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What Pickup delivers the Best Strat Tone?

Discussion in 'Pickup Forum' started by Shades of Blue, Oct 1, 2008.

  1. Shades of Blue

    Shades of Blue Most Honored Senior Member

    Jan 28, 2008
    South Carolina
    I am looking into putting a set of CS 69s in a MIM strat. I currently have a set of 2008 American Standards that I got off of Ebay in it now.

    Before I blow $180 on the 69s, I was wondering if they are even the set for me. I am looking for the bell tones with the tight bass. The American standards have great bass, but it is more like a smooth sound than that classic thump.

    So, the question is what pickup set is going to give me that stick out from the crowd strat tone?

  2. thaus

    thaus Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jul 6, 2007
    London Canada
    pup tones are so subjective..........what is classic for one guy is thin for the next guy! I have a nice collection of strats and I have different pups in each one and while some may say they sound similiar, if you listen carefully and through a good amp, they are different. I think when most try for a 'classic strat tone' they are referencing a late 50's type sound; the 69's you are referring to have a more bluesy bottom-end and a little more growl. I would highly recommend anything from Fralin especially the Vintage Hots. They are very very good sounding and give you the bell-tones but also a nice tight bottom. My favourites right now (just because they are the newest!!) are DeTemple pups (I think he has them wound by Jason Lollar) and they sound terrific. Slightly underwound so they have that clean clear tone in spades. But with the right amp, they really drive the tubes nicely. They don't sound as good through a amp sim; for that I use a strat with Fralin SP43's......they are also great sounding but have a little more grit. You will have a lot fun trying to decide!! Try the acme music pages where they have a bunch of popular sets in audio files that you can listen to........

  3. softmonkey

    softmonkey Strat-Talker

    Apr 26, 2008
    Los Angeles
    Based on my own research, if you want to go strictly Fender, what I determined-- for myself of course-- was a set of Custom Shop '54s. If they sold sets of Eric Johnson pickups I would immediately buy them. But short of buying an EJ (which I did), the alternative was installing CS '54s in my Am. Std. Those seem to be the fattest available-- fatter than the 69s.
    Charles Kang likes this.

  4. johnreardon

    johnreardon Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 18, 2006
    Brackley, Great Britain
    Just as an illustration of what Thaus is saying. I have an EJ Strat and find it the weakest of my 6 Strats.

    It's way too subjective :D

  5. tazzboy

    tazzboy Strat-Talker

    Jul 13, 2006
    Custom shop 69

  6. dan P

    dan P Strat-Talker

    Jul 5, 2008
    kansas city
    too many different styles of pups...my taste has found CS 54's and lace hot golds to be my fav's

  7. thaus

    thaus Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jul 6, 2007
    London Canada

  8. dugg

    dugg Strat-Talk Member

    Aug 9, 2008
    Wow, thanks for the great link thaus! I've spent some time listening to pickups on various sites, and I've come to some conclusions about what I like. First, to me single coil pickups sound much better than humbuckers, for the most part. Second, sow impedence singles sound best. HB's seem to come in more 'flavors' than single coils, but I don't care for most of those flavors. There are a few nice sounding HB's out there, but it seems like they're rare, or maybe they're just a lot harder to make than a good single coil. Also, single coil pickups with similar windings and magnet types tend to sound more similar regardless of who made them. In other words, if it's got alnico 5's and about 5.6k of windings it'll sound similar to others with those specs whether they're made by Seymour or GFS. Just my 2cent ;)

  9. softmonkey

    softmonkey Strat-Talker

    Apr 26, 2008
    Los Angeles
    The smart money is on the CS '54s.

    As for the EJs: I heard and played great one and I've heard and played not-so-great ones. They're not all the same. I would never order one and have it arrive in a box, unplayed, as you just do not really ever know. The guitar is of a particular quality though, that if you can find a great one you've got a great guitar and unbelievable bang for the buck-- if it's a good one.

