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I’m not 100% sure what the differences are and would like some input, thanks.

Also, I was wondering what the second pickup position did (bridge + middle).

closed as off-topic by user45266, Todd Wilcox, Dave, Tim H, Richard Apr 19 at 14:36

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking recommendations for specific equipment are off-topic, because they are primarily opinion based. Instead, describe the required function and setting in which the equipment will be used, and ask what you should look for to achieve that." – user45266, Todd Wilcox, Dave, Tim H, Richard
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Asking what you should do is out of bounds on this site - it's opinionated. Alter the wording, and it won't get a vote to close on those grounds. – Tim Apr 18 at 11:42
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    I think the "as a beginner" part pushes the question into "off topic" territory and really it's irrelevant about the difference of the two guitars. Just ask "what's the difference..." in the title. – Michael Curtis Apr 18 at 13:41
  • Go to a music store and ask the salesman to demo each for you to hear the difference. Also, search for demo on youtube. This question is largely personal preference. Even within each of those configurations, there is so much variation, you have to hear to choose. – Paul Apr 18 at 15:59
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SSS is the original pup configuration, as Leo saw it around 60 odd years ago. At the time, the pup selector switch was simply 3-way. Bridge/middle/neck. We found out that by careful positioning of the switch, it could work as a 5-way, introducing bridge + middle and neck + middle combinations. After a while, Fender changed to a proper 5-way switch, as we see today on all Strats and Stratalikes. Also available, out of interest, was the Supreme, with 3 push buttons, offering the rare neck+ bridge combination not available with a 5-way switch. Even 'all off'!

Much later, the humbucker (H) was invented, which is effectively two pups in one. It cancelled out the noise some single coil (S) pups produced, and also, gave a fatter sound.

On some guitars, two, sometimes three humbuckers were installed as standard, and others had a mix. As in HSS. There's more variety in sound produced from HSS, although some prefer the original SSS sound, which is one reason they're still produced prolifically.

HSS is usually a bit more expensive, but at the end of the day, the choice is down to the individual, and his preference in sound (and size of wallet). I think there may also be options with push/pull pots, which put pups in or out of phase - giving yet another option for tone.

  • In response to the last paragraph, I have a Cort X-6, which is HSH, and if you pull up on the tone knob, it 'converts' the humbuckers to single coils (apparently). So, it seems it is possible to have the 'best of both worlds'. – Time4Tea Apr 18 at 12:47
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    It's also possible to reverse the winding on the middle pickup of an SSS configuration, resulting in humbucking behavior when using one of the switch positions that uses the middle coil + bridge/neck. – GalacticCowboy Apr 18 at 17:42
  • @GalacticCowboy - nice idea, but I'm not going to suggest such things to a beginner, with a new guitar! – Tim Apr 18 at 17:54
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    That's actually not necessary because most modern strats already come out of the box with an inverse-polarity middle pickup, and thus the two-pickup configurations are at least partly noise-cancelling. However, these positions have the two coils in parallel (so it's actually more accurately written bridge||middle, not bridge+middle), unlike a humbucker which has both coils in series. That's why the sound is very different. – leftaroundabout Apr 18 at 17:59
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    @leftaroundabout - Leo was hardly a Luddite. Question is, why didn't he use existing technology? – Tim Apr 18 at 18:24
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I actually have an HSS Squier. I have not played an SSS however I can say the following.

Firstly, for clarity, a traditional strat has an SSS configuration.

Getting the humbucker (HSS) version makes the guitar more versatile as it is your first guitar, although personally I have found that the bridge position is not the most useful position for a humbucker. Humbuckers are traditionally described as having a "warm" sound however I have found that in the bridge position it is very bright, sometimes almost unbearably so, although that could be my amp. So don't be mislead. Despite this, the humbucker can provide some rich distorted lead tones if that's the style of music you want to play.

However, the bridge single coil on a traditional strat is often regarded as the least useful/versatile pickup, as it has an extremely bright "twangy" sound. Most of the time people will play using the neck or middle pickup. In this way, the humbucker makes the bridge position more useful than it would otherwise be. The one style of playing where the bridge pickup is often used is funk, although personally I don't miss it on my HSS strat and the middle pickup still gives a good funk tone (and personally I have found that using the middle and bridge pickups on the HSS strat at the same time gives a nice thick funk tone).

So if I had the chance to purchase again I would still choose the HSS. Despite the fact that the humbucker isn't the most useful in the bridge position, it's more useful than a single coil would be and to tell the truth I use that pickup a lot for solos. You just need to be careful to dial the treble back a bit on the amp otherwise it can come across too bright especially if distorted. But personal preference will probably factor a lot so your best option might be to try out both versions in a store if you can.

