They refer to the types of pickups; “H” stands for Humbucker and “S” for single-coil. A traditional Stratocaster is SSS, with three single-coil pickups, but an HSS has one Humbucker (usually in the bridge position).
HSS=Humbucker, single coil, single coil. SSS= single coil, single coil, single coil.
Knowing the difference really matters. Hendrix uses SSS, Nirvana usually used a Humbucker style of pickup so that would be HSS. HSS is a Humbucker in the bridge and two single coils while the SSS is single coils only. Humbuckers cancel out the humming noise of a guitar, they are usually used for heavier music. The single coils have a very characteristic sound and some people really like them, they do make some noise but overall, it is worth the sound.
So the question is which do you prefer, a HSS or SSS Stratocaster?
Check out these Stratocasters on GearSource.com – Musical Instruments.
Fender’s American Deluxe Stratocaster® HSS guitar is for guitarists who want a little more. A compound radius fingerboard allows effortless string bending anywhere along the neck, and two N3 Noiseless™ pickups provide improved Stratocaster tones while the DH-1 humbucking bridge pickup has more output for fatter lead tones; all with no hum. Reconfigured S-1™ switching offers other distinctive tonal options. The “passing lane” switch instantly routes your signal from any pickup position to the bridge position with the tone circuit bypassed, giving you more overtones and a little more volume. Other features include staggered locking tuners, LSR roller nut, two-point synchronized American Deluxe tremolo bridge with pop-in arm, and beveled neck heel.
Fender’s American Deluxe Stratocaster guitar has all the modern features today’s guitarists require. The compound radius fingerboard allows effortless string bending anywhere along the neck, and N3 Noiseless pickups provide improved Stratocaster tones for sparkling bell-like chime with no hum. Reconfigured S-1 switching offers other distinctive tonal options; other features include staggered locking tuners, two-point synchronized American Deluxe tremolo bridge with pop-in arm, and beveled neck heel.