Personal Experience With Current PAF's, Please no anti-boutique or other agendas

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by Guitar Dave T, Jan 25, 2012.

  1. Guitar Dave T

    Guitar Dave T Member

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    Thread title says it all.

    For those who've been through various pickups ranging from boutique to "production aftermarket" to OEM, please share your experiences for the benefit of the rest of us who are still in the pickup hunt.

    There are some rules. My thread, my rules:

    1. Tell us what king of tones you've been after, what you've found.
    2. Include a rig run-down. What sounds one way in a Les Paul through a Marshall Plexi may not work the same with a 335 through a Red Plate. Also, tell us whether you include pickup covers or not, whether you like stringing your Gibsons standard or top-wrap, and any special wiring (RS Guitar Works, etc...)
    3. ALL PICKUP REVIEWS MUST BE BASED ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
    4. ASIDE FROM COMMENTS ON GENERAL OUTPUT/VOLUME, NO TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION DISCUSSIONS. Just stick to what you like about how they sound, how they feel, etc.
    5. Include price range if you like, but No opinions on what constitutes too much to pay for a set of pickups, boutique or otherwise. There's another thread that's been hijacked, er, is being used for that. If this thread goes that way, I will delete it in a friggin' heartbeat.

    Hopefully what we'll end up is enough of a cross reference of people's personal experience with pickups that some of us might use it as a buyers' guide without having to cull through pages of BS.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2012
  2. Jim S

    Jim S Silver Supporting Member Supporting Member

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    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2012
  3. Demioblue

    Demioblue Member

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    I'll bite.

    My set up is pretty simple. A 2008 Les Paul Chambered (pre-PCB) with RS guitarworks modern prewired kits (top wrapped, lightweight aluminium bridge, graphtech NVS bridge). A Schroeder Shorty Custom with RS Jenson PIO caps & RS pots. in fact, ALL my guitars use RS electronics. Amp: Fender PRRI, Blackstar HT5. Recordings use a PODXTLive direct to PC. Some of these tones vary because of different aspects of the pickup i wanted to capture. Some of the recordings listed used an Edwards Les Paul, an EBMM 20th Anniversary Silhouette, Gibson R7BB Les Paul Custom and a Silhouette Special.

    I've always loved Gary Moore's tones, not for the neck, but for the bridge. Joe Bonamassa's Black Night tone, and Albert's Shuffle from Mike Bloomfield were my fave PAF type tones.

    I'll only talk about pickups I've owned, spent enough time with, and have recorded with, though not all sets have something. Pickups i've tried on other people's guitars shouldn't count for me, as there won't be enough time to give a constructive review. These include Lollar Imperials, WCRs (don't know what set).

    Pickups owned:

    Seymour Duncan 59's - Edwards Les Paul
    Ok pickups. i found these a bit flat, and a bit harsh, though not as harsh as the BBPros. Nowhere as sweet as the SH55s. The sound clip features this set most of the time, but there's a strat and an EBMM JP6 in there as well.
    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=753161&songID=5889923

    Seymour Duncan SH55 Seth Lovers - Gibson Les Paul
    My fav set from SD. Organic, smooth when you want them, agressive when you need them. GREATEST bang for the buck IMO.
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=8524618
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=8353152

    Seymour Duncan Antiquities - Edwards Les Paul
    Harmonically rich. EQ wasn't what I liked, as they were a bit trebly, and not enough mid range or bottom end as I'd have liked. Didn't even bother to record with these because I really didn't like them after 1 month.

    Seymour Duncan APH2s - Gibson Les Paul
    Came with my Slash signature, but they're not bad. A bit too thick, but works great with distortion. Didn't like the cleans. Too fat.

    DiMarzio PAF Classic - Silhouette Special
    These were nice. Bright, and sparkly, but not enough warmth. Apparently the 36th anniversay PAFs addressed that. haven't really tried those yet.
    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=753161&songID=7156858
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=6205583

    DiMarzio Air Classic - Silhouette Special
    Scooped tone. Nice, and balanced, especially when used with 250k pots, as shown in the clip. Wanted more midrange though...
    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=753161&songID=5889923

    Tonerider Alnico 4 Classics - Silhouette 20th
    Dark Horse set. really nice, organic, sweet and responsive. A little too sweet, and not enough bite when needed. Had to use the amp/processor to compensate.
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=6234985

    Gibson Burstbucker Pros - Gibson Les Paul
    Ugh... Harsh, sterile, and unresponsive. Was pretty difficult to work with, and needed a bit of effort to coax some nice tones. Totally didn't dig these.
    http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page_songInfo.cfm?bandID=753161&songID=8445167

    Bareknuckle Mules - Edwards Les Paul
    Phat! Sweet, and aggressive, but I wanted some more clarity.