    Case in point: The store gave me a nicked case which was also missing a screw on the designer tag on the inside of it, and also mangled case candy (as discussed in another thread). So the manager ordered me a new one. I guess he ordered a whole new guitar and was planning on slipping the "old" case to an unwitting buyer. But anyway, I had the opportunity to switch out the guitars if I so chose to. So I brought in the case with the guitar and we opened the new box and it was another sunburst EJ. Weight was pretty much the same although mine was a touch lighter. Finish on mine was prettier and better done-- even though mine came with a couple of minor store dings. The two body pieces on mine don't match exactly, but the colors are nice. On this one, the side not only didn't match , but the right side had a kind of greenish pallor to it. My pickguard was already warping and this bothered me. On the brand new one: warped pickguard. So, so far, the finish was nicer on mine and my neck was also noticeably nicer, cosmetically-speaking.

    Then I plugged them in to A/B them. Fender '65 Deluxe. Not even close. I spent some time really listening and this one was not as special as the one I managed to land three weeks ago. I really love the EJ pickups.

  10. thaus

    thaus Most Honored Senior Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Jul 6, 2007
    London Canada
    Dugg, you're probably right in your assumption that pups that are wound to similiar resistance will sound alike but one factor that really makes even the same pups sound different is the guitar and the wood around the pups. I have interchanged a few sets from one guitar to another and noticed a different tone from one guitar to the next. Granted, some just sound the same in whatever guitar they were in! For example, I recently bought a used set of DeTemple pups and put them in a MIJ 62 Strat..........they sounded amazing! Decided to try them in a partscaster that I am working on putting together (body is from a squier) and they suddenly didn't sound as good! It could have had lot to do with the wiring, wood, etc etc but they really did have different character from one guitar to the next.

  11. ldelo

    ldelo Strat-Talk Member

    Just my $0.02...

    I've had and tried the generic CS 60's that came in my '62 MIA RI, a set of CS 50's (maybe 54's or maybe the generic 50's), and a set of Van Zandt Vintage Pluses. Plus quite a few that were mounted up in strats I've bought/sold/borrowed/etc - enough so that while I didn't keep notes and can't recall exactly what was in all of them, I've noted trends...

    To my ears, vintage SCs (let's say 5.7k or so and lower impedance), like the 50's pups (take your pick, at least with the CS ones I've been exposed to I can't really discern much difference) you get, well, vintage tone. A little on the weak/thin side by modern standards, but classic strat spank and squawk and to my ears what I might call brightness (or clarity) and bell tones. Of course that's what one might expect, since true vintage strats established that tone and the CS's are (at least supposed to be) faithful to that. On the downside my experience has been that (because of the lower output?) they don't drive amps hard at all and don't work well with nearly anything digital (including modeling amps and also a lot of FX pedals.)

    When you get up into the 6k ohm range you are into what I believe most might term vintage hot. They retain a lot of the vintage character but are hotter. However, in my experience the hotter the pup the more pronounced the lows and mids are and the relatively thinner the highs are. Not that a vintage hot is giving up much, but as a general rule I believe this is the case.

    Anyways, the Van Zandt Vintage Pluses I settled on for my '62 fit towards the bottom of that vintage hot range (low 6k's) and have become for me the gold standard of tone. I'm sure a lot of other vintage hots sound as good or arguably better and so much of it's subjective that I wouldn't take anyone's blanket statement(s) as meaning a whole lot. In my case Mike Lull highly recommended them when he put the custom Warmoth neck on the '62 and setup/reworked the entire guitar for me, and while I am still searching for that "perfect" tone, I also have been playing those for over a decade (as much as I've been playing, including two years in a blues band) and have not found anything I like better that I also didn't find something to dislike about sooner or later. For me that class of pups (and for me it's those specific pups, but allowing for brand allegiances and so on) are pretty much it. They are great for blues, and with just a TS9/808/etc in the signal chain, sound *very* sweet into a classic bluesman tube amp rig.

    I think anything above about 6.5k to the high 6k's is getting into the modern/hot flavors. Definitely will drive an amp harder and etc, and are less finicky about what you put in the signal chain. However to my ears most pups above around 7k or so start to definitely lose the vintage strat vibe, and tend to sound slightly muddier (more mids and bass.)

