Fender Standard MIM Stratocaster HSS vs SSS

Updated on February 16, 2017
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Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 30 years of experience as a musician.

Which Strat is right for you: SSS or HSS?
Which Strat is right for you: SSS or HSS?

The Fender MIM Stratocaster is one of the most popular guitars in the world, and there’s a good reason for this. With a legendary pedigree but a budget price tag, it gives many guitar players a chance to own a real Fender guitar.

That’s because Standard-Series guitars are based on classic Fender instruments that have shaped the sound of rock since the 1950s.

In other words: If you really want a Stratocaster, but you’re a little short on cash, this is the way to go. Whether you are an intermediate player, a beginner with a few extra bucks in your pocket, or an experienced guitarist looking to land a great instrument without missing a mortgage payment, the MIM Strat is worth a look.

But there are a few versions to choose from: The SSS features three single-coil pickups like the original Stratocaster. The HSS model adds in a humbucker for thicker, heavier sounds. A few more models have hit the scene in the past year as well, the HH and HSH. So, which should you choose, and how do they compare in sound and performance?

In this article you’ll learn more about some of the guitars in Fender’s Standard Series of instruments. By the time we’re done, you ought to be closer to making the right decision for you and your style of playing.

So, let’s get to the gear!

The Fender Standard Stratocaster

Fender Standard Series electric guitars are budget versions of high-end American-made Fender instruments. This means they are a great way to add an amazing Fender Stratocaster to your collection at around half the price of the USA-made Standard.

One of the ways they cut costs is to outsource construction to their facility in Mexico. This is why Fender Standard instruments are referred to as Made-in-Mexico or MIM Stratocasters.

Fender also uses lower-quality components and woods that what you’d typically see in their American instruments, but that doesn’t mean these are badly made guitars. The MIM Stratocaster is among the best electric guitars for the money.

There many different models made in Mexico and this article intends to touch on the most popular, starting with the basic SSS version. This is the base model with three single-coil pickups, and it is the classic design that put the Strat on the map, over sixty years ago.

The SSS Standard features an Alder body with a maple neck and choice of either a Rosewood or Maple fingerboard. The pickups are Fender single coils with the standard one-volume, two-tone layout with a 5-way pickup selector switch. The bridge is a Fender vintage-style synchronized tremolo system.

The Stratocaster sound works well in rock, blues, country and even jazz. Thanks to the 5-way pickup selector there are a wide range of tones to choose from. While the MIM version of this guitar may not have the higher-end appointments of the American version, it still sounds amazing.

However, if you are hoping to play heavier forms of music you may want to look at an MIM Strat with a different pickups configuration.

In summary:

  • Three single-coil pickups will give you those classic Strat sounds players like Hendrix, Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan made famous.
  • The SSS Stratocaster is a great choice for rock and blues, and even country.
  • The single-coil pickup in the bridge will not give you the thick, crunchy sound you need for metal.

Hear the Fender Standard Stratocaster

Fender MIM Stratocaster HSS

The HSS Standard Stratocaster is very similar to the SSS version, with the exception of a Fender humbucker replacing the single-coil bridge pickup. This means a big difference in sound when the first position of the pickup selector is engaged. You'll be able to get some of those thick, crunchy rhythm tones that are somewhat elusive with a single-coil pickup in the bridge, as well as hotter lead sounds.

This makes the HSS Strat better suited to metal and hard rock, but don't go thinking you'll get deep, dark extreme metal tones out of it. Remember, it's still a Strat with an alder body and maple neck, and it retains much of the signature tone.

Maybe that's not so great if you intend to play death metal, and if so you should probably be looking elsewhere. However, for most other forms of rock and metal, the HSS version is a very versatile guitar that will take you from Hendrix to Metallica with the flip of a switch.

Like the SSS version, this is a guitar that sounds and plays a lot better than it should for the price tag. This has earned the MIM Standard Strat a solid reputation, not only among intermediate guitarists and hobby players, but even with working professional guitarists.

Personally, I've been playing a HSS Standard Strat for several years and I couldn't be happier with it. I have hotter guitars for extreme metal, and I have SSS Stratocasters for traditional rock tones, but for most applications I go for my HSS version.

In summary:

  • The humbucker in the bridge will sound thicker and heavier than a single coil.
  • This is great for metal and hard rock, but players who like to use the bridge pickup for lead playing will also get some extra oomph from a HSS Strat.
  • Even with a humbucker, you will not get the same kind of resonant, deep low-end you'd hear with a mahogany or basswood-bodied guitar.

