How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Stratocaster for ULTIMATE STRAT TONE! | Warehouse Guitar Speakers

How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Stratocaster for ULTIMATE STRAT TONE!

How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Stratocaster for ULTIMATE STRAT TONE!

I recently received an email from one of my pickup affectionados in Germany asking a question that I realized is of ULTIMATE importance in Strat tone: “what is the best distance from the pickup to the strings for the best results?”  Now that’s a question EVERYONE who owns or works on Strat’s NEEDS to know the answer to!

I need to make it clear that I am talking about real-deal vintage pickups and real-deal quality pickups like the ones made by Jason Lollar, Curtis Novak, Lindy Fralin, And myself.  Those crappy Ceramic Bars glued next to steel slug things that come standard in so many Strat’s and Strat copies today cannot really be made to sound good, so a trip to the waste-basket is the only course of treatment for them.

How To Adjust (Set) Pickup Height on a Stratocaster / Strat

I prefer to use a digital caliper to take measurements, but a quality luthier’s ruler will do fine if you have excellent vision!  I also should mention that these measurements should be taken from the High & Low E POLE-PIECES, not the plastic cover.  Okay, so with no further ado, here are my suggestions and reasons why.

Bridge pickup:

Low E: 3.80mm / 0.149"

Hi E : 4.74mm / 0.186"

Often people will place the bridge pickup too high (close to the strings), with a VINTAGE set this destroys the tone, making it sound too narrow, focused, brittle, and harsh.  The reason so many folks get used to placing this pickup as close as possible to the strings is because many of the currently made Strat pickups are muddy and severely lacking in the characteristic chime and sparkle we all love in a Strat!  As with all truly fine Strat sets, my pickups certainly do NOT suffer from this lack of sparkle!

Middle Pickup:

Low E: 4.75mm / 0.186"

Hi  E : 4.13mm / 0.163"

Here, for me, it's all about making the middle pickup truly magical when combined with the neck or bridge pickup (positions 2 & 4).  Yes, these measurements sound exquisite when using the middle pickup all by itself, but it REALLY brings out the glassy, airy beauty that folks crave in the "in-between" positions on a Strat!

Neck Pickup:

Low E: 5.25mm / 0.207"

Hi  E  : 4.37mm / 0.172"

This is actually a very standard placement, and about where most Strats will come set from the factory.  There are three goals here.  First, we want a great "SRV" type tone that sings beautifully and does not fall apart into mud even with EXTREME amounts of gain added (think dual daisy-chained Tube Screamers).  Second, we want to be able to roll the tone back a little and have a truly rewarding experience playing big Jazz chords and lines.  And last, we want to ensure it blends perfectly with the middle pickup for that air and glass we mentioned.

email Vaughn     About Vaughn Skow 

07/07/2015 1:04pm

Any chance you'd post the same kind of thing for Telecaster and Les Paul please? That would be amazing.

09/11/2015 7:35am

Thanks for share this precious article. I was checking pickups height on my guitar and the measuraments are near the same but, maybe for the bridge pickup, are inverted Hi E with Low E?

07/10/2017 3:51pm

I have a custom shop strat and don't know what pickups are in it, "they look as if its stock". However, i just cant get the sound that I like. I have adjusted the hight to High E 2, 3, & 4/32", and the low E to 3, 4, 5, 6/32.. Help!!! WILLIAM

09/08/2017 7:25am

I have a AM Pro Strat with V-mod Pick-ups and I tried to find ways so that my guitar tone feel airy and natural, I tried many pick-up heights and that's it, it lets the guitar breathe, I hear the little details and harmonics not only the high gain ones, now all of them. Thank you Sir!

02/18/2018 12:30am

I registered to this website just to confirm that it works great with AM Pro Strat with V-mod Pickups. I get rid of the unwanted fret buzz too caused by the magnetic fields when the pickups are set too high, Thanks a lot!

02/28/2018 9:19am

When using your measurements do depress the strings at the last fret?

04/20/2018 11:53pm

Did you get an answer back,regarding your question? I was wondering the same.


04/20/2018 11:51pm

Wondering the same, as an earlier post by Mark. Are these measurements taken while depressing the strings,at the last fret?


