Is it possible to upgrade a Fender Stratocaster with humbucker pickups?
As with most guitars, you can customize a Strat with whatever pickups you prefer. You can change out all of the electronics while only keeping the body if that is your goal!
What happens when you trade the single-coil pickups with humbuckers is a sound change. Since the stock design has a low relative output, this upgrade can help your guitar perform better when you’re playing some heavy rock or metal compositions.
If you don’t want to have the vintage Fender sound playing for your audience or recording, this upgrade is an affordable way to get the alterations you need without breaking the bank.
Can I Put a Humbucker in My Strat?
It is possible to upgrade your Stratocaster with new humbucker pickups successfully. If you’re not a fan of the triple single-coil design, you can swap it out for a double humbucker configuration without much trouble. You can also put a single humbucker in the bridge while keeping two single coils.
The Fender Stratocaster issue is that it delivers a warm, wholesome tone that feels like the bubble gum rock from the 1950s. You can certainly get some good melodies from the instrument, but it won’t provide you with the grinding, gritty sound that some musical genres require today.
When you prefer the look and feel of the Strat and want a smoother tone with more heaviness to it, your best option is to upgrade to the humbuckers.
Taking out the single-coil pickups turns your guitar into an instrument that can manage today’s popular rock sounds without compromising the guitar’s tone quality. Although the sound alteration is semi-permanent, the change often delivers impressive results.
History of the Humbucking Pickup (Double Coil)
Electro-Voice invented the humbucker in 1934. It was a professional audio company out of South Bend that had been in business for about four years.
The founders weren’t in the business of making instruments at the time they created the humbucking coil. Their line of work involved loudspeakers, microphones, and other public address equipment.
The first double coil pickup that could work for a guitar came from Arnold Lesti a year later. It was marketed to the public for noise cancelation, and it employed solenoid windings to magnetize still strings.
In 1938, another patent came through for two stacked coils that could work on any stringed instruments. The inventor, A.F. Knoblaugh, was working for a piano company at the time, so it was meant to be put inside of the cabinet.
By 1939, publishers were printing how-to guides that would let people construct guitar pickups made with identical coils that wrapped a self-magnetized iron core. During the installation process, you’d flip one over so that the polarity differences could be achieved.
All of these ideas produced benefits, but it would be the work of Gibson and Gretsch that would eventually solve the hum problem.
Seth Lover from Gibson used an early humbucker in 1955, filing for a patent nearly two years before Gretsch put in a similar one. The Patent Office awarded the first one to Gretsch despite that fact. The design uses a reverse-wound and reverse-polarity coil par to produce better instrument sounds.
What Are the Advantages of Converting to Humbuckers?
Instead of using the single-coil design that Fender prefers with the Stratocaster, humbuckers use two coils so that they can cancel the electromagnetic interference that happens with the instrument’s pickups.
Once they’re installed, you can manage the main’s hum with greater consistency.
Most of the pickups use magnetic materials to create a field around the guitar’s strings. That design produces an electrical current in the coils when the vibrations occur to make sounds.
When you equip humbuckers to a Strat, you’re pairing a coil with northern poles on the magnets while the other is oriented with the southern pole upward.
This process connects the coils while they stay out of phase to reduce interference. That means the string signals from the double coils add up instead of working against each other. They can get placed in parallel to create this result, but it is much easier to install them in series with how the strings pass over them on a Strat.
Alternating magnetic fields generate a hum at 50 or 60 Hertz depending on where you play. If you were to strum a Strat without making this conversion, you’d hear humming through the pickups when there were quiet music sections.
Additional hum comes from power lines, amps, motors, mixers, processors, and other equipment, especially if the single-coil pickups aren’t shielded.
When you equip humbuckers to the Strat, you’ll get more of a mid-range presence with a louder signal because you’re not dealing with the interference anymore.
How to Swap Out the Single Coils for Humbuckers on a Strat
If you’re ready to convert your Fender Strat from the triple single-coil design to humbuckers, you’ll need a few tools to get the work done.
It’s a relatively straightforward switch since pickup swaps can often prevent microphone issues before they start.
You’ll need a few tools before beginning the work. If you already have some or all of them, collect them in your working area before starting the disassembly work.
- Wire Strippers
- Adjustable Wrench (or Adjustable Pliers)
- Philips Head Screwdrivers
- Needle Nose Pliers
- A Soldering Iron
It is also necessary to grab some new parts for your guitar. Outside of the new humbucker pickups you want to install, your Strat will need a new pickguard to support the updated configuration.
Once you have all of the tools and supplies ready for the conversion, you’ll be prepared to take the following steps to swap out the SSS configuration with the humbuckers.