It should also be noted that if you want to change/upgrade pickups later on, you will be restricted to always have the humbucker in the bridge position because the cutouts in the body and pick guard are the wrong shape for a single coil.


Also to answer your other question about the pickup selector switch, it works as follows. The pickup selector has five positions. The first position is the neck pickup, the third position is the middle pickup, and the fifth position is the bridge pickup. The second position combines the signal from the neck and middle pickup. The fourth position combines the signal from the middle and bridge pickup. Also, the first tone control is for the neck pickup and the second tone control is for the middle pickup (there is no tone control for the bridge pickup). Of course, if you're comfortable with modding it, you can change this however you want but this is the standard configuration on (I believe) all strats.


Conclusion/summary

  • HSS is more versatile than SSS because you get another kind of pickup
  • The bridge position isn't the most useful place to have a humbucker and the tone is quite bright compared to some of the descriptions and demonstrations that you might see, however it is still very useful especially if you want to play lead and/or distorted
  • The single coil bridge pickup is only really useful if you're playing funk, but you can do without it (unless you plan to play only funk exclusively, in which case you probably won't get as much use out of the humbucker)
  • The pickup switch has five positions, three of which correspond to the three pickups on the guitar and the "in-between" positions mix the signals from two of the pickups together
  • Isn't funk (Nile Rodgers style) played on the middle pickup? – Your Uncle Bob Apr 18 at 14:50
  • @YourUncleBob I've seen all three used in funk bands, and also completely different guitars besides, some with single coils, some with humbuckers. I've never found a solid correlation between guitar or pickup type and genre. – Todd Wilcox Apr 18 at 20:00
  • I'm pretty sure a lot of players have used the single coil bridge pickup on a strat to great effect - Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and David Gilmour come to mind. I've used mine a lot, but that's not really saying much compared to those guys. – Todd Wilcox Apr 18 at 20:01
  • @ToddWilcox OK. I remember reading that the bridge pickup on a traditional strat was most often used for funk and not used so much elsewhere. Also people seemed to advise using the bridge or middle pickups when you start playing funk. I'm sure it is possible to use the bridge pickup in other styles but you won't miss it as much. – Micheal Johnson Apr 22 at 10:29
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It depends on what kind of music you want to play.

An HSS strat has a humbucker in the bridge position, an SSS strat has a single-coil pickup. As the name implies, the humbucker by design suppresses hum (annoying noise picked up through electromagnetic induction from the mains electricity, amps etc.). It usually has a higher output level (adding the output of two sets of coils). It also filters out some high frequencies. Humbuckers are thus better suited for high-gain (strongly distorted) amp settings - less noise that gets amplified along the way, earlier saturation - and therefore the standard choice for hard rock and metal.

If you don't care about that (say, all you want to play is funk or pop), you can go with all single-coils, which produce the typical strat sounds (stereotypically: thinner, brighter, snappier, twangier than humbucker sounds).

The second pickup position combines the signals from the bridge and middle pickups. Similar to a humbucker, this leads to an amplification the base frequency (the amplitudes are added), but a suppression of some overtones (but at different wavelengths than with a humbucker). That apparently results to a sound with a unique quality. AFAIK, it doesn't suppress hum, though.

You can find videos on Youtube that demonstrate each position, or you can go to a guitar store and try it for yourself.

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    "Humbuckers are thus better suited for high-gain (strongly distorted) amp settings...." -- certainly humbuckers tend to have higher output, but off the top of my head Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, and Yngwie Malmsteen all used SSS Strats. You can get good high-gain sounds with single-coils. – David Bowling Apr 18 at 12:33
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    David Bowling: true. Richie Blackmore as well. That's why I wrote "better suited" and "standard choice", not "only option". For everything that's theoretically possible, some people manage to get it to work for them, and it may give unique, interesting results. Doesn't mean it's the recommended starting point for beginners, though. – Richard Metzler Apr 18 at 12:41
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    I would say you can get great high-gain sounds with single coils. Don't forget Jimmy Page as a career-long single coil (Telecaster) user. – Todd Wilcox Apr 18 at 13:33
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    To my mind, the biggest problem with using single-coil pickups for high-gain sounds is that boosting gain will also boost any stray magnetic fields from sources like electrical mains. If one plays in places where stray fields are minimal, that may not be a problem. If stray fields are strong, single-coil pickups may receive enough noise to render them useless in high-gain applications. – supercat Apr 18 at 13:40

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