My Fender Strat Makeover: Custom Shop 69 Pickups Review

These upgrades to my strat have given me the classic Fender tone I’ve always been searching for.  I decided to give my 1979 Strat an overhaul a couple of weeks ago and the changes in tone have been very dramatic to my ears.  The sound coming out of this guitar has made it hard to put down.  It’s exciting playing it again!

The upgrades were inexpensive, and there was not that much involved really.  The only components upgraded, were the pickups and the pickguard.  I was getting really tired of the tortoise shell pickguard and wanted something a little classier looking.  White is the standard, but something about it just looks a little off to me.  The color of the new pickguard is Parchment, and it really seems to match the overall look of the guitar.

The pickups are the only other thing that were replaced in this guitar.  Previously, the guitar had Texas Special pickups.  These are great pickups, but I don’t think they really sound great in this guitar. Texas Special pickups are overwound and have a lot of midrange to them so it can be a little hit or miss depending on your amp.

Here’s my review of what I think of the Custom Shop 69 Pickups.

The guitar now has Fender Custom Shop 69 Pickups.  These pickups sound amazing to my ears, and are not very hot at all.  They are more mellow and allow you to crank your amp without the guitar sounding too overpowering.  I would compare these pickups to a more Jimi Hendrix type of sound you hear on The Wind Cries Mary.  With some gain, these pickups really give you a classic Hendrix sound as well.  Think Radio One or Live at Winterland.

Specs of Strat Before

  • 1979 Fender Strat
  • Jumbo Frets
  • GHS Boomers .011s Strings
  • Tortoise Shell Pickguard
  • Texas Special Pickups

Specs of Strat After

  • 1979 Fender Strat
  • Jumbo Frets
  • DR Pure Blues .011s Strings
  • Parchment Pickguard
  • Fender Custom Shop ’69 Stratocaster Pickups

Amp Used

1966 Fender Vibrolux

Ibanez TS9Weber Mini MassAmp SettingsShure 57

So I’m really happy with the look and the sound of the new strat! What do you think? Do you like the look of the new or old version. Thanks for any comments.

You can find these pickups at Amazon. Fender Custom Shop 69 Pickups.

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64 thoughts on “My Fender Strat Makeover: Custom Shop 69 Pickups Review”

  1. I swapped out the pups on one of my strats to CS 69’s a few months ago and now it is the best sounding strat I own. They are slightly mid scooped which is the classic Fender tone. Enjoy the new toy and tone!

  2. Sounds amazing! I’m still waiting for my CS 69’s to be delivered..
    Aww maan… can’t wait anymore! :D
    And your guitar looks much better with the new pickguard ;)

    • Thanks! You’re really going to like them. I am amazed at how different they sound compared to the Texas Specials.

  3. nice john. did you do the mod or did someone else? i have a feeling if i played it, it would not sound quite like that ;)

    • I bought a pre-loaded pickguard and only had to do a few soldering connections to the volume pot. Made it a lot easier. Thanks!

  4. I like both styles of your Strat but changing is good for the mojo… So, my vote goes to parchment but keep the Other for future!

  5. I’ve been looking to do something w/ my 86 strat cs 69’s maybe just what I want..Thanks for letting us hear your set-up. My strat is candy apple red w/ white pick guard…I would like a fully loaded one in mother of pearl.

    Thanks again!

  6. John, I am undecided I’ve listened to so many of your DVD’S and site vids that I’M accustumed to the Texes specials as your sound. I can tell that the CS69s are not as harsh or powerful sounding, but you would know more about this stuff than me. Thanks for the e-mail and post.

    • It’s not that the old sound was very bad, but the sound became uninspiring for me to play. This sound has given a lot of new inspiration already. Going to record a solo with it for an upcoming CD from Eddie Towns tomorrow. Thanks.

  7. Love the look of the parchment pickguard! I have a black strat with parchment pickguard and went with black volume and pick-up control knobs – really makes them stand out. I also replaced the pick-ups on my strat. Went with Bill Lawrence pick-ups (don’t remember the exact model numbers) but the guitar sounds so much better with the new PU’s. There really is something about making the changes that kind of re-invigorates your playing! Can’t wait to try your amp and TS settings, though – they sound great on the video. Keep up the good work with the lessons!

  8. Love the sound!
    I have 13 year old G&L Legacy Special that has the Joe Barden style twin blade pickups. They sound good , but something tells me pickups like those could really put it over the top. I play through a 62 Fender Deluxe and have to crank a bit for some saturation. What do you think?

    Thanks for the update and I am glad you got some great results from your upgrade.


    • I’ve never tried those pickups, but the 69’s require a lot of volume to get saturation with them. That’s why you need the tubescreamer. Thanks!

