Help me pick out new pickups for my Clapton Strat

saultime

Member
Messages
145
I've had my Clapton Strat for 16 years now, and I've kept it 100% stock the entire time. I really, really like it, and I still consider it my main guitar. But for a couple years now, I've really been growing tired of the Lace sensors. Don't get me wrong, I don't think they're as bad as some people let on, especially in this guitar, and especially considering that the technology dates back to the late 80's. But over the past few years, my playing style has changed. For the longest time I ran this guitar through a Marshall 2204 and stayed on the bridge pickup almost exclusively with a tad of the boost dialed in (kind of a P-90 sound). But now I play mostly through an AC30, and I find myself gravitating to the "2" position a lot -- and I'm really not digging the way the Lace sensors interact with the amp. I hate to repeat the old cliche about Lace sensors sounding sterile, but ... that's how they sound.

I'm ready for a change. To be clear, I'm only interested in putting noiseless pickups in this guitar -- because of the midrange boost, that isn't optional. I'm also not interested in the Suhr backplate. But other than that, I'm open to any and all noiseless pickup suggestions. What I'm looking for is something that sounds as "stratty" and as close to single coils as reasonably possible -- no crazy high output stuff, please. The Clapton boost, even when dialed all the way down makes this guitar hot enough. Although I might be interested in a slightly hotter bridge pickup, as long as that pairs well with the midrange boost. But mainly, I just want this thing to sound like a strat.

So help me out. I'm especially interested in hearing from other Clapton strat owners who have changed from lace sensors. And FWIW, I've been looking at Kinmans -- although I'm not sure about which set (especially since the boost colors everything to a degree).
 

Tone_Terrific

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
33,058
Well, I have a Powerhouse Strat.
Same boost cct but with limited boost, due to added resistors (factory).
It came with a dummy coil for noise reduction, that worked quite well, but didn't sound Stratty enough.
I installed regular style GFS pups (Greybottoms) and put a true bypass switch on the booster, removed the dummy coil.
I can have passive or boosted signal path.
The noise level is ok for me, boosted or not, but I am not running into high gain.
So, you CAN have a full passive totally Strat system, losing the booster.
OR, you can install regular pups and still have a reasonably quiet Strat at moderate boost and gain levels.
OR, you can install low-noise pups.
OR you can install regular pups with a dummy coil.
OR, you install a Suhr system, even though you would rather not.

Try them all!:D
 

doublescale1

Suhr S-Classic, V60LP's, Soft V neck
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,936
I had a set of Lace Holy Grails in my EC strat for a couple of years - it sounded real good in a live mix with those, as opposed to the Fender Vintage Noiseless - played well with all the active stuff on the EC too. Then I got two neck Duncan SSL1's and a SSL2 for the bridge, popped them in with a Suhr BPSSC and was done with that guitar - all the active mid-boost and TMB stuff happens downstream from the pickups, so everything was working as it should. I tried the Duncan SSL's because I did not want to spend a ton on an experiment, but those single coils really surprised me - very warm & sparkly - they really deliver trad vintage single coil tone. You can use the booteak brand of your choice, just stay true to the Suhr specs - below 8.0 on output, no RWRP in the middle - that's why I just ordered two neck pickups and a bridge (just like Leo shipped the first strats in 52). Lots of quack in 2 & 4. This was the best solution to having an EC strat sound like a strat when all the extra stuff is turned off. Of the noiseless stacked choices today, the Kinnmans get a lot of praise, I had a set of them 8 years ago and they were really good sounding. I also had a set of recent Dimarzio Area's in another strat, and IMHO, in a live mix I thought they were as good sounding as the Kinnmans from some years back - the Kinnmans have been re-designed since I owned them, and Dimarzio is on their 2.0 or 2.1 version of their stacked single coils - so maybe you should see if any guitarist in your area are using either of them and let them play through your rig. Also do a search for postings from SMark. He has done extensive postings on stacked single coil pickups and will have a lot of info for you. I still think that the Suhr BPSSC and real single coils are your best bet for a real sounding strat, since it would be a real strat with real single coils. That way will be more money than any of the stacked single coil humbuckers, but it is not a compromise in tone any where in your signal chain - if your strat is a keeper, invest in it. All that stuff can be pulled and saved for the next keeper strat too. Good Hunting.
 

Dashface

Member
Messages
5,489
Can't say enough good things about the Duncan SSL pickups. Those things are amazing.

That being said, the Bareknuckle Slowhands are pretty sick.

...Mind you, I've put pickups like these in my other strats, but I've never de-Laced my old Clapton strat yet. I'd really like to, I think.
 

