The Stratocaster is one of the most iconic guitars. And having such an iconic look and sound, there is a generally agreed upon design for the Strat: S-shape body, big headstock, and two to three single coil pickups.
But what if you want that iconic look and feel, but a different sound? Well, a Strat sporting one or more humbuckers has become increasingly popular over the last few years, transforming the blues legend into a modern rock and metal machine.
Top 3 - Strats with Humbuckers
Fender Jim Root Stratocaster
Squier Contemporary HH FR
Fender Player Stratocaster HSH
Here are my picks for the best Stratocasters with humbuckers.
Best Stratocasters with Humbucker Pickups
Table of Contents
- Best Stratocasters with Humbucker Pickups
- Single Coils vs Humbuckers
- Can You Replace a Strat's Single Coils with Humbuckers?
- Active vs Passive
1. Fender Jim Root Stratocaster
Fender guitars aren’t often considered as metal guitars. But Slipknot’s Jim Root is one of the most famous metal guitarists that has proven that Fenders can be just as heavy as a Jackson or Ibanez guitar.
His signature Fender Stratocaster is a very interesting instrument. While it certainly looks like a Strat, it plays and sounds like something completely different.
The guitar has the same design as any other modern Fender Strat. It has a Strat body with the Modern C neck found on Strats these days. It even has the big Fender headstock, but it doesn’t feel quite the same as other Strats to me.
It feels more like a Strat-style Charvel or Jackson. But I think this might be due to the guitar’s sound being so different from a Strat, that it’s changing my entire perception of the guitar.
The different sound of this guitar is very much due to the two EMG humbucker pickups it uses. This guitar sounds nothing like a Strat.
It has a much more aggressive, edgy sound. Distortion also sounds fantastic, but that isn’t surprising with EMG pickups.
The clean tones are also very different. The guitar doesn’t have any of the signature Strat twang. Instead, it is much warmer and much more rounded.
The black finish of the body and ebony fingerboard also give the guitar a very nice modern, metal look. The only thing I think I would have changed on the guitar would be to give it a slightly smaller, more modern headstock.
2. Squier Contemporary HH FR
Squier might often be considered the ‘cheap’ alternative to Fender, but they do make some genuinely fantastic instruments. The Squier Contemporary is a great example of a Squier guitar being much better than you expect it to be.
The Contemporary feels just as great to play as any modern Strat. The build quality is fantastic, and I didn’t find any issue on the guitar.
But the tone is where the Contemporary really stands out. It is a fantastic sounding guitar that sounds like it costs twice as much as it does.
The Squier SQR Atomic humbuckers on the guitar are surprisingly good. They have a nice and heavy, modern distorted tone.
The cleans are also much warmer and fuller like you would expect with humbuckers. But there is still a nice bit of chime present.
My favorite part of the Contemporary is definitely the Floyd Rose tremolo. This isn’t something you often see on an entry-level guitar, and even less on a Strat.
The Floyd Rose helps to keep the guitar in tune for much longer. This is often an issue on cheaper guitars, especially Squiers.
It also opens up what you can do when it comes to the whammy bar. I like a good dive bomb myself.My biggest issue with the Squier Contemporary is the black finish on the headstock. It just doesn’t fit with the rest of the guitar’s look, and just feels like it belongs on a completely different guitar.
3. Fender Player Stratocaster HSH
Fender’s Player series might be considered their entry-level guitars, there is nothing entry-level about their quality.
The Player Stratocaster HSH might be my favorite in the entire Player range. It feels like a Fender Strat, but with a bit more bite.
The Player Series Alnico II humbuckers on this guitar aren’t quite as aggressive as the humbuckers on some of the other guitars on this list. While they distort really well, I feel like they sound best with more of a hard rock tone.
While testing the guitar, I played a few Joe Satriani riffs and found the pickups sounding particularly great with that type of tone.
Moving over to the clean tone, these pickups are also a bit brighter than the other humbuckers. There is also enough low end and midrange present to give the guitar a well-balanced tone.
I find the clean tone to be surprisingly pleasant. Having a nice blend of brightness and warmth, giving the clean sound almost a ‘summer vibe’.
While it isn’t quite the same, you can still get a little bit of that Strat twang with the middle single coil pickup. Especially in position 2 of the pickup selector when the single coil and outer coil of the bridge humbucker are active.
The Player Strat is a really remarkable guitar and an easy recommend. While it does come in a few different finishes, I would go with the tobacco sunburst so that you can at least pretend you are playing on an SRV signature Strat.
4. Squier Affinity Series Stratocaster HH
Squier’s Affinity series of guitars are designed to be the perfect beginner guitars. They offer great comfortability and decent sound to help any new guitarists begin their journey.
The Affinity Stratocaster HH has all the basic features you would expect on a modern Strat. A comfortable body, smooth C-shape neck, and quality hardware.
The Affinity Strat does feel great to play. I actually don’t have any complaints about the overall feel and build quality of the guitar. It’s about on par with any other, more expensive Squier.
