Before we look at the Best Single Coil Pickups, let’s take a moment and consider that as time goes by, our memory can play tricks on us. Those of us old enough to remember, were we really that excited? Those Fender guitars, coming to the UK with all the twang and of course the look.
The guitars we were used to learning on were ok, but they weren’t like this. And not many of us had TVs; we relied on the radio. We didn’t know what guitars the Shadows and other early 60s groups were using. And we would see a few pictures on the covers of singles and albums, but that was all.
The Strats and the Telecasters. And then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, they were in the shops. We all stared at them, mesmerized. If we hadn’t picked up a guitar by then, which most of us had, we did now. And oh that sound, that twangy early rock n roll sound. Did Buddy Holly’s guitar really sound like that? Yes, it did, and our memories are not playing tricks on us.
Those single-coil pickups. That is what did it. They are still with us. Maybe a little different now, but still here, and you can still get that Fender twang. Other manufacturers as well jumped on the single-coil bandwagon and produced some great guitars.
Gibson had the P-90, and a certain Mr. Adolph Rickenbacker had a lot to do with the early designs. This while Leo Fender was still at school. Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Epiphone (the original company), and even Gibson had them. Yes, even Les Paul had P90 single-coil pickups on his early Gibson Les Paul guitars. But it was Fender that got the sound right.
Today there are lots of companies making single-coil pickups. Even Fender is producing them. None of them sound just like those originals. I doubt it will be possible to ever exactly replicate that sound again. They were though given a little help by tube amps and pre-digital technology.
Yes, there was some background noise and hum that was not so good. We didn’t care, and we just carried on and put up with it.
But today’s single-coils pack a punch and are twangy and toppy. They also don’t have any external noise and are great pickups with a great sound. Dare we say this…pickups for players who rely on technique rather than an overload of distortion.
So, let’s have at a selection of the Best Single Coil Pickups currently available and find the perfect one for you…
- Top 8 Best Single Coil Pickups For Your Budget 2020 Reviews
- 1 DiMarzio DP419 Area ’67 Hum Canceling Strat Pickup
- 2 Seymour Duncan STK-S2 Hot Single Coil Pickup Black Neck
- 3 DiMarzio DP172C Pick-up
- 4 Seymour Duncan STL-1/STR-3 Quarter Pound Neck Pickup
- 5 Lace Sensor-Red Pickup Black
- 6 Fender Custom Shop Custom ’54 Stratocaster Pickups
- 7 Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster Pickups
- 8 Lace Aluma Death-bar 4.5 – 9 or 10 String Pickup
- Best Single Coil Pickups Buyer’s Guide
- More Pickup Options
- So, What Are The Best Single Coil Pickups?
Top 8 Best Single Coil Pickups For Your Budget 2020 Reviews
1 DiMarzio DP419 Area ’67 Hum Canceling Strat Pickup
DiMarzio is best known for its replacement pickups. That is what they are famous for and rightly so. Some of their products are spectacular, to say the least. Larry DiMarzio founded the company in 1971 and released his Super Distortion pickups.
He was based in Staten Island. If you are a visitor to New York, Staten Island might not be high on your list of places to visit. If you are a musician, it would be one of the first; it was the home to Mandolin Brothers Music shop. Home to thousands of guitars, some very rare. You had to visit, but we heard it is closed now. Very sad.
In that environment, DiMarzio grew and today produce great replacement pickups the DP419 is one of them. One of the best single-coil pickups for strat.
It is not called the ‘67 for no reason. In music terms, 1967 means Monterey. Monterey means Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix at Monterey means the single-coil Strat that he announced himself to the world with. And then proceeded to ‘sacrifice’ in flames on the stage. A bit of it is in the Hendrix museum in Seattle.
The ‘67 concert Strat was clean and sharp. It wasn’t made that year, maybe a ‘62, but it has that single-coil sound. DiMarzio has gone pretty close to recreating it with this DP 419.
It is now devoid of its natural-produced hum, which, of course, is a good thing. It is also a little sharper in its tones with a stronger mid and bass sound. One argument put forward is that by canceling the hum, you lose the single-coil sound. Not with this, you don’t. Listening to it in the hands of someone who can play it is magical. It uses the Alnico ll magnets, which produce a sharper sound.
Is it good? Oh yes, just a bit and is at a price that makes it even more attractive. The Best Single Coil Pickups? This will take some beating.
- Brilliant, authentic ‘67 sound.
- Attractive price point.
- None at all.
