Tag Archives: pickup

Review: DiMarzio Area 58 + Area T Bridge

I recently did a complete U-turn with regards to my Fenders. I can hardly think of a more flexible guitar than my Telecaster with the Super Distortion in the bridge. It could do just about anything. But it turned out to be a blind alley to lead my Stratocaster down the same path. When playing distorted, of course it sounded fantastic. As I’ve said in another review, the Super Distortion S is a great pickup that is actually hotter and less toppy than the T model, and the Air Norton is very rounded and smooth for a neck pickup. But it only took one rehearsal to make me decide that Namlar, which is my only band right now, is not a Fender band, at least not as far as I’m concerned. In spite of the Super Dist, I was forced to race home during our lunch break and switch the Stratocaster for my Les Paul. It just wasn’t happening with the Fender. And when I sat around at home, playing my Fenders through the Blackstar, I found myself constantly longing for the traditional Fender clean and overdriven sound. Like the other guitar player in my old covers band, I found that humbuckers on a Fender do not balance.

This got even worse during the summer, when I got this insatiable craving for Hendrix and Gilmour. So the decision was easy. Since I needed to get the Stratocaster professionally adjusted anyway, I thought I might strike two birds with one stone and have the shop replace two of the pickups while they were at it. Super Distortion and Air Norton aside, I really enjoyed the glassy precision of the Area 58, so getting two of those turned out to be a logical next decision. And while I was it, why not do the same for my other Fender, and let it be a real Telecaster for the first time in four years?

Now that my Fenders have classic-sounding if noiseless pickups, they sound the way they were made, and that is very good indeed. I’d say they are way more transparent and single coil-like than Fender’s own Hot Noiseless set. Purists might argue that only a true single coil pickup can really sound like a Fender, but I just can’t live with the single-coil hum. I did a quick A/B test in the shop with stock Fenders, and the difference was like night and day. DiMarzio’s Area pickups are close enough that what you gain easily compensates for whatever you might think you’re losing. The Stratocaster pickups are focused and sharp when played one by one, and quack nicely in the 2 and 4 positions. My Telecaster might have lost a bit of its universal flexibility, but now it sounds as bright and spanky as Leo designed it. If I want that extra bit of drive from my Fenders, I don’t have to mess with super-hot pickups. Let’s not forget that I actually own a very capable boost pedal!

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Posted by on 5 November, 2014 in gear, review


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Review: DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary (neck + bridge)

If you go to DiMarzio’s website and read their pickup descriptions, you will find that none sports as much verbiage as the PAF 36th Anniversary pickups. They easily have three times as much descriptive text as the other products on the site. It doesn’t mean anything, really, but I think it’s kind of cool how proud they are of the amount of research and development that’s gone into the design of these pickups.

This journey started when I removed the chrome covers from the humbuckers on my Les Paul back in early 2007. It immediately made the guitar look a lot meaner and cooler. But it also exposed the bobbins to the elements – and my playing style. There are a lot of ways to hold a pick and play the guitar, and my particular way is to hold the pick between my thumb and index finger, raising my bird finger to keep it the hell away from the playing area – and then anchoring my right hand to the guitar by resting the ring and pinky fingers on the body of the guitar. On a Les Paul, this means that those fingers wind up cradling the bridge pickup mounting ring and the bridge pickup itself, depending on the situation. Along the way, a piece of plastic came off the bridge pickup, exposing the copper wire. It didn’t make a difference as far as I could tell, neither with the sound or the noise level. But it looked the very devil. Thus started a very confused series of events that eventually led to my ordering a new set of pickups for my Les Paul: the PAF 36th Anniversary and the PAF 36th Anniversary Bridge.

Now, the standard-issue pickups on a 90s Gibson Les Paul don’t exactly sound bad to begin with. Still, the folks at DiMarzio have managed to fix whatever wasn’t broken in the first place. I totally swear by these pickups. Whatever harshness was previously in my Les Paul is now gone completely. What’s left is a whole world of creamy, juicy humbucker sweetness, no matter what kind of amplifier you’re playing through. Even though DiMarzio themselves classify the PAF-36:s as “vintage output” (as opposed to “medium” or “high” power), this pickup set can easily put any input stage into full saturation. You get a full tone with scary distortion and a bright, snappy clean sound. And that’s just the bridge pickup. The neck pickup sounds exactly like I imagined a neck pickup would on a Les Paul: mellow, expressive and with that womanly roundness.

I repeat: do not allow yourself to be fooled by the “vintage” description! This is a muscular set of pickups that will fatten up your Les Paul in a way you didn’t think was possible. I have been able to wring just about any sound from this combination: anything from the smoothest jazz tones to 60s blues to modern progressive metal. I have even better sustain now than I had before. Yes, they are that good. And the aesthetic factor is also not to be overlooked. If I owned a sunburst Les Paul, I would probably have gone for the zebra (cream + black) version. But for my black Studio, with no distracting cream or white binding on either neck or body, the black metal covers make it look like the baddest metal axe this side of BC Rich.

