Sometimes, seemingly minor modifications to your rig can make dramatic changes in the overall tone. For instance, if you don’t like the sound of an amplifier, you can often make drastic changes just by swapping out the speaker. In the case of an electric guitar, it’s stunning how much change can come from just swapping in new pickups in place of your stock pickups.
I have been off the road for a few days and today I finally had the opportunity to load some of DiMarzio’s new Gravity Storm pickups (**press release is here) in a maple necked Fender Stratocaster to try them out. I was amazed at a couple of things.
First of all, it’s crazy how much the personality of a guitar can come alive with the right set of pickups. Although I love strats, I don’t particularly love this guitar, which is why I didn’t mind using it as a test bed- but it’s crazy how powerfully sweet and resonant it sounded once I loaded in these new pickups.
Secondly, I’m a lover of Fender-style instruments. Strat and tele-shaped guitars feel like home base to me and I love the sparkle of single coil pickups. But I’m a child of the 80’s and have spent plenty of time wiring up and playing through humbuckers. Some humbuckers just strike me as a flamethrower of volume and gain, with very little articulation. Others strike me as midrangey and honkey, hardly the sweetness that I’ve come to love in a good set of single coils. The DiMarzio Gravity Storm neck and bridge humbuckers have more sweetness than I’ve ever heard in a full-sized humbucker.
The neck humbucker sounds full and warm. It turned the strat into something that could easily pass as a semi-hollowbody guitar. It is fat but surprisingly articulate and juicy. I know that trying to turn sound into descriptive words is difficult, especially when all the normal food metaphors (gooey, chocolatey, sweet, juicy) have all been overused. But just know that the Gravity Storm neck pickup is great for somebody who wants to fatten up the neck position in his/her guitar but doesn’t want to sacrifice the articulation and clarity. And especially if you’re willing to wire up a little fancier control layout, with the use of push/pull pots or miniswitches, the Gravity Storm neck would create the perfect pickup when wired in parallel or split (coil tap). This may easily be the best sounding neck humbucker I’ve ever installed.
The bridge humbucker is forceful and articulate. The EQ is pretty different from the bridge in that it has an extreme midrange push. Normally I don’t care for this kind of mid-emphasis, but in the context of a live show or recording session, that midrange push is exactly where the guitar needs emphasis. Don’t fall into the trap of dialing in your perceived glorious tones at home, only to find that the “smiley faced” EQ curve (lots of bass and lots of treble with the midrange pulled down) is the exact opposite of what you need in the context of a band setting (since the lows are covered by the bassist and left hand of the keyboardist and the treble is covered by vocals, loops, and cymbals/hats). With all that in mind, I can also see how the midrange emphasis would make fast picking and/or legato runs a little more smooth sounding. All in all, it’s a great rock pickup, and wired with more complex wiring options such as those mentioned above, it would create a beautiful option for your bridge humbucking needs.
The good news for many guitar players today is that most guitars are routed for humbuckers in both the neck and bridge positions so there’s no need for major surgery to load humbuckers in. An extra pickguard cut for humbuckers and a couple extra pots and knobs gives you a fully-loaded pickguard that you can easily swap into your current S-shaped guitar for a wildly different sound. Think about it- it creates an entirely new sound for much less than the cost of a new instrument.