Tone Talk - Best Vintage Strat Pickups

Tone Talk - Best Vintage Strat Pickups

If you're after vintage guitar tone, it's hard to look past the forefather of guitar tone, the Stratocaster. Popular in pretty much every style of music from funk through to metal, the Stratocaster gets its unique and distinct tone from its classic trio of single-coil The best vintage Strat pickups deliver vintage tones with modern features and we've got some great offerings from Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, Tonerider, Wilkinson, and more!

Before we get into the best vintage Strat pickups available today, let's have a look at how the Strat has remained such a popular choice for guitar players of all styles.

Pickup Design

We believe it’s down to the classic three pickup design, which allows for not only a wide variety of sounds, but a signature sound that’s inherent to the Strat itself. In our humble opinion the Telecaster is actually a more versatile guitar if you want something that can imitate sounds, but what the Strat has is a sound all of its own. A sound you’ll find difficult to emulate with any other type of guitar, be it a Tele or an LP.

To find out how the Strat creates its iconic tones, we delved deeper into the manufacturing history of Strat pickups…

How it’s Made

Initially introduced in 1954, the traditional Fender Strat had three single-coil pickups that were comparatively simple in terms of design, particularly for that era where it competed with Filter’Trons, PAFs, and P-90s. There are three essential parts in a Strat Pickups, the ‘bobbins’ (aka flats), six magnetic pole pieces (aka slugs), and of course, magnetic wire wraps.


For the most part Fender initially used vulcanised fibreboard to construct their pickup bobbins and whilst it doesn’t affect the tone in any particularly discernible way, it can help to identify the era the pickups were made. The first Strat pickups had a black fibreboard, which then changed to grey in early 1964.

Strat Bobbins

Interestingly on Strat pickups the pole pieces are held into the fibreboard plates by friction alone, and this is possible because vulcanised fibreboard is such a durable material. The simplicity of this design is undoubtedly part of what makes the Strat such a popular design.

Pole Pieces

Fender also took a new approach when it came to the bobbins of their Strat pickups, creating staggered heights with their pole pieces (aka slugs) to allow for better string to string balance. Over time the diameter of the pole pieces has narrowed, creating a more focused magnetic field which delivered a brighter, tighter tone compared to earlier iterations from the 50s.

Strat Polepieces

The type of Alnico used also changed, with Fender starting with Alnico III on the earliest Strat designs, before moving to Alnico V from 1955 onwards. The higher power of Alnico V is what separates it from earlier iterations, and gives classic guitars their sought after 'vintage' tone.

Magnetic Wire

Fender has used wire with two different types of coating, plain enamel and heavy formvar. Initially formvar was the go to for Fender coils, before the change to plain enamel in 1964. Formvar has a heavier coating than enamel, which results in a difference in sound between the two types.

Pickup Wire

Windings varied greatly from era to era, with some being hotter and others being cooler, likely because they were hand wound by humans. Nowadays Fender pickups are wound by machines for consistency, but there are those that say coils sound better when wound by humans!

Five Way Switch

It’s not just how Strat pickups are made that lends the guitar its unique timbre, it’s also the way they are utilised with the guitar electrics that lets you create a myriad of usable guitar tones. The three-pickup line up offers a truly unique way for the different positions to interact with one another.

Strat Five Way Switch

The five way switch is the real powerhouse of Strat tone, and a huge part of how it generates its signature sound. Whereas most other guitars like LPs and Teles have a three way selector, the Strat offers an expanded sonic palette for you to play with. Allowing for combining the bridge and neck positions with the unique middle pickup, the two ‘in between’ modes offer some impressively satisfying and iconic guitar tones.


Best Strat Pickups

So now we know how the Strat generates its signature sonorant, it’s time to line up the best vintage Strat pickups, from budget all the way to boutique…

Wilkinson Vintage 60s Pickup Set

Knwon as a brand that overdelivers for the money, the Wilkinson Vintage 60s Stratocaster Pickup Set pack a serious punch! Designed to emulate classic 60s Strat pickups they offer that vintage warmth that many a guitarist desires, with sparkly cleans that dirty up nicely when pushed.

Wilkinson Vintage 60s Pickup Set

This pickup set offers a rich, smooth overall tone, with slightly hotter bridge pickup to help balance the set and add some bite. Switch to the neck for a full, glassy tone that's great for polished lead lines. The middle pickup is reverse wound and reverse polarity for hum cancelling when playing in position 2 and 4.

Shop Wilkinson Vintage 60s Pickup Set here.