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Posted by on 16 November, 2013 in gear, review


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Review: DiMarzio Super Distortion S/Area 58/Air Norton S

What I want to be able to do with a Stratocaster seems to vary along with the seasons. The only common factor is that I dislike single-coil pickups. Don’t get me wrong: I love the tone and feel of single-coil pickups, their transparency, intimacy and pick attack, irrespective of how much distortion I put on them, or if I play them squeaky clean. When I get a single-coil pickup humming properly, they feel way more expressive and natural and more “me” than humbuckers. But notice how I snuck in a bad pun there? Single-coils are too damned noisy for my taste. In fact, they’re noisy enough that there is just no way I’ll ever play vanilla single-coils in any sort of studio or live setting. It’s annoying enough when noodling around at home. Whatever sacrifices that are required in order to buck the hum, I’d gladly make.

After the extremely successful experiment with the Super Distortion T in my Telecaster, I wanted to do something similar for my Stratocaster. The Fender Hot Noiseless set I had before was very nice and I would recommend it to anyone, but I just can’t get a Stratocaster bridge pickup to sound good. They’re always too hard, too spanky, harsh, too focused, not fluffy enough. The adjectives get increasingly creative as I go along. At first I thought it was my HS-3 that acted up, but it seems to be endemic to the guitar design. (Or perhaps to the fact that I’m a ditz and tend to dial all my sounds in using my Les Paul as a reference and then completely forget that Fenders are totally different beasts altogether.) At the same time, I also wanted to experiment with a different neck pickup. I don’t have as much of a problem with the Stratocaster neck position. It’s a lot warmer and smoother and it is a hell of a lot easier to get it to sound good. But it doesn’t offer up much of anything in comparison with the middle position except for warmth, and I can add that by clever manipulation of the tone control.

Moving the story along at a brisker pace: Super Distortion = given from get-go. Super Distortion full-size = no look good on Stratocaster, need slanted bridge pickup. (Nick = picky.) Decision: Super Distortion S. Mid pickup = not Fender Hot Noiseless, color no match. DiMarzio = good. HS-3, HS-4 = already tried, no like so much. Area 58 = better EQ curve than Area 61 or 67. (Note: Area T on Telecaster = very good!!) Neck = Air Norton S. Sound like flying motorcycle = cool. Association with “John” and “progressive music” = very good!! Guitar pickup shopping = crap shoot. Buy, then try, then regret, then buy anew if don’t like. Note to self: next time, ask man in store to solder. Save time + grey hair on skull.

But seriously: the Super Distortion S/Area 58/Air Norton S is a wonderfully flexible pickup combination in a Stratocaster. The Super Dist tames the worst part of the Stratocaster bridge pickup high end, and adds plenty of hair and fatness to the tone to boot. It sounds good even with a clean sound. Then you switch on the distortion and it just screams! I cannot believe just how differently the S behaves from the T model. The S has a completely different bass response, it has a sort of roar that had me wonder if it had grown horns, a set neck and a Tune-O-Matic bridge when I wasn’t looking. If the Telecaster with a Super Dist is a rocker chick, then the Stratocaster with a Super Dist is a metal broad. Nothing extreme, just a cool girl in jeans and a leather jacket and an Iron Maiden shirt.

The Air Norton is perhaps a bit too reserved at the top end for clean sounds. It does sound like a humbucker with the tone control rolled down a bit – woman tone right out of the box. (A lot of feminine references tonight for some strange reason…) If you for some reason would want to play jazz on a Stratocaster, this pickup could be just the thing for you! But damn if it doesn’t sing with distortion! It’s got that fluid, almost vocal quality that makes me come back to it again and again.

Finally, there’s the Area 58: a humbucking pickup with a single-coil look, single-coil feel and single-coil response. It is just as glassy as I want in a Fender-style pickup. Truth be told, I love this new DiMarzio set of mine, but I’ve had more than one thought of getting a second Stratocaster, something red with a rosewood board, just so that I can put three Area 58s in it. And .013 strings with a wound G. And generous use of the tremolo bar. Don’t forget the horn-rimmed glasses!

So how do these three pickups work together? Well, admittedly, there is a bit of an output imbalance between the middle single-coil and the two outer humbuckers. This will be more pronounced the less distortion you play with. (The other guitar player in my former band never liked his Duncan Everything Axe set for this very reason.) I knew this going in, but then I seldom play totally clean anyway. Even my clean sounds are slightly dirty, and that makes this work. Dial in a slightly overdriven sound with the middle pickup and you will get a whole lot more dirt and balls when selecting either of the other two. It’s basically a channel switcher right there in your guitar!

I tend to look at the set as two in one, or even three in one. When playing distorted, it is a marvelous combination of a screaming treble pickup and a smooth bass pickup. I can’t wait until I can modify my Stratocaster so I can engage both simultaneously, Gibson-style. When playing more traditional rock/blues stuff, you can get a whole range of tones just by selecting any of the three pickups. And if you want the classic Fender tones, there’s the 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions on the selector switch. The in-between sounds are perhaps not as quacky as a true single-coil combination, but they do get awfully close. Even without any funky wiring schemes.

Recommendations: Super Dist/Area 58/Air Norton for maximum flexibility. Super Dist/Area 58/Area 58 if you lean more towards traditional Fender values but just want that extra oomph in the bridge position.

Negatives: My Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul are all looking at my SG funny now. She’s the only one of the sisters that doesn’t have DiMarzios. Yet.

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Posted by on 16 November, 2013 in gear, review


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