    Tom Holmes Japan J450 & J455 - Gibson Les Paul
    LOVED the bridge, but didn't like the neck. Too dark.
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=8591570

    Skatterbrane Earthbranes - Gibson Les Paul
    My first exposure close what I really expected from PAFs. Fantastic set. I still have these, and they're going NOWHERE. Clearest sounding set I've owned so far.
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=8625161
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=9884205

    Skatterbrane JP2s (JP = Jimmy Page) - Gibson R7BB Les Paul Custom
    Great tones, but I found the bridge too thin. Neck was beautiful. Skatterbrane no longer lists these, but I think they can be custom ordered.
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=9179746

    Skatterbrane custom winds - Schroeder Custom
    My fav set thus far. wound for me to tonal expectations, with no idea on actual specs (Skatterbrane didn't want to confuse me too much). I merely wanted a set that sounds like a flute in the neck, and a trumpet in the bridge, and of course, clarity for both. I got what I wanted.
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=10603884

    That's all I have time for now. Anyone else want more info on a specific set, let me know, and I'll see what I can add to what I've already posted.
     
  4. Guitar Dave T

    Guitar Dave T Member

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    Excellent post - thanks! And thanks for the clips - will pot 'em up tomorrow at lunch with a nice set of headsets.

    My experience with the SD Antiquities was similar. I put them in a CS-336, and while they seemed to have a lot of hair, they just weren't musical or articulate enough for my tastes.

    Also very similar experience with the Dimarzio PAF Classic in my 336. Extremely clear and articulate, but once I installed a Tonepros bridge, the pickups aren't quite warm or harmonically complex enough. Interestingly, they were much warmer in my Burny Les Paul, and warmer in the 336 with the noisy, crappy original ABR1 bridge.

    No recordings with the Antiquities. Like you, I couldn't get 'em out of the guitar quick enough.

    But here's a cheap stereo condenser mic recording of a jam session in my living room with the Dimarzio PAF Classic equipped Burny Les Paul, 1983 TS9 TubeScreamer and a buffered amp switcher feeding both a V30 equipped Blues Deluxe and a C12N equipped NOS Tweed Blues Jr:

    http://www.guitardavetaylor.com/BossaLeadLesPaul032006.mp3 This is both pickups switched on with the neck volume rolled back to about 9. Tailpiece is top-wrapped, which seems to provide a sweeter, more woody tone.
     
  5. sgt_steiner

    sgt_steiner Supporting Member

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    I've owned two pairs of Tom Holmes pickups (H455/H450 -- the real deal Made in USA's, not the Japanese versions Tom franchised out), and the sound is INCREDIBLE -- better than the PAFs on a '61 SG/LP I used to own. Definitely worth the year wait IMHO, and definitely worth every last cent.
     
  6. MadFrank

    MadFrank Supporting Member

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    Thanks for the rundown Demioblue. lots of very useful information to chew over. I've been looking for a replacement set of PAF's for my LP standard and the Skatterbrain's have caught my attention.

    Edit - I like the sound of the Ben-Wabrains!
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2012
  7. man_mars

    man_mars Member

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    That's some great info there Demioblue. I'm most interested in the BK Mules as I hear em as you described (i.e) a fat sounding PAF. Would have loved to have heard a clip of that for a comparison :) I've got a set of the Suhr SSV's..Lemme see if I could make a demo and post as well.

    Cheers !!!
     
  8. Gas-man

    Gas-man Unrepentant Massaganist

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    Had to LOL about the rules...

    Carry on!
     
  9. vmjoe

    vmjoe Member

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    I have tried so many and I will mainly share what I kept and the reasons, but I will add comments in regards to a few others.