  9. Hey John,
    Great job on your Strat. It looks awesome now. And sound sooooo good!!! I too recently swapped my pups & pickguard. I went from parchment to tortise on my alpine white strat and put in some D.Allen pups. It’s like having a new guitar for the fraction of the price. Keep on rockin’!!!

  10. Really love the new look. Always had a thing for the black strats with parchment or mint green pick guards.
    Great choice bud!

    • Thanks. I really do like the parchment with the black. It’s going to inspire a lot of new lessons in the future.

  11. Great sounds coming from that strat. It really helps that you know how to play as well.

    Keep up the solid work.

  12. And I loved that neck in all the previous lessons, but making that pickguard change really takes that look to a new level.

    And right on with the Parchment. White would have been a bit bold. It’s great how subtle color changes bedazzle enthusiasts like us. I still love that mint green pickguard on the 62s.
    Thanks for sharing John.


  13. Hello John,

    Glad you took the time to do this.

    I love the Attenuator tool as well — glad to see someone else. If you have not already try out a Variac, for tube-amps mostly … they’re online for fairly cheap (and great to prevent surges pending venue wiring). The Variac provides yet another level of quality crunch (by dropping the AC Volts down with less muddyness from 120v, to 110 even — good for older amps possibly too) without the boosted overdrive noise. Functionally, it seems about 10volts or so rolled off, even down to 90v from your 110-120v AC provides some interesting tone tools. (Just an “fyi” if haven’t tried it for lower volume, and quality output too. Note: for playing an Old Tube Amp. that’s been sitting for a long time, this is a nice way to bring it up slowly, slowly charging the circuit, and not blow Caps, etc., or with a new, Old, :) purchase of questionable storage.)

    I like your pick-guard choice — it’s how I would have gone.

    I think the Big head stock of that year, in an A-B test affects the sound and like it for that. It seems wood-mass above the nut is a good thing.

    For me, and liking to play a Strat-style too, with this change you get a P-90 crunch — to my ear, online here. I do love the P-90, pending who wound it, magnet type, etc. One can only play so much of the Nasal, Bell tone and I think with these pickups, Pinch Harmonics can make up the difference, especially in a Mix, at a Venue — much of certain subtleties can get lost for all the work and money that goes into it! (Unlike the “bedroom” jam, solo sessions :)

    Again, all the Best!
    Keep it up…, thank you.

  14. Hey John,

    I just did the same thing only I got the 69 Custom Shop pickups wound and
    signed by Abigale who has worked at Fender as long as anyone knows. She just retired. She also signed them. I have friends that work for Fender in Scottsdale and say she is a legend on pickups.

  15. Hi John,
    Really like the look and sound of your strat.I have texas specials in one of my two strats,which I changed from the stock ones.Never been quite happy with the tone either,seems to be really bright.Thought about vintage noiseless pick ups as in Mr. Claptons ,now you have me thinking about these ones.
    Your strat does look miles better with the faded white guard.

  16. I remember looking at that Tortoise Shell Pickguard for years at musicians warehouse haha, I like your new one! I would so love to have your old pickups if your trying to get rid of them. Keep up the great vids!!

  17. Sounds really good! I had the same issue finding a strat w/ that perfect ‘stratty’ sound. I really don’t care for the Texas Specials at all. Bought several strats over the years and finally… Road Worn 50’s w/ the stock Tex Mex pups just rocks for me. Thinking of putting 69 CS pups in my other strats now though ;)

    Check it out:

  18. Hi John, I just installed these last night in my ’91 Plus Dlx. Could you tell me a little about what the pickup height adjustment should be? Thanks!

  19. John, I’m considering these for my Squier strat (no comments from the peanut gallery, please!). I’m playing it through a Weber 5e3 clone. You made some mention about the mid-range through the Vibrolux and I’m wondering if you could comment on how these might sound through a Tweed Deluxe? I’m also running a 7-band EQ, so it may be a moot point. Thoughts?

    • I think they would sound great. The thing with the Vibrolux is that if your pickups have too much midrange, then you can’t do anything about it. This usually is ok, but the Texas Specials just have so much midrange that it can be overwhelming I think. They won’t be as loud but compared to what is in the Squier then it will sound like an entirely new guitar. Hope that helps.

  20. Hi mate,my american standard strat’s in the shop having a set of 69s fitted at the moment,made the mistake of fitting a set of Bare Knuckle irish tours,they definately wern’t for me,can’t wait to get it back

  21. Just needed to write and see where you bought your layout? I’m looking for one for my current site and really appreciate yours. Thanks so much.

