First Impressions: Bare Knuckle Pickups True Grit Telecaster Bridge Pickup

This photo is an almost top-down shot of the Bare Knuckle Pickups' True Grit Telecaster bridge pickup.

The photo shows that this pickup has six flat pole pieces (all the pole pieces are the same height).
The Bare Knuckle Pickups’ True Grit Telecaster Bridge Pickup

Last year, I picked up Hedgehog (my Squier Esquire 60’s Custom), and it quickly became one of my firm favourites. I’m on a hunt to find the right bridge pickup to bring out the best in it.

I’ve already given the Seymour Duncan Antiquity II a go. Will I be any happier with the Bare Knuckle Pickups True Grit? Read on to find out.

tl;dr

I bought a Bare Knuckle Pickups’ True Grit Telecaster bridge pickup, and put it into a Squier Esquire 60’s Custom. I kept the pots and wiring that came from the factory.

I had to spend quite a bit of time getting the pickup height right before I liked the pickup. It needed the height adjusting to get the top-end sounding good while not sounding too boomy on the bass end. I think that the boomy bass is down to the guitar, not the pickup itself.

Tone-wise, it’s a very balanced pickup. It isn’t vintage-voiced to my ears. It has a wider tone (higher highs, lower lows) than my other Telecaster pickups. And, although it’s marketed as a medium-output pickup, this pickup isn’t as hot as any of my Fender-made pickups.

After a rough start, it’s really growing on me. There’s a good chance that it’ll be Hedgehog’s forever pickup.

What Did You Buy?

I bought a True Grit Telecaster bridge pickup, made by Bare Knuckle Pickups. It’s one of the pickups in their “Boot Camp” range. It is to replace the Seymour Duncan Antiquity II pickup in my Squier Esquire.

I wasn’t able to find a lot of useful information about the True Grit online before making my purchase. I did read one forum post that suggested it was going for that early 50’s Broadcaster Telecaster sound. If it does, I’ll be fine with that.

Why Did You Buy It?

I needed to change the bridge pickup in Hedgehog (again!).

The Antiquity II just wasn’t for me. Last year, Hedgehog was the guitar that I played the most. That all changed once the Antiquity II was installed. As much as I love having options, unfortunately the Antiquity II gave me a tonal option that doesn’t suit my tastes. It has to go. That’s a real shame, because it’s a quality pickup.

(On the plus side, this has taught me that I have a strong preference for the mid-focused tones associated with Telecasters from the 1950’s. Sometimes, you just have to try things in order to find out what works for you.)

I went with the True Grit because it was the only single Telecaster bridge pickup in stock at my local shop. I couldn’t find a lot of options in stock from other retailers either. Esquires are pretty uncommon, so shops tend to stock pickup sets, not individual pickups.

Also … I wasn’t sure what to try next. There wasn’t an obvious “try this next!” pickup, and I didn’t want to go with a pickup that I’ve already got in another guitar. The True Grit seemed like as good a choice as any.

At First, It Was Dark. Very Very Dark

At the shop, after fitting the pickup, they warned me that it sounded very different to the Antiquity II. I brought the guitar home, plugged into my rig … and my heart sank. It was all mid-range content. Not much low-end (which I’ll come back to soon), and not much top-end either.

That has a practical effect: some (many?) of the overdrive pedals that I use rely on those upper-mids and top-end frequencies to produce their dirt tones. Take away that top end, and the pedals don’t produce anywhere near as much overdrive.

At the time, I assumed that this was caused by the difference between the Esquire’s stock 250K pots and Bare Knuckle’s preference for 280K pots. I’ve run into that before with their pickups, when I had to have my green Strat rewired for the 63 Veneers’ pickup set. But I’ve also had Bare Knuckle pickups where it didn’t seem important.

This all happened at the end of a long day at work. I felt very frustrated, to put it politely. I’d gone from a pickup that was all brightness and no body (the Antiquity II) to a pickup that was too dark and no body (the True Grit). All I wanted was something that sat in the middle of these tonal extremes 😢

I ordered a set of Bare Knuckle 280K pots that same evening. That turned out to be a bit hasty on my part.

The True Grit Is Very Sensitive To Pickup Height Adjustments

The following morning, I had a bit more time to sit down and investigate things further. I grabbed Spot (Fender American Deluxe Telecaster, fitted with Twisted Tele pickups) and The Squirrel (my other Squier Esquire, fitted with the Seymour Duncan Antiquity I), and I started to compare all three. Sometimes, it really helps to have a familiar sound available too.

