Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Local Music Gear 2013 PAF Style Humbucker Comparison Review...

Local Music Gear Feature Story 
Written By: 
Jac Harrison
Confusion and frustration are emotions that come to mind when trying to describe the tone/voice we want from our guitar to the person making and/or selling us the upgrades to achieve that "holy tone" we dream of. There are so many variables that go into this equation that you can really hurt you brain just by thinking about it -- and even worst your pockets. The most common way to dramatically change your guitars tone/voice is by installing a new set of pickups. There are a few steps in the process of deciding what style of pickup you want based on your desired tone. To start you need to understand what the different pickup types do to your tone since you are no longer bound to the style of pickup that your guitar is setup for. Most pickup manufacturers are producing an interchangeable product for all platforms in any configuration. So what that means is -- if you have a single coil style guitar you can use humbuckers and vica versa. This opens up a whole new world of different tones you can achieve from one guitar -- but at the same time can be confusing.

Now that you have a style of pickup in mind -- you have many different choices from many different manufacturers. Each manufacturer puts their own twist on things -- so understanding the basics will help you find your tone. There are a few different components that go into making a quality pickup -- but as a consumer there are three that I always pay attention to. Active vs passive, hand vs machine wound and the type of magnets. The main tone altering part of the pickup is its heart -- the magnet. The lower the Alnico magnets number the darker and more mellow the tone -vs- a higher number that will give you a brighter tone with more attack ending with ceramic magnets as the hottest. So for example -- if you wanted a nice warm Jazz neck tone for your archtop you may go with an Alnico II humbucker and if you wanted a metal shredder sound you could use an active ceramic bridge. There is no right or wrong way of achieving your tone – it is all personal preference. 


To me; nothing sounds better then an old school dirty humbucker -- so for this comparison review I asked the pickup manufacturers to send me their version of my favorite pickups. A set of passive hot, but not ceramic PAF’s/Paten Applied For style (4) conductor humbuckers.

THE CONTROL GUITAR 

This review was conducted using a Brian Jeppson Spitfire guitar and an ASY-T4 Switch by AweSome Musical Instruments attached to a tester board during installation to allow me to view all 72 different possible pickup configurations before permanent installation. Each set of pickups were installed using a 3-way toggle switch by switchcarft and (2) cts500k push/pull pots. (vol pot coil tap/split master with a treble bleed .001 cf cap & 220k resistor -- tone pot series/parallel master with a 0.47 cf cap on the right lug of pot to ground). I then played the Jeppson guitar for a week after each instillation (a minimum 10 hours of play) with the follow set up. 


SOUND

Guitar: 
Jepson Spitfire 

Amp: 
Bogner Alchemist 2x12 

Cables: 
Intex 

Strings: 
Dark Horse 10-46

Pick: 
Gravity 1.35 


INSTALLATION

I took my time as I always do and from start to finish it was 2.5 hours/5 beers per guitar. Please note that you should have a luthier from your local music store work on and/or setup your guitar for you unless you really know what you are doing. This would be a 2 - 3 hour charge + bench fee per guitar to have (2) humbuckers with push/pull pots installed with setup . The total investment will be well worth it.

THE REVIEW

This review is listed from the lowest to highest cost and not in a ranking order. The pickups that made this review are of the highest quality for their price point from the pickups that where provided for review -- the others we just wont talk about.  This review was conducted over the course of 3 months. 

---------
Best Budget Pickup--------- 
Iron Gear Hot Slag
Street Price $70.90 USD for the set + shipping 
Build wait: None 
irongear-direct.com 

SPECIFICATION


DC Resistance -Neck: 16k Ohm / Bridge: 15.3k Ohm

Pole Spacing -Neck: 50mm / Bridge: 52mm
Magnet Type -Neck: Alnico V / Bridge: Alnico V
Conductors - 4 Conductor
Covers - Chrome Cover
Machine wound

SOUND 


Selector position 1: Just Neck

A warm rhythm with a hot sharp finish. 

Selector position 2: Neck & Bridge 
A bridge heavy mix with some warmth.

