Hey forum - I’m looking to replace the pickups in my Mexican strat. Any good recommendations? I would entertain both super cheap and pricier ideas - thanks!
Don’t you think some more Information could help?
Why do you want to replace them?
What sound are you looking for?
Why replace with super cheap pickups?
They would probably be worse than the ones you have now.
Hey there - thanks for the clarifying questions!
I don’t like the sound of my MIM strat pickups - in particular, they aren’t very balanced. I’m open to different strat sounds including vintage, modern or hum cancelling. This strat is mainly used for a wedding/cover band, so it ends up playing a lot of different pop/rock styles. I’ve heard good things about GFX and Dragon Fire pickups which are cheaper so I would consider those. Also, I definitely don’t believe expensive pickups necessarily sound better. I’ve had some ho hum experiences with changing pickups in the past (mostly humbuckers) so I kind of like the idea of not spending too much but I would definitely shell out some bucks for a good set. Hope that makes sense - thanks!
I’m strongly considering Zexcoils in my strat. I can’t recommend them, because I haven’t done it yet, but great single-coil tone with no hum is really appealing. Fairly expensive, too. Especially compared to GF stuff, which I’ve also heard good things about.
Could you maybe give a little more insight into what you mean by “not balanced”? Like, in terms of output from position to position? Or in terms of EQ and if so too bassy, too trebly, too something else? Or string-to-string balance?
I’ve played a TON of different singlecoils, both true singlecoils and singlecoil-voiced humbuckers, and would be happy to weigh in a bit, but it’s hard to tell what you’re really looking for ere.
Likewise with how you’re going to be using it… A wedding/cover band could still represent a huge range of potential styles, without knowing what you’re sort of area of focus is…
With absolutely nothing else to go on, I’d be thinking a HSH or HH, wired with a coil tap or a switch with tapped/parallel positions rather than singlecoils, to give you a range of neck humbucker, bridge humbucker, and more traditional “strat-like” sounds, but even SSH would probably work if you didn’t really need a neck humbucker… And there are absolutely some styles/areas of focus where just SSS would probably be fine.
Hey there - thanks for the feedback. My current pickups feel like their string to string balance is off - I also would have to describe the pickups as dull sounding - I can’t really come up with a better explanation than that…I’m curious what people think of the various brands - Fender, Lindy Fralin, SD, EMG, Lace Sensor, etc…
Actually I like the old Dimarzio HS-3 better, if you want that punchy strat attack in a less noisy stack.
Eric Johnson Sig. are amazing - sparkle + drive.
Ok, two things to go off there, then.
- String to string balance. Some of this you can fix by adjusting pickup height, so before you do anything else I’d start there. My approach to adjusting pickup height is to start with all pickups pretty low, then while fretting one of the last couple frets on the low E string up high on the neck (choose the highest that you can get a really pure, clean fretted sound from), gradually raise the bass side of the pickup while picking that note until you start to hear a warble in the note through your amp - the so called “strat-itis” where the magnetic pull starts to impact the string’s vibration - and then reverse and lower it back down a couple quarter turns until it goes away. Repeat for the treble side, and then go through and balance the rest of the pickups to this one in volume. That’s a good starting point for pickup to pickup balance.
- More likely than not your Mexi strat has a “vintage” magnet stagger. This made a lot of sense back in the days of a wound G, but with an unwould the G string tends to pop out louder than anything else. The most common way of fixing this is to lower the bass side of the pickup enough to pull the G magnet away from the string. I’d argue a better way to fix this is to just use a modern, flatter stagger, but that’s neither here nor there.
As far as pickup sets I’ve tried, I’ve played a good number of the Dimarzio noiseless (Area 67, 61, Heavy Blues 2, Fast Track 2, Cruiser… think that’s it), a whole bunch of Fenders (Eric Johnson, Texas Special, Fat 50s, Custom 69 neck position), Gold Lace Sensors, and a bunch of Suhrs (ML Standard, V60, V60LP). Maybe one or two more I’m forgetting.
Fender uses a vintage stagger for all of their pickups, but while Fender doesn’t recommend this, if you’re careful you CAN press the magnet further down into the body of the pickup so it doesn’t project as far. I’ve done this to most of the Fenders I mentioned above, and IMO it helps. Everything else has a modern stagger or, in the case of the Lace Sensors, no stagger at all.
Personally, my favorites have been the Suhrs. I’m not sure what it is - John Suhr attributes their sound to tracking down magnets from the same producer Fender used in the 50s and 60s, and maybe there’s something to this because this is a universal impression for all of the ones I’ve played, but they just sound “bigger” than most singlecoils I’ve played. The Fenders sound kind of “filtered” by comparison, while the Suhrs just seem more solid and substantial. I didn’t love the V60s, but the V60LPs are a really great traditional Fender sound, while the MLs are more of a somewhat hotter, punchier “rock” singlecoil.
That said, I was also really impressed with the Dimarzio Area series, and if you really need silent singlecoils in case of bad grounds, neon lights, etc, then they probably get you 98% of the way to the Fender sound they’re after (say, Area 61 to the Texas Special, or Area 67 to the Custom 69), but with less magnetic pull than a normal singlecoil and no 60 cycle hum.
Either of those would be good starting points. The Suhrs are pricy but only a little more so than Fenders, while the Dimarzios are going to run you about the same as a trio of Fender Custom Shop pickups.
I DID like the Fender EJs, of all the Fenders I’ve played - that vintage stagger is still dumb, but the neck pickup has a nice woody smokiness to it, the middle has more of a Texas Special vibe (they seemed pretty comparable to me actually), and the bridge has an awesome burnished glassiness that reminded me a lot of the Suhr ML in that position, actually, just with a little less substantialness to the sound.
I like the idea to adjust your pickups, and also consider EQ in front. The only pickup change that might make sense is HSH with coil taps because you are in a cover band, but other than that, why bother?
I’ve tried many sets of pickups in my old MIM SSS strat, the ones the woke the guitar up were Lindy Fralin Vintage Hots. That guitar went from meh to my fav strat strat in no time, had all the classic tones I was looking for — absolute Hendrix to SRV coverage, hard to put down levels of mojo.
Infact I’m wating to ge my hands on a new YJM rose wood to put a set on, that’ll complete my guitar needs. A YJM YJM strat and a strat strat YJM
Thanks for the info! If I push the magnet down, is there a way to get the magnet back up in case I don’t like the sound?
Well, if the pickup isn’t currently installed, then you can push it back from the other side - staggered pickup magnets are usually flat on the other side of the pickup, so if you lower one it’ll protrude a little on the other side.
It’s not likely to make a huge tonal change, though, although you may get a little better string-to-string balance; rather, it’ll give you a little more flexibility in height adjustment. On a Strat, with vintage-stagger pickups, I always found the G string the limiting factor when raising pickup height, as it would start to pull on the G string before the other strings were close enough to be impacted.
Only thing I’ll say is especially in pickups with rough-cast magnets, be VERY careful doing this, as if you accidentally break the wire wrapping the magnets you’ll destroy the pickups. If you’re thinking of changing pickups anyway, it might be worth the chance though.