So, does Fender make good pickups for guitars? The answer is yes, they have been industry leaders, and their pickups sound great! I’m speaking as someone that has been playing Fender guitars for over 40 years.
In this article, I’ll reveal what’s best, and maybe not so good, about their pickups. Keep on reading to learn more!
You can use the table of contents below to take you to the area that interests you. Click on the little box to open it, and then click on the section of the article you want to read, or you can read from start to finish if you want the full Fender pickup experience!
The Short Answer
Fender, overall, makes a great guitar pickup! Their history goes back as far as the fall of 1950 when they released their Broadcaster guitar. Fender helped define the sound of the electric guitar, and they understand the importance of the pickup in carrying the audio signal to the amplifier.
Throughout the years, Fender has designed pickups to meet every player’s need, from Country music to Heavy Metal. As their guitar product line grew, so didn’t their pickup design. For example, the pickups in a Stratocaster are very different from the ones in a Jazzmaster!
Before you even plug these guitars in, you can see the difference in pickup appearance.
Keep On Reading To Learn More
What Are Guitar Pickups (Brief Introduction)?
In case you don’t know, a guitar pickup is a device (transducer) on your guitar that picks up the sound from your strings and sends it to the amplifier.
It is essentially made from a set of permanent magnets that are wrapped with a coil of wire. When the string above each permanent magnet is plucked, it disrupts the magnetic field and creates an electromagnetic force in the coil of wire that represents the sound you are playing and sends a current through the guitar cable to the amplifier.
This audio signal is amplified and comes out of your speaker as music.
Guitar pickups come in two configurations, single-coil and double-coil (humbucker).
Single-coil pickups are susceptible to electromagnetic interference that sounds like noise in your amplifier. Some “noiseless” single-coil pickups are actually two coils stacked one upon another to fit in the guitar’s pickup cavity, wired together to cancel out the noise.
Double-Coil (Humbucker or Humbucking) Pickups
Humbucker pickups have two separate coils, wired together side-by-side to cancel out hum (electromagnetic interference). They require a wider pickup cavity than a single coil design.
Humbucker pickups also have the advantage of having a stronger output signal than single-coils, so they can naturally overdrive the amplifier and have more sustain.
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 Good Are Fender Pickups?
So, how good is good? Fender pickups are made to last a lifetime and then some, allowing their guitars to be passed down through generations of players!
I have owned dozens of Fender guitars and have installed their replacement pickups into more guitar bodies than you can imagine. I have never had a pickup fail due to a short circuit, broken wire, or magnet malfunction over the 50 years I’ve played the guitar!
Fender pickups can cover any type of music, take effects great, and clean up exceptionally well when you turn down the guitar’s Volume control.
Advantages Of Fender Pickups
Great Value For The Money
Fender pickups are competitively priced, compared to other pickups of the same quality. They make a range of pickups to satisfy every player’s budget.
Even their low-end pickup models give good value for the money.
Experience And Expertise
Fender pickups are based on a tremendous amount of research and development expertise. Nobody in the marketplace has been making quality single-coil pickups longer than Fender!
The “Fender” Sound
Fender still makes pickups with their unmistakable sound that has dominated the guitar playing and listening world since the birth of Rock N’ Roll and the evolution of electric Blues!
Disadvantages Of Fender Pickups
May Not Outperform Boutique Pickups
Some high-end boutique pickups can outperform Fender products, but they tend to be out of the financial reach of many players and with only a modest increase in tone quality.
Not The Best Choice For Metal Players
Fender pickups may not be the best choice for some Metal players, especially in the single-coil design. Metal players that tune down or have seven or 8-string guitars may benefit from pickups specially designed to accommodate this playing style.
Where Does Fender Make Their Pickups?
These days, most Fender pickups are made in Mexico and the USA. The Fender American-made guitars may have Mexican but usually have US pickups. Fender Custom Shop Pickups are made in the USA.
Some custom Shop pickups are hand-wound. I have a Fender 50th Anniversary Custom Shop 1954 Strat with pickups that were hand-wound by Abigail Ybarra. She wound pickups at Fender for 57 years, including the pickups for the original 1956 Strats!
You can’t compare the sound of a standard Fender pickup to a custom shop model, but you get what you pay for!
What Are The Best Fender Stratocaster Pickups?
Fender’s Custom Shop line is undoubtedly their best Strat pickups! They have recreated the sounds of some of their most iconic guitars, like the legionary ’54 and ’69 years.
In addition, Fender has a Custom Shop Texas Special pickup set that is much nicer sounding than their Tex-Mex Strat Pickups.
If you’re looking for a great single-coil Strat pickup, check out my article on Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster Pickups – Which Set Is Best?
What Are The Hottest Strat Pickups?
If you’re looking to crank up your Strat’s signal output, there are a variety of Fender pickups that will do a marvelous job!