Selector position 3: Just Bridge  
A punch you in the face lead -- Very Zakk Wylde wide open lead. 

Coil Split noise level - Moderate 
Coil Split volume loss - Average
Series vs parallel volume loss - Average

Sounds like: 1979 PAF - Almost active  


PERMANENT INSTALLATION


These pickups are not only a great buy at $70.90 USD for the set -- but they are the same quality as some of the higher end machine wound pickups that you can find at the big box retailers. They are evenly balanced between power and warmth, and overall they are the best set of budget pickups I have ever played for a metal application.

They found their permanent home in a Badd Guitars 30th Street. She is custom wired with a Switchcraft 3-way toggle, (2) push pull pots for series/parallel on each pickup with a vol pot treble bleed (.001 cf cap & 220k resistor) and a .22 cf cap on the tone right lug of pot to ground.

I would recommend Iron Gear Hot Slag pickups to anyone working on a budget and/or looking for that metal rock sound.



---------Best Reissue Pickup--------- 
Kent Armstrong Vintage O's 
Street Price $105.95 USD for the set + shipping 
Build wait: None 
wdmusic.com

SPECIFICATION

DC Resistance -Neck: 8.8k Ohm / Bridge: 8.8k Ohm
Pole Spacing -Neck: 50mm / Bridge: 52mm
Magnet Type -Neck: Alnico V / Bridge: Alnico V
Conductors - 4 Conductor
Covers - None
Machine wound

SOUND 

Selector position 1: Just Neck

Mellow for an Alnico V, but full -- A true vintage sound   

Selector position 2: Neck & Bridge 
An even balance between the neck and bridge -- excellent for rock rhythm.  

Selector position 3: Just Bridge
Very reproduction 196o's PAF style bridge -- full and bright with clear harmonics.

Coil Split noise level - Average 
Coil Split volume loss - Average
Series vs parallel volume loss - Average

Sounds like: Stock 2013 Gibson American standard 

PERMANENT INSTALLATION



Kent Armstrong pickups have been my personal choice for budget builds for a few years now due to what I call their "true to it's inspired " sound. When you order a new "vintage" set of pickups from them it sounds like it has some age on it. Like it was in a guitar that was played hard and left out wet hundreds of times before it found a new home in your guitar. Regardless what your tone is -- bright, muddy or loud -- it is that "broken in" sound that we all dream about.  

They found their permanent home in 2011 PRS SE Single Cutaway.  She is custom wired with a Stew Mac free-way 6-way toggle switch with (2) CTS500k pots -- (1) vol with treble bleed (.001 cf cap & 220k resistor) and a .47 cf cap on the tone right lug of pot to ground.

I would recommend Kent Armstrong pickups to anyone working on a budget and/or looking for that aged sound.


---------Most Accurate Pickup--------- 
Foothill PAF (H) - Special Order Out of Phase 
Street Price $150.00 USD for the set + shipping
Build wait: 30 days
facebook.com/benny.trevillian

SPECIFICATION

DC Resistance -Neck: 7.8k Ohm / Bridge: 10k Ohm
Pole Spacing -Neck: 50mm / Bridge: 49mm
Magnet Type -Neck: Alnico V / Bridge: Alnico V
Conductors - 4 Conductor
Covers - None
Hand Wound 

SOUND


Selector position 1: Just Neck

Very clear and full -- can be used to lead with the volume on 10 and when rolled back a strong clear rhythm.

Selector position 2: Neck & Bridge
Out of phase with a bottom end-- very 1959 Green/Moore LP.

Selector position 3: Just Bridge
Balls to the wall lead -- very Slash Appetite for Destruction. 

Coil Split noise level - Almost none 
Coil Split volume loss - Very little
Series vs parallel volume loss - Very little

Sounds like: Gibson Collector' s Choice™ #1




PERMANENT INSTALLATION



This was my first encounter with Foothill Pickups and I was impressed. Not only do these capture the true sound of a 1959 Les Paul -- but my set was wired as the Green/Moore 59 -- out of phase with each other. The tone you can get with these is what some have dubbed the "holy grail" of guitar tone -- and it is dead on accurate.

