Throughout the years you have had an array of guitars, pickups, amps, cabinets, etc… I saw you in 2005 and thought you had some crushing tone. Les Paul customs with “Dimebuckers” in the bridge. I ran out the next week installed it in my guitar and have been rocking it since. The past few months I feel like my tone could be better though, and I was thinking about trying out EMG’s. Should I stick to the “Dimebucker” in the bridge or test out the 81’s?
I have been experimenting with different pick ups ever since I started tinkering with my guitar, which was about 20 minutes after I picked one up for the first time. I think experimenting with your tone is a must for any musician; it is how you will eventually find your own tone & style, after all. So, to answer your question first; yes, absolutely experiment! In fact I would suggest you put in pick up after pick up until you find the tone that’s yours. It’s simple, put those pick ups in and start riffing! Since we all don’t have a million dollars, or free pick ups flying our way, you have to know where to start. Here are a few thoughts on pick ups that I have had good luck with.
In 2004 Darkest Hour performed on the summer’s Ozzfest and around that time I secured my sweet little endorsement with Seymour Duncan. Up to that point I had been playing nothing but Duncan’s for about 5 years, so let me tell you it was a coveted endorsement for me to get. I even got a chance to meet Mr. Seymour Duncan himself. He was amazing, a rock star to rock stars. To this day, if I had to go to Guitar Center and buy picks up, Duncuns are still what I would buy.The specific pick up I would buy would be without a doubt the Seymour Duncan JB. I have recorded at least one guitar with a JB on almost every record I have been a part of. To me it’s the perfect blend of rock and metal, and the mid-range of the pick up just makes my wrist sound the way I like. I cant explain it, but there’s a reason it’s the definitive rock pick up!
Although I have a personal favorite I have experimented with all sorts of pick ups and even experimented with different wiring options. I went the EMG route but it just seemed to flatten out my sound. Don’t get me wrong, we use guitars with EMG’s all the time in Darkest Hour (our other guitarist, Kris, swears by them). They are great pick ups. Shit, you can’t deny that Zakk Wylde sounds fucking amazing, so don’t let me tell you those pick ups can’t sound good. It’s just I haven’t found a pair that speaks to me. (One quick note if you’re switching out pick ups to try out EMG’s it’s going to be a bitch. Your going to have to change all the electronics because of the way they wire so get ready for that. If you don’t know how to do it, pay someone who does. Its worth it, I have burned myself and many a guitar, not to mention spent way too many hours trying to solder a guitar back together. Working on a guitar is not nearly as fun as playing one, let me tell you that.)
A good alternative to the EMG line is actually the Seymour Duncan Blackouts. They came out recently and are built for kind of the same application. I have a pair in a red Les Paul Custom I use sometimes and until I found those pick ups I couldn’t get anything to sound good in that guitar. See, guitars themselves have a sound so not every pick up works perfectly with every guitar. I almost sold that red Les Paul but I kept the faith and one day popped those Black Outs in. Now no guitar sounds like it and it’s smoking hot! I’ll never get rid of it, It’s the guitar I pull out when its time to get the shred out!
The Dimebuckers are sick because they have more gain then JB’s. I also like that they seem to “metalfy” (I know its not a real word but fuck it!) the sound. You know almost flatten it out but not in a bad way. I swear it makes my playing sound a bit more controlled but maybe I’m crazy! I have at least two guitars in my touring rotation that use Dimebuckers. They are perfect for high gain use but have their own sound; it doesn’t have the same pitfalls to me that the EMG’s do so it was always my solution for getting the JB sound with more gain and balls.
If you’re into the Dimebucker you also have to check out the Bill Lawrence 500 ML’s. This is actually the pick up that Dimebag first used. It is sometimes referred to as the original rail pick up, I am not sure if that is true but, I can tell you that it’s a sick motherfucker! It looks just like the Dimebucker and sounds almost exactly the same. If you can find one of these I suggest buying it and checking it out. You wont be disappointed, trust me there is a reason Dimebag swore by these things! Bill Lawrence also has a site where you can read more about pick ups and tone.
Sometimes when I am layering guitars or just riffing in general I like to have the sound of a single coil pick up. It’s very different from a humbucker and when used to layer with other guitars fitted with regular humbuckers it adds a nice overall thickness. Its just different and whenever I need a sound like this I turn to the Seymour Duncan Little ’59. It’s the perfect sounding single coil; It’s got a nice clear low end and nice full tone to it. I would suggest this pick up to any metal head that is looking for a cool sounding single coil. Also, if you want a single coil that sounds like a humbucker don’t fear. Seymour’s got your back too with the Duncan Hot Rails. I have this in a Fender Tele that I use for Darkest Hour sometimes, it holds the super low tunings really well. If you can believe it this little pick up took my cool indie rock sounding Tele and made it a metal riffing beast!
Ok so I know what you’re thinking, this reads like one big commercial for Seymour Duncan. Look, I know, but like I said it just works for me. Why switch brands? They have a ton of cool sounding pick ups and they all wire relatively the same so switching them out is really easy. The main point is there is never one right pick up for everything! It’s more likely that you will like the sound of a few and change from time to time. That’s ok, change is good. I have my staple pick up’s but I also change it up just for fun all the time. So don’t be afraid to experiment, explore, and create with many different sonic pallets, you may just find something new you like and if your really lucky you may just find something original!
Mike Schleibaum is an accomplished musician, song writer, and producer. He co-founded his band, Darkest Hour, in 1995 and has been releasing records and touring ever since. He also has his Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work, from George Mason University. After a decade and a half of booking tours, running the band, writing music, and recording records, he has decided to share his experiences with you.