I was about to buy a Strat. but I'm not sure about choosing the SSS, or the HSS model, let me explain a little bit more the situation.

I had 2 Strats., both of them SSS, one was a Squier Bullet, the other a Fender Standard Mexico, I really liked both of them but they just got stolen a few months ago, so the idea is to buy again the exact same model Fender Mexico Strat., or at least something really similar, and probably replace the Squier Strat. with a Tele. but that's a story for another day.

On the Squier which I used mostly as a beginner, I really liked the "clean piano-like" tone from the 4th position (middle + bridge), and also the hum-cancelling property from using 2 pickups at the same time allowing me to play dirty with a nice tone and without getting a headache due to the hum on that cheap guitar. In conclusion, the 4th position was my favourite one, which I used most of the time for both clean and dirty sounds while I only had the Squier. Then, once I got the Mexico one I started using the neck pickup a lot more, but I still have some love for the middle + bridge combination making it pretty important for me.

The bad thing for me about these 2 guitars was the sound from using only the bridge pickup, I never liked it, it sounded too nasally for me (don't know if you get me for cultural reasons, I just mean it sounded kinda when you hear someone talking with a stuffy nose but imagine that kind of sound on a guitar). Can't tell for sure if the reason was because of the cheap guitar and gear (though even on the Fender I didn't like it either) or if it was because it was a single coil and not a humbucker. The point is, I never used that position at all.

Soooo as I didn't like the position 5 sound, I was thinking instead of buying a Fender Mex SSS, to buy an HSS one, which will probably give me some reason to use the 5th position (I am definitively not a metal fan, but I like some aggressive rock sounds). The thing is as I said before, I really liked the 4th position sound, and I don't want to change it, so if choosing an HSS model affects it, maybe I'll just have to pick an SSS model again with a position I won't be using at all, so this brings me to 3 questions:

  1. In the case of choosing a position (2nd or the 4th) which uses 2 pickups on a Fender 5-way switch in which one of the pickups involved is a humbucker instead of single coil, do both coils of the humbucker pickup get activated, making it 3 coils activated at the same time, or is just one of the humbucker coils activated in addition to the other pickup (in standard Fender and Squier models)?

  2. Even if I buy an HSS, assuming that in the recently explained scenario (a humbucker + another pickup selected) the 3 coils get activated, can I rewire the guitar to make only one of the humbucker coils activated, and at least in theory have the same sound of an SSS strat on a 4th position?

  3. Does an SSS Strat on the 4th position sound like an HSS on the same position? (Maybe is not that complicated and after all both setups sound almost the same.)

  • not an answer- & I don't have the electronics chops to tell you exactly how it was done [ post-it note, long gone] - but I have an 85 JP Squier with a Hot Rails in the back slot & an extra splitter switch drilled into the scratch plate [yeah, I didn't know in 1985 that these things would be worth money ;) so I can have single, parallel or reverse phase on the rear pickup - giving me the option of your idealised 'Mark Knopfler' mid+bridge setting, and with 2 extra options. On its own the humbucker bridge PU is a lot better than a standard 'whiny' single, but not as fat as a Les Paul of course.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 19:47
  • I played an HSS that was one of the teaching guitars at a school I taught at for a couple years. Anything involving the humbucker sounded very different from a SSS Strat. Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 21:25

5 Answers 5


I have a number of guitars that I have made or modified with about every possible combination of electronics, and of those, my favourite modification is around humbucker splitting or phase reversals.

For some I have used standard pickups, for others I have esoteric or in one case custom-wound pickups, and a summary of the situation across all the combinations I have used over the last 20 years is as follows for each of your questions:

  1. This may depend on your pickups. The standard for Fender is not to split the humbucker when using Bridge and Middle (Ibanez, however, usually does). Now you may think this should give you a louder output, but it usually gives you a slightly reduced output, as there are different frequencies between bridge and mid, and these interfere whether or not you use full humbucker or a split.

  2. If your humbucker gives you 4 wires (2 may be common, leading to 3 wires instead) then you can split, yes. This is very simple and takes a couple of minutes. We have questions on this specific topic on Music.SE.

  3. SSS sounds rather different from HSS. There is very little you can do to make them the same, as even tweaking with EQ or tone won't bring back some frequencies. Pickups in different areas may not even see some frequencies, as there may be a node over the pickup. (This topic is also covered elsewhere on this site.)

  • Please see fender specs. Standards are split in bridge+middle. Elites allow to choose (push-pull). Shawbuckers are not (they are low output)
    – teodozjan
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 13:19
  • Some may be. Especially the most recent ones. But the majority never had a split. For reference, see the harmony central page you linked to in your post.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 22:29

Bridge + Middle doesn't sound the same the same as splitted humbucker and doesn't sound same as single coil. I've seen Ibanez experiments to provide true single tone from splitted humbucker but solution didn't win the market (and personally I did not try that).

Some people prefer that sound of splited pickup + single coil for in-between postions.

It depends on model but for currently produced standard it gets splitted for Bridge + Middle for MIM strats. For example this strat uses front coil of humbucker

Of course you can rewire your guitar if pickup supports splitting/tapping.

Please take a look at my answer to see more about stratocaster wiring options.


I have a Fender HSS MIM Strat and a G&L Legacy Standard. 4+5 on the GL is quieter than 5 (humbucker) on the HSS, and the timbre is somewhat different as well. The sound of the 'bucker is really the only reason I keep the Fender, as the G&L feels better all around otherwise.


In the fourth switch position,- - - o - the combinations will usually be: bridge and middle for the SSS model. If you wire the HSS to be middle + split coil bridge, it will still sound different, because:

  • Humbuckers have two coils, yes. But they are not made by sticking two single coils together. They have a different coil size, magnetic field etc. So coil splitting one will be an emulation, nothing more. Note: they still sound good.

  • On standard strats, the bridge pickup is slanted, meaning that some strings are not directly above the magnets. This is not possible with a regular humbucker.


I have a "Lonestar" Mexican HSS Strat, and I added a toggle switch to it to split the coils. I had the switch and soldering iron already and it took me less than 10 mins to make the mod.

Splitting the coil reduces the volume slightly, a factory coil split might be more complicated and mitigate volume loss, I do not know.

I play Hendrix, Zeppelin, Shoegaze, etc. and pretend to play things like Mahavishnu Orchstra. The humbucker is not an impediment.

Unfortunately, I do not use it in the blend position between bridge and middle so I cannot comment on that.

One minor note. I had a cheaper SSS Mexican Strat I bought 4 or 5 years prior to the Lonestar and it had completely different sound and I also had to turn up the amp to get the same volume from this one as the Lonestar, so don't forget to try all the various Strats on the rack: I didn't like the look of the one I have now, but it sounds and plays great and thats what matters.

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