Pickup swaps, the joke is on me! (long)

Discussion in 'Pickups, Electronics & General Tech' started by GoldDragon, May 29, 2020.

  1. GoldDragon

    GoldDragon SS.org Regular

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    I have been swapping pickups for years.

    The first pickup upgrade was a SD original "Trembucker" (the one with the double poles). I remember at the time it was hotter than the pickups that came in the Charvel, created more distortion, and I liked it better. That was back when amps didn't come with much distortion and you had to use a boost or a distortion pedal.

    Of course Metallica was big at the time, and they used EMGs, so that was my next upgrade. I honed my soldering skills wiring the EMGs into a number of guitars. They created even more distortion and were easier to play. I had been playing for about three years, and I remember I had a hard time playing guitars that didn't have EMGs. I used EMGs up until about the 5 year mark.

    Around this time, amps were coming with more distortion, and I realized that you didn't need blazing hot pickups to get metal and lead guitar sounds. So I entered into a long "tone phase", where I was choosing pickups based on EQ and "feel".

    Over the next 15 years, I probably tried 40 different humbuckers. A handful of SDs, but mostly Dimarzios. I think I tried almost the entire Dimarzio catalog. Why Dimarzio? Because they were $10 cheaper than Seymours and most of my guitar heroes were Dimarzio endorsers.

    After a time I gravitated to the Norton and Fred pickups. They were more "toneful" and had a "bigger" sound. (as medium output pickups with lots of presence do.) I thought the Norton was my holy grail sound. Then I thought the Fred was.

    After about 5 years with these, I realized they weren't the best for speed picking, I was willing to trade some "tone" for tightness and clarity. So I upgraded to the penultimate pickup; the Dimarzio Evolution. These were "dual resonance" design like the Norton and Fred (so you *know* they are toneful), but hotter. I used the Evos for about 5 years and swore by them. The SD Full Shred also gets honorable mention; I had a guitar with a Full Shred and it was very similar to the Evo.

    About five years ago, I was bored and picked up a Chinese super strat. I wanted to see how a Floyd Rose (special) compared to the Edge and LoPro trems I had been using for years.

    This guitar was an eye opener. For one, I quickly got used to the Floyd Rose, and while there is some brushing against the micro tuners, I much prefer the Floyd Bar position and its screw in bar that lets you adjust the tension. With the LoPro trems, the push in bar, the bushings would wear thin, so I would always be taking them off and painting the inside to make them tighter (trick learnd from Ibanez Rules).

    Secondly, the stock pickups in this $250 guitar were quite good! They reminded me very much of the Duncan Full Shred and PAF (in neck). I figured they were clones of these designs.

    Not wanting to leave anything on the table, I decided to try one of the Dimarzios I had not tried before. A Dimarzio D-Sonic. My thinking was that if I didn't like it, I could return it and get a Norton (so I would have a guitar with that old favorite.) Marco Sfogli had used this pickup and I also understand Petrucci used it too.

    I absolutely LOVE the D-sonic! It has a really thick presentation with plenty of harmonics but the bottom is tight. In comparison to the D-sonic, my Evo guitars sounded "thin". They were missing the thickness in solo notes. Now whenever I plugged in an Evo guitar, it seemed to have an over abundance of harmonics and was "washed out" sounding. (not as strong fundamental tone.)

    I realized the D-sonic wasn't a "dual resonance" design.... and this got me thinking. At this point I had a few Evolution guitars that I didn't like playing because of the pickups, and I needed to do something about that.

    I looked through my parts box, to see if there was anything I could use as a stop gap before ordering $500 in D-sonic pickups. The only answer that presented itself was the Quantum pickups that came in a couple of my Ibanez guitars. I remember I thought they sounded OK, but they weren't dual resonance, and didn't have much harmonics compared to the Evos (I used to use harmonics as a barometer for how good a pickup was.)

    So I grudginly put the Quantums back into a guitar to see if I liked them more than the Evos, some 20 years later.

    Wow. Just, wow. The thing is, the Quantum pickups sound almost exactly like the Dimarzio D-Sonic! They have a tight bottom end, a thick mid, but with perhaps less harmonics. They have about the same output and same drive characteristics. Overall, they are a perfect stand-in for the D-sonic, in a mahogony guitar with a brighter top.

    When I plug in the quantum guitars, they are interchangeable with the patches I have designed for the D-sonic.

    Its interesting to me, that after a long journey with pickup swaps I arrived back at the stock pickups. (This after many years of playing and tone tweaking.) Now I care more about switching options and how the coil split sounds, being able to also get good clean sounds.

    Most of the pickup swaps were done to cure temporary boredom and out of a lack of knowledge. I've learned that alot can be done with pickup height, switching options, capacitors to alter the output or EQ of stock pickups.

