Because it is so integral to the sound of the Strat, it’s important to choose the right middle pickup when you’re in the market for new pups. If you’re only replacing the middle position, finding a pickup that matches well with your existing pickups will be the key to getting the overall best sound out of your instrument. While there are a lot of excellent options on the market, you’ll find the most success with middle pickups from DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan; if you’re not sure where to start your search, the options on the list below are all excellent choices.
There are our recommendations for the 4 best Strat middle pickups on the market:
DiMarzio DP408 Virtual Vintage ’54 Middle Pickup
Changing up the pickup in your middle position can be a great way to add some warmth to a tone that’s too bright without making any sacrifices when it comes to the clarity or sustain of the sound. The fat, smoky tone you can get with a Virtual Vintage ’54 makes it especially popular for blues musicians, but it isn’t limited to this application, certainly; rock and country musicians can benefit just as well from the woody, warm tone it brings.
The Virtual Vintage ’54 uses the same internal technology as the Area 58 and Area 61 pickups put out by the same brand (see full specs). This includes an Alnico 2 magnet specifically designed to reduce pull on the strings. You’ll especially notice the effect of this technology on picked attacks. There is almost a compression effect if you’re a harder picker, a unique quality that isn’t offered by any other pickups on the market.
DiMarzio DP175S True Velvet MiddlePickup
If you’re looking for vintage-inspired tone but at a slightly more affordable price point, the True Velvet from DiMarzio is an excellent choice. The coil is tuned specifically to bring you a sound that’s bright without being thin, giving you a clean, bright tone that has a sweet sound even in the upper frets. It also uses staggered magnets to give you better balance between the strings, bringing an impressive clarity even to each note within a full cord.
The Alnico 5 magnets used in this pickup are hand-ground (see full specs), and they use a cloth-covered 2 conductor wire in the vintage tradition. The True Velvet is an especially great choice for the middle position because it gives you a smooth tone and strong output without overpowering the pickups in your neck and bridge positions. It is an especially popular choice with jazz guitarists but is versatile enough to work in a variety of styles and genres. Needless to say, it’s among the best Strat middle pickups.
Seymour Duncan SVR-1N Vintage Rails Neck/Middle Pickup
Seymour Duncan is another leading name in Strat pickups. As with DiMarzio, many of their best offerings for the middle position are designed to give you a vintage-inspired tone. While the SVR-1N might use a vintage inspiration for its tone production, though, there is nothing vintage about the interior craftsmanship. It uses a very modern and unique split-rail twin coil design that gives you the clarity and clean tone of a single-coil pickup without any extraneous noise.
The players who get the most value out of this pickup are the ones who want the maximum quack out of their Strat. It works well with other pickups, though it brings such a smooth, powerful tone to all the pickup positions that many players choose to utilize a full set. Put in the middle position, the Vintage Rails does more than simply replicate the lauded tone of a Stat but improves upon it. The tone is warmer and darker when you push the gain but can still give you a clean, classic tone suitable for rhythm.
Seymour Duncan APS-2 Middle Pickup
Another excellent contender from Seymour Duncan, the APS-2 uses a unique flat magnet pattern that’s designed to work better on modern strings and neck structures than the more traditional arrangement. This flat pattern also gives the pickup a more balanced magnetic field, promoting a more even response across the strings.
The Alnico 2 magnet in this pickup means it uses a softer magnetic field than you would get out of a ceramic magnet, or even a stronger version of Alnico. If you’re struggling with your sound being too thin, the smooth tone from this magnet will help even it out. No matter what your genre or playing style, playing through this pickup will give you a consistently warm and appealing tone.
Capturing the Best Strat Middle Pickup Sounds
You’ll see the word “vintage” mentioned on nearly every pickup that’s been designed with a Strat in mind, and you’ll find this is especially true when you’re looking for a new pickup for the middle position. This is largely because most people who buy a Strat want some variant of the ‘70s classic rock almost twang that is referred to colloquially as the “Strat quack.”
Like many terms surrounding tone, the quack is a difficult quality to describe, but one you’ll know the second you hear it. Eric Clapton’s tone on songs like “Layla” is a good well-known example of this tone quality. While you can certainly get a variety of different tones out of a Strat, players who use the second or fourth position on the selector (the middle pickup in combination with either the neck or the bridge) are most often going after this kind of tone.
If you’re not looking for the quack, it’s possible you shouldn’t be looking at middle pickups at all. Experiment with different positions on the selector switch to see if any of those tones are more similar to what you’re looking for. When you’re pursuing the classic Strat sound, though, upgrading your middle pickup will do the most to help you shape your tone, and with any of the above products—each qualifying in its own way the title of the best Strat middle pickup—you’ll be well on your way. Good luck!