Best Strat Pickups For Blues (Think SRV Tone)

Kevin Darty
July 30th, 2008, 08:20 AM
I know a lot of people think that pickups are the magic ingredient to Stevie Ray Vaughan's Tone and thus this topic has been discussed many times before.

You can't get SRV Tone by pickups alone. There is a lot more to it than that.

Asking "what pickup for SRV Tone" is like asking "what is the meaning of life".

I'm not here to ask that question.

As a fan of the Blues and more specifically, Stevie Ray Vaughan, I would like to get some new pickups for my '62 Vintage Hot Rod that would give me a thicker, more meaty "bluesy" tone.

I know when these discussions come up a lot of people say "Fender Texas Specials" but then a lot of other people say "no, those are too muddy and nothing like SRV's Tone". I'm not even considering those.

Here are some of the ones I've been looking at. If you have any experience with these please let me know what you think.

Stephens Design (Dave Stephens) - Texas Fifty Nine
Van Zandt - Blues Pickups (or possibly Rocks)
Rio Grande (Tallboy or Muy Grande)
GFS (Boston Blues, Premium Texas)
Lindy Fralin - Blues Special
Callaham's Fralin Special Winds - H/SRV Specials
Fender Custom Shop '69 Pickups
Fender "not for resale" Custom Shop "Big Dipper" (John Mayer)
Torres Engineering - BUZKUT ("Big Dipper" Clones)
Kinman - Blues Set

I could probably go on and on but those are some of the ones I've been looking at.

To help with recommendations, I'll tell you that I am a big fan of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan.

While Hendrix and SRV at times could be said to have a similar tone, I know Jimmie Vaughan's is completely different.

I have a Jimmie Vaughan Signature Stratocaster with Tex-Mex Pickups in them and I love those but I want something different to go into my '62 Vintage Hot Rod.

I don't want a set of "distortion" pickups. I want something a little hot but also sounds good clean.

I like John Mayer's sound which comes from his Custom Shop modified "Texas Specials" which go by the name "Big Dipper". Unfortunately, these are not currently for resale and can only be purchased with a John Mayer Signature Strat or for a ridiculous price parted out on eBay.

Torres Engineering makes a "Big Dipper" clone called "BUZKUT". Has anyone tried those? What do you think?

Much like Stevie Ray Vaughan, I play with thicker strings, not as big as SRV but big (11 hybrids) and I tend to play off the neck and middle pickup combinations a lot.

I know a lot of people say their pickups will give you that SRV and Eric Johnson Tone. I'm not so sure I would equate Eric Johnson's tone to Stevie Ray's.

Has anyone tried any of the pickups in my list above or do you have something else you swear by that you think will fit the bill here?

What do you use for that "Texas" Blues Tone?

Please share :smile:

July 30th, 2008, 08:33 AM
Fralins would be my first choice at this point, but I like Rio Grandes as well.
Fender CS '69's are, simply put, awesome.

Kevin Darty
July 30th, 2008, 08:38 AM
Jimi, which Fralin's have you tried?

Also, what guitars have you used the Fralin's and '69 Custom Shop in (looking for body and neck wood combinations here)?


July 30th, 2008, 02:43 PM
I've had good luck reaching these kind of tones with Fralin Blues Specials, and Fender Customshop 57/62 model pickups. The Fenders are a little more light vintage version of this tone area, but I liked both of these.

July 30th, 2008, 03:15 PM
Jimi, which Fralin's have you tried?

Also, what guitars have you used the Fralin's and '69 Custom Shop in (looking for body and neck wood combinations here)?


I picked up a used Jimmie Vaughan Strat 'cuz I already had one that I liked
a lot and this here second one had Fralin's Blues Hots (or is that Hot Blues?)
well.. I liked it a lot as well, but in a different way.

then, just recently, I swapped out the stock body of the Fralin-equipped
Strat for an alder body painted Pepto Bismol pink - and I was completely
AMAZED how the freakin' thing came to life!

this JV can now stand with the best Strat I've ever played or heard!

I've heard tell that the stock JV bodies are alder, but I can't say I know for
sure that's what I have.

my first JV was retro-fitted with Custom Shop 54's and that's a good one as
well, but honestly the Fralins sound FAR superior to me.

