Choices in replacement pickups cover a broad spectrum of possibilities, from “well, these work” to “are they smudged with beer and sweat from 1959?” Most of us don’t seek

LeoSounds Pickups Choices in replacement pickups cover a broad spectrum of possibilities, from “well, these work” to “are they smudged with beer and sweat from 1959?” Most of us don’t seek either extreme, but still want something that satisfies both our ears and our senses, especially when it comes to the recreation of classic components. LeoSounds, a company based in Germany, heeded that call. They provided us with two sets of their Vintage Player Strat pickups, part of their collection of meticulously hand-built yet sensibly priced pickups.

Shipping and Handling
The pickups, rolled in bubble-wrap, arrived in a plain cardboard shipping container with no additional paperwork. While this reviewer tends to look askance upon pickups sheathed in silk pouches sporting multiple hand-signed hang tags, it would be nice to see LeoSounds provide some documentation along with their product in the form of technical specs, wiring instructions, and/or some overview of the pickups and other products they offer.

Lack of paperwork aside, LeoSounds has done a brilliant job of recreating the classic pickups that made the Stratocaster such a legendary tone machine. Although based in Germany, LeoSounds uses wire manufactured in the United States with historically correct insulation to build these gems. The Vintage Player 1956 Classics are scatter-wound with AWG 42 wire insulated with dark golden Formvar and built on a baseplate of black vulcanized fibre. The Vintage Player 1966 Classics also use AWG 42 wire, but are insulated with plain enamel, giving the windings a brownish-purple hue; the baseplate is period-correct gray fibre. The hookup wires are sheathed in black and white cotton cloth and the pickups are wax potted. Claiming an accuracy of .1mm (.004”) in their reproduction of magnet polepiece lengths, LeoSounds use a special Alnico-5 derivative to copy the somewhat smaller portion of cobalt found in older pickups, then bevels the edges for a spot-on recreation of their ancestors. I’ve only handled a few vintage Strat pickups over the years (and I have one mid-sixties Strat pickup tucked away to help pay for my son’s college tuition) but, to my senses, these pups nail the vintage look and feel.

“...LeoSounds has done a brilliant job of recreating the classic pickups that made the Stratocaster such a legendary tone machine. Although based in Germany, LeoSounds uses wire manufactured in the United States with historically correct insulation to build these gems.”

LeoSounds Pickups For testing purposes, I loaded the pick-ups into a Yamaha Pacifica. No, it didn’t have the “F” name on the headstock, but the alder body, flat headstock, rosewood fretboard and 25-1/2” scale length are all Leo-approved. Installation was a breeze, and particular note should be made of the moderately stiff cotton-covered lead wires. Unlike the slinky vinyl of many modern replacement pickups, this stuff can be easily shaped to fit the cavity routing and it stays put – no wire ties necessary. Because of the wax potting, I had to tap the mounting screw holes before the screws would thread properly, but any techhead will be used to this small step.

The Sound of Vintage
Both sets are remarkably similar in sound and response. The dominant quality is a lacy and pleasantly metallic high end along with a very punchy midrange response. High-frequency details such as the scrape of the pick attack and fret-hand noise are prominent, yet there is no harshness evident. The mids generate both authority in picking attack and warmth behind the notes. Bass frequencies are present and accounted for, but with a tight, focused presence that underlies and supports the pickups’ fundamental personality rather than adding something that wasn’t there in Leo’s original creations. Each pickup position has its own distinct personality, and the combination positions (neck-plus-middle and middle-plus-bridge) deliver barnyards of cluck and quack.

As one would expect from a vintage-modeled pickup, the Vintage Player sets work best with amplifiers and signal paths ranging from clean to moderately distorted. I loved pairing these pups with my 50- and 100-watt rigs; a late ‘70s silverface Fender Pro Reverb and the clean channel of a Carvin V3 gave plenty of support and warmth to the Vintage Players and would be ideal candidates for amplifying these pickups in a trio or quartet setting. The Vintage Players also excelled when more gain was added with either a preamp boost or an appropriate pedal. My Lovepedal COT50 was perfect, adding appropriate sizzle and grind, but a ProCo Rat 2 pushed these transducers towards the steel-wool-in-your-ear zone, even with the low-pass filter rolled to max. By the way, microphonic feedback was never a problem, even when the gain and volume grew beyond anything Leo ever imagined back when Eisenhower was president. I also loved these pickups through headphones, whether dead clean, mildly overdriven, or garnished with a few tasteful effects. I listened extensively through both a Mesa Boogie V-Twin preamp and a Boss GT-3 multi-effects pedal using Sennheiser PX200 cans, and the underthe- microscope detail never generated anything like ear fatigue. On the contrary, the extra texture and personality that was revealed had me playing far longer than required for mere product analysis – always a sign of a great product. And all that high-end texture really paid off when I added mixes of reverbs, chorus, delay, and cotton-candy phasers and flangers with the GT-3.