    I own 4 PRS guitars SC 245, SC 2000 model, 25th Anniversary Mira 245 Soapbar & Mira. The pickups in each are Throbak DT-102 MXV, Tom Holmes H450/H455, Wolfetone Mean/Meaner P-90 & J.M. Rolph '58 V.P. I use a Germino Club 40 head through a 2 X 12 cab and a Mesa Lone Star 1 X 12 combo.

    Of all the pickups I've tried, these offer the best combination of clarity, warmth, openess and everything really that I have heard. They balance between the bridge and neck pickups better than most others. They also offer another aspect that I struggle to describe, but I'm guessing it is what some describe as double tones or secondary harmonics. They just seem to have more going on after a note or chord is played and held. Not sustain entirely, but each set certainly does sustain very well. This sounds very corny, but almost like the continue to breathe. Many other pickups sound 2 dimensional by comparrison.

    In my long search for my favorite sets, I've struggled with many of the factors I initially described. Primarilly I've had difficulty finding a good balance between warmth and openess. I often times would get a good warm but clear tone from the bridge only to have to much muddiness or lack of clarity from the neck and vice versa.

    For the most part, I've found that I prefer unpotted or very lightly potted pickups. Too many potted sets I tried were just too dull and lifeless for my tastes. I've had no microphonic issues with the sets I currently have either. However, while I use quite alot of volume, I don't use sustantial gain.

    I've liked others very much and I'll name my favorites that are very close to what I have kept. I would have a few or all of these sets if I had more guitars.

    Skatterbrane-Benwa-Branes, Earthbranes
    WCR-Darkburst
    Guitarforce
    Wolfetone
    Zhangbucker

    We have many great choices and there are some winders I've not tried that I'm sure are exceptional, but my quest is over. I'm really happy with what I've ended up with.
     
  10. buddyboy

    buddyboy Gold Supporting Member

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    I'll play:


    1. There is only one "humbucker" tone I really care about trying to achieve - Mike Bloomfield's. His tone with that one particualr burst he played is the greatest sound ever created on an electric guitar AFAIC. I have no use for the tone heard with The Cream, Bonamassa, Jimmy Page, whatever. When I want to hear a Les Paul, I want it to sound like Bloomfield's.

    What I've determined is that I haven't found an aftermarket pickup that can get even remotely close to that burst's tone, but I'm cool with that at this point. Bloomer's burst was special and unique, as was Mike. The tone of that guitar ranged from sharp and biting, to round and mellow, but the magic was always in shades between those two extremes. That guitar and those pickups provided those shades, my Les Paul and the pickups I've used don't.

    2. 2005 Les Paul R8 played, mostly, through a 1964 Super Reverb or a blackface Deluxe Reverb with a JBL K-120. Covers usually on. 50's wiring with 500k audio taper pots and 50's caps. The guitar is strung normally.

    3. Pickups:

    1. Original Burstbucker #1 (neck) and #2 (bridge) - not too bad. The neck was actually the closest I found to Bloomer's neck p/u tone. It was slightly bright (good thing) and not tubby (pickup was set low in the ring). Bridge wasn't thin/wiry enough. Mid position was not versatile enough for a good sweep due to the bridge p/u. Overall, a pretty good, vibrant, set, but they seem to lack the sweetness of a killer PAF.

    2. Mid-90's Duncan Antiquity (neck), brand new Antiquity (bridge) - Too polite and warm. Great sound for certain, classic humbucker tones, but kinda generic, and certainly not vibrant enough to match Bloomfield's. Actually, they sounded a good bit better, and more alive, when I took the covers off. The problem with Ants, I've found, is that they sound kind of "vanilla," sort of like a good, decent sounding late-50's PAF, but not like a real killer 50's PAF.

    3. Fralin Pure PAF's - in the guitar now. They sound pretty good, but I'm not blown away. Bright and more alive than the Antiquities and not as edgy as the BB's. Kind of in the middle. Again, lack some sweetness and depth, but would probably make most fans of PAF"s happy.

    At this point, I think I'm done chasing down this tone-thing. I mean, there is so much more to a guitar's tone than it's pickups. I still look though, particularly for PAF clones that tend to exhibit what I like to hear, spread out over a few guitars. I've watched some vids and listened to some soundclips (all done by different players and using a variety of guitars) of a few more builders PAFs (particularly Scatterbrane and the Stephens Design guy on the west coast) that I may pull the trigger a few more times.

