Review by Alexander Mylavarapu
I’ve found It’s often difficult for people-guitarists in particular- to deliberately venture out of their comfort zone. Not simply to be different or to stand apart from the crowd, but to find that something, that special something, which has the potential to change their musical world both positively and permanently.
“Man, I need a tele. I really need that tele-twangy sound”
I hear this a lot in music stores or around other musicians, and honestly it’s what a lot of people believe. Tele’s only sound like teles and gibsons only sound like gibsons. Of course it’s not entirely true but that brings us to our main topic of discussion: Pickups
There’s a longstanding debate regarding the sound of a guitar compared to the woods used in its construction. Its an emotional debate where tempers flare and flame wars often consume the threads that so innocently raise the topic. In my very short time as a guitar builder i’ve realized that while woods do make a subtle difference, Its the pickups and the amplifiers which truly make the greatest difference between good and great. The fact is, after sifting through all the marketing snake oil regarding tone, sustain, and all other forms of sexy descriptions used to entice aspiring guitarists who don’t really know anything better than to follow the products endorsed by their guitar (or bass) idols, is that you cannot truly make a terrible sounding electric guitar based on wood choices alone. Im willing to bet that the reason why someone feels that their guitar sounds terrible is because the company used to make that particular guitar decided to cut costs by using some cheap pickup from asia or somewhere else, or didn’t bother in performing a good setup. This is honestly a disservice to the instrument being made and a terrible way to allow guitarists to understand what good equipment should sound like.
I recently had the opportunity to try out some new pickups from BlackWater Guitar Co. run by Aaron Brown in Texas. I’d ordered some pickups before from him for two of my other builds which were rock and metal oriented, but this time i wanted something different. I wanted a lower output pickup to change things up. Over the course of a month or two we talked about music and playing styles, and the particulars of what we liked in a pickup. Interestingly our tastes in what a good pickup aligned, even though the music that we both played differed. In the end I left it up to him to make a set for me as he saw fit. A few weeks later a box appeared at my door and I had my new zebra Dirt Wizard Set.
They went into my new handmade Imbuya Korina Guitar which i’d completed in January. It had a set of Dimarzio Dominions in it which were my favorite set thus far. I have sound clips of all the pickups i’ve tried on my soundcloud (www.soundcloud.com/shehatesmytie). The Dominions themselves were fantastic pickups and i’d installed a set into Jason Kane’s Roasted Maple Build last year. They can do almost anything but the compression seemed more evident when in this Korina body. I dropped the pickups in and strung up a new set of NYXL’s, tuned up the guitar, cranked the amp and smiled. It was just what I’d been looking for.
The bridge is wound to approximately 8.7k and the neck at about a 7.4 and the benefits of a lower output set of pickups was almost immediately apparent to me. On the clean channel both the bridge and the neck are defined in the low and low mid, crisp without being harsh and brilliant without being sibilant. When switching to the gain channel, my threshold for saturation became a lot higher which allowed me to coax some serious blues and soulful sounds from my amp (6505+) which was never its intended purpose. I reached a fantasic balance between saturated gain without sacrificing clarity around 10-11 o’clock on the Pre/Gain knob. I tried some of my favorite Haunted Shores chords (check out guitar messenger for a class with Mark Holcomb) and every single note rang out full and clear. I don’t usually play with the neck pickup much unless recording leads but i find myself using it in conjunction with the bridge for strumming cleans. Its a beautiful combination which can suit many styles of music.
The clips you’ll find on my soundcloud detail the different sounds of the Dirt Wizards. Im using a POD HD PRO as a recording interface with the F BALL amp (settings just a little past noon) and a TS screamer (output 100%) no EQ from the POD. If anyone would like the actual presets used i’ll be glad to send them. In my DAW theres typically no eq or compression at all unless stated in the clip description. Once i have access to a mic and time to record a live amp run, i’ll post those as well.
I ran these pickups through the paces, through clean recordings, metal, rock and pop and these hold their own and shine through with their own character every time. You’ll have to really dig in and work for your heavy chugs and learn to back off to let the pickups whisper softer phrases. Once you get a feel of this set you’ll realize what words like dynamic, organic and expressive truly mean in the world of boutique pickups.
If you’re interested in owning a set of your own Dirt Wizards then shoot Aaron Brown a message.