Fender Standard Stratocaster HSS
Fender Standard Stratocaster HSS

Fender MIM Stratocaster HSH and HH

So, maybe you dig a humbucker on your Strat so much you want two of them. Done. Fender has a couple of models that incorporate a pair of humbuckers, giving you thick, rich tones at the neck position as well as the bridge.

The HH version features a pair of Fender Blacktop humbuckers. These pickups also include a push-pull coil tap for reverting to that single-coil sound when you need it.

The HSH version has those same awesome humbuckers, with a single coil wedged in between. Along with the push-pull coil split this gives you a range of tonal possibilities.

The HSH and HH Standard models are a bit off the beaten path when it comes to traditional Fender tone. That's okay. If you are guitar player who loves the Strat vibe but isn't so crazy about single coils, they offer a solid option. If you are already a Strat enthusiast, they present the possibility of adding something unique to your collection.

And, they come in some pretty slick-looking colors you can't get on other MIM models. The black pickguard on white body with the two-tone pickups looks amazing!

In summary:

  • A pair of humbuckers is a departure from traditional Strat tone.
  • The HH or HSH gives a player a "best of both worlds" option.
  • Blues and jazz players may appreciate the deeper tone of a humbucker at the neck.

Check Out the Fender Standard Stratocaster HH

Fender Mexican Stratocaster with Floyd Rose Tremolo

The MIM Strat is available with a Floyd Rose bridge with either the old SSS and HSS pickup configurations or the new HSS with a Blacktop Humbucker. I’m a big fan of the Floyd and if they had this guitar in their lineup when I bought my HSS Strat this is likely what I would have chosen. But Fender took them away for a while, only to bring them back a few years ago. It is nice to once again see an affordable Strat available with a Floyd Rose!

You can get your Floyd-equipped Standard Stratocaster in either the SSS or HSS pickup configuration with either a basic color or Plus Top. If you choose the newer model you have the same color choices as the HSH and HH Strat.

I can’t tell you what to do, but if it were me I’d be thinking about an HSS Floyd Rose Standard with the Blacktop pickup. That's a good-looking guitar.

Playing a guitar with a Floyd Rose bridge does not come without its hassles. They require a bit more work than Vintage Synchronized Tremolos, and you can’t switch up your tuning as easily. But if you like what a Floyd can do and are willing to learn how to use it and care for it you will find it is totally worth it, particularly if you are into shred and metal.

In summary:

  • A Floyd Rose is a great option for players into shred and heavy metal.
  • Set up correctly, a Floyd offers rock-solid tuning stability.
  • A Floyd Rose bridge does take a little more TLC than a vintage-style bridge.

Fender MIM HH Stratocaster
Fender MIM HH Stratocaster

Which Strat?

So, how do you choose between all of these amazing guitars? Hey, that's your problem, but maybe I can help a little. Here are my thoughts:

  • If you play classic metal or hard rock, go with the HSS version. You need a humbucker at the bridge position, and I personally prefer the single coil at the neck. I think that makes for a more versatile guitar.
  • However, if you think you'd rather the humbucker in the neck position, there is sure nothing wrong with that. Remember, those Blacktop humbuckers have a coil-split function, so you won't be totally giving up the single-coil sound.
  • If you play classic rock, blues or country, go with a traditional SSS model. The single coil at the bridge has a bright, vintage tone that sounds great in these genres, and the #2 position between the middle and bridge pickups has a certain usefulness as well. This is the classic Strat tonal palette, and the MIM version nails it pretty well.
  • If you play jazz, seriously think about the HH or HSH version with the humbucker at the neck. It will give you some nice, warm, round tones you can't get with the single-coil.
  • Do you need a Floyd Rose? Again, that's your decision, but I'd think about it long and hard before taking the plunge. If you really think you'll use it in your playing, go for it. Otherwise, I'd give it a pass and opt for the vintage-style bridge.

All that said, surely somebody reading this is yelling at their computer screen because they use a single-coil Strat for jazz or humbuckers for blues. Hey, remember this is all just my two cents. You can use any of these guitars for any darn style you want to. It's your guitar, after all!

The important thing is to have fun. Good luck choosing an awesome MIM Stratocaster!

Which Strat? SSS, HSS, HH or HSH?

Which pickup configuration do you like best?

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    • profile image

      Déus Herbert-Noël 

      18 months ago

      The thing is, you CAN get extreme Metal sounds from an HSS Strat. Wood doesn't make THAT much of a difference.

      Do you expect a P90 in a basswood body to produce a heavier sound than an EMG humbucker in an ash body?

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