I really like the sound and playability of the Fender Strat Hot Noiseless pickups. Their ceramic magnets give them a unique, edgy sound.
The Tex-Mex Strat Pickups and Eric Johnson Stratocaster Pickups are also excellent choices for hot rodding your guitar!
Are Fender Humbuckers Any Good?
Fender makes a variety of humbucker pickups that cover various genres and musical styles.
I have used them in a variety of installations with consistently impressive results! I particularly like Fender’s new Custom Double Tap™ Humbucking pickup! It can be split into a single-soil configuration without appreciable volume loss, making it an excellent option for high output single coil lead tones.
Fender typically installs humbuckers in the bridge position of some of their Rock and Metal guitars. Humbuckers also sound great in the neck position of a Tele because it does wonders to balance out an aggressive bridge pickup.
These days, Strats and Teles are commonly loaded with humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions.
What Are The Best Fender Telecaster Pickups?
Once again, it’s no surprise that the Custom Shop Tele pickups are top of the line!
I particularly like their Custom Shop ’51 Nocaster, Texas Special, and Twisted Tele pickups.
I put a set of the ’51 Nocasters in a Tele I built with a swamp ash body, and it has an incredible “old school” bite!
What Are The Hottest Tele pickups?
Fender’s Shaw Hot 50’s Telecaster Pickup Set is my top choice. They are designed by pickup guru Tim Shaw and are slightly overwound to have a vintage fat tone that really comes to life when you dig in with the pick!
The Fender Tex-Mex Telecaster Pickups are another good option for a more modern take on a spicy tone.
Pickup Replacement Checklist
Here are some things to consider before replacing the pickups in your guitar.
Is It Really Your Pickups?
Before you replace your guitar’s pickups, be sure you are using a good set of strings and that your instrument is set up correctly! The solution could be something as simple as using a thicker string gauge or properly adjusting the pickup height.
A guitar setup will correct things like an improperly set action and intonation problems, which may affect the pickup performance.
Can You Do It Yourself?
If you have experience working with electronic circuitry, you should be ok with doing the replacement yourself. Be sure to follow the wiring diagram that comes with the pickups to avoid connecting the pickups out of phase.
Let a certified guitar tech do it when in doubt, especially if you have an expensive instrument!
Do You Need To Replace Every Pickup?
You may not have to replace every pickup. Perhaps you just want a hotter bridge pickup for lead tones that overdrive your amp and have increased sustain with better harmonics.
If you are not replacing the entire set, it’s essential to be sure that the replacement pickup is a good match for the others in terms of tone and volume.
Will It Increase The Guitar’s Value?
Always consider the value of your guitar before changing pickups. If the guitar is cheap or has several problems, it may not be worth spending the money on new pickups.
If you have a very expensive or vintage guitar, a pickup replacement may actually decrease the guitar’s value. Be sure to keep the old pickups and that the job is professionally done!
Are Mexican-Made Fender Pickups Any Good?
Mexican-made Fender guitars are high quality for the cost, and the pickups are generally no exception. Over the years, I have played many Mexican Strats and Teles and never found one that sounded like it needed a pickup replacement.
I have a red made-in-Mexico (MIM) Strat with a Ceramic Pickup Set! Although it’s one of my cheaper Strats, it has a ’60s sound that I love. The ceramic pickups are dynamic and edgy sounding. These pickups really rock.
I also like the sound of the MIM Alnico 5 magnet pickups.
Their pole magnets are highest under the D and G strings, forming a sort of “upside down smile.”
For the money, you can’t go wrong with a Mexican-made Fender guitar.
How About Japanese Fender Pickups?
Japanese Fender pickups always seem to sound exceptionally well-balanced. They are available in Alnico 5 magnet and ceramic magnet configurations.
My Japanese 1957 reissue Strat has the Alnico 5 magnets and sounds incredibly vintage with a trebly bridge pickup that can cut through anyone in the band, including an aggressive drummer.
The magnet under the B string is usually flush with the pickup cover.
I think the Japanese pickups are on par with the Fender American-made standard pickups.
When Did Fender Stop Hand Winding Pickups?
Fender stopped hand-winding their guitar pickups after the CBS takeover in 1965. Fender still hand winds its Masterbuilt Custom Shop pickups.
Hand wound pickups sound more “natural” because of the way the coil windings are “scattered” on the pickup bobbin. Machine-wound pickups have very uniform windings, although some manufacturers have begun using automation that duplicates the inconsistencies of hand-winding.
The other important determinants of sound in pickups are the type of wire used, the number of coil windings, and the magnet type.
So, Are All Fender Pickups Legit?
Absolutely! I have been playing and building guitars and bass guitars for 50 years, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard a “bad” sounding pickup, although I have my favorites.
