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December 2014
more... GearHumbuckerReviewsPickups & AccessoriesJune 2009Skatterbrane

Skatterbrane Standard Humbucking Pickup Review

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The pickups were recorded in an '06 Gibson Flying V. A bit of reverb was added in GarageBand.
Anyone who has fallen in love with the sweet, hypnotic tones of certain vintage-PAF humbuckers has most certainly been disappointed and frustrated with the availability and price of those heralded tone machines. Most guitarists and gearheads know of the famed Gibson PAF, and many who have searched for the elusive tones they provide have had to look elsewhere to satisfy their cravings. Even those lucky few that have managed to track down a pair of vintage late-fifties PAFs still have to play a game of tone-roulette, as not every pair measures up to, say, Jimmy Page’s live tone at the L.A. Forum in 1972.

The more frugal players have realized it can be a rather expensive gamble—sometimes costing thousands of dollars—and have turned to less costly alternatives from small manufacturers who are attempting to capture that sound. The surge of smaller, more concentrated boutique pickup outfits has been one of the most powerful driving forces in this golden age of guitar gear. One such company, Rod Kinkade’s Skatterbrane, has entered the fray with its own line of vintage-voiced, meticulously crafted pickups.


Skatterbrane is a one-man operation consisting solely of Kinkade. He founded the company out of dissatisfaction with several pickups that he put into his personal Les Pauls. Unwilling to settle for anything less than his ideal tone, he started to wind them himself. Skatterbrane takes notice of possibly the most glaring quirk of PAFs: their inconsistency. Original PAFs were basically wound until the bobbins were full, and most specimens had windings that were uneven between each coil. When combined, these discrepancies make up the tonal characteristics that define that roaring, unbridled sound. Sometimes this led to poor-sounding results, and other times the outcome was stunning.

The Skatterbrane Standard Set endeavors to reproduce the best of the best. Lying beneath the nickel-plated over nickel covers are two coils, of course, both wound uneven and unpotted. Coupled with them are rough-cast Alnico II magnets (Alnico V is also available) and vintage-style, pushback braided wire. Ratings for the set sent to PG for review were 8.31 K and 7.49 K, bridge and neck pickups respectively. I installed this set in a 1998 Gibson Les Paul Studio. Having a reputation as a barebones workhorse, the Studio proved to be a solid, basic canvas to allow the true nature of the pickups to shine. The difference between the Paul’s stock pickups and the Skatterbrane’s through a stock 1973 Marshall Super Bass head was clearly noticeable.

One evident difference was the quality of the sustain; the Skatterbranes were exceptional even when using an smooth, light attack on the strings. Also, undoubtedly one of the best traits of the neck pickup is the depth of its sound. The Super Bass already has a good amount of low end, but oftentimes it can muddy up with certain pickups when playing harder. Not only did the amp respond by keeping a consistent, clear tone though different styles, but it showed another mannerism that it has in common with its ancestral brethren: loudness. PAFs are known for their low output, and vastly different from today’s modern humbuckers that tend to add a hi-fi quality to the tone. However, their low output can often allow the amp to “breathe” more, since the signal isn’t so hot and congested. Thus, the tone has a great piano-like quality that stays focused and wide, which is something that the Skatterbrane Standard neck pickup does extremely well.

Moving on to the bridge pickup, I pushed the amplifier harder into power tube overdrive by cranking the first channel volume to about 12 o’clock. Immediately, the bridge position squealed, due to the unpotted nature of the pickup. Backing off of the volume knob and lowering the volume on the amp to a little over 11 o’clock seemed to help this, but it should be noted that at a louder volume some players might have trouble in this department. Interestingly enough, this supposed “flaw” is actually another thing that gives the pickup its great, wide-open character. And boy, does it have character. Harmonics are everywhere, and the attack sensitivity is wonderful. In some cases, the volume knob didn’t even need to be addressed at all to clean up the tone—just a lighter, softer attack was all it took. Rolling the tone knob down to 0 delivered a killer woman tone, one aspect of the pickup that Kinkade himself is extremely proud of.

The Final Mojo
Skatterbrane is undeniably on to something with this line of vintage-voiced humbuckers. They offer different variations on the model, such as PAF or Patent Number stickers on the underside, and an Alnico V magnet option. My only regret is that there aren’t more pickup models available to choose from. As good as the Standard Set is, it would be great to see other types offered, such as a P-90 or a Tele bridge pickup. However, if this set represents Skatterbrane’s dedication to the craft, it’s almost certain that this won’t be the last time that we hear from them.
Buy if...
you want to try out a set of pickups by a talented, up-and-coming builder.
Skip if...
you're looking for a broader range of choices.
Rating...
4.0 

MSRP $295 - Skatterbrane - skatterbrane.com