However, the one consistent complaint many guitarists have against the MIM Strat is the sound quality of the included pickups. The magnets in these pickups are ceramic instead of Alnico. Ceramic magnets aren’t inherently lower-quality, but the material does tend to bring a harsh, bright edge to your tone. Combined with the already twangy character of the Strat, this can give you a one-dimensional tone that’s not suited to a wide range of styles. The good news is this issue is easy enough to address simply by upgrading your pickups. If you’ve got a MIM Strat and want to ditch the factory pups, we’ve got you covered.
Below are our recommendations for the 4 best MIM Strat pickups on the market:
Fender Custom Shop Fat ‘50s Strat Pickups
The hand-beveled, staggered Alnico V magnets used in these pickups give you a sound that’s both sweet and bluesy. If you find the factory pickups on your MIM Strat to be a bit lacking in the low end, the Fat ‘50s will solve your weak bass woes, giving you a more balanced response across the frequency range without getting harsh or muddled (see full specs). A lot of pickups that are marketed as vintage can be a bit thin in the high end but the trebles sparkle through a Fat ’50, giving you a classic Stratocaster sound that’s as compelling played clean as it is when you crank the gain.
Fender Strat Hot Noiseless Pickups
Putting a humbucker onto a Strat used to mean modifying your guitar, but not anymore, thanks to the Hot Noiseless from Fender. By eliminating the 60-cycle hum without veering too far from the standard single-coil pickup size and shape, you can get the dynamic sensitivity and clean performance of a double-coil design in a package designed to suit your Stratocaster.
Blues players will love the warmth and punch they get from these pickups, especially in the neck position; rock players will appreciate the full, rich overdrive, and the fact that they don’t have to sacrifice clarity, no matter how high they push the gain. These are among the best MIM Strat pickups for the money.
Tonerider TRS5 Surfari Pickup Set
These pickups are made with Alnico III magnets, just like the original Strat pickups from the mid-‘50s, giving them a classic vintage tone with a bright attack and a nice sustain. The clarity and dynamic sensitivity of these pickups are their main selling point, however. They also have a very balanced tone that’s suitable for a wide range of styles, from hard rock to blues and country (see full specs).
Don’t let the name “Surfari” deter you; while you can certainly get that early ‘60s surf-rock twang out of these pickups, that’s definitely not all you’ll get out of this versatile pup. If you’re looking for the classic Strat sound for an incredibly affordable price, these pickups deliver on the promise.
Seymour Duncan SJBJ1 Pickups
Seymore Duncan makes humbuckers exceptionally well, so it’s no surprise they even have a model that can be used on a single-coil guitar like the Stratocaster without modification. The JB Jr. pickups use the same basic design as their JB model but shrinks it down to a single-coil package. They manage this by using a twin-coil design with adjustable pole pieces that emulate a larger magnetic field, giving you singing harmonics and a sweet, warm tone, especially in the upper register.
The response and articulation from this pup are clear and smooth across the range. They’re very musical played clean, but if you crank the gain they can squeal and shred with the best. Bar none, these are among the best MIM Strat pickups around.
MIM Strat Pickup Positions
Most guitars will offer you two pickup positions: one at the neck, and one at the bridge. Unless you’re using some kind of altered set-up, you’ll have a pickup installed in each of these positions at all times, with the combination of the signals from both providing your overall sound. Fender uses a different system for the pickups on a MIM Stratocaster, however, giving you five different position options and providing you a switch for choosing between them.
The five-way selector switch can be a bit misleading if you’ve never played a Strat before. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be using five different pickups at the same time, but instead that you get five different options for how to utilize the three pickups that come in most Strat replacement sets: Bridge alone, bridge and mid in parallel, middle alone, middle and neck in parallel, and neck alone.
There are differing schools of thought about which configuration is the best one for different genres and styles. Many people use the neck alone for solo and lead lines because it gives you a warmer tone, while the bridge alone is preferred for rhythm playing since it has a cleaner sound. In terms of genre, the neck alone is popular with blues players, the neck and middle together for jazz, while funk players tend to prefer the middle and bridge together. Different configurations also tend to be preferred for different styles of pickup, as well. The bridge alone tends to work great for humbuckers, for example, while the bridge and middle together give a more traditional single-coil sound.
How you’re going to use your pickups is something you should consider when you’re looking to upgrade the ones that came on your MIM Strat. If you know you’re going to be using the instrument mostly as a lead instrument, you may want to pay more attention to the sound of the neck pickup in the set since it’s the one you’ll be utilizing most frequently. If you play in a lot of styles or take multiple roles within your ensemble, you’ll find it more important to feel out how the new pickups will change your tone in all positions.
Of course, the guidelines described in the paragraph above are suggestions only, based on how a majority of players utilize the different pickup positions. They are certainly not prescriptive, and won’t necessarily be the right arrangement for your tone. The best way to determine which sound you want to use for various situations is to test out different pickups in those configurations and with your specific equipment. Whichever way you decide to use them, the options on the list above can all qualify as the best MIM Strat pickups and can give your sound that extra kick you’re looking for. Good luck!