Ten Unusual Strat Pickups Tested

I should have been out buying nice presents for you all. Instead I sat around inhaling solder fumes. When the smoke cleared (mostly, anyway) I’d tested ten unusual Strat pickups in the same poor guitar.

Tested pickups sets:

Jason Lollar Gold Foils
Lindy Fralin Big Singles
Seymour Duncan Antiquity II Mini-Humbuckers
Jason Lollar Staple/P-90 set
Allparts Gold Foils

Verdicts? I dig them all, and not just ’cause I’m too polite/chicken to say otherwise.

I love the Lollar Gold Foils so much I’m assembling a new parts guitar to surround them. I’m going to keep the Fralin Big Singles in the demo Strat, at least till the next Mongrel Strat Project. I’m going to try putting the mini-humbuckers in a “parts” Tele at some point. I originally reviewed the Lollar P-90 set for Premier Guitar (where I evaluated them the “right” way: in a Gibson guitar), so they go back to manufacturer, though I’d sure like to own a set someday. Meanwhile, the Allparts set isn’t in the same league as its high-end competitors, but at a mere $30 per pickup, it costs about 1/4 the price of its expensive rivals. You could definitely do a lot of lo-fi damage with a pair of these surprisingly solid-sounding pickups!

This article joins the long list of experiments in the Mongrel Strat Project archive.

And how about you? Have you but stuffing any pickups into places where they don’t belong? Maybe that’s why Santa left you sucky presents this year.

22 comments to Ten Unusual Strat Pickups Tested

  • Thanks Joe, this is great! I kinda liked the reduced frequency response of the Allparts Vs the Lollars.

    It’s interesting hearing the G space pickups…I wonder how much impact the different spacing actually makes? Seems negligible to me listening, although playing it might reveal some uneven out issues. What is your take on this?

    • joe

      Hiya Matt — happy holidays! Yes, I totally get the appeal of pickups with limited frequency range. Regarding the pole piece spacing: I’m just sort of doing due diligence here. This post isn’t intended as any sort of “shootout” between models, but folks inevitably make comparisons and choose favorites, so it seemed right to point out that some pickups weren’t demoed under theoretically optimal circumstances.

      But since you ask: To my subjective ear, the exact pole piece positioning makes FAR less difference than most of us assume. Time and again I’ve popped “mismatched” pickups into a guitar only to be surprised by how decent they sound. I’ve even put guitar pickups with six pole pieces into a 4-string bass and achieved decent results. The PAF pole pieces didn’t line up when I recorded that cover of “Gold Only Knows,” and I didn’t perceive any problematic imbalances.

  • Ian Gray

    Toss up as to which was the better Christmas gift: this vid or Robbie Robertson’s “Testimony”. Thanks, as always and have a great New Year. And don’t go dying just to be “in” with the “in” crowd, ‘kay?

  • joe

    I know the answer to that: Robbie’s gift is better! But I appreciate the sentiment, Ian. Best of the season to you, man! 🙂

  • IanM

    Very interesting comparison – thanks for the info. I’ve been experimenting a lot this last year or so (well, “virtually”, anyway…) with different pickup types (and body types) in a variax transplanted into a strat clone (VERY handy in a live situation as you can imagine).
    You’ll probably cringe at the idea of using a guitar that digitally emulates other guitar types, but in doing so, I’ve been hankering to install different pickups into another Strat clone I have. I have one real Strat (one of the last 4 bolt neckplate models from 1971), which is well and truly road-worn, and mostly stays in it’s case now, lest I wear it away. Anyway back to the weirdo pickups – I love the P90 bigness, and also interestingly, use mini humbuckers a lot in my “virtual” models, and as you can see in my pics (stick on pickups!), love the idea of other-worldly pickup weirdness.
    I know of a Kinman model called Big Nine-0 (his site is not easily navigable, so here’s a link to the page http://kinman.com/model-products.php?pid=4&products=Stratocaster&linegroup=yes&modelid=2&model=Big-Nine-0&group=Single%20Strat%20Pickups ), which has me intrigued.
    Chris Kinman makes great pickups IMO, I have the Woodstock Plus set in my 71 Strat.
    I wonder if you’d be interested in trying these out?

    • joe

      Thanks for the info, Ian. No, I don’t look down on the digital experimentation with the Variax, which is an amazing piece of technology. In fact, that parallels my own experiences of stompbox, in that I was being paid to create digital models of stompboxes before I had any inkling of how they work electronically (and I’m still pretty hazy on that stuff). I think we live in an era where every successful young studio engineer learned how to operate vintage compressor plug-ins long before getting their hands on an actual vintage compressor. You have to be mindful of the many, MANY variables between digital and analog systems, but I totally agree with your premise.

      I confess I’ve never tried a Kinman pickup either, though again, I hear great things. Those are names to throw into the ring next time Premier Guitar asks me to assemble a pickup roundup!

  • Mike Richardson

    Is it safe to assume that you are using your customary flat-wounds? That would certainly contribute to the cool sound you’re getting.

