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I have an old Stratocaster shaped electric guitar without any brand. I really love the color of this guitar but it does not sound as I wish. I try to have a good sound for playing blues. Would it be good to change all 3 pickups to original USA Fender pickups? Or do you think that would be a total waste?

  • Please clarify what sound you are looking for a better answer. Rock, country , or blues? – r lo Jun 11 '15 at 11:50
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    By the way, there are a large number of options out there for replacement pickups besides Fender. Fralin's are very popular but there's plenty of good brands out there. That being said, my favorites are Fender Custom Shop. – Todd Wilcox Jun 11 '15 at 19:01
  • While you are doing this, you might look into a humbucker "coil tap." I wound up with an HSS Strat and I added a coil tap toggle switch in less than 5 mins so that I can toggle the humbucker to a single-coil. I can go from Page to hendrix at the flip of a switch. – Yorik Jun 16 '15 at 20:31
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I'm quite confident that changing pickups (PU's) will make a big difference.

It would only be a total waste if it already had original USA fender PU's in it and you just didn't know. If it doesn't, it will not be a total waste, the sound WILL change with different PU's.

However, will it give you what you want? That's a different question. What do you want? I'm assuming you want it to sound as much like a real strat as possible.

Changing the pickups will get you very far in the effort to make this guitar sound like a strat. The best advice I can give is start with one pickup (I suggest the bridge PU) and see if it makes a big difference. That way you don't waste a bunch of money. Then, if the difference is night-and-day, you can buy the other two (middle and neck) and be confident it will help.

Keep in mind that PU's need a set up, too. They need to be the right distance from the strings and balanced, so make sure that is dialed in before you declare the effort a "total waste".

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I have to disagree with Wilbur Whateley: Yes, this would most likely be a total waste.

Pickups do make a big contribution to the guitar sound, sure. However, they do not generate any sound as such, they just – well – pick up what the body and strings can offer. If this is garbage to begin with, the best thing a pickup can do is cut away much of the signal and boost the least problematic parts, so you can get lots of distortion to make up for the insufficient clean sound. But this is quite the opposite to what you'd expect from a good strat sound, which should be bright, open, and also sound good clean!

So, there are two possibilities:

  • The guitar itself behaves mechanically much like a good strat (unlikely for a no-name brand), but the pickups cut away too much. In this case, Fender pickups could be an improvement.
  • Way more likely, the pickups are in fact already quite close to the original (really, that's not rocket science nor very difficult craft – you just have to wrap the right number of windings around some ≈ $2 magnets), but the guitar sucks (perhaps an unstable neck with nasty resonances). In this case, you might get some usable sound out of the guitar, e.g. with hot EMG pickups; but it would never be a good strat sound.

If really the first point applies, you can find out by comparing the guitar to a real strat acoustically. That's right, take the two guitars in a quiet room and play them with no amplification at all. If they feel & sound similar, you might give the pickup replacement a shot.

But I'd be willing bet if you played a bit on the Fender and then grab your guitar, you'll immediately feel how inferior it is mechanically. So, better search for a decent guitar and re-paint it, rather than wasting money and time on pickup replacement for a hopeless case.

  • Have you ever changed pickups before? How you determine it would be a total waste is bizarre. – r lo Jun 11 '15 at 11:52
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    @rlo no, it's bizarre how people worship the simple difference between pieces of wire wrapped around some magnets, rather than recognising the much more subtle details of guitar building. I have changed pickups before, and in particular I have changed guitar circuits (which can pretty much generate any pickup-sound from any different pickup, only by clever capacitive&resistive loading). OTOH What is not possible is to simulate a particular guitar response by changing the pickups: the sound will be different, perhaps it will even be good, but it will (most likely) not be a strat sound. – leftaroundabout Jun 11 '15 at 11:56
  • The OP has not specified if they want strat sound or not. But the pickups will make a big difference to most people. You are extremely particular about sound more than most. Most people with a cheap guitar are not concerned as much. I still disagree with a pickup change being a waste of time because a $90 investment may be worth changing to sound to something more suitable. – r lo Jun 11 '15 at 12:06
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    @rlo yeah, but then a $5 investment of a simple preamp with 1 nF capacitive load would also do the trick. – leftaroundabout Jun 11 '15 at 12:10
  • This answer would have a lot more weight to me if the guitar in question were a Les Paul, but a Strat has the least "body" sound of any guitar I've played. I have personally changed out the pickups of my super cheap starter strat clone with Fender Custom Shop pickups and the difference was definitely amazing. Yes it got even better when I switched out the neck, but my pickup change made a huge difference and was worth the money. None of the other electronics or hardware were changed. – Todd Wilcox Jun 11 '15 at 15:45
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It really depends on what sound you're looking for. I changed pickups in my Tele and made a huge difference in sound. Gone from country to rock with the pickup. The pickups make a huge difference in sound. Why do you think there are so many on the market and types.

Choose one pickup to change and get a feel for the sound of it. Look at Dimarzio website for options.

  • “Gone from country to rock” aha. So that's evidently exactly what I was talking about: you switched to pickups with higher inductance, as a result you get a less twangy, more powerful sound, and it'll sound decent even if that Tele does not really have a good Tele response. But heck, why don't you start with a rock guitar right away if you don't want a Tele sound? – leftaroundabout Jun 11 '15 at 12:01
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    Because I wanted a rock sound in my Tele. That's why we have an option to change pickups. Love the Tele body and neck but need more powerful sound for modern country. – r lo Jun 11 '15 at 12:09

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