The only caveat I would offer with regard to real-world use is the one thing any true single-coil fanatic will know all too well: hum. The standard Vintage Player sets come with an unreversed middle pickup, just as Leo made them for decades, and the usual sources of noise – neon lights, computer screens, dimmers, etc. – will broadcast mightily through them. A reverse-wound middle pickup is available for a modest additional charge.

The Final Mojo
With the Vintage Player series, LeoSounds offers a sensibly priced series of pickups that will satisfy the discriminating guitarist who is looking for both the classic tone and the classic look of Leo Fender’s original creations. Compare LeoSounds’ excellent build quality, tone and custom options (available on their website) to the bells and whistles of other manufacturers, and then take a look at the bottom line. You may be hearing the sound of LeoSounds in your axe very soon.
Buy if...
you love the sound, look and feel of vintage Strat pickups at a reasonable price.
Skip if...
you need hum-free operation and/or high-gain metalloid sounds.

MSRP $204.23 - LeoSounds -

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Dialing in Jimi with Love

Lovepedal: Church of Tone 50 “Jimi Hendrix invented the Church of Tone. He had monster technique and soul to spare.”
- Kirk Hammett.

Jimi may have invented that particular house of worship, but Sean Michael of Lovepedal has gone a long way towards putting it in a box. No, he hasn’t developed a circuit for “monster technique” or “soul to spare” but, in the COT 50 “Church of Tone” pedal, he has aimed to capture the response of a late ‘60s plexi loaded with 6550 power tubes, and he’s succeeded admirably.

The genius of the COT 50 is in its simplicity. The single bias knob acts as an overdrive control, ranging from just a touch of grind at the lowest setting to a truly hot and bothered high-gain roar when maxed out. Apart from the bias knob and truebypass stomp switch, there are no other controls - indeed, there isn’t even a 9V-battery socket. “This is a very low-draw circuit that actually benefits from battery sag,” explains Sean Michael. “Carbon batteries (two for a buck at the dollar store) sound best, but you can try alkaline. Wall warts often generate too much noise, and if I had added filters for a 9v supply, the pedal would’ve sounded different.” Amen.

My first impression of the COT 50 was of a delightfully transparent gain control that could be manipulated entirely with picking dynamics and the guitar’s onboard volume. Rotated counterclockwise, it added a hint of grit and rattle to complex chords, a woofy subharmonic to two-note intervals, and a toothy bite to single-note lines. At the “high noon” setting, the overdrive became more belligerent, yet still absolutely respectful of my guitars – a Yamaha Pacifica, a Carvin California carved-top, and a Les Paul Standard – and amps – a Carvin V3, a Music Man RD-50, and a solid-state Fender Bronco. Even at full tilt, with sustain as thick and tasty as butterscotch, I could always roll back the volume knob and regain a clean, clear tone that absolutely respected complex chords and pick transients and always sounded like the guitar and amp in use.

The COT 50 does add some coloration to the signal, but they’re the kinds of colors Jimi must’ve heard on his clearest days. With the guitar’s volume full up, the texture is much like a 50 watt Marshall in its more torrid range, a sinewy knot of high-midrange complexity. Roll back the guitar’s volume and you’re left with a lively Vox shimmer atop your guitar and amp’s identity. Amazingly, this happens to an appropriate degree throughout the pedal’s range, and without the annoyingly excessive boost in volume that many overdrive pedals generate. And, yes, it’s dead quiet.

The COT 50 is built as solid as the best boutique pedals. The circuit, bias knob and LED are all of a piece and encased in epoxy, both for structural stability and anti-piracy protection. The input and output jacks, stomp switch and battery harness are all wire-draped and the battery, wrapped in foam, fits snugly between the stomp switch and the inner housing. My only gripe is with the housing which, at less than 8 oz., is a shade light for a floor pedal. And with no rubber feet or bottom pad, this beauty’s belly is going to get scraped. But Velcro it into a pedalboard or wedge it into your amp handle and you’ve got yourself a tone tool par excellence.


MSRP $229.00

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