I have the Custom Shop 69's (initialed by Abigail, natch!) in a MIJ Strat
and those are my second favorite Strat pups.. umm, think of the mellow
Jimi Hendrix "clean" tone, ala The Wind Cries Mary

the Rio Grande I like is a Tele bridge pup, I don't know what the exact
type it is, but it sounds like a Telecaster bridge position should.

the JVs both are maple necks, kinda chunky, kinda "V" - while the MIJ
is a reissue of the '67 Strat with the maple cap board & big headstock
with the gold Fender logo.. this one's neck is slim with vintage-style
frets (not my favorite in the world, I like big ol' frets) but it was a great
guitar even with the stock pickups and electronics. (I replaced all that
stuff as well) the body of this one could be basswood for all I know.

the thing about the SRV tone is that the man was running 3 or 4 amps at
once and all that contributed as much to his tone as his hands and heart.

anyway, I suppose I should mention as well that most of these guitars have
been upgraded with Callaham parts - I noticed a dramatic improvement in
tone as well as sustain when I switched to Callaham's stainless steel neck
plate with stainless steel screws, BTW.

July 30th, 2008, 03:18 PM
I think it would be really hard to go wrong with a set of Fralins. I have the vintage hots and they sound awesome in my highway one strat.

Kevin Darty
July 30th, 2008, 03:21 PM
I suppose I should mention as well that most of these guitars have
been upgraded with Callaham parts - I noticed a dramatic improvement in
tone as well as sustain when I switched to Callaham's stainless steel neck
plate with stainless steel screws, BTW.

Really, I was under the impression that the JV Strats came with the American Vintage Bridge with the big Steel Block :confused:

I remember reading in the GFS Steel Block thread recently where people were asking about the JV Strats and the consensus that the JV had the big steel block and that an upgrade to the GFS or Callaham wouldn't make much of a difference.

Glad to see it worked good for you... Thanks

Btw, I remember reading in another thread about your mods to your JV... sounds like you have one heck of a player there :smile:

Kevin Darty
July 30th, 2008, 04:07 PM
Sounds like a lot of people like the Fralins.

What about Stephens Design (SD) or Van Zandt?

Does anybody have experience with any of those?

July 30th, 2008, 04:14 PM
Custom Shop 69 get my vote. I would also suggest looking at the 57/62 pickups as well. Since some of SRV guitars are 1962 era.

Old Cane
July 30th, 2008, 04:45 PM
I have used Van Zandts and think they are excellent.

I like, in no particular order, Mares, Budz, Van Zandts, Kinmans, Fralins, Florence, and the stock Fender pickups in my guitars. I've never sold a Fender or changed the pickups because I didn't like it. I did change sometimes just to change and/or try something new but if I didn't like it to start with I wouldn't have bought it.

I've only recently started building some so that's different because, well, nothing comes stock with a partscaster. I chose to go with Budz for my builds. I've been saying this alot all over this forum but I like the guy and like what he makes. There are plenty of great winders out there now. Choose one who's tones you like and the person behind the crank (meaning the winding machine, not the spouse). All of these guys have sound clips which help some but from what I've seen all have great reputations. Not many bad choices these days, just lots of them.

I know someone here has a tag line about the other 75% of your tone being the AMP. I think that might be an understatement. Use good pickups and a good amp and you'll probably get a really good sound. Whether or not it sounds like someone in particular, besides you, is kind of up to the roation of the earth and alignment of the planets and your bathing schedule and how often you have pizza and.............

July 30th, 2008, 10:33 PM
Call Curtis Novak and tell him what you want. www.curtisnovak.com

For doing the JV tone thing, wire up the 2nd tone for the bridge pickup and work on your technique. ;)

July 30th, 2008, 11:15 PM
I also for got to mention Copperhead pickups sound close too



July 31st, 2008, 04:11 AM
I had a set of Dave Stephens pickups - for the sound you want, the '64 mojo seems more appropriate. I had those - the 59s I think will be more clanky and chimey - 64 mojo is real bluesy.