    I've not had much exposure to anything over the 6.xk range, but pups in those ranges are popular. My padouk strat has a set of Rio Grande Dual Cals in them, and those range from around 7k (neck) to upwards of around 8k (bridge) and are said to be a very good overall set for doing just about anything from blues to classic rock. But I've not had a chance to try them out yet.

    As far as magnets go, I prefer AlNico magnets, to my ears they sound warmer (not hotter, but rounder or warmer), while (again to my ears) the ceramics tend to sound cleaner or slightly better defined but also (as always, to my ears) more dry or sterile.

    Once the padouk strat is done and hanging in the music room, I hope to get a generic MIM etc strat to use as a test bed and start fooling around more with pups. I bought a set of the GFS 10k (super)hot alnico SCs, but currently don't have a strat that I care to tear down and use as a test bed.
    Charles Kang likes this.

  12. Escotia

    Escotia Strat-Talk Member

    May 1, 2006
    Aberdeen, Scotland, Yew-R
    I find the CS 69's to be fantastic pickups, the neck in particular is real tight on the bass end. They have that "Hendrix" sound in spades. I also have the Fralin Vintage Hots and although they sound different, are also great classy pickups.
    My ideal set is the 69 neck and middle with the Fralin bridge.

  13. K-Line

    K-Line Strat-Talker

    Jan 1, 2009
    St. Louis, Mo
    Lollar Blondes are the top of my list, more expensive than CS stuff yess but twice as nice. Lollar has many choices and one that can fit into most needs. Check them out, once you buy a set you never need any other!

  14. jih68

    jih68 Strat-Talk Member

    Jul 20, 2010
    I'm over a year late joining this thread but just wanted to thank Idelo for a great overview of single coils. I found this very useful reading.

    If anybody is still out there I would like to ask for some thoughts on PUP choice.

    Guitar is a MIK Lite Ash Strat - towards the low end of the line up but I have spent some time & cash upgrading this guitar to a nice spec and set up very well. The fundamental tone is good and there are stock SD Alnico staggered PUPs on it which actually sound very repectable for stock on a MIK guitar. Although I did put a Dimarzio hot rails in the bridge with a coil tap and cap jumper to the tone pot as the bridge was rather piercing. It has an ash body and maple neck & FB - quite bright.

    I like the way this guitar sounds and plays. However, I am looking for a PUP change. Looking for classic strat tone for funk and jazz - bit of blues. Looking for clean lots of sweet complexity. A bit of mild overdrive - just enough for some push and hair on the tone.

    I am not sure if CS 54's would be right - although they might be. Also thought about CS 57/62's. CS 69's may be too hot. Not sure.

    Any thoughts gratefully received.

  15. jmiller475

    jmiller475 Strat-O-Master

    Feb 3, 2009
    I've been happy with the way my Porter Moderns sound. I play all types of music and them seem to work great for me. There's just something special about handwound pickups. Also the Chevalier pickups are very good as well. Both pickup winders are members here. Maybe send them a message and they could help find what you're looking for.

  16. capt_goodvibes

    capt_goodvibes Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 28, 2009
    Land Down Under
    Pickup Shootout

    MIJ '93 62 RI - Bare Knuckle Mothers Milk Neck/Middle RWP
    2007 Custom Shop 1960 Strat Relic - Fender CS 1960 Pickups
    1965 Fender Strat – Suhr Pickups & Silent Single Coil (BPSSC) System
    Fender/Allparts Strat - Rio Grande Tallboys (non calibrated)
    2007 Fender Hot Rod 62 RI - Fender 57/62's w/ Delta Tone System
    Warmoth Strat - Fender 2003 American Standard Single Coils

    Amp used - '66 Super Reverb & JTM 45 Clone

    As we tested these pickups the “Fender Sound” really became the common denominator for judging all the pickups. All the pickups tested except for the Suhr’s (more on them below) all had the same EQ curve and were going for the same sound. This made this a quite useful comparison because we, for the most part, had the opportunity to test single coils all attempting serve up the classic 1960’s single coil tone.

    From this shootout, it basically came down to two guitars. The Strat with the Bare Knuckles and the Strat with the John Suhr pickups were the two clear winners.