SMark

Member
Messages
862
Well... I just installed my Clapton boost circuit into a new Strat with a new set of Lace Sensors and am really happy with it...



But there are many good combos that will work well with the boost circuit. While I am now using Lace Copperheads, other sets that work well include...

Kinman Traditionals
Lace Holy Grails
DiMarzio 61/67/67
6k Hot Gold Lace Sensors
Fender Vintage Noiseless (obviously)

I'm yet to try it with my Bardens and I've not heard from others doing it with theirs so I can't comment on it, but it does seem like it would be a good match as well.

FWIW... Anyone who feels like original Gold Lace Sensors can be cold or sterile sounding should know that the Hot Gold Lace Sensor is the cure for that. The Hot Gold is NOT a hot pickup (although they do make an optional overwound Hot Gold bridge pickup,) instead it is wound the same as the original Gold (6k) but uses much stronger magnetics. Not unlike jumping from alnico 2 to alnico 5, except maybe even a bit more of a leap. The result is a much more significant bottom-end that is nice and firm, more focused mids, and a crisper high-end. And the Hot Gold takes on distortion like a champ.

Kinman has recently released the latest version of the Traditional set which they call the Mk. III set. I haven't tried them yet, but if I was in the market for a new set of noiseless pups I would be getting those. The Mk. II set is fantastic so you can expect the Mk. III set to be even better.

So anyway, there are a few really good choices for you to choose from.
 

saultime

Member
Messages
145
I admit that I'm intrigued by the Suhr system, but it's just cost prohibitive for me. Even if I had 600 bucks sitting around, I don't think I'd want to spend it on aftermarket parts for a single guitar.

Does anyone have firsthand experience on how either the Kinmans or Dimarzios sound in a Clapton strat (especially compared to the Lace Sensors)? The Dimarzio areas in particular are looking pretty interesting.
 
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SMark

Member
Messages
862
I have the Suhr system in one of my Strats too. I think it's worth having it there, but it's not the perfect solution either. It seems to work best when all three pickups are about the same strength, and often you will find overwound bridge pickups that will compromise the system a bit. I think Suhr recommends that all three pickups be in the 6k to 8k range. I have a 13k bridge pickup, a 6k middle pickup and a 5.4k neck pickup in my BPSSC Strat. Oddly, the noisiest pickup is the middle pickup, which is the only one within the recommend range that Suhr indicates. Or at least, that's where I get the overall best noise reduction for the lot. Also, the system seems to become ineffective for the most part when you are standing close to your amp. I still think it's worthwhile if you have a set of single coils that you absolutely have to keep and yet need them to be quiet for some hi-gain playing.

The Kinman Traditional Mk. II set sounds really good with the the Clapton boost. No worrys with that set-up at all. They are more focused than the Gold Lace Sensors and more controlled when the boost is wide-open.
 

saultime

Member
Messages
145
At half the price of the Kinmans, I'm really starting to lean towards the Dimarzio Areas. There's no clear consensus on which sounds better -- and even if the Kinmans do sound *a little* better, they're A LOT more expensive. So I really don't see Kinmans in my future. I understand that there are trade offs with everything. If money wasn't an issue, I'd buy a nice reissue strat, load it up with Lollar dirty blondes and make that the guitar I play whenever I have to have a 100% authentic sound. But like a lot of you, I really can't justify buying another guitar at the moment, especially when I already a have a house full of nice instruments. And besides, I think the whole point of a Clapton Strat is versatility, not nailing one sound perfectly.

But I do think it's time to ditch the Lace Sensors. I know that some people here love them, and I like 'em more than most. But I'm just tired of that brittle, acidic top end that colors everything they do. It's not that they're bad, it's that I think there are better things out there. Perhaps the most damning indictment of these pickups is that after 1996 when Fender stopped putting them in their guitars from the factory, you basically stopped seeing them. I can hardly name a single "guitar hero" caliber player who still uses Lace Sensors -- Johnny Greenwood has them in his Tele (I think), and every once in a while you see them in Keith Urban's guitars. And the modded Clapton strat Pete Townsend uses -- but I swear, that's about it. Maybe it's because they look ugly and dated, but regardless of how they actually sound, people just don't seek these pickups out.

So which Dimarzio areas should I go for? Again, realize that the preamp will make whatever I install hotter than usual. I'm looking for as much quack and bell tone as reasonably possible. Thanks for all the help!
 

Ciroxin

Member
Messages
478
If Lace Sensors sound sterile, I am pretty sure you will find that is the case with most noiseless options on the market. If I were in your position, I would seriously consider buying a traditional AlNiCo, low output set of handwound pickups.

