Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – Which Set Is Best?

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Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups - A photo of a pickup set

Are you ready to breathe new life into your old Strat? One of the best things you can do is upgrade the pickups. In this Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups roundup review, I’ll tell you the differences, pros, and cons of each of their five top-selling sets and reveal my two favorite picks.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to turn your Strat into an awesome screaming soloing machine!


Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – A Quick Look (Updated List)

#Pickup SetMagnet TypeInductanceDC ResistanceOutputBest For
1Fat ’50sAlnico 5Neck: 2.49 Henries, Middle: 2.5 Henries, Bridge: 2.63 HenriesNeck: 6.26K, Middle: 6.34K, Bridge: 6.43KModerate
(3 out of 5)
Blues, Rock, Country, Pop, Jazz
2Custom ’54Alnico 5Neck/Middle: 2.4 Henries, Bridge: 2.75 HenriesNeck/Middle Pickups: 5.9K. Bridge: 6.5KVintage
(2 out of 5)
Blues, Rock, Country, Pop
3Fat ’60sAlnico 2Neck/Middle/Bridge: 2.8 HenriesNeck/Middle/Bridge: 6.7KHot
(4 out of 5)
Blues, Rock, Country, Pop, Jazz
4Custom ’69Alnico 5Neck/Middle/Bridge: 3.0 HenriesNeck/Middle/Bridge: 5.6KVintage
(1 out of 5)
Blues, Rock, Country
5Texas SpecialAlnico 5Neck: 2.57 Henries, Middle: 2.6 Henries, Bridge: 2.97 HenriesNeck Pickup: 5.9K. Middle: 6.5K. Bridge: 6.6KHot
(4 out of 5)
Blues, Rock

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups Product Reviews

Here are my reviews for each of the Fender Custom Shop Pickup sets, along with the basic physical and electronic specifications.

Note: all these pickups work best when connected to a 250K volume and tone control.

1. Custom Shop Fat ’50s Stratocaster Pickups

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups - A set of Fat '50s pickups

The Fender Custom Shop Fat 50 pickups give you the original Strat sound with a reverse-wound middle pickup for hum canceling in positions 2 and 4. They have an enhanced bass response with a very vintage-sounding midrange.

These pickups will give you more of an all-around balanced sound, like the late ’50s model Strats.

  • Magnet Type: Alnico 5
  • Inductance: Neck: 2.49 Henries, Middle: 2.5 Henries, Bridge: 2.63 Henries
  • DC Resistance: Neck: 6.26K, Middle: 6.34K, Bridge: 6.43K
  • Output: Moderate (3 out of 5)
  • Best For: Blues, Rock, Country, Pop, Jazz

Pros

  • Formvar magnet wire
  • Reverse-wound middle pickup
  • Staggered hand-beveled pole pieces for balanced output
  • Period-correct cloth wire and fiber bobbin
  • Installation hardware included

Cons

  • Can be a little noisy in positions 1, 3, and 5
  • A bit pricey (but worth the cost)

2. Custom Shop ’54 Stratocaster Pickups

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups - A set of Custom '54 pickups

Fender Custom Shop 54 Strat pickups faithfully recreate the sound of the first year of issue Strat, with cutting treble, clear midrange, tight bass, and modest sustain. They helped launch the “Surf Guitar” sound and come installed in the Custom shop Dick Dale Stratocaster.

They have an edgy Strat tone with classic bell tones and clear harmonic enhancement to help you stand out in the band.

These are my favorite 50’s replacement pickups. I put a set in my Japanese ash body Strat, and they sound fantastic! Mainly, I love the “distinctive quack” they give you in positions 2 and 4! If you want that classic early Strat sound, pick up a set of these beauties!

