Can you upgrade a Fender Stratocaster with Humbucker Pickups?
If you’ve ever wondered, “can I put a humbucker pickup in my Stratocaster guitar?” the answer is yes. This article is going to tell you what you need to know to change and replace out those beloved angled or slanted single coils and install a good set of humbuckers on your Strat when you want to change pickups. We’ll also talk about tone and brands. Installing new pickups is an excellent upgrade for a guitar.
In case you don’t already own one, the Fender Stratocaster is usually built with an SSS Strat pickups setup – that is, three single coil pickups. This can be changed to a double humbucker configuration (like a Les Paul) or a Stratocaster HSS configuration with relative ease. Or you can also go with guitar pickup types like a single humbucker in the bridge pickup position under the guitar strings and put two single coils in the middle and neck Stratocaster pickups installed positions.
Why Change Your Pickups?
There are a few reasons you might want to put humbuckers on your sunburst Stratocaster or similar musical instrument. One is to get higher output. Single coil pickups tend to have a low relative output that doesn’t carry over great to heavy metal, or heavy rock tones.
So if you’re trying to avoid that 50’s rock sound, why change the pickups at all? The answer is style and comfort. Many guitarists prefer the Fender Stratocaster’s look and feel, but need to get heavier, smoother tones out of it.
Related reading – Squier Strat upgrades
Getting a Good Tone
One of the main reasons you might want to change your single coil pickups out for humbuckers is to go from a vintage sound to the more popular modern rock sounds of today. Like if you were to use any of these best humbucker pickups for blues.
Ok, so changing your pickups to covered humbuckers will alter your sound in a way you’re hopefully going to like, so let’s talk about how to do it.
Pairing a good set of guitar strings with excellent replacement pickups can work wonders on your guitar tone.
How to Change your Pickups
You can do this, you just need some basic tools:
- Wire strippers
- Adjustable wrench or pliers
- Phillips head screw drivers
- Needle nose pliers
- Soldering iron
- String winder
- Stratocaster wiring diagram
- Depending on how your guitar body is routed out under your pickguard, you may need a router to make the cavity large enough to house a humbucker pickup.
You’ll also need some new parts:
- New pickguard and pickguard screws with configuration for your new humbucker electric guitar pickups.
Once you have your tools and parts together, the process starts with removing the pick guard with the single coil pickups and everything else attached.
You are going to assemble the pick guard with the two new humbuckers together before installing it on the Stratocaster – mine’s white. It’s a good idea to stick to hand tools to prevent stripping screws or overtightening.
Assembling the pick guard starts by mounting the humbucker pickups in the cutouts and attaching them with the screws and springs included.
Next, install the switch with the flat metal side towards the outside of the guitar’s pickguard. Then take the volume pot and tone pots and place them in the hole cutouts with the tabs of the first one pointing towards the second. The third pot has the tabs facing the one before it.
Next up, it’s time to start soldering things together. You will need the wiring assembly instructions available for download from Fender. com. Some pickups have soderless wiring, which means you only have to solder to the guitar wiring. So if you want to reduce your time with the iron, look for the humbucker pickups that have plug-in wires.
From here, you’ll want to follow instructions from the downloaded schematic and/or a video tutorial that can show you the specifics of soldering the tabs on the pots, the capacitor leads and the pickup wires for the 3-way switch.
Once you’ve finished assembling the pickups, pots, and the 3-way selector switch according to the schematic, you want to be sure everything is cleaned and uncrimped.
The whole assembly should fit easily into the guitar, and once you have it set you can give it a test before tightening everything and re-stringing the guitar.
You do this by plugging in the guitar, then tapping on each of the Stratocaster pickups as you cycle through the neck, mid and bridge tones with the switch. You should get a solid guitar amp feedback sound on each one – while you are at it, check out this post on the best amp for Stratocaster guitars too!. Once you’ve done that, you can screw the assembly in to secure it to the guitar, string it up and start playing!
You may want to do some fine tuning with guitar pickup height at this point in the pickups replacement process.
What Humbucker Pickups to Use
So now that you see you really can put a humbucker in your Stratocaster guitar, which pickups should you buy? P90? Seymour Duncan? Lucky for you, Fender makes a variety of quality humbucker pickups. Choice made.
You’ve got your humbuckers in your Strat…..now what? Take a look at these recommendations for effects pedals that work well with humbucking pickups: