Tonerider pickups Vs Squier Classic Vibe Pickups

Advice & Tips, Guitars & Gear

Last year, I was in the process of changing the pickups in my two Stratocasters. One, my blonde Squier Vintage Modified (pictured below), was fitted out with custom pickups handmade for me by Rohdan Pickups in the USA. These were made using Alnico III magnets in the neck and middle pups, the same as the very first run of Fender Strats in 1954. The bridge was a mix of Alnico V & II, for better definition, without the harsh trebley bite.


My three Strats, before I sold the red one (top) or changed the pickups in the other two…

For the other guitar, my trusty Mexican HSS Strat (the blue one, pictured above), I only needed replacement neck and middle pickups. I was playing with different groups with less emphasis on heavy rock, and needed something more versatile. I’m still really happy with the Seymour Duncan ’59 humbucker in the bridge (this is usually a Les Paul replacement/upgrade, and has a great tone for classic rock). Having loved the sound of one of my other Strats, a Squier CV, or ‘Classic Vibe’ (Simon Neil signature model, based on a CV 60’s model), I started researching it’s pickups online. I thought I might get an idea of where to look for similar-sounding pups to install in my Mexican Strat. However, in my search, I happened upon an interesting, and ultimately money-saving, discovery…

Tonerider Pickups

Tonerider make replacement pickup sets for Strats and Teles. They appear to operate out of Squier’s main factory and sound as similar to the pickups used in Squier’s Classic Vibe guitar range as to lead most people to believe they are the stock pups built into the instrument.

An excellent article by Tidy Words seemed to confirm what many Squier player had long suspected, and which Tonerider set was (allegedly!) being used in which guitar:

  • CV 50’s Strat – Tonerider Surfaris
  • CV 60’s Strat – Tonerider Classic Blues
  • CV signature Strat (Simon Neil signature, etc) – Tonerider Vintage Classics

For full details, you can see the full article here.


Picture courtesy of Worth Point.

The takeaway message…

If you have a Squire Classic Vibe guitar, don’t upgrade it with Tonerider pickups, as they are already in there! And frankly, if you’ve bought a CV guitar to get the overall ‘vibe’ of a certain era in Fender’s history, the stock (Tonerider) pickups do a great job, and don’t need replacing in the first place! These guitars are well built and in terms of sound, playability and build quality, give the ‘real’ Fenders a run for their money – at a fraction of the price!

On the other hand, if you like the Strat you have, but want to improve the pickups, you could do a lot worse than the Tonerider range. Check out their full range of Strat pickups here.

How did it work out for me?

I bought a City Limits single coil set from Tonerider. These use Alnico V magnets, and are aiming for the ‘Texas Blues’ sound Fender Strats do so well – think ‘SRV’ and you’ll have a fairly good idea what I mean.


Picture courtesy of

I sold on the bridge pickup and replaced the Vintage Noiseless ‘hot’ pickups I had in the neck & middle positions. I now have a much more Strat-like guitar. It works for blues, rock, funk, jazz and everything else I throw at it. In combination with my blonde Strat, I have a fairly versatile setup, and don’t expect to be changing the pickups in either of them again anytime soon. For those interested, you can hear them on the most recent music releases I worked on, which are currently among the Popular Tracks section of this Spotify page.

Good luck in your buying choices!

Upcycled music: my custom-built, eco-friendly classical guitar

Guitars & Gear

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may be aware that I recently had a new classical guitar custom made for me by Neil McHardy Guitars in Cumbria. Here’s some details and a closer look…

McHardy’s eco-friendly mindset

Neil works alone and handbuilds his guitars to order. His offset sound hole design came from his father, who built guitars for the boys he used to teach, using old wood. Neil, a retired engineer, has kept the same overall design & philosophy, creating beautiful instruments out of old wood. Most of his guitars had previously been doors, floorboards or old workbenches. It goes against the mentality of many high-end luthiers, who prize certain ‘tonewoods’ over others. Believe me, these guitars sound brilliant & play as well (if not better) than their (considerably) more expensive rivals.

Unique in more ways than one

I first discovered Neil’s craftsmanship at the Sunbeams Music Centre in Penrith, which has a guitar donated by him amongst its collection. Intrigued by his philosophy of using recycled wood, I contacted him to ask if he had ever made a nylon-strung guitar. Neil told me he had not (all of his creations until then had been steel-strung acoustics), but was up for the challenge.

After lots of careful of research, Neil designed & built a guitar to my specifications. He also sent me regular work in progress pictures (below).

The finished product

Neil finished the guitar for me in late January, and it was great to finally have it in my hands to play. All of my requests & requirements had been met, from the thinner body depth to the input jack being placed separately from the bridge pin/end strap button. The offset soundhole does not effect volume, but rather allows for more vibration of the top. It also suits my more percussive style of playing better.


Top: Red Cedar
Back & Sides: Spanish Cedar
Neck: Cherry, with a Beech stripe
Fretboard & Bridge: African Ebony
Head Facing & Golpe: American Walnut

Nut & Saddle: Camel Bone
Pickup: Fishman ‘Presys’

Depth: 90mm at bottom, tapering to 70mm at top
Width of lower bout: 370mm
Length: 1,000mm
Nut Width: 52mm (2″)

I’ve played this guitar for a couple of months now and still very pleased with it. The thinline body & offset soundhole create less conventional nylon-strung sound which is perfect for jazz and latin styles, while still retaining an intrinsic classical vibe.

Unplugged, it is loud enough to be heard, but the onboard mic/pickup combo is very versatile for both live performance and recording – I especially like being able to blend the ratio of microphone (just under the soundhole on the guitar’s upper bout) and pickup. Having a tuner on there means one less thing to forget to pack in my gigbag too!

I’m terms of how it looks, I think this guitar is a real stunner. To me, it mixes the best of classic Spanish guitar with elements of African design – particularly in the binding & rosette. Speaking of which, these are another feature unique to all McHardy Guitars, as they are pieced together from spare wood chippings. No two rosettes made by Neil look the same!


The action is low but clean, and the 52mm (2 inch) nut, the standard in classical guitar making, feels perfectly comfortable. Its thinline body make it easy to hold in the right position and the neck is well intonated. Big stretches aren’t a problem and full chords hold their tuning across the fretboard. In short, it feels as good to play as it sounds.

The electrics are simple to navigate and sound superb. I’ve already found two settings which will likely become my main voicings for this instrument.

One of a kind

When I first met Neil in his workshop, I noticed he had a collection of wooden circles on a string. These, he explained, were the cut-outs from the soundhole of every guitar he had ever made. He estimated there to be around 50 in total. All of them steel-strung six string acoustics, until mine.

However, it seems Neil continues to diversity and experiment. At time of writing, he was starting on his first ever twelve string, another requested build. I’m sure he’ll nail it as brilliantly ass he did with my nylon-strung axe.

In a follow up conversation, Neil mentioned one of his Facebook followers admiring photos of my finished guitar so much that he had started enquiring about his own. So perhaps this could be the start of a whole new range for Neil!

For more info…

If you asked about his work, Neil would tell you that he’s “just a man in a shed”. However, if you would like to see more of his guitars, or even discuss a future build of your own, then please do check him out via the Neil McHardy Guitars Facebook page – just don’t inundate the poor guy with requests for the Tim Higgins Signature Model!