A beautiful-sounding and well-balanced set of Strat replacement pickups that retains vintage-like character while expanding versatility and range.
They'll make you want to play your Strat 24/7.
Vintage Strat sounds but not stuck in the past.
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While they’ve become some of the most-respected pickups for high-end basses, Aero Instrument’s creations have remained a well-kept secret among six-stringers over their nearly three-decade run.
If the likes of Darryl Jones and Juan Alderete are raving about the Aeros in their basses, you have to imagine they might do something special for electric guitars, and indeed they do. We first encountered Aero’s guitar pickups in 2016 while reviewing a Lentz Jr. Reserve Sin, and the single-coils on that S-type were one of the most versatile and overtly expressive sets we've come across.
Founded in 1994, Aero pickups are made in Hilo, Hawaii, by proprietor Larry J. Pollack, who eschews the copyist road that so many winders take as they do their best to emulate vintage designs. Pollack instead strives to create pickups that simply make any instrument sound like its best possible self.
“Musicians don’t like to talk about the pickup’s function, except in magical terms,” Pollack tells GP, “but the pickup is a transducer, a device that converts one form of signal into another, in this case converting the acoustic-mechanical vibration of the guitar into an electrical signal. The better it does that job, the better the pickup. The frequency response of the Aero pickup is broader than any instrument where they can be installed. The response is mostly flat, so the guitar sounds like an electric reproduction of the acoustic instrument.”
Reviewed this issue is Aero’s Standard Strad ESS Set, a drop-in replacement for Stratocaster guitars. The name is telling: It’s “Strad” as in Stradivarius, and “ESS” for “exact string spacing,” which embodies Aero’s effort to ensure each pickup fits the intended guitar precisely, with no string drop-outs or dead spots.
That endeavor requires the customer to submit string-to-string spacing measurements of the guitar at each pickup position (the test subject being a 2014 Fender Custom Shop 1954 Stratocaster Reissue, in this instance) and the overall fingerboard radius, to ensure a precise match.
Rather than giving pickup models names and relative specs to differentiate them, Aero uses the terms type, to denote construction and magnet details, and level, to signify output. This Standard set is RWRP.
It comprises Type 1/Level 1 neck and middle pickups made with Alnico V magnets and wound with 42 AWG wire to readings of 6.76k-ohms and 7.42k-ohms respectively, and a Type 13/Level 2 bridge, which designates Alnico II magnets with 43 AWG wire and a reading of 10.30k-ohms. The neck and middle pickups have 9.5-inch radius-staggered pole pieces, and the bridge has flat poles.
Tested in the ’54 Stratocaster Reissue (opens in new tab) through a tweed Deluxe–style 1x12 combo and a Friedman Small Box head and 2x12 cab, the Aero set proved to be very versatile and extremely euphonic.
They sound very rich, as well as clear and chimey, and have plenty of S-style single-coil quack when you need it, as well as the ability to sound relatively thick and girthy without sacrificing the traditional vintage-Strat tonal tricks we all know and love.
That in itself is quite an accomplishment. Also impressive is their propensity toward lot of harmonic sparkle and swirl without spiking into harshness, and the judicious dose of compression that eases the pick attack without mushing out.
Added together, these characteristics enable a broad sonic palette that is just as adept at clean, glassy, Knopfler-style soloing and spanky rhythm in the middle and in-between positions as it is at meaty faux-Tele twang on the bridge and throaty edge-of-breakup blues leads on the neck pickup.
They’re very well balanced string to string and position to position, and the RWRP provides handy noise-free performance in the two and four settings, although they aren’t overly noisy for single-coils to begin with.
All in all, this is a noteworthy set of Strat replacement pickups that simply sounds delectable, musical and expressive, and effortlessly provides that coveted “stop thinking and play” experience that we all seek from our gear.
For that, the Aero Standard Strad ESS set earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
- PRICE: $445 for the set, direct
- Magnets Staggered Alnico V poles neck and middle, flat Alnico II poles bridge
- DC RESISTANCE: 6.76 kΩ neck, 7.42 kΩ middle, 10.30 kΩ bridge
- BUILT: USA
- CONTACT: Aero Instrument (opens in new tab)
Dave Hunter is a writer and consulting editor for Guitar Player magazine. His prolific output as author includes Fender 75 Years (opens in new tab), The Guitar Amp Handbook (opens in new tab), The British Amp Invasion (opens in new tab), Ultimate Star Guitars (opens in new tab), Guitar Effects Pedals (opens in new tab), The Guitar Pickup Handbook (opens in new tab), The Fender Telecaster (opens in new tab) and several other titles. Hunter is a former editor of The Guitar Magazine (UK), and a contributor to Vintage Guitar, Premier Guitar, The Connoisseur and other publications. A contributing essayist to the United States Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Board’s Permanent Archive, he lives in Kittery, ME, with his wife and their two children and fronts the bands A Different Engine and The Stereo Field.