The Best Stratocaster pickups?
'Which are the best Stratocaster pickups?' A very common question on guitar forums, but at its heart very difficult to answer. And that is largely because we all experience guitar tone differently and have our own favorite tones that we seek. So I am not going to try to answer the question directly!.
But what needs to be clearly understood is that Stratocaster pickup construction (as all pickups) is a series of design choices aimed at delivering a particular tone well, and other tones with varying levels of compromise. Some of these design choices are well known and documented. More windings = higher resistance and a 'hotter' tone. Alnico magnets are tonally warmer than ceramic, etc etc. But here are 3 often overlooked design factors, that are also vital to a pickups tone.
The winding cross-section;
Stratocaster pickups are conventionally wound on some form of bobbin. But a fixed number of windings can give a different tone depending on the cross -section of those windings. A taller thinner bobbin, will give rise to a taller thinner cross section of copper winding. That generates a slightly lower overall output, but with a higher treble content. A shorter wider bobbin (and winding) will give a higher relative output and a 'fatter' midrange.
Traditionally, bobbins were a 2 part construction. A pair of fibre plates (flat work) were arranged at the top and bottom of 6 magnet pole piece rods. This is in contrast to a modern production route of a moulded one piece plastic bobbin. In this the pole pieces sit in 'wells' surrounded by the moulding. So consider the effect on winding cross-section as described above. By their nature, the moulding surface on which the windings will lay in a plastic bobbin will be slightly longer and wider than the traditional construction. So the same resistance of winding (i.e. its total length) will have slightly less overall windings and they give a relatively thinner cross-section. These factors all tend towards, brighter and cleaner tones for a given resistance. Clearly, as the traditional build, many guitarists favor fibre bobbin pickups. But moulded bobbins pose an interesting alternative as well as allowing infinitely more adjustment of the pole pieces.
Pole piece Stagger;
Stratocaster pickups in particular are 'defined' by the style and variance of their pole piece stagger. This ranges from the full 'Vintage' stagger where all 6 poles are of differing heights, to perfectly flat pole pieces. The important thing is their relative height differences to each other. How far the shortest one protrudes above the pickup cover is not so important. This is quite a complex topic and significantly affects the he overall sound of a pickup when playing chords for example, as it determines the relative volume of any string in the mix. See Ironstone's support page on the topic via the Full Details link below.
All of the above are elements of pickup design we consider here at Ironstone. But ultimately its up to your ears to find your best Stratocaster pickups. For those who like see and hear comparisons, check out the amazing Guitar Tone Database link (agdi.com) below.