09/21/2018 9:00am

As I saw in another post about pickup height for humbuckers, I saw that strings aren't depressed at all...

09/24/2018 10:37pm

"When using your measurements do depress the strings at the last fret?"

Sorry I missed this! Short answer: no, my measurements are un-fretted.
It would only really make sense to do adjustments fretted up on the neck if that was where you spent most of your time actually playing!

Also, I'll mention that these are the suggestions for my pickups ... or any set that is properly calibrated for the three individual positions. With a vintage instrument ... or most inexpensive new guitars ... all pickups are wound to about the same specs ... and so it's not really possible to get "optimum" tone from them ... you just need to go with some testing and get it as close as possible!

And remember, as you get the pickup closer to the strings the tone will get brighter and more focused ... further away gets warmer and more organic.

09/04/2019 4:31pm

I seriously doubt I'm inquiring about this subject in the proper place. But was interested in finding out your thoughts,if any, on vintage style p bass pickup heights for optimal tone. By the way, I have been strictly using your settings,since I discovered them,on all of my teles and strats.... especially,but also on my humbucker equipped guitars as well. I truly appreciate you making your knowledge easily accessible to all of us tone freaks ... keep up the good work and thank you,sir.

09/16/2019 10:55am

So ... for a P-bass, I've never actually taken precise measurements ... I'll have to get back to you!
As always,
the closer the pole pieces are to the strings the louder, brighter, and more focused the tone
The further away the more bassy, quiet, and less focused the tone.

That usually means that there is no way to get the right tone out of a WRONG pickup ... say for instance you want more bass, less treble, and a little MORE output. Can't get it!

11/30/2019 3:03pm

This is a great and essential tutorial regarding the proper measurements for setting the pickup height on your Fender Stratocaster. You could have the best pickup's in the world but if there are not correctly installed and properly adjusted your Strat may not sound right. I have used "after market" Strat upgraded or souped up pickup's however since Fender Musical Instruments, Company introduced the "Custom Shop" FAT 50's Alnico V magnet based single coil pickup's I haven't even looked any further as to me these are the BEST Fender Stratocaster pickup's Fender has ever made. I am a die hard Gibson Les Paul Standard player however I have ALWAYS owned just one really good American made Fender Stratocaster for that distinct Strat tone. Now with the FAT 50's pickup's I am able to play my Strat along with my Les Paul's and my Strat fits right in with my overall sound. What I really like is how quiet the FAT 50's are and the output. They are also very musical and nuanced. I can hear every note picked in an open chord as it should be. Making 100% sure your Strat pickup's are properly height adjusted is essential however if you still don't like the tone/sound you may want to go out and play a Strat with the FAT 50's to see if they will work for you. They work really well for me and I have no plans on checking out other Strat pickup's 'cause these are so great.

12/13/2019 10:13pm

I would like to thank you, because these are the best PUs height i've ever used. I just reversed the low E and high e measures on the bridge pickup.

02/24/2020 3:46pm

Can you please clarify your reference in terms of Low & High E? Are you referring to low and high in terms of their pitch, or otherwise? Perhaps you could please refer to them as Bass & Treble E's in order to clear the confusion.

Also, is there anything to what user brenoazzi is attempting to communicate here as to the one set of measurements being reversed? I'd love to check out this ultimate strat tone.

07/12/2020 7:49am

I am writing from Turkey. I haven't had the pleasure I wanted from my guitar for years. It was not what I wanted, not only in tons but also in condition. Now I realized that pickup settings were very important. now my guitar is exactly what i want. thank you very much. Everything you get your heart desires.

07/19/2020 3:03pm

AWESOME! Thanks for the praise ... enjoy your guitar :-)

12/01/2020 11:30am

Thank you very much for this!

12/01/2020 11:34am

Im wondering if the measurements on the bridge pickups are inverted/flipped ?because it feels weird to have the bass side closer to the strings than trebble side

12/07/2020 4:50pm

"wolf" ... nope ... I think the low strings NEED more clarity and bite ... and the high strings certainly do NOT, especially with that angle causing them to be so VERY close to the bridge. But ... your ears may be different :-)