  • Magnet Type: Alnico 5
  • Inductance: Neck/Middle: 2.4 Henries, Bridge: 2.75 Henries
  • DC Resistance: Neck/Middle Pickups: 5.9K. Bridge: 6.5K
  • Output: Vintage (2 out of 5)
  • Best For: Blues, Rock, Country, Pop
Highly Recommended by My Guitar Lair

Pros

  • Formvar magnet wire for brightness and glassiness
  • Staggered hand-beveled polepieces for balanced output
  • Period-correct cloth wire and fiber bobbin
  • Installation hardware included

Cons

  • Can be a little noisy in all positions (normal for single-coil pickups)
  • A bit pricey (but worth the cost)

3. Custom Shop Fat ’60s Stratocaster Pickups

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups - A set of Fat '60s pickups

Fat ’60s Custom Shop pickups give you that sweet vintage 60’s Strat sound with crisp articulation, but with an “overwound coil design” for additional low-end punch and a touch of modern attitude.

Beveled alnico 2 magnets give them a warm and sweet sound suitable for jazz tunes. They will give you that early-60s Strat sound!

All in all, this is a very versatile pickup set for a Strat. They sound great with every musical genre.

  • Magnet Type: Alnico 2
  • Inductance: Neck/Middle/Bridge: 2.8 Henries
  • DC Resistance: Neck/Middle/Bridge: 6.7K
  • Output: Hot (4 out of 5)
  • Best For: Blues, Rock, Country, Pop, Jazz

Pros

  • Formvar magnet wire
  • Reverse-wound reverse-polarity middle pickup
  • Period-correct cloth wire and fiber bobbin
  • Includes installation hardware

Cons

  • Can be a little noisy in positions 1, 3, and 5
  • A bit pricey (but worth the cost)

4. Custom Shop ’69 Stratocaster Pickups

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups - A set of Custom '69 pickups

The Fender Custom Shop 1969 Strat pickup set has the sound that helped make the ’69 Strat the “Holy Grail” of single-coil guitars! They have a punchy tone that helped define some of the best players of the “Woodstock Era.”

The height-staggered Alnico 5s and a special grey bobbin provide a unique coil winding and magnetic structure to give them exceptional clarity and transparency. They have a “low-end thump” and “sharp high-end” that makes them sound great with pedals.

These are, hands down, my favorite 60’s replacement Fender pickups! I put a set in a Mexican Strat with an Alder body, and they sound so period-authentic, with tons of attitude! They make notes just “snap, crackle, and pop” off the fretboard! Grab a set of these, and you won’t regret it.

  • Magnet Type: Alnico 5
  • Inductance: Neck/Middle/Bridge: 3.0 Henries
  • DC Resistance: Neck/Middle/Bridge: 5.6K
  • Output: Vintage (1 out of 5)
  • Best For: Blues, Rock, Country
Highly Recommended by My Guitar Lair

Pros

  • Enamel-coated magnet wire for warm vintage-style tones
  • Staggered pole pieces for balanced output
  • Period-correct cloth wire and gray fiber bobbin
  • Installation hardware included

Cons

  • Can be a little noisy in all positions
  • A bit pricey (but worth the cost)

5. Custom Shop Texas Special Stratocaster Pickups

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups - A set of Texas Special pickups

If you are looking for that hot-rodded “Texas Blues Tone,” installing a set of Fender Custom Shop Texas Special Strat pickups is one of the best ways to get it. They are over-wound for higher output with tight bass, midrange bite, and crystalline highs.

These pickups come preinstalled on the Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, and American Texas Special guitars.

  • Magnet Type: Alnico 5
  • Inductance: Neck: 2.57 Henries, Middle: 2.6 Henries, Bridge: 2.97 Henries
  • DC Resistance: Neck Pickup: 5.9K. Middle: 6.5K. Bridge: 6.6K
  • Output: Hot (4 out of 5)
  • Best For: Blues, Rock

Pros

  • Enamel-coated magnet wire for warm vintage tone
  • Staggered pole pieces for balanced output
  • Reverse-wound middle pickup to eliminate hum
  • Overwound calibrated pickups for scorching output
  • Period-correct cloth wire and fiber bobbin
  • Installation hardware included

Cons

  • Can be a little noisy in positions 1, 3, and 5
  • A bit pricey (but worth the cost)

What Are Replacement Pickup Sets?