    Stock pickups these days are no better/worse than aftermarket. The advantage of using replacement pickups is that at least you know what they are and have an expectation of how they will work.

    When I was younger, I fell prey to "marketing" and that there was always "something better". I wanted to distinguish myself. When you find out that your favorite aftermarket pickup sounds functionally identical to the stock pickups, it changes your perspective.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2020
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  2. DudeManBrother

    DudeManBrother Hey...how did everybody get in my room?

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    Taking the time to understand how something functions, and utilizing inexpensive, readily available components, to alter the undesirable qualities; versus blind consumerism: that’s a life lesson that extends far beyond pickups. Props to you for recognizing it.

    Those Quantum pickups do sound great though :lol:
     
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  3. GoldDragon

    GoldDragon SS.org Regular

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    The quantum pickups enable my technique, as they say for the rest of it... "tone is in the fingers."

    Regarding consumerism, yes this. Its also about ego. Using the stock pickups has no affect on my music or identity. In fact, when it comes down to it, the extra presence or bass you get from a new pickup, that your ear says, "hey this is better", may actually sound worse in a mix.

    Sadly, regarding aftermarket pickups, I think its 90% marketing, maybe more these days. They are just discontinuing old pickups and making new ones that are functionally identical to the old one.

    What it comes down to is, "how hot is it"? (How many winds, type of magnet)

    And, how much presence and bass? (What type of magnet, construction) <- This aspect is largely irrelevant these days with digital processing.

    There are only so many variations on a theme. I fully admit I bought Dimarzios because my guitar heroes played them. Buying a $70 pickup cost less than buying a new amp.
     
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  4. elkoki

    elkoki SS.org Regular

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    And im curious ... would you consider yourself a good player ? Not to imply anything, but some people I find are mostly obsessed about constantly changing their pickups than actually playing. So regardless of the high end gear they have they still sound like doodoo
     
  5. HoneyNut

    HoneyNut Regular

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    This was fun to read! Nice post :)

    I haven't done too many swaps, but I did do a few on my Ibanezes and current Charvel DK24.

    This was my first Charvel, and in fact pre-ordered it in 2018. It had the full-shred bridge. I've never played a bright pickup, always played Tone Zone or the V7 / V8 pickups the Ibanezs came with. Tried the Paf Pro in the past, awesome pickup, but definitely nothing like the Full-Shred.

    So for the year and half, I just found it bright. I couldn't adjust to it. It wasn't warm, or didnt have the saxophone quality i was looking for.
    But playing it a while, I kinda realized the beast it actually is. The Full Shred screams anywhere, plus the palm muted leads into no-palm muted notes sound great. As in, the notes really open up as you ease off the palm mute.

    That was an awesome characteristics, the chug of the palm mutes, vs the open notes could be heard. And for a humbucker, this had a lot of pick-attack. Never heard pick-attack like this from a humbucker, maybe the Paf Pro did.

    But, now I have the Suhr SSH+ on the bridge, my first soldering job. I like it, it's again very different from the full-shred. This sounds more like a traditional hot humbucker, which is what I was after, not a modern tone metal tone. But the palm mute, and pick attack is not there.

    I kept reading that the Crunch Lab is a better Full-Shred. I wonder how they might be similar. I'm not changing pickups again, but if I got myself another metal guitar, the Full-Shred is one of the more satisfying ones Ive played.
     
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  6. HoneyNut

    HoneyNut Regular

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    I dont consider myself a good player, but I have been playing for over 2 decades. Pickup swaps do make a significant difference in tone, I can definitely vouche for that, and it's a really fun journey. I mean, that's why we are here at the first place, it's what we love doing.
     
  7. KnightBrolaire

    KnightBrolaire thy fart is murder

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    i feel personally attacked
     
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  8. GoldDragon

    GoldDragon SS.org Regular

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    I am a much better player than I was.

    For the past ten years I really haven't changed my gear any. The only thing that happened over the past ten years is that 5 years ago I bought a new guitar, found a pickup I liked more than the Evolutions, and then found out it sounds very much like stock pickups I took out 20 years ago.

    I wouldn't make a blanket statement like that though. Lots of monster players always changing gear.
     
  9. elkoki

    elkoki SS.org Regular

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    Thats true .. lots of famous players are constantly trying out different gear. But I just find (especially on forums like these) that there's so much pickup swapping and new demos and the focus seems to be more on that than actually playing. Ill probably get attacked for saying that....
     
  10. GoldDragon

    GoldDragon SS.org Regular

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    Those are good questions. I'm more inclined to adjust my playing to the gear I'm using. The Full Shred was like the evolution. If I had a guitar that came with them, and if it was alder I probably would keep it in there.

    On the long journey I did find out a few things:

    If you have a hot pickup, it can be very tight and articulate for metal rhythms and soloing. Many of the hot pickups have very good coil split sounds that reduce the volume and make a good clean sound. But you have to play around with the wiring, the coil splitting, parallel, positions, etc to find the sounds you want.

