HSS and SSS pickup configurations are two of the most popular options on iconic guitars such as the Stratocaster, but which is best for you? In this article, I’ll compare the tones of HSS and SSS guitars, the pros and cons of each configurations and the best electric guitar options available.
The Quick Answer
HSS guitars have a humbucker in the bridge position, whereas SSS guitars have a single coil pickup in the bridge position. The humbucker bridge pickup sounds fuller and suffers less from feedback than the single coil which sounds brighter. HSS guitars are often considered more versatile than SSS guitars.
What is an SSS configuration?
An SSS pickup configuration has a single-coil pickup in the bridge, middle and neck position. It is the configuration most commonly associated with the Stratocaster and has a bright but sometimes thin tone that can be susceptible to feedback when high-gain amp settings are used.
What is a HSS configuration?
A HSS pickup configuration has a humbucker pickup in the bridge position, and single coil pickups in the middle and neck positions. The humbucker has a fuller sound than a single coil so is used for lead and high-gain amp settings. The neck and middle single coils are often used for cleaner tones.
Humbucker vs Single Coil Bridge Pickups
The only difference between HSS and SSS configurations, is in the bridge positions. So what does this really mean?
Well humbuckers are known for having a warmer and fuller tone than single coil pickups. Humbuckers also suffer less from feedback or “hum” when used with high-gain amp settings. This is often why humbuckers are used on guitars designed for heavy rock and metal which use a lot of distortion.
Single coil pickups on the other hand sound brighter but also thinner than humbuckers, and produce more feedback and “hum” by comparison. This often means that they don’t sound great for heavy genres of music like metal. Single coils suit clean tones really well, and have a bright and crisp tone with a lot of treble to provide definition to each note.
It is important to understand that the position of the pickup on the guitar’s body affects the tone, as well as the pickup type.
- Neck pickups sound warmer and more mellow.
- Bridge pickups sound brighter and crisper.
Neck pickups are often used for rhythm guitar and clean tones. This is because they produce a warmer sound. This is useful for rhythm, as the brightness of a bridge pickup can sometimes be overwhelming and interfere with the vocalist and the lead guitar player. Also, neck pickups are good for clean tones because they prevent the guitar from sounding too bright and harsh.
Bridge pickups are often used for lead guitar and distorted tones. This is because they produce a sharper and brighter sound which allows them to cut through the mix, which of course is beneficial when playing lead. The brightness also stops distorted tones from sounding muddy.
Check out my comparison between neck and bridge pickups to learn more.
Comparing Bridge Humbucker and Single Coils
So we’ve been through two important things so far:
- Bridge pickups are the brightest sounding position on the guitar (compared to neck and middle)
- Single coils sound brighter, whilst humbuckers sound fuller and better with gain
Essentially, choosing a single coil pickup or a bridge pickup should be based on two things: the dynamic range you need and how much gain you’re going to be using.
- For the widest dynamic range (brightness to warmness), a single coil in the bridge position is best. This is because single coils already sound bright, so putting a single coil in the bridge position will produce the brightness sound. This provides you with the most flexibility in terms of warmth to brightness when selecting different pickup positions.
- For high gain settings, a humbucker pickup in the bridge position is best. The bridge position is usually selected for high gain amp settings to provide some brightness, whilst the humbucker adds fullness and less feedback compared to the single coil. The result, is a thicker and beefier sounding distorted tone that’s better suited to metal and heavy rock.
Is a HSS configuration more versatile than an SSS configuration?
A HSS pickup configuration is more versatile than an SSS configuration, if you want to switch between distorted and clean tones. The humbucker will sound best when distorted, whilst the single coils in the neck and middle positions sound better for clean tones.
An SSS pickup configuration is more versatile than a HSS configuration if you want the largest dynamic range. The single coil in the bridge position will sound very bright in contrast to the single coil in the neck position, allowing you to switch between more mellow and bright sounding tones.
Here is a video comparing the two configurations on a Stratocaster.
Guitar Center are always the first place I look at when I’m interested in a new electric guitar because have a huge range of models for sale and always have some excellent deals on. Here’s a link to take you directly to Guitar Center’s electric guitar range so you can see all the offers available at the moment.
HSS vs SSS Stratocasters
HSS Stratocasters has a humbucker bridge pickup and SSS Stratocasters have single coil bridge pickup. HSS Stratocasters are more suited to high-gain amp settings than SSS Stratocasters, making them better for metal and heavy rock. SSS Stratocasters produces brighter but thinner tones.
So now we know the difference in tone between HSS and SSS Strats, let’s take a look at the Squier and Fender ranges to see what’s available. I’ve collated most of each currently available Stratocaster range into the following table to give you the specification of each model. The prices are based on Guitar Center at the time of writing and and the table is ordered from lowest to highest price.
|Squier Bullet SSS||$180||Indonesia||Basswood|
|Squier Bullet HSS||$210||Indonesia||Basswood|
|Squier Affinity SSS||$230||China||Alder|
|Squier Affinity HSS||$230||China||Alder|
|Squier Contemporary HH||$400||China||Poplar|
|Squier Classic Vibe SSS||$430||Indonesia||Poplar/ Pine|
|Squier Classic Vibe HSS||$430||Indonesia||Poplar|
|Fender Player SSS||$750||Mexico||Alder|
|Fender Player HSS||$780||Mexico||Alder|
|Fender Deluxe SSS||$950||Mexico||Alder|
|Fender Deluxe HSS||$980||Mexico||Alder|
|Fender Vintera SSS||$950||Mexico||Alder|
|Fender Boxer HH||$1200||Japan||Basswood|
|Fender HM Stratocaster||$1200||Japan||Basswood|
|Fender American Performer SSS||$1200||America||Alder|
|Fender American Performer HSS||$1250||America||Alder|
|Fender American Professional SSS||$1500||America||Alder|
|Fender American Professional HSS||$1500||America||Alder|
|Fender American Showcase SSS||$1700||America||Alder|
|Fender American Ultra SSS||$1900||America||Alder|
|Fender American Ultra HSS||$1950||America||Alder|
|Fender American Original SSS||$2000||America||Alder|
I’ve written a complete buyer’s guide for electric guitars which takes you through all the things you need to consider and a step-by-step method to narrowing down your selection and choosing the best option. Here is a link to the article.
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