Pickup configurations relate to the different ways that electric guitar bodies are designed to hold pickups. These are dependent on three pickup positions, the bridge, middle, and neck, and are abbreviated based on the use of either a humbucker or single coil.
For example, a Fender Stratocaster with a humbucker at the bridge position and two single coils at the middle and neck positions would be abbreviated as: HSS
This is what it means when you see a “Fender HSS Stratocaster.”
Read more: Best pickups and humbuckers overall
If there are only two letters listed, it’s assumed that the middle pickup is omitted. Here’s a list of common pickup configurations:
- HH: Humbucker at the bridge and neck positions (Gibson Les Paul)
- HSH: Humbuckers at the bridge and neck position with a single coil in the middle (Ibanez Iron Label or S series)
- SSS: Single coils at all three positions (Fender Stratocaster)
- SS: Single coils at the bridge and neck positions (Telecaster)
Choosing the right pickup for your electric guitar means you’ll need to carefully consider your existing pickup configuration and buy accordingly. In the next few paragraphs we'll cover some more information as it relates to buying pickups and getting a good fit for your guitar.
HSS or SSS: Which one is better?
You'll notice a lot of guitars, particularly Fender Stratocasters, will be listed with either an HSS or SSS pickup configuration.
For those not sure, here's what those refer to:
- HSS: Humbucker + Single Coil + Single Coil
- SSS: Single Coil + Single Coil + Single Coil
This can only work in guitars with three pickup positions at the bridge, middle, and neck. But is it better to have a humbucker at the bridge or a single coil pickup? It depends largely on the style of music you play, allowing you to make a case for either one.
The Case for HSS
Having a humbucker at the bridge of your guitar will make your tone heavier and thicker, perhaps better for more modern playing styles like rock or heavy funk. It'll likely reduce the brightness of your tone, and provide a boost to the lower end frequencies while increasing output.
The Case for SSS
The more common arrangement of pickups, especially in Stratocaster style guitars, is the three-part single coil setup. This puts a single coil at all three positions, including the bridge.
Gear and guitar lesson reviews by real guitar players
We buy, use, test, research, and rate the guitar programs and gear we recommend. Sign up for our mailing list and we'll keep you up to date.
By clicking the "sign up" button, you are consenting to receiving updates about Guitar Chalk and recaps of what we publish. You can unsubscribe at any time.