Talking about favorite pickups is equivalent to carrying on about beer. You’ve got domestic and imports, microbrewers and homebrews. Everybody has a favorite.
There are definite duds out there, but for the most part what’s good and bad can be subjective. I’ll drink a cool PBR on occasion! There are pickups that sound great to newer ears but that you move beyond as you become more attuned to what makes a great sounding pickup. Some are so cheap or retro that they have a cool character and are just as useful as the most dynamically sonic pickup out there. There are jewels in every corner and the supply is endless.
Over the years, I’ve used tons of great sounding pickups and established friendships with some of the finest makers out there, from well-known manufacturers to guys that handwind late at night after working their main day job and saying goodnight to their families. The Internet has blown the door open exposing the homebrew kind of guys. I find myself hesitant mentioning a couple of these brilliant winders, as the further exposure may cause them more grief than fortune … or push them to make a career out of winding pickups!
Here is a list of my road guitars and the pickups I’m currently using, as well as a few others in my permanent stash I’ve used over the years.
G&L F-100 “Fender Ferrari” (Seymour Duncan Seth Lover model) and Fender Jaguar HB (Seymour Duncan Jazz)
My ‘mock pedal steel’ guitars with Bigsby Palm Pedals. The G&L has a pair of Duncan Seth Lovers. Modeled after the first humbucker ever made, they give the guitar a pronounced, smooth, singing midrange that’s a little mellow on the highs.
My Fender Jaguar HB is a modern issue with two humbuckers. I had called my friend Evan Skopp at SD for his recommendation for going for that pedal steel sound. He suggested their Jazz model, lower powered with a nice clear tone, chimey when rolled back and broad tonal range. They worked out perfectly and instead of just serving as a backup Palm-pedal guitar, I use them both in the show for different tones.
Les Paul Goldtop (Tim White Humbuckers)
This LP Custom Shop beauty originally came with the BurstBuckers, which sounded fat with a bite. At the time I ordered this guitar, I was going for a low-powered PAF tone, ala Jimmy Page (or at least that’s how I relate it). A friend told me about a guy in Alabama who handwound great pickups and I was introduced via email to Tim White.
I described what I was looking for and he took the order. The first lasting impression of dealing with a homewinder – I checked in with Tim on his progress and he said, “Well, I have the pick-ups in my guitar right now, checking ‘em out. I’ll send them to you by the end of the week.” How’s that for homegrown! They were everything I had hoped for and more. I had never heard a humbucker sparkle with almost a single-coil quality.
Pickups with a broad dynamic range like this can actually drive an amp harder and quicker into distortion just by trying to reproduce the tonal range (like P-90s), but through a clean amp they sparkle. Tim is quite the hero on the Les Paul Forum discussion pages, and he currently has orders stretching out a year or further. Well worth the wait if you’re patient enough to get in line.
Gibson SG Standard (Jason Lollar)
This 2002 SG/Les Paul Reissue from the Nashville factory is an exceptional guitar and one of my favorites. I was perfectly happy with its stock pickups (’57 Classics) that were big and fat with singing sustain. Then I met Jason Lollar, another “homebrew” luthier/pickup winder from Vashon, WA.
Jason gave me a set of his humbuckers to try. I threw them in the SG, and they haven’t left since. A great example of a pickup that transcends being just a “PAF” clone. The sonic quality brings out every note and string with clarity, and turned out to be a perfect match for the guitar. Jason has expanded his business over the years with his products, now available through dealers. You can probably still get him on the phone personally if you try.
I have many more to blab about, but it’ll have to wait until next issue, as I’m out of space this time around. Hit the store and try a few different pickups, especially if you have a guitar that’s not quite “there.” It can create an entirely new inspiring instrument. Sometimes, it’s just matching the right pickup to the guitar’s acoustic tonal qualities. Cheers!
Peter Stroud, Sheryl Crow Band