2 Seymour Duncan STK-S2 Hot Single Coil Pickup Black Neck
Seymour Duncan is best known for the design and manufacture of pickups for guitar and bass. Established in 1976 in California, they have grown into a company with a big reputation for quality.
This is what they call a two-stack single-coil pickup. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, and in some ways, it is. The original single-coil pickups had one layer of coils. Hence single-coil. This pickup has two layers, one on top of the other. They call it double-stacking. It is wired to cancel any hum.
More current is sent to your amplifier through the double stack, which is surrounded by ceramic magnets that are chosen for their power. The idea behind double-stacking is a valid one.
It is designed essentially for stage work. It increases the sensitivity of the strings and gives a lot more output. But to some, it gives a big increase and sustains and the potential for overdrive. It is meant for the neck or middle position on your guitar. In the case of a three-position instrument, there is a hotter version for the bridge.
In many ways, more like a humbucker than a single-coil. It has a slightly warmer sound with a rough edge. And when driven hard, the sustain and overdrive take over. For those wanting that sound that is a single-coil with a touch of the humbucker in there, this is perfect for you.
Despite the quality of the sound it produces, we would have to ask if it is actually a ‘single-coil’ pick up at all. It is double-stacked, which gives it a totally different sound. When you listen to people talking about them, they say how much like a Les Paul they sound.
If that is the sound you are looking for, then that is fine. But if you want a single-coil sound, these pickups are probably not for you. They are set at a decent price point.
- Deliver a very good sound for those wanting it heavier.
- The price point is set realistically.
- Might not suit the single-coil purist.
3 DiMarzio DP172C Pick-up
Back to DiMarzio again for another single-coil replacement. Assuming you like your guitar and its sound replacing a pickup is virtually getting a like for like exchange. Of course, it depends on what you’re playing. In some cases, you wouldn’t want to change the pickups unless the originals were just worn out.
But, you may have a Telecaster, be it, Fender or Squier. You may want to get a better, more single-coil sound than you currently have. Then this might be the pickup for you. It is definitely one of the best single-coil pickups for telecaster.
It is called a ‘Twang King’ and is designed especially for the Telecaster but more especially for the neck pickup position. They have been able to develop that unique Telecasters sound, making this among the best telecaster single coil pickups on the market. That was always based on the amount of attack by the pick.
Played hard, you get the sound the Tele was famous for. That hard, sharp, aggressive, but clean sound. But played softly a gentle tone that has surprised many people. Using Alnico 5 magnets have helped them achieve this.
The interesting thing about this is that it wasn’t designed after a particular model. No one said let’s recreate the ‘62 sound. All they wanted to do was take the basic requirements and produce a great pickup. One that had a big range but was especially powerful at the top end. This is what they have done. It can have a typically nasty sharp tone, or it can be smooth and bluesy.
In fact, it’s so good, as well as it’s other accolades, it could also be one of the best single coil pickups for blues, as well as one of the best single coil pickups for slide guitar.
The DiMarzio DP172C Pick-up has a chrome cover, which gives it a ‘haven’t we seen that before’ look. It is the favored neck position pickup of legendary US guitarist, Richie Kotzen.
All we can say about this pickup is that DiMarzio has done it again. They seem, as a company, to have something ‘single-coil’ hidden away in their DNA. Great pick up at a great price, making it a contender for one of the Best Single Coil Pickups.
- A great sounding Telecaster neck pickup at a great price.
- Good tonal range.
- It is going to be a bit bright for some people.
4 Seymour Duncan STL-1/STR-3 Quarter Pound Neck Pickup
Back to Seymour Duncan for another offering. This is the STR-3, a pickup designed for the neck of a Telecaster. This is a single-coil pickup with a lot of power and bite. Designed to really let you jack up the power, it uses magnets that are oversized and special windings to deliver maximum performance. The sound includes a biting treble and a mid-range that some might find excessive.
We aren’t trying to be too critical about this pickup, but it is designed and marketed to be a Telecaster neck pickup. If that is the case, then we are a little confused about the application. It has, we are told and hear, a biting high treble sound. But this is a Telecaster neck pickup. That sound was delivered mainly by the bridge pickup on a Telecaster. It was the neck pickup that could give you those warm bluesy tones.
Also, when you read the comments from them, they talk about being able to go ‘head to head with a humbucker.’ Do they mean in sound, power? If they mean in sound, it isn’t supposed to. If they mean power, then turn the amp up.