    Medium output humbuckers usually don't have as useful a coil split sound. The single coil sound is usually pretty weak.

    And low/medium output humbuckers will never be as tight as a hot humbucker, even with a boost.

    So for most versatility, if you play metal and lead guitar, is a hot humbucker set with carefully chosen switching (coil splits parallel, etc). I'm sure those Shur pickups sound great. But I'm also sure there is something in the Seymour Duncan catalog that is equivalent, I just don't know what it is. And there is proabably a chinese company that cloned that pickup and sells it to OEMs for $2.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2020
  11. GoldDragon

    GoldDragon SS.org Regular

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    Im not going to judge anyone's ability based on their gear choices. Lots of people on the internet are not great players. I do this as a hobby, maybe I'm not a great player by your standards. Maybe I am. Doesn't matter.
     
  12. elkoki

    elkoki SS.org Regular

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    Meh
     
  13. HoneyNut

    HoneyNut Regular

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    I've been following Guthrie Govan, big fan. I can't play anything like that, but his tone is something I was chasing. If you hear his earlier youtube videos, his lead tone has this nice honk, like how Dimarzio has the aww, his had this honk. And I totally hear it in the SSH+.

    There's a video of "Guthrie testing a Suhr Badger in Korea". You'll hear that honk there. I love it.

    The SSH+ has a DC measurement of 17k, but on the lead settings, it doesn't feel as hot as the Full Shred, which was supposedly 14k. It splits well with the middle, and outer single coils like a telecaster tone is nice. Supposedly, the Suhr SSH+ can also be split into 2 coils, which I haven't done. I'm ok with the 5 way options now. The Duncan equivalent is the JB according the Suhr himself. He was modding the JB for players in his early shop days like allan holdsworth, where he would put two rows of screws. The evolution of that became the SSH and SSH+ pickups. (I've been reading about this pickup a lot! )

    But I totally understand what you mean by the Evo lacking in fundamental tone. It was very evident on the Generation Axe tour. Nuno Bettencourt had the best lead tone on that tour to me. I think the Evo's sound great on their own, but not with other players. But the harmomics are something I want to try on my own one day with 9-42 guage strings.
     
  14. GoldDragon

    GoldDragon SS.org Regular

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    Ive come to the conclusion that the guitar makes a big difference in how the mids are represented. I've heard GG and I wouldn't be surprised if his tone was 80% the guitar, or just eq adjustment. With a parametric, you can give a little bump anywhere you want.
     
  15. GoldDragon

    GoldDragon SS.org Regular

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    BTW, who was using Evos? Steve Vai moved on from those at least ten years ago.
     
  16. HoneyNut

    HoneyNut Regular

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    He uses Evo bridge on his main guitar guitar afaik.
     
  17. Choop

    Choop n______n

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    Not trying to attack you or anything, but this info isn't necessarily true. There are plenty of high output humbuckers that are quite squishy and loose, and lower output 'buckers that are plenty tight. A good example is the Duncan Invader, which has accentuated lows/low mids, but it's not the tightest pickup around despite having a huge output. The Duncan Custom rides the line between mid/high output, but IME it can be made to sound much tighter. Just using these as examples because I have them both, but another would be the Gibson 500T which has big output, but can get loose in the lowend department, and isn't as tight as other comparable pickups like the Duncan Distortion.
     
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  18. GoldDragon

    GoldDragon SS.org Regular

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    Yes, I think you're right, to a point.

    What I meant to say, is that I haven't found a PAF style (lower output) pickup that is as tight as higher output pickups designed to shred.

    The only exception was the Humbucker from Hell, but it sounds like ass.

    Sure there are variations in looseness/tightness. The Norton is a good example. Its fairly hot but isnt very sharp. Its loose and all over the place with accentuted low/high. The PAF Pro has less output, but its much tighter.

    My bigger point was that for metal and lead players, generally hotter pickups are better, and they have the benefit of having useable coil splits.

    ymmv
     
  19. bzhang9

    bzhang9 SS.org Regular

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  20. Emperoff

    Emperoff Hasta la vista, Baby Contributor

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    You just reminded me of a guy on Youtube that reviews high end guitars. He made a 45min video of the same two riffs played across 21 super expensive guitars (each one with different pickups). Not sure how that can help anyone :nuts:

    Your comment however was perhaps too obviously targeted. You have to consider those average Joes doing demos do it for helping other people to choose (and not for money as famous Youtubers).

    Playing skills don't matter in demos as long as you format them correctly and the guitar isn't out of tune. Click track to play at tempo, simple riffs showcasing the different sounds, done. No need to be Steve Vai to demo a pickup.

    In fact it wouldn't be a bad idea to merge them.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2020

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