Fender pickups have always been my go-to single-coils for solid body electrics. They not only sound great but are very dependable. They tend to “wear well” as they age, without the issues that some pickups have with magnetic field dropout and tone degradation.
Beware Of Replacing Your Guitar’s Pickups!
As mentioned briefly above, upgrading the pickups on an expensive designer or vintage guitar could significantly lower its retail value, even if you keep the originals.
Collectors like to see all original parts on guitars without repairs, right down to the factory solder joints. If you don’t like the sound of an expensive or vintage guitar, you’re probably better off selling it and buying something more to your musical taste.
Are You Qualified To Make Guitar Adjustments Or Modifications?
It’s great to work on your guitars, especially if you have a lot of them, but you should always be aware of your limitations.
Adjusting things like an electric guitar’s string height (action) or pickup height can be straightforward. Still, some adjustments require the proper training and experience, like adjusting a guitar’s truss rod.
When you doubt your ability to adjust, repair, or modify your guitar, it’s always best to bring it to a competent guitar technician or luthier (guitar designer & builder). You can permanently damage your guitar, and it might never play and sound right again!
Making modifications to your guitar can void its manufacturer’s warranty and cause permanent damage to the instrument. Certain modifications are irreversible, so you may be stuck with them, even if you desperately want to restore the guitar to its original condition!
I learned that the hard way over the years until I did a three-year apprenticeship in a guitar repair shop. Now I have my own home workshop with the proper training and equipment to safely maintain and repair all my instruments.
Remember: “When In Doubt, Send It Out!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the questions I get asked about guitar pickups.
If your question does not appear here, please put it in the comments, and I will get right back to you with an answer.
What Is The Best Fender Pickup?
There is no best Fender pickup. Each pickup has its own individual sound and pros and cons. It all comes down to player preference. Classically, Strat pickups were considered more Rock and Blues, while Country players favored Tele pickups. Jazzmaster pickups have a more mellow “in-between tone,” but the guitar did not become popular among Jazz players, who prefer hollow body or semi-hollow body instruments.
Which Is Better, Single Coil Or Humbucker?
It depends on the music you play and the sound you like. Single-coil pickups have a lower signal output and are susceptible to noise from electromagnetic interference but have a more focused and brighter sound.
Humbucker (double-coil) pickups are noise-free and have a higher signal output with a more balanced and less trebly tone.
What Are Alnico Pickups?
Alnico pickups have magnetic pole pieces made of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. They initially became popular because aluminum and nickel have a significantly higher magnetic field strength than iron, and cobalt has corrosion-resistant properties.
Alnico magnets come in three magnetic field strengths, designated I, II, and V. Each magnet has its own characteristic tonal properties.
Alnico II magnets have a magnetic field strength between Alnico III and V. they have a sweet vintage sound and were used on the first Telecasters
Alnico III magnets are the weakest. They actually do not contain cobalt. These pickups were used in the early Stratocasters and had the best natural sustain due to their low magnetic string pull.
Alnico V magnets are the strongest and have a dynamic profile that sounds great with a lead tone.
Are Ceramic Pickups Better Than Alnico?
Ceramic pickups are not better than Alnico; they are simply different. Ceramic magnets are stronger, so they have a higher signal output but are not as warm-sounding as Alnico. You might prefer ceramic pickups if you want a harsher sound with more treble emphasis and a “brittle” tone.
Are Fender Pickups Good For Metal?
Fender single-coil pickups are not as popular as humbucker pickups for Metal, especially in the bridge position. Fender humbucker pickups are excellent for Metal sounds and are often used in the bridge and neck positions of Strats and Teles.
I hope this article has addressed all your questions and concerns about Fender pickups. They are one of the premier manufacturers of single-coil pickups that have defined the sound of solid body guitars.
Fender pickups come in various configurations and tone profiles for all players. Their high reliability and affordable price have made them a favorite for replacement pickups.
Mexican and Japanese-made pickups are both high-quality, but Fender’s American-made pickups generally sound better and come in a variety of tonal options and signal outputs, some wound hotter than others. Fender’s hand-wound Custom Shop pickups can compete with the sound of more costly high-end boutique models.
Combining Fender single-coil and humbucking pickups can give your guitar enough versatility, to cover any musical genre, especially when used together with their new Custom Double Tap™ Humbucking design.
Before replacing your guitar’s pickups, be sure that an upgrade will solve the problem. Using thicker gauge strings, adjusting the pickups to the proper height, or getting a guitar setup might be all you require to get the tone and playability you desire.
So, does Fender make good pickups? You can bet on it and take that to the bank!
Tell Me What You Think
Please leave a comment below if you enjoyed this article, have any questions about Fender pickups, or want to give your point of view. I will be happy to help you.
- What brand of guitar pickups do you like best? Why?
- How would your rate Fender pickups, compared to others?
- Have you replaced the pickups in a Fender guitar? What replacements did you choose?
- What else is on your mind?