Some companies seem to have the need to think that the single-coil needs to take on the humbucker; it doesn’t. They are different things and appeal to different players.
Having made that point, it is a very good and versatile sound. They have created a pickup that crosses genres, and that will suit a lot of people. Its big plus point is that like a lot of Seymour Duncan pickups; it will fit into a lot of rock styles. That is an asset for some players but not needed by others.
Because of its power levels and attack at higher volumes, it might be considered as one of the best single-coil pickups for rock. It certainly drives along. A great price point that is going to make this pickup popular.
- High energy, powerful sound.
- Very attractive price point.
- Won’t really suit those looking for a more conventional Telecaster neck pickup.
5 Lace Sensor-Red Pickup Black
The Lace Sensor pickup is an interesting item. It was designed by Don Lace specifically as a single-coil power pickup and manufactured for him by AGI. They were used exclusively by Fender for their guitars from the late 80s to the mid-90s. This was the beginning of their return to glory after the end of the horrific ‘CBS’ era.
These are designed as single-coil pickups, but they have a variant design inside. There is a certain similarity to the pickups used on the Fender Jaguar. The idea is to lessen the effect of electromagnetic interference. The idea being, of course, to reduce any unwanted external noises. This is achieved by placing metal around the coil. This had the overall effect of increasing power and hence sustain.
The design image was supposed to recreate the sound of an early Fender pickup. It has certain important influences on sound production. Because it is reading a greater area of the string, the signal to noise ratio is very good.
It is a bridge position pickup, so you expect a little bit of sharpness and top end. It certainly has that and a surprising amount of sustain. Much more than you will hear on early Fenders. This might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what your preference is.
There is no doubt, though, that it is a good pickup with a very distinctive sound. It doesn’t really sit exactly in the space reserved for copies of early Telecaster or Stratocaster pickups. But some will not be looking for that. It doesn’t overdo the overdrive thing and retains a crisp sharpness.
A good pickup, which some may find a little expensive.
- Reproduction of an early pickup used by Fender.
- Powerful sounds that are well-balanced.
- Some might think it a little expensive.
6 Fender Custom Shop Custom ’54 Stratocaster Pickups
If you are looking at single-coil pickups, we won’t give you three guesses who will be there. The Fender, of course, will be manufacturing them for the guitars that made their reputation.
They don’t always get it right. Just as over the 60 or so years, they haven’t always got it right. In fact, there have been a few disasters along the way. But they have got these pickups right. The Custom shop ‘54’s are a quality set of pickups made, especially for the Stratocaster.
Well, if Stevie Ray Vaughan used them, I suppose we can assume they are.
Do you remember the original Beach Boys Strat sounds? That is the era of sound that these remind you of. Clean, crisp, edgy, some might say a bit thin sounding, but they are early Stratocaster and no mistake. They cut through the sound of a band like a knife through hot butter.
Of course, there are some small changes to the originals. Alnico magnets have been used since the dawn of Fenders time and still are, albeit with some modifications.
It is the first two letters of the three different elements in its manufacture. Aluminum, Nickel, and Cobalt. The number that follows it, 3, 4, or 5, does not signify a progression of improvements. It is a descriptor for the strength of the magnetic field that each produces.
Ceramic pickups are a totally different thing, and whilst many manufacturers changed to them, Fender stuck with Alnico.
These pickups fall into the vintage category in the sound they can produce. But whereas the Beach Boys with their clear cut tones and smiley faces never really jacked up the volume. If you do that, then you can hear the other sound that a single-coil can give you. Power, sustain, and a little bit of dirt to go with it. The Stratocaster was a master of design and variety and still is.
Great sounds, without any external noise, and for three pickups a great price. Certainly one of the best single-coil pickups for strat and a contender for Best Single Coil Pickups.
- Vintage sounds from a great designed set of pickups.
- Very good price point.
- Nothing at all unless you prefer a humbucker.
7 Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaster Pickups
Eric Johnson is a Fender man or to be more precise a Fender Stratocaster man. He has produced an array of albums that gave featured what many consider a definitive Strat sound but with an edge. It was the natural thing to do for Fender to sit down with him and work together. The goal? To produce a Stratocaster sound but with a little bit more that would fit his unique style.
As any Fender fan will tell you, when performing this kind of exercise you can’t ignore the ‘Leo legacy;’ With him in the US and Jim Marshall in the UK it is clear that what they gave to rock music will never be repeated When dealing with single-coil pickups the ‘Leo thing; has to be at the front of all designs.
