What's the double-coil equovalent of an SSL1?
April 15, 2016 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I have a Fender American Standard HSS strat. If they were all single coil pickups I would install SSL1s. What should I install at the bridge humbucker? I am going for a John Fruiciante Calofornication/By the way sound.
posted by jitterbug perfume to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd just get a new pickguard and make it SSS. But if you want a humbucker, you're not going to find one that sounds like a single coil and I'd recommend instead going for the most buttery, beautiful vintage sounding humbucker you can find. I've been kind of obsessed with pickup sounds for many years now, to the extent that almost nothing sounds right to me anymore. I hate noise, I love the complexity of a good single coil sound, but I also don't like trying to fit a single coil into a mix on a recording. With that in mind, having tried just about everything out there, the hands-down best sounding humbucker I've ever played is the Wolfetone Dr. Vintage. I mean just unbelievable, and the only aftermarket humbucker I'd consider putting in a bridge position. One of my guitars has a Rio Grande humbucker in the neck position and it sounds amazing. But for the bridge position, the Wolfetone has it.
posted by The World Famous at 3:05 PM on April 15, 2016

This is exactly the kind of advice I was looking for. So if you were going for Fruiciante/Mayer moody/pretty but musclely Strat/Marshall Hendrix-y sounds, would that humbucker you suggested mix in well? I honestly am confused by humbuckers with regard to achieving tone. As an expert - what is the humbuckers wheelhouse of sound? What is it there for? I have some decent money to throw at this - should I ditch the attempts at aforementioned vibes from this guitar and devote it to something else, and buy a SSS for my purposes? I'm a professional player.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 3:30 PM on April 15, 2016

In general, humbuckers usually have a lot more bass than single coil pickups. IMO, there isn't a humbucker that will effectively mimic the sound of a strat bridge pickup, which are super heavy on the treble. You can cut the bass and mids on your amp settings to get you in the neighborhood, but the thing about strats is that they sound like strats because of that slanted single-coil bridge pickup (among other factors).

American Standard strat bodies are routed in the bridge position to accept humbucker or strat pickups. I'd follow The World Famous' advice and buy an SSS pickguard and those SSL-1's you're dreaming of, and have those installed. No need for a new guitar unless there are other things you don't like about it.
posted by puritycontrol at 3:44 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ok. I've learned a lot here. And - Not so much things I don't like about it as I want to let it shine for what it was meant to do. What kind of sound was this guitar made to make? I had planned on buying a second guitar so I'd rather just start out with a guitar body meant to sound like a strat for that one. Last time I'll come back but could you please either explain to me what sound is meant to be coming out of this guitar I own. Please and thank you so much.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 3:56 PM on April 15, 2016

You could always opt for a humbucker-sized P90. A lot of companies make them, but a nice sounding pickup that is in no-way-will-this-break-the-bank territory is the Dream 90 by GFS. I have them in a couple of guitars and they sound pretty good. If you want something a bit hotter, they also make a slightly-hotter version called the Mean 90.
posted by MrKellyBlah at 3:57 PM on April 15, 2016

A Hendrix/Mayer Strat tone doesn't typically use the bridge pickup all that often. Yes, it gets used sometimes, but when people think of the Hendrix or Mayer Strat tone, they're usually thinking of the neck pickup or the second switch position that does the combined neck and middle pickups.

The bridge single coil pickup on a Strat can be wired in a few different ways as far as whether it goes through the tone control or not, and that sort of thing. If it's not wired through the tone control, it tends to have a much more treble-y tone than the other two pickups but at the same time pick up more of what I think of as the meat of what you're playing. I'm a Strat player and I almost never use the bridge single coil. Frusciante's tone - at least on recordings - sounds to me like he uses the bridge single coil pick up alone more than those other two players do, but that's when he's doing a really thin-sounding clean tone (at least that's what my ears are telling me).

A humbucker will both give you less noise than the single coil and also give a tone that has more low end in the bridge position than a single coil and also has usually a more compressed tone (to my ears). I'm an engineer, so if someone who can speak in terms of the specific frequency response, what notches in the EQ each pickup fills out, etc., please feel free to disagree with me or explain what I'm saying in more precise terms.

