Strat-style guitars come in many flavors.
Apart from the classic SSS configuration, HSS Strats or fat Strats are one of the most common alternatives out there.
While maintaining the crystal clear and round tone of their neck and middle pickups combined, the addition of a coarser humbucker near the bridges opens up the sonic possibilities of the instrument greatly.
But are more options always better?
Does adding a humbucker in the bridge of a Strat just defeat its main purpose?
Well for those wondering if HSS Strats are any good, here’s a short answer:
HSS Strats or fat Strats are a great alternative for many players, particularly those who prefer heavier genres of music. The humbucker in the bridge allows for darker tones with a higher output, ideal for rock rhythms, while the sparkly top end of the neck and middle pickups leaves room for cleaner sounds.
In this article, I will tell you all there is about HSS Strats, and why you might need one.
After leaving this page, you will have a clearer idea of the use cases of this kind of pickup configuration, and maybe a final opinion on whether they are for you or not.
Are you ready to get started?
What is an HSS Strat?
A fat strat or an HSS strat is a Strat-style guitar loaded with a humbucker pickup near the bridge and 2 single coils for the middle and neck positions.
This pickup configuration is more of a modern approach to the classic Fender model, and one of the most demanded nowadays.
You might encounter some people also referring to these instruments as super Strats, but I consider super Strats a slightly different, and even more modern variation.
Are HSS Strats the same as fat strats?
Yes, HSS Strats and fat Strats are the same. HSS is a quick way of describing the pickup configuration of the instrument, while the term “fat” is used mostly to describe their sound since the humbucker in the bridge makes them sound darker, bigger, and maybe fatter than a traditional SSS strat.
This unique sound, however, is not necessarily better than the more vintage original one, but just a different flavor that seemed to catch on with younger players.
What are the benefits of an HSS Strat?
The main benefit of an HSS Strat, in my opinion, is the concept of having the best of both worlds.
Humbuckers are higher output pickups, with a darker tone that work great in the bridge position, compensating the natural brighter sound of that part of the string.
On the other side, single-coil pickups have a clearer more trebly sound, that works great in the naturally darker part of the string near the fretboard.
Also, the combination of the neck and middle pickup for a strat is a very characteristic sound that many classic songs depend on, and that’s still available in a fat strat.
What are the drawbacks of an HSS Strat?
The main drawback of an HSS Strat could be the risk of having an instrument that sounds disconnected to itself.
What I mean with this, is that if the chosen humbucker for the bridge has a noticeably higher output than the other pickups, when switching to it, you will notice a hike in volume that will throw you off.
It might feel like playing 2 different guitars.
This issue, however, could be solved by mixing and matching all the pickups, and it’s what manufacturers usually do in the design stage of a new product.
Also, you could tweak the volume of the humbucker with the knobs in the body of the guitar to match it to the output of the single-coil part of the guitar.
Another possible drawback, but mainly for big strat fans is the lack of single-coil in the bridge, and the classic second position of the pickup selector switch.
Are HSS Strats good for metal?
Any genre that relies on heavy distortions will benefit from the darker tone and higher output of a humbucker, and metal is not the exception.
HSS Strats are great not only for metal, but also for hard rock, and even heavier versions of blues.
The contrast of having the alternative to switch to a more classic strat sound is amazing, and many players enjoy using it for cleaner sections of their songs.
Are HSS Strats more versatile than SSS?
I think HSS Strats could be considered more versatile than SSS Strats since they open up the instrument to a list of more extreme genres.
However, the original Strat has always been a very versatile instrument, the advent of the fat strat really moved the industry and inspired many players.
From jazz to shred to extreme metal, to ska, reggae, blues, and indie rock. Fat Strats are everywhere, and if I were stranded on an island, I would probably like to have one with me.
Why would anyone prefer an SSS Strat over an HSS?
Many players still prefer the SSS configuration for their Strats since it’s a more classic vintage tone, and particularly because of the 2 positions of the pickup switch.
That quacky, funky tone is great for rhythm, and it’s something not all players are ready to leave behind.
Although there are coil-tapping capabilities in most HSS models, the sound is not the same as the original thing.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, some fat Strats might sound disconnected within themselves, with the higher output of the humbucker being too strident in comparison with the sweeter sound of the single coils.
After all, it’s all a matter of taste, and a lot of Strat lovers just choose to have one of each kind in their collection.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.