I played some Callaham H/SRV as well as vintage hots as well as Callahams special wind - they are all ok my favorites would be the H/SRV

Brandon Roy
July 31st, 2008, 04:37 AM
I've said it many times and I'll say it again. 57/62's get me in the SRV tone territory. If you've used them and can't get there, then perhaps it's the amp you're using. My second (and more expensive) suggestion would be Lindy Fralins.

marc sosnoff
July 31st, 2008, 08:14 AM
the kinman blues are a really nice pups and can get many nice tones but to me they dont do the svr thing the fralins basically you cant go wrong with his product i havent used the stephens design but i have a set of his pups in one of my teles and i adore them and i can get that kinda tone (svr) with them so i am sure his strat pup can get you there i would email him his sound samples are pretty good on his web site but i would email him


July 31st, 2008, 04:05 PM
I think it might be a bit of an over-generalization to equate a "blues" sound with over-wound pickups, which is what Fender Texas Specials, Fralin Blues Specials, etc. are. As Fralin himself notes on his site: "A stronger pickup will make your treble strings sound better but your wound strings will get farther from the Fender twang."

It's been proven that SRV had what today would be considered underwound pickups, around 6 ohms on his main Strat. Sonically you can hear this on his recordings in the clarity SRV achieved on the wound strings, without ever becoming overly muddy or mid-rangey.

There seem to be an almost never-ending supply of new winders of Strat pickups. After 25 years of replacing the pickups in my Strats each has a different set, all of which can achieve an approximation of the SRV/Hendrix-tone: Fralin Vintage Hots; VanZandt True Vintage/Duncan Antiquity Texas Hot Custom Bridge pickup; a set of pickups rewound by OC Duff; and a Fender '60 Custom Shop Reissue with original pickups.

July 31st, 2008, 05:02 PM
-Don't forget about Fender's Fat '50s p'ups. Those are some sweet ones too.

Matt D.

July 31st, 2008, 06:44 PM
I agree that the Kinman blues set are not what you've described here, although IMHO the SCn in that set works well IMHO in the middle or bridge position with a good amount of SRV "bark" and "poke".

To my ears, the AVn 62s are like warmer and fatter versions of a regular strat pickup.

I do recommend the Kinman Traditional Mk-II's if you want authentic strat/SRV tone without the hum.

July 31st, 2008, 06:53 PM
honestly i think you are barking up the wrong tree with with overwound thing. not that overwound pickups are bad, its just not the way IMHO to do the SRV thing. I know you already said that getting his tone is like asking the meaning of life, but for me, i think its more about the drive of the amps and speakers. The signal from the guitar is very much clean. I think the pups you have should work well for that. Maybe a 15" speaker and an attenuator would be money better spent. I dont mean so sound like an ass to you or anything, its just my experience that the 57/62's you have do the mean blues thing really well.

Kevin Darty
July 31st, 2008, 07:37 PM
Yeah, I think I was a little off with my description by saying I was looking for something "hot"... believe me, I have done extensive research into the SRV Tone and I am fully aware that if anything Stevie's pickups were underwound.

In fact, the only person I believe is currently making a "blues" pickups intended to replicate SRV's Tone that could even come close would be Dave Stephens with his "Fifty Nine" set because that is the only one I have ever seen that is purposely underwound.

The majority of all winders that make "blues" pickups make them "hot"... especially the ones that refer to them as "Texas" style.

If anything I am just trying to get personal recommendations based on my existing research.

sa paine
July 31st, 2008, 07:47 PM
This is easy, go with Fender the 69's or the 57/62's and then you want a mid 60's Super Reverb.

Over wounds are not the way to go for his sound.

July 31st, 2008, 10:26 PM
Seriously. http://curtisnovak.com/

July 31st, 2008, 11:59 PM
I've got a partsocaster, alder body and 60's Classic neck, with CS69s. My 50's Classic, alder body also, has a set of Fralin VH's. Both sets of pups have that vintage tone and I love them both but if I had to choose just one set it would be the CS69s, hands down. BTW, both Strats have Callaham Vintage S bridges.

August 1st, 2008, 02:53 AM
Seriously. http://curtisnovak.com/

Boy, I should have my strat with Novak pups by mid august, can't wait. Been playin the heck outta my tele with novak pups; really like them too.

Up to now, the best strat pups for my Cowtipper have been S.D. A5 Surfers. I also have Lollars, Fralins on strats, and will have Novaks pretty quick; ya know the thing with pups, they all sound just different to my ears more than better or worse. I like them all for different reasons, but I actually like the Novak tele pups over Fralin tele pups for my ears.