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REVIEW: Seymour Duncan SSL-3 Set – I’m Hot for Strat!

REVIEW: Seymour Duncan SSL-3 Set – I’m Hot for Strat!

Nov 30, 2014

I’ve always had a love hate relationship with single coil pickups.

In my earlier days of guitar playing, I was a devout Slash worshipper, and wouldn’t deign to play anything that wasn’t a Les Paul (copy, of course – it would be years before I could afford the real thing), much less something like a Strat with its wimpy single coils.

Kinda shows how much I knew about tone (which was pretty much nothing).

These days, I love single coil sounds. The high output humbuckers that I was so enamoured with in my younger days can’t hold a candle to the chiming, twanging, 60-cycle-humming joy that is a good set of single coils, when it comes to  clean and low/medium gain tones.

That being said, I am and always will be primarily a rock player, and so for awhile now I’ve been searching for Strat pickups that could approach the power of a humbucker while still retaining classic single coil characteristics. Can you have your cake and eat it too?? Let’s find out.

Enter the SSL-3 “Hot for Strat” Set

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First of all, I’d like to say an immense thank you to the guys at Seymour Duncan for sending me these pickups. Cliff Notes version – they ROCK! I’d previously had a Lollar “Dirty Blonde” set in this Strat, and while they were wonderful, sweet sounding pickups, I still felt that they were a bit too polite and vintage output for what I wanted.

Before I go on about what I think of the SSL-3 set, it’s time to press play on the video! The guitar used was my Fender Japan ST68RH (a trippy reversed headstock Hendrix-vibe guitar that I brought back from Tokyo earlier this year) into my trusty Mesa Mark V, mostly on Tweed mode, and for the higher gain parts, on Ch. 3 Xtreme mode.

Seymour Duncan SSL3 "Hot For Strat" Set Demo/Review

Okay, so what did you think? Here are some of the things that I really love about the “Hot for Strat” pickup set:

  • No icepick in the bridge. With previous Strat bridge pickups I always found myself having to wind the tone knob down so that my fillings didn’t fall out. And even then, I felt like they usually didn’t have enough beefiness in the mids compared to the humbuckers that I was so used to. The SSL-3 bridge doesn’t suffer from any of those issues – it’s got a much stronger presence in the mids and reduced treble compared to most standard Strat bridge pickups, and this makes it a killer pickup for the gainier side of things.
  • Notch positions (2 and 4 on your 5-way switch) don’t sound weedy and underpowered. In the video above, all the medium gain tones were recorded at the same volume, and the notch positions more than keep up with the rest.
  • Everything still feels and sounds like a single coil, but with just that extra amount of beef and sizzle to it. If you like your single coils with bit more Texas in them (and then some!), then you’ve come to the right place. The Duncan website definitely nails it when they say that these pickups have more fullness, sustain and output than most other SCs.
  • I have my Strat wired so that in the 3rd selector position the neck + bridge pickups are activated (because really, who ever uses the middle pickup by itself), and this gives me another great tone to work with. The SSL-3 bridge + neck combination  gives my Strat a wonderful steely clang that is reminiscent of the Telecaster middle position.

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Of course, keep in mind that this is all from the perspective of a rock player, so if you’re into vintage-style Strat tones you can probably disregard all of my excited ravings. But if you’re like me, and have been looking for a true single coil that straddles the  single coil and humbucker worlds with an attitude all its own, then I can wholeheartedly say that the SSL-3 set will be a great match for you. It’s really brought my Strat to life, and I can see it finally getting some real use for my style of playing. The only caveat really is that your clean tones won’t be as pristinely chiming or “piano-tone” as a vintage output pickup, but for me personally, the gains (pun alert) definitely outweigh any trade-offs in that respect.

Let’s call this one… 4.5 F*ck Yeahs! Thanks once again to the great folks at Seymour Duncan. Hopefully I’ll be bringing you more reviews of their pickups in future!

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