■ Steps to Follow for a Strat Humbucker Conversion
If you’re not confident in your skills with this configuration change, it is better to hire a professional luthier or work with your local guitar shop to have the work done. The last thing you want is to ruin your instrument inadvertently!
Please remember that this guide is for informational purposes only. Any mistakes that happen on your end with the conversion are not the responsibility of this site, the author, or anyone affiliated with the post’s production.
Here is an overview of the process to follow.
- Unpack your parts so that they’re ready for assembly. Some pickups or the new pickguard might come with manufacturer’s instructions that you’ll need to follow.
- You’ll assemble the pickguard with the humbuckers together first. Match them up with the appropriate spot on the part for a good fit. You’ll want to stick with using hand tools to prevent overtightening or stripping out the screws.
- Assemble the pickguard starts as you mount the humbuckers in the cutouts. Use the springs and screws included to ensure the correct fit.
- Once you have the humbuckers and pickguard together, you’ll need to install the switch with the flat metal side so that it faces the outside of the pickguard.
- Take the tone and volume pots, placing them in the hole cutouts with the first tab pointing toward the second one. For the third, you’ll have the tabs facing the previous one.
- At this stage, you’re ready to start soldering everything so that it stays put. You’ll need the wiring assembly instructions that Fender provides.
- Even if you have solderless Humbuckers for your Stratocaster, you’ll still need to solder the connection to the instrument’s wiring. You can save a lot of time by using pickups that use plugin wires.
- You’ll now need to solder the tabs on capacitor leads, the tabs on the pots, and the wires that work with the three-way switch.
- After you finish the assembly work from the previous steps, you’ll want to ensure that everything is uncrimped and clean.
- You’re now ready to have the entire assembly fit into the guitar easily. Once you have everything set, it helps to test the instrument before tightening everything for live play and putting the strings back on. You can tap each pickup after plugging in the guitar, cycling through the bridge, mid, and neck tones. Each one should give you some solid feedback.
- You can know screw everything together so that it stays secure to the guitar.
- Get the strings back onto your Stratocaster so that you can start playing it again!
What If I Want an Alternative Humbucker Design?
It can be a lot of work to modify a Stratocaster to manage the humbucker conversion. If you prefer to stick with the single-coil cavity instead of using the double design, you have four options available to consider.
|Stacks:||• When you select this configuration for your Strat, you’ll be using a double coil that gets stacked from top to bottom instead of side to side. |
• The sound will be similar to what you already get with your guitar, although the noise cancellation benefits will become apparent immediately.
|Rails:||• This humbucker configuration places the side with the dual coils by side while reducing the overall size of the part by at least 50%. |
• You’ll get the benefits that come with the conversion, including noise and sound improvements, but it would be as deep as it would be with a complete set.
|Reverse-Wound Single Coils:||• You can duplicate the effect that humbuckers make with a Stratocaster by using this single design. |
• It winds the middle pickup in the opposite direction for you, canceling the noise that happens when the bridge or neck gets activate on the instrument.
|Rail and Stack:||• This hybrid humbucker puts in four single coils so that you have a high-output pickup to enjoy with your instrument. |
• It delivers the authentic Fender sound while giving you the extra rumble you want within all of the targeted frequencies.
You can also examine the tonal influences found on the guitar to see what might help your overall needs.
If you don’t like the idea of converting your pickups, it might be worthwhile to look at your amps or pedals.
Another option to review is the subtle factors that your instrument uses to produce the notes and tones you want.
- The volume knob offers warmer tones with 250k pots and brighter ones with 500k ones.
- When you equip your guitar with nickel strings, you’ll get darker tones with each chord and note. Having steel makes the output brighter.
- Rosewood and mahogany tend to produce darker sounds, while alder, ash, and maple often have more attack.
- The guitar’s neck style can also impact how you play since the bolted-on design offers less sustain and colder sounds.
Each small tweak helps your guitar to have a more customized sound, whether you end up going through with the humbucker conversion or take an alternative process.
Is It Worth Going Through the Conversion Process?
If you love the look and feel of a Stratocaster, it makes sense to change the sound by converting to humbuckers. Although the work takes a little while to complete, the job isn’t overly complicated. The worst part of the process is to use the soldering iron.
I would strongly recommend that you practice using the soldering iron before trying to swap out the coils if you’ve never used the tool before. It’s not as easy to work with that low-heat metal as you might believe!
If you want to avoid the pickguard issue, it helps to install half-humbuckers that alter the sound profile some without changing your entire setup.
I think the biggest concern we face isn’t if we want to change the Strat’s pickups, but that we’re scared to go through with the work. If the sound you get isn’t working for your needs, give it up an upgrade.
You can always take it to a guitar tech to ensure the work gets done correctly.