    The Bare Knuckle Mothers Milk neck and middle pickups offer excellent examples of the classic 1960 Fender Sound. Hendrixy Clean sounds and classic Strat sounds. The others guitars tested were basically the same take on the classic sound but not really pulled off as well as the Mothers Milk. The Bare Knuckle Mothers Milk were rich, detailed and articulate with great low end, good highs, and that ever so slight mid range dip along the EQ curve that is characteristic of The Fender single coils of the early sixties.

    The Tallboys were very nice and very detailed. At times we wanted to say the Tall Boys were more detailed than the Mothers Milk but they were darker sounding. They were also thinner sounding. They did not serve up the classic Fender EQ curve as well. As we tested these pickups this “Fender Sound” really became the common denominator for judging all the pickups It was simply a matter of which pickups pulled this sound off best and had the fullest response profile without becoming harsh. For instance the 2003 issue American Standard pickups served up the basic tone but they were the harshest sounding of the bunch. The 1960 CS pickups were also excellent but just a little thinner sounding than the Mothers Milk. The 57/62s were pleasant but just did not have the detail and the body of the Bare Knuckles or the Tall Boys. They were not as harsh as the Fender 2003s. They were overall good pickups but the single coil tone was more a more generic version that that created by the than the Bare Knuckles and the Tall Boys. I must note that none of the pickups tested were bad sounding. They did however differ slightly along certain dimensions discussed above.

    Now enter the Suhr pickups. More difficult to rate because its response profile was different. The Suhr’s were the only pickups in our group that were designed to sound like vintage aged single coils. The other pickups are intended to sound like a set of 1960 single coils as they would have sounded new. The Mothers Milks, Tall Boys, and Fender Custom Shop and 57/62s all were designed with Fenders 1960s pickups specs and building materials in mind, but nothing is done to attempt to age the sound. Note than the Bare Knuckles were the closest exact replicas of the originals in regard to the materials used and the building methods employed. The Suhr’s , with their “aged magnets” had a sound similar to a new pickup with the volume rolled back a bit thus limiting some of the high end response. This is a limited description but the basic idea. These were indeed beautiful pickups and it was demonstrated that some licks sounded sweeter through these 'pups. I think I preferred the Bare Knuckles but I think this was because this was the classic example of the tone I expected to hear. The Mother Milks were desert island pickup if you will and they should age just fine naturally. Having said that I would like to spend more time playing through the Suhr’s. I spent enough time with them already to know that I would like to have at least one strat fitted with these Suhr "aged" 'pups. The sound was warm and nice. The highs were there but slightly muted; indeed they sounded like old pickups.

    As the testing started the sounds were really similar from all guitars and favorites drifted back and fourth often based on the licks played. However, as time went on, I think the Bare Knuckles were still the clear winners. But I do want a set of the Suhr’s!


  17. bluesjunior64

    bluesjunior64 New Member!

    Jul 25, 2010
    San Diego
    I was considering putting 3 single coil EMG's in one of my strats, I would love some opinions on this, the more the better, I love the strat tone ,however just want more same tone w/higher output. bring on the chat, before i put down the cash. Thanks G
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2010

  18. bluesjunior64

    bluesjunior64 New Member!

    Jul 25, 2010
    San Diego
    I also wanted to add, Im using a fender blues junior Ltd edition 2 tone amp, with a texas heat speaker, is that the stock speaker? Playing a MIM lefty stock strat, how is the blues driver pedal by Boss? would anyone recommend it? boy lots of diff pick ups for a strat, how about the lace sensor???? thanks G

  19. fenderkev

    fenderkev Most Honored Senior Member

    Aug 18, 2009
    Back In Blighty

  20. Tele like it is

    Tele like it is Left is right! Strat-Talk Supporter

    Apr 2, 2010
    Los Angeles
    You may also want to consider the GFS vintage... Just to further confuse things.

    There's no need to pay full retail for CS p/u's. The bay lists 54's, 57/62's, and 69's in the $135 range. Deals are also available on the Duncan California 50"s (three SSL-1's).