This is going to be our first guitar pickup review. I'm planning to bring you some different options, some very economical and some not so. Since this is our first pickup review I wanted to cover a well used combination that many players use to get a versatile rig: the Seymour Duncan Hotrodded Humbucker Set.
I've been struggling with my stock pickups in my Les Paul for some time now - they are great at rock and blues tones but lack clarity for jazz or even enough output for really hard hitting music. When you are so fond of your instrument coming up with a decision for a new set of pickups is a lot harder than you'd think. My criteria were I wanted to maintain my blues and rock tones but needed more clarity - often with the stock Gibson pickups distinct notes in a chord are lost. It's not a terrible sound but I wanted to be able to fingerpick with the gain on my amp up and hear every note separated from the others. I also needed the ability to play the majority of music styles I come across with one guitar - lugging two or three guitars around is not an option. I'm not a rock star with a guitar tech ready to hand me a different guitar for individual songs so I need one guitar that can cover everything from jazz to hard rock. I think these criteria are what a lot of musicians are looking for.
The neck pickup is the the SH-2n jazz pickup. A jazz pickup? Surprisingly I found from research that this is Seymour Duncan's favorite pickup. I thought to myself if a guy like Seymour Duncan finds this to be his best pickup I better give it a shot. Spec wise its a 4 conductor lead humbucker with 7.72k output. This puts it in the middle of a lot of the other humbuckers and as it is an Alnico 5 pickup I expected it to be warm with a lot of note clarity. Warmth is an understatement as I found out. This thing sings beautifully. With the amp set clean jazz tones are hit without even using the 4 conductor wiring to turn it into a single coil pickup. The sound is medium on bass, low to medium on mids, and high on treble. While a lot of people would think that sounds like a shrill setup it allows you to roll your tone knob back and hit even jazzier sounds - treble doesn't get lost as you roll your tone knob back. Turn on the gain on the amp and keep the tone knob maxed and you have a great rhythm pickup. This is a very nice sounding pickup when playing rhythm no matter the music style. This pickup is about as versatile as a single pickup can get and we're not even talking about coil splitting yet.
The bridge pickup in this set is the SH-4 JB Model. If the SH-2n is a Valkyrie singing this is a harpy screaming at you. It also has a 4 conductor cable, Alnico 5 magnet, but features an incredible 16.4k output. An output that high automatically sounds like a design where the mids will be muddy and lost to the bass tones. Surprisingly this pickup has about medium output bass, medium to high mids, and very high output to the treble. This design totally screams bridge pickup for a rock guitar and boy it doesn't disappoint in that area. What is surprising is how bright and clear it is when the amp is set clean. I even heard some twang in there. This pickup just loves effects pedals and gives you a lot to work with when you like to use pedals to sculpt your sound.
These pickups gave me the versatility I was looking for. Sadly I couldn't locate long shift push-pull pots to try the coil splitting feature but even left as humbuckers these two pickups clean up very nicely. Roll that volume up and you get a little hair in your sound. I wouldn't think that a pickup with 16.4k output would have any trouble partnered up with any other pickup but I found that when both pickups were played together I had to roll the volume back on the neck pickup a little to balance the sound of the two pickups. When I was there I found a beautiful lyrical tone with plenty of bite. I also found that my search for a setup that let each note in a chord stand out was finally found.
This is a good setup to try if you are looking for a package that can give you diverse sounds. Add the amazing price point of this setup and you won't have to stretch your budget to get a nice sound. This is a good basic all around set giving a tremendous value. I'm still going to swap out my volume pots for push/pull units and change out the Orange Drop capacitors on my tone knobs to an oil in paper design to see what else I can pull out of this set. As it is right now I have a very versatile setup that meets my current needs.