Poor little pink guitar! This American Vintage ’56 Stratocaster was torn open a half-dozen times.

We test high-end sets from Amalfitano, Fender, Klein, Manlius, and Mojotone in a carefully calibrated American Vintage ’56 Stratocaster.

The Fender Stratocaster is perhaps the most popular electric guitar of all time. So why have so many people altered the pickup design since the instrument’s 1954 debut?

Many players—even Strat fanatics—have a love/hate relationship with the guitar’s pickups, and pickup modifications are almost as old as the model itself. The pickups in early models employed alnico 3 magnets, but louder, brighter alnico 5s became standard within a few years. Subsequent departures include higher-output bridge pickups for fatter, less shrill lead tones, hum-cancelling designs, and non-staggered magnets to accommodate modern string tastes and flatter neck radiuses.

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