It’s hard to describe how something tastes. If you had to explain what steak, or ice cream, or coffee tastes like to somebody with no taste buds, how would you do it? What words would you use?
Describing how a guitar pickup sounds poses the same kind of difficulty on the internet. Many factors make a sonic contribution so it becomes difficult to separate those parts from the total sum. (Ironically, I most often find myself using food to describe sound because most of us can personally identify with the concepts of “sour”, “sweet”, “salty” and “spicy”.)
Just consider how a pickup is wired: it is comprised of a series of magnets wrapped thousands of times with copper wire. The kind of magnet used, the thickness of copper wire, the tightness of the wraps, and the number of the wraps will all make remarkable differences in how a pickup sounds. Because of that, there are an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to voicing a pickup for an Artist. If Steve Lukather (the artist for whom these were made) has found what he calls “the perfect pickup”, then those are telling words.
For this review, I loaded these DiMarzio Transition™ humbuckers into and maple-necked, alder body strat. It’s also important to note that I had the pickups lower against the body and I have the guitar wired with a single volume knob and no tone controls. Sonically, lowering the pickups is going to pull them further from the strings which will lower the overall output and make the pickups slightly cleaner sounding. But wiring the guitar with no tone controls will add some volume, punch, and brightness back in since a tone control/ potentiometer has the ability to load down and disrupt the signal path.
The Transition™ Bridge Pickup
My greatest beef with bridge humbuckers is that they tend to have too much… well, beef, I guess. Once Seth Lover invented the humbucker in the 50’s, it seems we have been on a course to make humbucking pickups louder and more aggressive. Thats fine if you’re a shredder, but I want to hear the nuance in a player’s note choice and pick attack, and those idiosyncrasies get lost in a heap of gain and midrange explosion. Upon turning up the volume, I was immediately rewarded with a pickup that responds to the nuance of playing and pick attack. In the press release DiMarzio says:
The passive Transition™ humbuckers are both subtle and tough. They have power and depth. Steve says they’re organic, and they allow him to own his sound. “These days I like it simple and direct,” he says.
Contrary to the DiMarzio Gravity Storm™ pickups I reviewed in October, these pickups don’t have the traditional midrange push that I have come to expect from a bridge humbucker. This bridge feels balanced across the frequencies and would accommodate both clean and dirty guitar tones without any sharp corners in the EQ curve. What it also tells me is that if you wired this guitar with a good treble bleed circuit, you could get brilliantly warm clean tones with an adjustment of your volume knob.
The Transition™ Neck Pickup
The press release for the neck pickup implies that they have a scooped out midrange. “Scooped mids” describes what you would be left over if you looked at a multiband EQ and magically took a “scoop” out of the middle of the sliders. It’s also sometimes referred to a “smiley face EQ” because the treble frequencies are pushed up and the bass frequencies are pushed up put the midrange dips down.
The Transition™ Neck Model (DP254) has very good balance between solid bass and glassy treble. The spread between lows and highs creates a big sound that works well for both solos and backup, while the frequency response of the coils is tuned just far enough apart to open up the mids without sounding hollow.
This is a great description, because what the neck pickup gives you is articulation and clarity with a full, round low end without any of the muddy midrange that can plague a neck humbucker. And probably my favorite thing about these pickups is that they sound like they were made for a player who regularly switches back and forth from neck to bridge pickups. These pickups actually match one another, in that both are organic and clear sounding. Where the press release describes a neck pickup with tuned coil frequencies so that it opens up the mids “without sounding hollow”, I hear a balanced pickup with plenty of smooth balance.
Who are these for?
I think if you’re looking for high gain pickups to make your shredding or legato playing easier, then you should look elsewhere. These pickups are for the player who is looking for something more organic, nuanced, balanced, and mature. It’s not to say these are “old guy” pickups. It’s to say that DiMarzio’s Transition™ humbuckers will highlight the hands of those who feel comfortable in both the neck and the bridge and for those who like to explore the subtleties of what a single guitar can do in the hands of a player who is a student of its complexities.