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – Pickup replacement set

Replacement pickup sets are matched to each other and designed to very particular specifications, which allow a player to achieve a specific sound or group of sounds from a guitar.

They can be higher output, mimic the sound of an era (such as the 1950s or ’60s), enhance note harmonics, or do anything else that makes them unique.

They are typically available in a 2 or 3 pickup configuration and as single versus double coil (humbucking) pickups. The Stratocaster replacement sets in this article all contain single-coil neck, middle, and bridge pickups.

Replacement sets may come preinstalled in certain guitars or be purchased as aftermarket items to upgrade a guitar’s sound.


Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – Adjusting the height of a pickup after installation

Who Are Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups For?

These pickup sets are for anyone that wants to change or upgrade the sound of their guitar. They can be installed in any guitar routed for three single-coil pickups.

This is an excellent option for players who want a better-sounding guitar but don’t have the money to buy a much more expensive instrument.

Alternately, you may already have a high-quality guitar but are looking for a particular sound, perhaps for a specific style of music.

Some players buy a replacement set when one of the pickups in their guitar stops working, and they want to try something totally different, although this is more of a rare occurrence.


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Fender Company Profile

Unless you just started playing the guitar today, you are undoubtedly familiar with the Fender brand. These guitars have literally helped define rock n’ roll and blues history. Their original factory was in Fullerton California.

Fender guitars are now made in many parts of the world, with the American-made and Custom Shop guitar lines still made with pride in the USA.

The Fender Broadcaster was first introduced in the autumn of 1950. It became known as a “Nocaster” after the Broadcaster label was removed from the headstock to avoid a trademark lawsuit from Gretsch over their “Broadkaster” drum set. The guitar was re-branded the Telecaster and the rest is history!

Fender has also led the way with amplifiers. Their “K&F” (Doc Kauffman and Leo Fender) series were the very first Fender amps, made by the K&F Manufacturing Corporation. These amps formed the basis of the Woodie, Tweed, Blonde, Brownface, Blackface, and Silverface series.

Fender makes an extensive line of pickups for all their guitars and bass guitars. Their Custom Shop pickups are hand-wired with hand-beveled magnetic pole pieces and period-correct wire and bobbins.


How Electric Guitar Pickups Work

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – A pickup bobbin and magnetic pole pieces
Pickup Bobbin & Magnetic Pole Pieces

Here is a straightforward explanation of how an electric guitar pickup is designed and why it creates the sound of the note you play.

A single-coil pickup is essentially an electromagnet in reverse. It consists of six magnetic pole pieces, a pickup bobbin, and a coil of wire.

Each of the six magnets is embedded into the bobbin to run the entire length, from top to bottom.

Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – Guitar pickup design
Single-Coil Pickup

A thin gauge length of wire is wound around the bobbin, and each end is soldered to two thicker wires that carry the electrical signal.

When a guitar string is plucked, it vibrates at a certain frequency, which oscillates the magnetic field of the pole piece just below it.

This creates a voltage and electric current of the same frequency in the wire wound around the pickup’s bobbin.

The current is carried along the guitar cord and into the amplifier as the audio signal that creates the speaker’s sound.


My Guitar Lair - Features and Benefits Section

What To Look For When Buying A Replacement Pickup Set

Opinions can vary on what’s most important when selecting replacement pickups. Here are some things you should consider to help you find the most suitable pickup set for you.

Tone

The pickups’ tone is arguably the most important characteristic and the most common reason why players choose a replacement set. The overall sound of each pickup is primarily determined by its design, which affects the tone of its bass, midrange, and treble frequencies.

