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.

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julienmarchand84
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.

hardbop
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?

myrtleward_46262
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

alexandrubucur2...
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!

quartulli.gianl...
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!

mgw5678_48013
02/28/2018 9:19am

Hello,
When using your measurements do depress the strings at the last fret?
Thanks
Mark

dk30grit_48609
04/20/2018 11:53pm

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

Thanks

dk30grit_48609
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?

Thanks!

valdoltra_50095
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...

VAUGHN SKOW
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.

venablebob76_51914
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.

VAUGHN SKOW
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!