This helped me realise that pickup height on the True Grit needed adjusting. When it had been installed, it had been set too low to get the best out of it. Raising the pickup height transformed the sound.

Seriously: get the pickup height right on this pickup, and it isn’t dark at all. It’s got plenty of top-end, even with stock 250K pots. It’s not too bright-and-plinky either, which is very important for an Esquire.

I’m not hearing a lot of low-mids out of this pickup. I did try raising just the bass side of the pickup to improve that, but I didn’t like the results. I had the same reaction when I tried to adjust my amp to add more low-mids back in. It just didn’t sound right.

Finding the sweet spot for the height of treble side of the pickup didn’t take very long at all. The bass side of the pickup, though? It took me several hours to settle on its height.

Taming The Boomy Bass Response Took Time

I spent the morning running this guitar and pickup through the VS Audio Royal Flush. This is a bluesbreaker-type overdrive that filters out most of the bass from the input signal. That made the pickup sound pretty bright, with little-to-no low-end to be heard.

In the afternoon, I switched to my beloved Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short) pedal. The SHOD is a tweed-tone pedal, which doesn’t filter out anywhere near as much bass as the Royal Flush does. (The low-end is a big part of the tweed tone!) Immediately after switching, I was greeted with a boomy bass response that I failed to get rid off using my amp’s bass control.

To my ears, the boomy bass is quite focused, while my amp’s bass control affects a much broader range of frequencies. Dialling back the bass on my amp just turned the tone into a very cold sound, which is the antithesis of what (my idea of) tweed-tone is all about. It also had the effect of really thinning out the sound on the D strings and above. That isn’t the kind of tone that I want. If the pickup is to stay, I have to do better than that.

Out came the screwdriver, and I kept tweaking the height of the bass side of the pickup until I got a bass response that I could live with. It took so long because lowering the bass side of the pickup started to reduce note definition in the mid-range. (This pickup has flat pole pieces, not staggered ones. Lowering one side of the pickup also moves the pole pieces for the A and D strings away from the strings.)

In the end, I decided that the mid-range was more important. Then it was down to making small adjustments (much less than a quarter turn of the screwdriver) until I found a balance that worked for me.

My (uneducated!) guess is that the pickup’s revealing a resonant bass frequency in the guitar itself. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the pickup. I think it’s just one of those things that happens when you mod a guitar.

Don’t let my experience put you off. Now that I’ve got the True Grit where I want it, it’s really starting to grow on me.

How Would You Describe The True Grit Pickup?

At the top of the blog post, I mentioned that I didn’t find a lot of useful information about the True Grit online before purchasing it. So I hope that this helps someone 🙂

It sounds aggressive with a sharp attack, has tons of clarity, has a wide tone (higher highs and lower lows), and ends up sounding surprisingly balanced when compared to a couple of alternatives.

Despite being a medium-output pickup, it doesn’t sound as thick as I imagined it would. I’m not getting thick, saturated tones from this pickup at all. It doesn’t drive my pedals as hard as any of the pickups I’ve got from Fender.

I wouldn’t say that it is a blackguard-era pickup. To me, it doesn’t sound particularly ‘vintage’ in character. It doesn’t have that upper-mid push / energy / focus that vintage-voiced pickups typically have. The pickup also has a wider frequency response: higher highs and lower lows. It feels a little less compressed to play, too.

Side by side with a couple of blackguard-era pickups, I can hear a family resemblance, for sure, but this is more of a descendent than a sibling. I guess it’s a modern-voiced Telecaster pickup that’s clearly inspired by those blackguard-era Telecaster pickups?

The nice thing here is that the True Grit has its own thing going on. I like that it isn’t just another Broadcaster bridge pickup. That makes it far more interesting to me.

Final Thoughts

The first 24 hours with this pickup have been a bit of roller-coaster. I’ve gone from being incredibly frustrated with it to finding a sound that is very very good indeed. I’ve tried to capture that honestly in this blog post, in case someone else goes through something similar.

A big reason why I stuck with the pickup was because I could compare it to other Telecaster bridge pickups. As you’ll see in several follow-up blog posts over the next few weeks, that really helped me make sense of the True Grit and what it can offer. Look out for them every #TeleTuesday.

There’s a good chance that this will be Hedgehog’s forever pickup.

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