I ripped off DiMarzio Virtual Vintage set out of my Vigier Expert Retro 54 and changed them with flat poled Bare Knuckles Mothers Milk (RWRP) with zinc plated steel base on all three pickups. Dead quiet in your new favourite position 2 and... man do they sound alive and organic with lots of spank and quack and everything we love about Strat sound.
 

oneass

Member
Messages
255
I have the fender Hot Noiseless set in my frankenstrat, which sounds great, but I have to add that these are the only noisecancelling PUs I ever tried. Despite their name, they're not really that hot, and I've heard these are a lot better than the Vintage Noiseless (but again, haven't compared them myself).

I just mention them, 'cause I also have a mid-boost circuit in that strat (EMG SPC), and it's a great combo. Like Tone_Terrific, I wired the mid-boost to a true bypass switch, for more versatility.
Before this, I had a dummy coil in this guitar (with standard strat PUs), and while this worked quite well, I preferred the sound without it.

Also: I see a lot of recommendations for the Suhr system. A really good friend of mine has this in his Suhr strat, and I regularly use this guitar too. It really works very good, but it DOES alter the sound a bit (less treble). However, this particular guitar has a push-pull to switch of the noise-cancelling, so this is also a versatile setup.
 

solitaire

Senior Member
Messages
3,715
So which Dimarzio areas should I go for? Again, realize that the preamp will make whatever I install hotter than usual. I'm looking for as much quack and bell tone as reasonably possible. Thanks for all the help!
Depends on what kind of bell tones you want. The Virtual Vintage is perhaps the most vintage of the lot with nice and fat compression. Seems the Lace Gold, it's Sensor tonal properties aside, is closer to the '58 that is steelier and brighter. Many like the 67 for its clean and extended highs yet with a nice body. Then the Virtual Blues pickups are more in the P90 vein and the Virtual Solo that's kind of a HB in single coil format in more ways than one.

The Cruisers being rail type pickups have a more even response wich is this respect is perhaps closer to the Lace Sensor. Kind of vintage sounding non the less, which Andy Timmons e.g. has proven.
 

saultime

Member
Messages
145
If Lace Sensors sound sterile, I am pretty sure you will find that is the case with most noiseless options on the market. If I were in your position, I would seriously consider buying a traditional AlNiCo, low output set of handwound pickups.
Lace Sensors have a particular sound that I'm just tired of. If you're familiar with the 24 Nights or the Dylan Tribute "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" tone, I don't think anyone would call that bad. But it's all instantly identifiable as the Lace Sensor sound. I'm just ready for something else. I think everyone understands that no noiseless pickup is going to sound like a true single coil.

And as I've said before, it's pretty well established that traditional single coils do not work well in these guitars.
 

SMark

Member
Messages
862
Lace Sensors have a particular sound that I'm just tired of. If you're familiar with the 24 Nights or the Dylan Tribute "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" tone, I don't think anyone would call that bad. But it's all instantly identifiable as the Lace Sensor sound. I'm just ready for something else. I think everyone understands that no noiseless pickup is going to sound like a true single coil.

And as I've said before, it's pretty well established that traditional single coils do not work well in these guitars.
NEWSFLASH...

A Lace Sensor IS a true single coil, but certainly not a traditional single coil.
 

Wayne Alexander

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,444
I've got Dimarzio 58 n, 67 m, 54 b in one Clapton Strat, those sound pretty great. Overall a bit hotter and louder than singlecoil Strat pickups but a very nice sound.

I have another Clapton Strat with the Kinman Blues set in it. I don't prefer the Kinmans over the Areas myself in Strats, though I can see how some people might. The Kinmans sound a lot like a slightly hotter standard alnico singlecoil strat pickup set. Amazingly good.

I'm also a big fan of Joe Barden S-Deluxe pickups in Strats, they've got a wider frequency range than standard Strat pickups and will make a wider range of sounds with various settings on the tone and volume controls.
 

newswede

Member
Messages
1,233
Great thread everyone. My favorite guitar and I'm really enjoying everyone's input. Maybe I'll try some of these in a future EC strat I hope to buy as a backup.
 

saultime

Member
Messages
145
So I'm definitely going with the Dimarzio Area 61 in the bridge, and the 67's in the middle and neck. I don't doubt that the Kinmans are great pickups, but I'm not going to pay 100% more for what at most is described as a 5% improvement in tone. Especially considering how the boost manages to color the sound of the guitar even when dialed down to "0."
 

doublescale1

Suhr S-Classic, V60LP's, Soft V neck
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
5,936
That combo of Dimarzios should work well for you - you seem to be on the right value, price/preformance track there. Even with the mid-boost turned down you'll get nice strat tone, including quack, from that setup. I enjoyed the D set I had in my EC.
 




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