Tonerider Pure Vintage for Strat

Another super popular choice that won't break the bank, the Tonerider Pure Vintage Pickup Set is a perfect upgrade for beginner and intermediate instruments if you're looking for that classic 50s Strat tone. A special coil winding machine helps create that vintage tone with loose, random coil structures as if they were wound by a human operator.

Tonerider Pure Vintage Strat Pickup Set

If you find your pickups are harsh then these will be a revelation, delivering that warm Strat sound we all love. A 'modified vintage stagger' polepiece array ensures you've got perfect string-to-string balance on any kind of Strat or Strat-style guitar.

Shop Tonerider Pure Vintage for Strat here.

Fender American Vintage '59 Strat Pickup Set

As you'd expect of a genuine Fender pickup set, these are period correct Strat pickups for authentic, traditional Fender guitar tones. Built to exacting specifications, the Fender American Vintage '59 Strat Pickup Set will make your guitar sound just like a vintage instrument.

Fender American Vintage 59 Strat Pickups Set

Formvar-coated magnet wire enhances the brightness whilst Alnico V magnets add a fantastic dynamic playing response that's warm, but focused. Staggered pole pieces balance the volume across every string and they're wax potted to prevent squealing at high volumes.

Shop Fender American Vintage '59 Strat Pickup Set here.

Seymour Duncan SSL1 California '50s Strat Pickup Set

The Seymour Duncan SSL1 California '50s Strat Pickup Set emulates those classic Strat tones that made the instrument so iconic. With a reverse wound reverse polarity middle pickup, period correct magnet stagger, and correct thickness flatwork, you can't get much closer to the real deal.

Seymour Duncan SSL1 California 50s Strat Pickup Set

They deliver a glassy, bell like tone with all the sparkle you'd expect from a great Strat pickup. There's a nice and crisp treble attack, with the low end remaining lovely and focused. Strike an open chord and you'll be astonished by the note separation!

Shop Seymour Duncan SSL1 California '50s Strat Pickup Set here.

Lollar Sixty-Four Pickup Set for Stratocaster

If you want the best in boutique pickups, then look no further than the Lollar Sixty-Four Pickup Set for Stratocaster. Featuring the hallowed pre-CBS 60s Strat-style wind, these pickups are possibly the closest match to a genuine vintage Strat pickup set that you can get!

Lollar Blackface Sixty Four Pickup Set

With scatter wound wax potted coils and Alnico V magnets that have gone through a process of purposeful degaussing to artificially age the pickups, no stone has gone unturned in Lollar's bid to deliver the perfect vintage Strat pickup. The result is a well-defined pickup set with prominent mids, clear treble, and a full low end.

Shop Lollar Sixty-Four Pickup Set for Stratocaster here.

DiMarzio Area '58 Stratocaster Pickup

With an eye firmly on dynamics and treble response, the DiMarzio Area '58 Stratocaster Pickup straddles that fine line of bright tone without sounding thin. Inspired by a '58 Strat pickup, this pup can be used in any position, although it is recommended for the neck and middle positions.

DiMarzio Area 58 Strat Pickup Set

It's very sensitive to height adjustment. Place it closer to the strings for gritty blues or further away for a purer clean tone. It's got phenomenal response to your picking hand too, going from whisper soft to fat, compressed tones. DiMarzio have also worked some magic to add hum-cancellation to this single coil, making it super quiet when you're not playing.

Shop DiMarzio Area '58 Stratocaster Pickup here.

Artec Vintage Strat Pickup Set

The Artec Vintage Pickup Set delivers a fantastic sound for an incredibly low price, punching well above their weight in terms of tone. For the money we think you'll be hard-pushed to find anything that competes with this pickup set, and despite their low price they're more than capable of competing with other sets on this list!

Artec Vintage Strat Pickup Set

The Bridge and Middle pickups feature staggered Alnico V magnets and all three are made to a similar spec of those bigger name brands, with fibreboard flats and braided hookup wire. They deliver clear, chime-like tones that are authentic to original vintage-spec Strat pickups.

Shop Artec Vintage Strat Pickup Set here.


The Strat truly is a unique proposition in the guitar world thanks to its pickup configuration. Pretty much every guitarist has one in their collection, and even Slash, known for being a lifetime Gibson user stated: ‘as far as I’m concerned and Gibson probably wouldn’t want me to say it, the Strat is, hands down, probably one of the best, most versatile guitars there is.’ Who are we to argue with that?

Learn More

Want to wire your own pickups? Check out our Guitar Wiring Guide.

For more great pickups have a look at our Best Telecaster Pickups.

The Best Les Paul Pickups are perfect for those looking for something beefier.

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