The neck, middle, and bridge pickups can be designed differently to give the guitar a characteristic sound.

Output

The pickup output (aka signal strength) is another essential characteristic, and a popular reason players replace their pickups. A pickup may be wound with more wire turns or a different gauge wire to increase or decrease its signal output.

Pickups with a higher signal output are also called “hotter” pickups, which gives them more “attack” and makes them more likely to distort and sustain notes musically. The bridge pickup is usually wound hotter for lead tones.

Noise Level

Single-coil pickups are susceptible to picking up electromagnetic interference or “noise” from the room or even your fingers as you touch the guitar. All single-coil pickups have some degree of noise. Double coil or “humbucking” pickups are designed to eliminate the noise.

All the pickup sets in this article are of single-coil design. Some of the sets have a reverse-wound middle pickup so that when selected in combination with the neck or bridge pick (switch positions 2 and 4), there is a noise cancellation effect, similar to a double-coil humbucking pickup.

Double-coil humbucking pickups can be made with the coils stacked vertically instead of placed horizontally. This allows the pickup to fit in a guitar with a single-coil pickup cavity.

If you are looking for an authentic “single-coil sound,” then you will have to deal with some degree of noise in your music. The guitar’s noise can be minimized by rolling off the treble a little, properly grounding your amplifier, or using a noise gate pedal in your signal chain.


Beware of an issue in this review

Proper Pickup Height Is Important!

When installing a set of replacement pickups, the pickup height adjustment is vital to get the best sound and playability out of your guitar!

The best height setting for the new pickups will not necessarily be the same as those of the old set.

Some players set their single-coil pickups as close as possible to the strings, especially the bridge pickup, to get the highest output. This can change the string vibration and adversely affect the guitar’s intonation. For more info, see How To Keep An Electric Guitar In Tune.

The height of each pickup has a “sweet spot,” where the pickup sounds and functions best. When setting the pickup height, begin at the lowest possible position and slowly raise the pickup while playing the guitar between each incremental adjustment.

The sweet spot will be obvious when you hear it. This is where you should leave the pickup. If you need a more aggressive sound, you can adjust your amp’s volume and master volume settings or use an overdrive pedal.


FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Frequently Asked Questions About Electric Guitar Pickups

Here are some of the most common questions players ask me about electric guitar pickups.

How Do I Know What Pickups To Get For My Guitar?

Selecting the “proper” pickups is most often a matter of personal taste. The pickups that you like best might not be the same for another player. The more discriminating your criteria, the more complex the process can be.

Watching videos on pickup replacement sets will not always give you the right idea of how they will sound in your particular guitar plugged into your amp, but they can help point you in the right direction.

More experienced players usually have a better idea of what they are looking for and can use technical specs, like magnet type, inductance, and DC resistance, to help them narrow down their choices.

Ultimately, it’s a process of trial and error. Some guitar players change pickup sets more than once or put in a replacement set and then change a single pickup (usually the bridge position) to really nail the sound they are after.

What Is The Best Guitar Pickup Configuration?

The best pickup configuration depends on the sound you are trying to achieve. The two things that matter most are the pickup type and the number of pickups in your guitar.

For a 3-pickup Strat, the most common configuration is SSS (three single-coil pickups), which will give you the most iconic sound. Metal players typically use an SSH configuration, which puts a humbucking pickup in the bridge position for a lead tone that can push an amplifier harder and enhance natural sustain and harmonics.

Using an HSH configuration (with a single-coil pickup in the middle position) is very versatile because you can get a mix of single-coil and humbucking sounds by combining both pickup types in switch positions 2 and 4.

What Is The Most Versatile Guitar Pickup?

The most versatile guitar pickup is probably a double-coil (humbucking pickup) because you can “split” the coils using a “tap switch” on your guitar. This lets you use both pickup coils or shut off one of the coils to use it in single-coil mode.