    • joe

      Hee hee. Yeah, for a while I kept a few guitars strung with roundwounds for magazine reviews and posts like this, just to have a reference sound that more guitarists could relate to. But one by one, those roundwound guitars succumbed to my flatwound addiction. Now my only regularly used electric guitar with roundwounds is the Hello Kitty! Strat. Oh well — it’s not as if I had a style or technique that most guitarists related to either. But FWIW, I have yet to encounter a pickup, stompbox, or plugin that sounded great with one type of strings and not the other.

  • LeeD

    Love your videos Joe. I’ve always wondered if a strat and vintage Rickenbacker toaster pickups combination would be worth doing. I’m guessing that it might sound close to your lipstick tubes/Strat combo.

  • Martin

    Hi Joe. Very informative again and lots to consider. I put a set of Fralin blues specials into my tele a while back and though it makes the guitar less bright they sound spectacular and can’t see me changing them back. Those Lollar gold foils sound amazing though I can see how the cheaper ones could definitely appeal as well. As far as the pole pieces not lining up, I’m a lefty and back in the day before I could afford an actual left handed guitar I just did the Jimi thing and restrung it upside down and never had any issues at all. Have a happy and prosperous New Year.

  • Rob

    Just love the sound of a guitar plugged into an amp. Many reviews seem to have the peddle manufactured with gold pixie dust and alchemy so you are never sure what you are hearing. I think worrying about pole peaces some times distracts from the lets see if it works approach of actual experimentation.

  • Colm

    Great stuff again, Joe. Mentioning Kinman pickups again, their humbuckers are unlike any others I’ve come across. They have the kind of openness and top end detail that you would expect from a single coil, but with the girth and fullness of a humbucker. They advise people not to open their humbuckers as they aren’t constructed using regular coils. Quite how they’re constructed they don’t say. Though as great and all as their pickups sound, as was said above, their website is quite difficult to navigate.

  • Thanks for that lovely Xmas treat Joe. Those Lollar gold foils really do have something don’t they. Very clear – every nuance comes out, but nothing grates, it’s all smooth. I think I’ll have to try some of those. The only down side is that the re-creations of these ‘budget’ pickups, Mr Lollar’s version at least, aren’t low cost any more.

    On something of a tangent, I haven’t been stuffing any pickups into guitars but I have been building pedals and I have noticed something about, so called, germanium diodes. All lot of kits seem to specify and use diodes which may or may not be 1N34A’s in recreations of old circuits that originally had germanium diodes (and rely on their low forward drop for correct operation). The examples I have look right – glass envelopes and so on, but they aren’t clearly identifiable – only being marked with single paint bands. I have measured their forward drop and I get 0.56V, pretty much silicon diode levels. Looking at data sheets for the 1N34A it says only Max VF = 1V. Now if I compare with my stashes of two types of NOS diode I know to be germanium I get VF = 0.37V (all at around 5mA). I’m wondering if there are a lot of newly manufactured, bogus ‘germanium’ diodes out there. At the least it looks like 1N34A’s may not be the best choice when germaniums are needed.

    A quick browse shows that others also seem to have come across bogus germanium diodes.

  • Stunning Gold Foils!
    I recently bought a p90-sized alumitone pickup, I think it is this one in the link below:
    http://www.lacemusic.com/Aluma_90.php
    In my archtop guitar it sounds very airy and I feel it very responsive; I know some love them and some hate them, and I understand them both. I will install one of them in my next project in the bridge position.
    I am wondering how they would sound like in a telecaster.
    Have you ever tried them?

    PS: I enjoy very much your playing in Tom Waits’ recordings…

  • Oinkus

    No idea what happened there? Tried to post about my new Strat with minis in it , not a clue?

  • Teddy Kumpel

    I love it, thanks Joe!

    I have a set of big singles…. love em
    was wondering about them and Lollar Gold Foils… thanks for that.

    According to Lindy, the big singles in a lower winding would be more similar to the Lollar Gold foils. The stock Big Singles are wound to be like DeArmond gold foils and the Lollars are wound to like Teiscos.

    have you ever tried Lindy’s Sunbuckers? I like them a lot. Very bright humbuckers.

    it’s all so interesting, and your playing and scowling helps us hear what these things sound like in the hands of a master!

  • joe

    Teddy! Interesting observations. But one thing I’ve discovered about Lollar’s Teisco-style gold foils is that they behave COMPLETELY differently when your roll back the volume pot, unlike any pickup I’ve heard. When played into a responsive overdrive pedal, they don’t really clean up like any other pickup would. At the show I was talking to Ken Calvert of Roadhouse pickups, who created the DeArmond-style gold foils in the new Supro guitars. He says that’s a property of the rubber magnet in those pickups. So I THINK what Lindy means is, those Big Single winding correspond to the number of turns/output in the pickups he’s comparing to, but I don’t believe it makes them SOUND like the pickups ion question. Though of course, I could be wrong!

  • Terry L

    Are you the same “Joe” that answers from Kinman Pick ups?

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