New Arrivals For September 2019

August was another really slow month on the second hand market, and things didn’t pick up for September. Instead, I’ve ended up concentrating on the first guitar of my #PlayAlternative series.

Vintage V100 Lemon Drop Guitar

Vintage are a UK brand, who specialise in making their take on big-brand guitars for the budget end of the market. The V100 Lemon Drop is based on Peter Green and Gary Moore’s famous 59 Les Paul – the one that Kirk Hammett owns and gigs atm.

It’s the exact guitar Adam played in this video:

It’s the first guitar I’ve bought for my #PlayAlternative challenge, and fingers crossed it will become the benchmark to measure all the other alternatives against.

Boss GE-7 Graphic Equaliser Pedal

In person, through my rig, the Vintage Lemon Drop doesn’t quite sound like a Les Paul. It has a bit more of a modern, mid-scooped tone, with deeper lows and brighter highs. Through modern-voiced amps, it’s probably a good voicing for its target audience.

I was curious. How can I make it sound close enough to a Les Paul that no-one will know or care? A pickup swap is the obvious thing to try (see below), but that’s expensive, and possibly beyond the budget of someone who would be looking at the Vintage Lemon Drop in the first place.

But a Boss pedal would be firmly in-budget. Can the venerable GE-7 alter the tone enough? I decided to buy one to find out 🙂

Sigil Pickups Bluesman Snakebite PAF Humbuckers

Once I decided that the Vintage Lemon Drop was a keeper, I really wanted to hear how it would sound with a great set of PAF-like pickups. What happens if you take a set of pickups intended to be an upgrade over Gibson’s Custom Shop pickups, and drop them into (possibly) the most shafordable Les Paul knock-off available in retail stores?

There’s plenty of great UK-based pickup makers out there, including Monty’s Guitars and OX4 Pickups to name two I’ve been delighted with in the past. If I was playing regular gigs with Les Pauls, they’d all have OX4 pickups in them.

For this project, I wanted to go back to Canada’s Sigil Pickups.

David made the Bluesman 57 Ltds that went into Ghost (my 2015 Gibson Les Paul Custom). He was a delight to deal with, and the pickups were simply fantastic. They completely transformed that guitar. I always told him that I’d buy the pickups for my next Les Paul from him … and haven’t bought a humbucker Les Paul since.

He’s greatly expanded the range since 2015, and these Snakebite pickups caught my eye. If you haven’t come across it before, Snakebite is Joe Bonamassa’s #1 vintage Les Paul. It’s a phenomenal-sounding instrument, even amongst original Bursts. A set of pickups that can chase that tone should be perfect for this project.

More details – and actual sound clips of these! – will follow. For now, all I’ll say is that these pickups sound so good, the guy who installed them for me kept the Sigil Pickups business card, because he wants a set for himself.

New Arrival: Sigil Pickups Snakebite Humbucker Set

David @SigilPickups made the pickups that are in Ghost, my Les Paul Custom. I said at the time that I’d buy again from him, and I finally have 🙂 Really looking forward to hearing how these sound in my 59 RI.

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But first, they’re going into my #PlayAlternative base line guitar, the Vintage Lemon Drop. For science. Is it worth putting the very best pickups into a cheap-as-chips knock-off? Enquiring minds want to know 😉

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I’ll also write up a blog post about Les Pauls and pickups at some point. Probably right after I finish the Marshall Origin One Year In post (which was due back in April …)

Changing Pickups Part 2: A Nice Surprise

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed. You can find Part 1 here.

Well, the green Strat is back, and the result has been quite the surprise.

Quick recap: Fender Player series Strat, which I’ve really taken a shine to. Dropped it off @astringsuk yesterday to replace the stock pickups with a (mismatched) set of 63 Veneers from Bare Knuckle. Wanted a more vintage Strat tone.

First off – these pickups definitely deliver that vintage Strat tone. There’s a much bigger difference between the stock Fender pickups and these 63 Veneers than I expected. Might be too big a change? Still getting used to it.