Note that a split humbucker will not necessarily give you the single-coil sound you want, but it will be a good option if you usually play in double-coil mode.

Are Hand Wound Pickups Better?

Hand-wound pickups can sound and perform better than machine-wound pickups if they are made correctly. The coil windings are “scatter wound,” which staggers each turn instead of laying them down side by side the way a machine would do.

Some pickup winding machines can be set to simulate the scatter winding process, but these pickups don’t seem to sound as good as some that are hand-wound by highly experienced professionals.

Do Guitar Pickups Affect Sustain?

Guitar pickups can affect the duration that the sound of a note or chord is sustained. Humbucking pickups generally help sustain notes longer than single-coil pickups. Adjusting a pickup closer to the strings can increase sustain.

The way a guitar is built can have a more significant effect on sustain than the pickups. The type of wood used in a guitar’s construction and the body thickness are determining factors.

Do Guitar Pickups Get Better With Age?

The sound of a guitar pickup will change over time. The pickup magnets will eventually weaken as they continue to age. Jazz players may perceive this as a change for the better, while metal players will probably want to replace the pickups to get louder ones. It’s really a matter of personal taste

As a guitar’s wood continues to age, it might resonate better, especially if the body has a natural finish or a thin coat of lacquer. This improvement in the guitar’s sound is often mistakenly attributed to an aging pickup set.


Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster pickups are an excellent way to improve your guitar’s sound. All their pickup sets are top-quality high-performing replacements for your Strat or any three single-coil pickup guitar.

There is no one-best replacement set, although I like the sound of the Custom Shop ’54 and Custom Shop ’69 best. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

Each pickup has its own “sweet spot” for height adjustment. Setting your pickups closer to the strings is not necessarily better! It’s essential to find the height where the pickup sounds and performs best, which can be different for each pickup and guitar.

Checking out the sound of these pickup sets on demonstration videos can give you a basic idea of their sound. Be aware that different guitars and even your playing technique can affect their sound and performance. Some of the consumer reviews on various websites can also be helpful.


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Tell Me What You Think

Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this Custom Shop Stratocaster pickups review, have any questions about this product, or want to leave your own review. I will be happy to help you.

  • Does your guitar currently have a set of Fender Custom Shop pickups? What do you think of them?
  • Do you have a favorite custom shop pickup set? Which one?
  • Did this review help you decide which pickup set is best for you? Are you ready to buy?

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4 thoughts on “Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – Which Set Is Best?”

  1. I really enjoyed this article on Stratocaster pickups. Very informative stuff here!! There doesn’t seem to me like there is enough of this type of in depth content on anything out there, especially in music. I am definitely glad I found your website and I will bookmark it and come back. There is so much more throughout the website I want to check out. Keep up your great work. Much appreciated.

    Robin

    Reply
    • Hi, Robin

      Thank You for your comments!

      I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoyed my article. These are all awesome replacement sets if you have a Strat or another three single-coil pickup guitar!

      Frank

      Reply
  2. Seems like they all have the same pros and cons.  I am not a guitar player, but my son is.  I guess I need to find out a little bit more on what he has been looking at purchasing for his guitar.  I know that it is always something.  And he has been pretty excited learning and playing.  I would probably go with a double coil humbucking pickup.  Since that is the most versatile. 

    Reply
    • Hi, Leahrae

      Thank You for your comments!

      The pickups in this article are all single-coil, which can be noisy by nature, especially if played through a high-gain amp or with overdrive and distortion pedals. Single-coil pickups have a particular sound that double-coil (humbucking) pickups can’t duplicate.

      If your son has a guitar with single-coil pickups, then classic (side-by-side coil configuration) humbuckers will not fit the pickup cavities. Vertically stacked humbuckers are available that have the same footprint as single-coil pickups, so they can be installed without routing the guitar body.

      If he is a beginning player, he is probably doing fine with the pickups that came pre-installed with his guitar.

      Frank

      Reply

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