When I play live with a relatively clean tone, I prefer playing single coil pickus on a Strat, Tele, or Jazzmaster, and I stick mostly to the neck pickup or middle switch positions, since they sound much fatter and more rich to my ear. But when I record, I tend to use either humbuckers or Lace Sensors in various configurations, both to reduce noise and to get what I think of as a tighter EQ profile that's easier to fit in a mix without the mud that single coils sometimes give.

But among each kind of pickup there is a ton of variation from one pickup to the next in terms of EQ and response, etc. That said, I've been searching forever for a relatively noiseless pickup that will give me a good Strat neck pickup tone, and I'm convinced it doesn't exist. I have found, though, that I can fiddle with the controls on a Les Paul or SG to combine the two pickups into a tone that, on a recording, has some of the complexity that I like about a single-coiled Fender.

What I'd recommend is watching youtube video reviews/demos of lots of different pickups to get a sense of what each one sounds like. I love Hendrix, Mayer, and Frusciante, but each of them has a very different tone from the other two, even though they all play Strats, a lot of which has to do with the fact that they each are playing different kinds of Strat pickups (Hendrix playing late-60s CBS Strats, Mayer playing modern strats with his super low output pickups, and Frusciante playing pre-CBS Strats).

For an example of how humbuckers sound generally compared to single coils, check out this video of Hendrix playing live with a Gibson SG instead of his Stratocaster, where you can hear that Hendrix' fingers will always sound like Hendrix, but the guitar he's playing gives a tone that's more like Jimmy Page's Les Pauls in the 1970s or Pete Townsend or Mick Taylor.

A Strat with a humbucker in the bridge is meant to be a jack-of-all-trades guitar, giving the best of both worlds so you've got the fat, heavy humbucker in the bridge position where a lot of Strat players think the single coil is kind of useless anyway, but you still retain the bridge and bridge/middle tones so you can get those classic Hendrix tones, as well.
posted by The World Famous at 4:04 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

(P90s sound cool, too. But they sound like P90s, and not like anything else. And they tend to be really noisy.)
posted by The World Famous at 4:05 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

And after all is said and done, I'd side with the first suggestion - get a new pickguard and wire it up SSS.
posted by MrKellyBlah at 4:47 PM on April 15, 2016

Not to send you down the rabbit hole of Too Much Information, but you might do better searching/asking on more guitar/music gear-oriented forums.

Also, a pretty fair number of pickup manufacturers (esp. the big ones like Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio) will have sound samples, and graphs/charts/measurements that help compare their various pickups, or even "pickup selector" widgets on their websites to get you some suggestions.

Seconding TWF is that an HSS Strat is intended to be a jack-of-all-trades, or for people who like everything about the Strat except they think the bridge pickup sounds too thin.

One thing you can do with some humbuckers is wire it so you can coil split, basically transforming it into a single coil pickup. Opinions differ (as with everything about guitar tech) about how well this works, but it wouldn't be very expensive to give it a try, especially if you do the work yourself (just a little soldering and swapping the standard volume pot for one that engages a switch when you pull/push the knob.)
posted by soundguy99 at 4:49 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, depending on how new it is, your American Standard HSS Stratocaster might have Fender's S-1 switching, which does a bunch of coil tapping and phase switching tricks that add a ton of additional tones to the guitar. Look into that before replacing pickups.
posted by The World Famous at 5:33 PM on April 15, 2016

This piece on setting up the "fat strat" on the Seymour Duncan site will be of great interest.

Key quote: "You can have good notch position tone, or you can have matching output levels. You can’t have both. Choose one and live with it."
posted by spitbull at 10:54 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Update for anyone who may be interested: I kept playing it, kept on feeling like I actually really like the stock pickups - so much that I was curious and googled my guitar. Lo and behold, the fat strat comes with some snazzy non-stock pickups already in it, unlike any other guitar I've personally encountered. What a great surprise!
posted by jitterbug perfume at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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