pickup kits require soldering, so if that is something you can’t or don’t want to do, I would suggest going with a pre-wired kit. They usually don’t require much or even any soldering and are fairly easy to install.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for specific pickups, they might not be available in pre-wired kits. So, you’ll have to pay extra to have the pickups installed if you can’t install them yourself.
Active vs. Passive Pickups – Which Offer Better Noise Cancelation?
Objectively speaking, active pickups are better at noise reduction than passive pickups. There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, active pickups use less copper which means they are less susceptible to interference from lights and digital signals. This also allows them to handle distortion much better without clipping or the signal becoming dirty.
Secondly, active pickups have a lower noise floor than passive pickups. This helps them to reduce the unwanted hiss that can often cause problems on passives.
Active pickups also have much less feedback than passives, giving you a much cleaner sound.
That doesn’t mean you should just go with active pickups. I think that passive pickups have gotten to a point where they handle noise much better and they will likely just continue to get better.
Should You Go for Less Known Brands?
I have often been surprised by the quality of smaller or less known brands. While established brands are established because of the high quality they offer, less known brands sometimes bring something unique that big brands don’t.
There are definitely risks when you go with a less known brand. I always recommend doing as much research as possible but don’t disregard a brand just because you haven’t heard of them.
And there you have it, some of my picks for the best noiseless Strat pickups and that they will help you keep the Stratocaster sound and get rid of that annoying 60 cycle hum.