They found their permanent home in a 2013 Jarrett Zaffiro She is custom wired with a Switchcraft 3-way toggle switch and (2) CTS500k pots (just volume) -- each wired with a treble bleed (Neck vol: .001 cf cap & 150k resistor /Bridge vol: .001 cf cap & 220k resistor)

I would recommend Foothill pickups to anyone looking for a true 1959 American PAF sound.




---------Most Unique Pickup--------- 
Brian Jeppson Supernatural /Custom Overdrive 
Street Price $240.00 USD for the set + shipping 
Build wait: 7 days 
jeppsonguitars.com

SPECIFICATION

DC Resistance -Neck: 7.8k Ohm / Bridge: 11k Ohm

Pole Spacing -Neck: 49.2mm / Bridge: 50mm
Magnet Type -Neck: Alnico IV / Bridge: Alnico VIII
Conductors - 4 Conductor
Covers - Nickel
Hand Wound 

SOUND 


Selector position 1: Just Neck

Chunky clear  -- like a PAF/P-90 hybrid or a P-90 with some meat on the bone.

Selector position 2: Neck & Bridge
A bridge heavy mix with a slight scoop in the mids - AC/DC ish. 

Selector position 3: Just Bridge
Unbelievably loud -- but warm and smooth at the same time with an increase in the harmonics. Will overdrive your tubes on the clean channel.

Coil Split noise level - very little if any 
Coil Split volume loss - very little if any 
Series vs parallel volume loss - very little

Sounds like: New PRS 408 meets early Gibson Les Paul 


PERMANENT INSTALLATION



I have used Brian Jeppson pickups and guitars for about a year. Brian's attention to the technical details in his work is just amazing. He is able to re-create, and come up with the most amazing combinations resulting in very unique tones that separate his work from others.

They found their permanent home in a 2012 RM Olson Languedoc kit that I put together. She is custom wired with a Switchcraft 3-way toggle switch and (2) WD Music on-on-on switches wired full humbucker series/hum canceling single coil/full humbucker parallel  with (1) cts500k vol pot with treble bleed (.001 cf cap & 220k resistor).

I would recommend Jeppson pickups to anyone that is obsessed with creating their own tone -- as Brian will build you whatever you want. 


---------Smoothest  Tone--------- 
Ardizzi Custom Classic Shielded  
Street Price $500.00 USD for the set + shipping 
Build wait: 30-40 days 
ardizzimics.com

SPECIFICATION


DC Resistance -Neck: 8k Ohm / Bridge: 8.5k Ohm

Pole Spacing -Neck: 50mm / Bridge: 49mm
Magnet Type -Neck: Alnico V / Bridge: Alnico V
Conductors - 4 Conductor
Covers - Welded nickel silver, entirely hand made pieces, 1mm thick
Hand Wound

SOUND


Selector position 1: Just Neck

Warm without the mud, very touch sensitive and smooth

Selector position 2: Neck & Bridge
An even balance between the neck and bridge with an increase in the harmonics.

Selector position 3: Just Bridge 
A harmonically rich smooth and creamy bright lead without the harsh metallic sound.

Coil Split noise level - very little if any 
Coil Split volume loss - very little if any 
Series vs parallel volume loss - very little

Sounds like: Paul Reed Smith Santana Signature


PERMANENT INSTALLATION



This is the second set of Ardizzi pickups I have installed in a guitar, and just like the first set they are amazing. They are unlike any other aftermarket pickups that I have found. They do have the characteristics of vintage American PAF's -- but dipped in honey. They are incredibly smooth without the metallic sound you get from a hot humbucker while retaining that mean growl with increased creamy harmonics and sustain.

They found their permanent home in a 2011 Jeppson Spitfire. She is custom wired with a Switchcraft 3-way toggle, (2) push pull pots for series/parallel on each pickup with a vol pot treble bleed (.001 cf cap & 220k resistor) and a .22 cf cap on the tone right lug of pot to ground.


I would recommend Ardizzi pickups to the guitarist that has everything or to the player that wants that smooth creamy sound. 




Posted 04/2013
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