The bridge pickup is really nice. The stock one was very usable, this is even better. It’s got more low end than I’m used to from a Strat bridge pickup, and I really like it.

IIRC, one of the things John Mayer wanted from the Silver Sky was a bridge pickup that wasn’t all treble. This bridge pickup delivers that.

I’m still experimenting with the right height for the neck pickup. Struggling to put my finger on why it’s not quite right for me atm.

However, I don’t really care … because position 4 (neck + middle pickups together) has turned out to be a fantastic surprise. It’s basically the clean tone I had decades ago, before I swapped the stock pickups out of my Charvel. Wasn’t expecting that.

Kristi can tell you better than me how deeply I’ve regretted losing that particular sound, and how I’ve been searching for it ever since. And now I have it again … or at least close enough to fool my memory 🙂

So yeah, these pickups are a keeper 🙂

Changing Pickups: Part 1 – Why?

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Just dropped the green Strat off for a pickup swap. I was going to wait until I could do a before-and-after demo, but honestly I’m not a very good (or musical!) player. You’re not missing out.

I think the pickups that Fender use in the Player Strats make sense, if you assume it’s a budget guitar aimed at newer players. They’re a little more mid-rangey than the classic Strat sound, a little hotter, and quite forgiving.

I’m dropping a (mismatched) set of 63s from Bare Knuckle into it. Originally bought bit by bit for other guitars, but for various reasons never got fitted.

Pickup swaps are always a bit of a gamble. Until you try them, you never know if they’ll suit that particular guitar, and your rig, and your playing style.

Pickup swaps in Les Pauls seem to be the worst. Raven (my Sig-T) took 5 different sets until I finally found ones that worked in that particular body. All great pickups, just a difficult guitar.

Why swap pickups at all? Why not stick with the stock pickups in a guitar?

Honestly, if you’re happy, stick with them. It’s your guitar. Don’t swap pickups just because others do.

I swap pickups either because I don’t like the originals, or because I’m looking to change the character of the guitar in some way.

I started swapping the pickups on Raven, for example, because the stock Gibson pickups sounded too shrill and ice-picky. Raven’s quite a bright guitar, and it needed pickups that would tame that.

With the green Strat (it doesn’t have a name yet), I’m swapping the pickups because I want to get closer to the Strat sound in my head. I want to make a guitar I like even better.

I’ll let you know what I think when the guitar’s back 🙂

Do Aftermarket Pickups Matter Any More?

Fluff has posted a video discussing aftermarket videos:

It’s an interesting look at the history of aftermarket pickups, starting with DiMazio in 1974 and Seymour Duncan in 1976, before launching into a bit of a performance piece questioning whether or not the pickup actually makes a difference or not.

His basic argument is that the pickup is such a small part of the overall tone equation that it basically doesn’t matter which pickup you have in the guitar.

I have my own opinion, which I’ll save for its own series of posts 🙂

Please head over to YouTube to see Fluff make his argument, to leave a like and a supportive comment. Or a non-supportive comment if you disagree with him.

Pre-CBS Strat Copy w/ Abigail Ybarra Pickups

Burgs has posted a video of him noodling on a copy of a pre-CBS Strat. What makes this particular copy extra-special is that it’s fitted with a set of pickups wound by Abigail Ybarra.

Everyone has “the one that got away” – a guitar they couldn’t get, didn’t get, or had to sell on. Mine is a Fender 2012 Custom Deluxe Strat, fitted with Abigail Ybarra pickups. It was the best sounding Strat that I’ve ever played.

If you’ve never heard of her, Abigail Ybarra has been winding pickups since the early days. I believe that she retired from Fender a few years ago. There’s something about the pickups she made in her career that just works. They’re highly sought after as a result, especially as it appears that she wasn’t able to pass on her technique to the next generation of pickup winders.

The pickups aren’t the only star in this video. Burgs is noodling a long through his AxeFX, and it sounds really good too. Close your eyes, and see if you can tell it’s digital modelling.

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment if you enjoyed Burgs’ video.