I did have to adjust the string action a bit, but other than that the guitar was pretty much playable right out of the box.
Just like with the Squier Contemporary, the pickups on this guitar sound a lot better than I expected them to. But the Fender Ceramic humbuckers aren’t quite in the same league as the SQR Atomics.
The pickups do have a nice modern distorted sound. They handle high levels of gain really well, and have a nice bit of bite. But I feel like the pickups are lacking character.
This is especially evident when playing clean. While the clean tone isn’t bad, it’s also just not very exciting. They are very middle of the road. Designed to not sound bad, but also not good.
But I can’t really deduct too many points because the guitar doesn’t have an exciting sound. This is a firmly beginner, budget-level guitar.
As a beginner guitar, though, the Affinity Strat is pretty good. It plays well and sounds good enough for anyone just starting out.
5. Fender Dave Murray Stratocaster
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden might be the only metal guitarist more famous than Jim Root that also plays Fender guitars. And just like Root, Murray’s signature Fender Stratocaster is a very unique instrument.
Murray’s Strat does look a lot more like a traditional Strat. With its sunburst finish and rosewood fretboard, it looks more like what you would expect a Strat to look like.
It even has pickups that look like single coils. But looking closer, you will notice that these aren’t your normal single coils.
That is because these are single coil sized humbuckers. Specifically, the Dave Murray Strat uses Seymour Duncan Hot Rails for the bridge and neck, and a JB Jr. in the middle.
The first time I saw single coil sized humbuckers, I didn’t think they would sound like full-sized humbuckers. But just like that first time, hearing the humbuckers on this Strat surprised me with just how good they are.
They are quite different from the EMGs on the Jim Root signature, however. Where those pickups have a very modern metal sound, these are much more of a classic hard rock tone.
I also feel like that have a lot more attitude. They aren’t as aggressive, but certainly sound ‘hotter’ than the EMGs.
The clean tone is quite thick and mellow. It leans more to the jazz side, and I actually prefer the clean sound of the EMGs and even the SQR Atomics. But adding some highs with the amp’s EQ helped to even out the clean tone a bit.
Single Coils vs Humbuckers
So, why choose humbuckers over single coils? Well, there are a few reasons why you would want humbuckers.
The biggest reason would simply be for their sound. Humbuckers are much more aggressive, with a fuller, punchier sound than single coils.
Depending on the humbuckers in the guitar, they also have a very modern sound. Single coils generally always have a more vintage tone, regardless of who made them.
Humbuckers also have a much better time when it comes to high amounts of distortion. Single coils can quickly sound muddy when too much distortion is pushed through them, while humbuckers will still sound clear.
Which brings us to the second reason you would want humbuckers: noise reduction. There is a thing called 60-cycle hum. Without going into too much detail, this is basically what causes the slight buzzing you can hear on single coil pickups.
Humbuckers, however, cancel out this 60-cycle hum, reducing or even getting rid of noise entirely. This means that you don’t have to worry about unwanted noise, and don’t need any external hardware to deal with noise.
Can You Replace a Strat's Single Coils with Humbuckers?
The short answer is yes, absolutely. The longer answer is it depends on a few things.
The only real limitation on what type of pickups you can put in a guitar is the size of the pickup cavity. A standard Strat will have cavities that are large enough for single coil pickups, but too small to fit humbuckers.
Luckily, if you have some wood working skills, it is just a simple matter of making the cavity big enough so that you can fit a humbucker inside.
But most of us either don’t have the necessary skills or tools for such a job. And even if we do, the risk of something going wrong might seem too high.
But if you remember back to the Dave Murray signature Strat, I spoke about the humbuckers in that guitar being single coil sized. These are great because they offer an easy solution for Strat players who want to swap out their single coils for humbuckers.
They are pretty much pop in and play, only requiring some minor soldering. But you at least don’t need to cut holes into your precious instrument.
Or you can buy entire sets if you want to replace all of your pickups, like the Seymour Duncan Red Devils. There are even prewired kits like the Seymour Duncan Fully Loaded Liberator that you pretty much just pop into your guitar and off you go.
Active vs Passive
Another thing to consider when buying any guitar with humbuckers is whether they are active or passive.
To put it simply, active pickups aren’t as sensitive as passives. This makes their signal much weaker than passives. To counter this, active pickups use a battery powered preamp to boost their signal.
This results in active pickups having a much higher output level than passives. Active pickups are considerably louder than passive pickups.
The downside of active pickups is that they aren’t as dynamic and vibrant as passive pickups. Plenty of guitarists also argue that active pickups sound ‘soulless’.
Not to mention the fact that you have to replace the batteries every few shows to make sure your pickups don’t die in the middle of a performance.
Where some might think that putting anything other than single coils in a Strat is just wrong, I think humbuckers can take the iconic guitar even further. Such a simple change turns the Strat into a brand new beast that packs a mean punch.