So the idea was to take that sound and mix it with some modern tastes. But in doing so, staying close to that single-coil Strat sound. Fortunately, both the great man himself and Johnson both have a basic principle. The pure tone that is both an early Stratocaster and is also what makes Eric Johnson’s sound.
The three pickups have been given individual Fender tones but not from the same periods. The bridge pickup is more powerful than usual with its Alnico 5 magnets, but it doesn’t lose that trebly top sound. The neck pickup is based on the originals from the ‘54 models.
Alnico 3 magnets that are oversized drive the sound. In the middle, that famous ‘63 sound. You may be aware that the ‘63, great as it was, had a problem. It had hum, a lot of hum. They have wound this pickup and placed the magnetic pole in reverse to get rid of it.
The best single coil pickups for strat? The best single coil pickups for rock? Yes, probably both, but maybe even more than that. Possibly the Best Single Coil Pickups full stop!
Brilliant in design, staggering sound, the business. They are not cheap but as they say, if you want the best. Leo would be proud of these three.
- Just about everything about the build and the design.
- Great sounds and the combinations on the 3 work brilliantly.
- Not possible to fault these.
8 Lace Aluma Death-bar 4.5 – 9 or 10 String Pickup
Another pickup produced by Lace. This was the preferred pickup manufacturer for Fender in the 80s and 90s though this design bears little resemblance to those pickups.
This pickup is designed for 9 and 10 string guitars. In other words, extended-range guitars. They bring something new to the table in terms of pickups. But we are not sure of what they offer the single-coil enthusiast.
As a pickup, they have been designed to produce a variety of tones. They can be warm with a wide band tone that is almost sensitive in its sound. Offering plenty of headroom, they are surprisingly clear. The bass is clear and rather crisp sounding. It doesn’t seem to have much depth to it and certainly won’t be rattling the china. The top end is smooth and very clear. It has a single-coil sound without really being one.
But then it can change and become overdriven to become metal and even Djent, if you push the top end hard enough. The Djent style is a kind of metal but with an extremely high gain and low pitch sound. Originally from Sweden, it has grown fast over the last few years. These pickups have been designed to accommodate the needs of the sound required.
It can be warm and sweet, but it can also come near to rendering you needing an ENT doctor. The tone though it is recognized for has a real humbucker feel to it.
If nothing else, this pickup is versatile and can cope with everything for smooth jazz to extreme metal and nearly everything in between. It’s probably not among the best single coil pickups for jazz or the best single coil pickups for worship, but is up there with the best single coil pickups for distortion and the best metal single coil pickups.
When you do get down to the single-coil sound, though, there is no background noise at all. That is a design plus point.
It is not a cheap option as a replacement pick up and a long way from what most people view as a single-coil sound. However, it is going to suit some players who are looking for an extreme variety of styles.
- It has a wide range of sound options.
- No hum when in the single-coil setting.
- Won’t suit most people looking to replace their Strat or Telecaster pickups.
Best Single Coil Pickups Buyer’s Guide
A New Single-coil?
If you are looking to replace your old single-coil pickups or just want an upgrade, you are thinking single-coil again. If not, you’d be looking at humbuckers or something similar. So given that single-coil is what you are going for there is a simple question,
What To Choose?
It might not be such a difficult choice, as you think. They seem to fall into two camps in terms of sound and design. There are the pickups that stay as close to the original ideas as possible with very little alteration to the basic sound — Dimarzio and Fender themselves, producing great choices.
Or you can go on the basis of a single-coil but then want something a little extra. These come from Seymour Duncan. There are others, of course, and all are worth considering, but the choice is quite straightforward Authentic vintage or a modern-day version.
The prices are quite similar though there are a couple that go a bit higher, but generally speaking, the price points are reasonable and affordable. There are some great options from which to choose.
More Pickup Options
If you’re thinking of changing your pickups on your Strat, then you may also be thinking of doing it on your other guitars? If so, please check out our in-depth reviews of the Best P 90 Pickups, the Best Stratocaster Pickups, the Best Humbucker Pickups, the Best Telecaster Guitar Pickups, and the Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups currently available.
So, What Are The Best Single Coil Pickups?
If we were to replace the single-coil pickups on a Fender, we’d have to decide Strat or Telecaster. Given that we are going to replace one or more of the pickups on a Stratocaster, then we would undoubtedly go for the …
Stunning vintage sounds and a stack of variety but all carrying that single-coil sound. Not only the best single-coil pickups for strat, for us the Best Single Coil Pickups.