  22. Hi John,

    Great sound! I always liked Strat sound so a few days ago I add one Fender Stratocaster Standard ( MIM) to my arsenal. Really nice guitar for the money. Nice sound with stock pickups but I am thinking about putting CS69s or Vintage Noiseless. I am doing the setup now because i have changed string gauge to 10s. John, what is your action height on the 17th fret? Do you like low action or high action?

    Best regards,


  23. Hey,

    You think the 69 pickups would fit for a tone like John Frusciante’s ?
    By the way, awesome playing and an fantastic tone .

    Thanks in advance.

  24. in my experience, i’ve found that CS69’s sound better on ebony or maple necked guitars, while texas specials sound great on rosewood models… each brings out the finer nuances and overtones in the said wood combinations. FWIW… btw, your strat sounds great!

  25. Hi, i have just bought and had fitted a new set of 69′ strat pups in my old 80’s tokai. i have two of these guitars, and i have already upgraded one of them to c s texas specials. They do sound great, but really edgy, and suit aggressive playing. so i thought i’d try the 69’s in the other tokai, when i got it home, and was sitting playing, i looked at the other guitar with the texas spcials in, and noticed that the pole piece staggered heights were exactly the same, not similar, but identical. Can anyone tell me if this is normal, or is there something not right here?

  26. I have a Fender CS RI1960 Strat that is 16 years old. Bought it to celebrate the birth of my daughter, who is now a guitar player too, also a jazz pianist. Steve Boulanger built the guitar. It is a gorgeous sunburst with a birds eye maple neck, rosewood fingerboard. It came with Texas Specials. I always thought the guitar sounded dark & muddy. Two years ago, I dropped in a set of Fender 69’s- it’s amazing how the guitar came alive! It is bright and airy. Good tones from the in between positions. It is a totally different animal & I like it much better now. However, I have a swamp ash Tele, a Hot Rod that I adore. I’m going to change out the S.D. mini hum bucker for either a Lollar Gold Foil pup, or an Echopark Gold Coil. I also have a Gibson CS Les Paul Special with the biggest coolest neck ever. P-90’s are amazing!

  27. I too would be interested in the height of your pickups measured from top of polepiece to bottom of string fretted at the last fret. Thanks!

  28. Hi John, great demo! I have some hot pickups that I want to swap and the 69’s seem like a great choice. I play through a 64 deluxe reverb which probably not too far from the 66 vibrolux. I really like your clean sound.

    Question: what is an attenuator? do you use it like a pedal? Thanks..great playing btw.

  29. one other question…I want to get an attenuator, I did some research so you can ignore my former question about them…but,,, the Weber comes in 25w and 50w…which are you using?

  30. Hi John

    Really cool guitar and amazing Strat sound. How are the pickups adjusted (Strings frettet in last fret/bottom strings/top polepieces)? Even though alot of people complain of the bridge being thin etc it sounds like you have achieved a good balance between pickups.



  31. Hello John:

    I’m thinking of putting the Fender Custom Shop 69 pickups in a 2009 American Standard Strat that I own. I was wondering if the second and fourth settings are still hum canceling. If not is the hum really bad in those pickup settings. Also Abigail Ybarro has retired and the current version of these pickups are not made by her. Do you think they are still as good?



  32. Hey John,

    I’m thinking of installing a set of the CS 69 pickups in my MIM 2010 strat. Do you think it’ll improve the sound? Right now i’m running it through a Fender Blues Jr. and a TS-808.

  33. Hi! I’m brazilian! I did buy the Custom 69 yesterday, because of you! Pleeease, tell me what capacitor you are using!!! If possible, send me a picture of the electric system of your strat. I liked a lot your tone!

    A hug!

  34. I very much enjoyed coming across your youtube vids and especially this video. That sound combination that you’ve put together is magic. Amazing Tone! Keep it up.

  35. BTW…I’m putting those pickups in my Kenny Wayne Shepherd Strat today to run through a Tweed DeLuxe or a Twin reverb. I can’t wait. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  36. John,only recently came across your videos and really like your 79 Strat/CS69 Vibrolux/Attenuator sound – most likely due to your playing rather than amything else. Would you get as good a sound if you were to just turn up the volume ? or does the attenuaor actually improve the tone ? What speaker is in the amp ?
    Many Thanks

  37. Hi John. Great licks. Just put these in my strat project because of your review and I love them. I was wondering if anyone put the bridge pickup in backwards to imitate Hendrix’s stringing and what it might do to the sound. Thanks.

  38. hey John I just got some 69’s for my neck and mid and I’m running GHS boomer 10-48’s – curious what your pickup heights are? btw this vid helped me decide to go with the 69s over the fats – loving them so far

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