What’s the Deal with Alnico VIII Magnets?

Like this royalty-free clip-art illustration, the Alternative 8 manages to be both aggressive and round.

I was talking to some of the Seymour Duncan dudes the other day about pickups models deserving greater public awareness. One of the first names on everyone’s lips was the Alternative 8, a a high-output humbucker that uses a powerful alnico VIII magnet in lieu of the alnico II or alnico V magnets that fuel the vast majority of non-ceramic pickups.

I was intrigued, so I popped one into the bridge position of my Hamer 20th Anniversary. Yow.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to gravitate toward lower-output, vintage-flavored pickups, generating gain from the amp or a number of sketchy homemade distortion boxes. The Alternative 8, with its blistering DC resistance of 17.68k, is definitely a departure for me, but I found myself captivated by its deft balance of aggression and definition.

Have a listen and see what you think. Post-mortem after the video.

With the amp cranked and a bit of germanium overdrive, this pickup really wants to sustain. I find myself lingering on long notes rather than trying to play fast. Despite all the gain, the pickup does a remarkable job of maintaining definition on low, chunky chords, yet it doesn’t get too shrill in the high register. The crisp note attack makes this a good choice for high-gain players who play percussively, or who demand maximum rhythmic precision. With the Alternative 8, you damn well know when the notes start!

One surprise was how well the Alternative 8 blends with demo’s neck pickup, a much lower output model from Duncan’s Joe Bonamassa set (which I demoed with its official partner here.) The Alternative 8 has vastly more gain, yet I found the pair surprisingly complementary. (It’s not a discovery I set out to make — I was just too lazy to swap out the neck pickup before recording.)

Has anyone tried a pickup with an alnico VIII magnet? Or, for that matter, anything other than the ubiquitous alnico II or alnico V? (Coincidentally, I just learned that the Joe Bonamassa bridge pickup I removed to demo the Alternative 8 uses an alnico III.)

Effin’ magnets. How do they work?


15 comments to What’s the Deal with Alnico VIII Magnets?

  • Eric

    Is the PTB still wired up in this guitar? I wonder how a high gain monster like this works with that system. 

    • joe

      I’m glad you asked that, because I forgot to mention it! 🙂

      No, it’s not — I went back to the usual double-volume/single tone method in order to demo with a more “typical” configuration. The PTB would probably sound pretty cool — though the Alternative 8 is really good at keeping low-end boom in check, and you don’t need to roll off lows to get a good tone.

  • I make pickups with neodymium magnets. Mostly bass pickups, but I have been working on some guitar pickups using neos. Neos are stronger than ceramics, but have the low end warmth of alnico.

  • zyon

    I heard a bit of that Santana sound in there…. that’s cool! 

  • joe

    Yeah, I hear it too — and it’s not me, it’s the pickups!

    I’m not entirely joking. I’d never have cited Carlos as much of an influence, but there’s something about those crazy, high-gain pickups and a cranked amp that makes you want to “emote” on those long held notes. Yet another case of how gear influences music, as opposed to the other way around. 😉

  • Dirtbagg

    I have a Crazy 8, which is fun to play for my Punk rock stuff

  • Andy

    I have a Brian Moore that has a set of Lace Hemis loaded with barium ferrite magnets. They sound awesome, especially with a 2 meg volume pot 😀

  • JH

    hmmm.. your killing me. I decided to get a warmoth body and neck instead of buying a charvel so-cal. now I tried out the invader pickup and like it. this one sounds good too. I’ll have to see if anyone I know has one of these to try out.  But I’ll probably go w a distortion (tried and true). You people are not making it easier to decide!
    Who makes pickups with neodymium magnets. I heard them mentioned before, but I dont remember what was said about them.
     BTW  anyone know about these necks at warmoth? Their necks are great but I cant get the compound radius without having the truss rod adjust at the heel?   same with the charvel necks too.

    • Greg

      I have a warmoth parts strat I made with a compound Radius neck and with the truss rod adjust at the side and I  think its great so far. It works almost the same as a fender neck where the truss rod is at the base of the neck but once you adjust that then you make fine adjustments at the side. I think of it as when you have a floyd rose bridge. You tune with the head stock tuners first then you fine adjust with the fine tuners. Makes sense? And I can’t tell you much about the pickups I have a Custom Custom in the bridge A gorge Lynch Lil screamin deamon in the middle and a pearly gates in the neck. A great versatile guitar since im a working musician and need alot of different sounds at one time and dont like to carry alot of gear. 

      • JH

         Thanks! I actually like that idea with the fine tune truss adjustment. also goin with warmoth for the recessed floyd rout whitch charvel doesnt have in their 22 fret guitars. Cant wait! Been a while since I had a floyd, and I cant do the 24 fret!

  • Aceman

    Little late to this one…

    I currently am playing a JB8.

    I picked up an awesome Dean Cadillac Silverburst. It came with a Duncan JB ($260 – Epic win of Sheen proportions).

    I remembered a lot of the things I don’t dig about a JB in thick mahogany – namely spiky harsh highs. I swapped out the A5 for an A8.

    Tamed the shrieky highs (ahhh), reduced the mids slightly, bass was a little boosted. Overall, it sounds fantastic.

    I was plainning to put a Duncan Distortion in this guitar, but I may just keep the JB8. Much preferred by me to a regulalr JB…

  • Just get into this article for the word Alnico magnets , becuase we are the manufacturer of alnico magnets

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