    P.S. FWIW, in terms of PAFs, I've owned a 61 Dot and 59 345, so I have a pretty good frame of reference.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2012
  11. MCG

    MCG Member

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    Ok, here's my input....and I'll try to be to the point.
    My amp with all these pickups has been a Traynor Bassmaster. The sound I was going for was sort of a dickey Betts / Billy Gibbons / Angus Young sort of tone, with either a direct drive, crunch box, or ocd to give me a British style 1970's crunch.

    I used a Duncan Pearly Gates in a SG/Melody Maker for a while. It had a very open tone with very even, non-prominent mids. Very cleat too. A nice pickup but I wanted more of a "paf honk" so I changed it out for a Seth Lover. (Both Duncans in the bridge btw)
    The Seth was much more of what I was wanting and did a much better job of giving me that "ZZ Top from the 70's" tone. The mids were more prominent and the overall tone of the Seth was smoother. The output was less than the Pearly Gates but the tone was very much what I was wanting.

    When I changed to playing a PRS McCarty I was lucky enough to get one already loaded with a set of Seth Lovers. Now this particular McCarty was a bit bright. But I still enjoyed the Seths. I will say that the neck pickup was a bit muddy and I never played it with the tone control any ware but wide open to maintain clarity.

    Fast forward and I have my current McCarty. This one is the usual character, not unusually bright like my first one. This time around I change out the stock pups with a set of Wolfetones. A Dr. Vintage in the bridge and a MH MK II (weaker Marshall Head) in the bridge. Not that I'm knocking the Duncan Seth Lovers, I just wanted to try out the WolfeTones that my friends and so many others had been raving about.

    So the Dr. Vintage is great! Smooth, full, and more touch sensitive than the Seth. A better neck pickup for sure. It really fattened up the neck tone on my PRS but is still clear. The MH MK II is hotter than the Seth and with its A5 magnet not as honky. Still it has that "paf" thing going and is clear without being the least bit harsh. The coil split tone is also very usably. Both WolfeTones clean up well and really read the nuances of your playing. They seem more dimensional too and for that reason have comer to be my favorites. I recently changed out the stock P90's in my SG to WolfeTones with equally fantastic results.

    MCG
     
  12. cugel

    cugel Member

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    my rig is pretty standard: sf champs, 18 watt marshalls, 3m orangutan

    greco sg: orginal "double trick" pups were cool but strange. very un-paf like.

    replaced with lollar imperial std wind in the bridge, florance 59 al 3 in the neck. the lollar was too thin under OD for this guitar. cleans and crunch open chords were great.

    replaced with metalbranes. these were pretty cool change from a std paf thing. thru a cranked 6v6 amp they slay. slay i tell you. i recommend them highly.

    BUT had to sell them and replaced with wcr goodwoods 10yo. i think this guitar is "done". thru a marshall type amp this is cream crossroads tone to a "T". wonderful pickups. i think they are alnico 5s. sound equally great in a LP. the neck pickup is my ideal neck humbucker tone.

    tokai lp: this had goodwoods (see above), and now has a single florance 59 neck pup in the BRDIGE. alnico 3. nothing permanent just checking it out and its pretty cool really. pretty tame compared to his alnico 5 59. but usable. jury is still out.

    also have had fralin pafs. cant comment on them since i was a dumb kid.

    wcr Dbs: nice in a LP but i will stick with the GWs.

    DMZ paf classic: not bad but too bright in an ash guitar.

    voodoo 59 in same ash body: monster monster rock pickup. the two arent even close.

    duncan JB: fun pickup for rock but can be honkey in my hands but its pretty tried and true high output fun esp. for the coin.

    burstbuckers: worstsuckers. they launched my on my quest.

    classic 57s: sterile in my hands under OD but cleans were good.
     
  13. patentcad

    patentcad Member

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    Uh-huh.
     
  14. mad dog

    mad dog Silver Supporting Member

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    I'm not hugely experienced with humbuckers, enough to make me curious. My reference HB tone is a 1966 ES-335. Nothing I've played to date sounds quite like that. Tried various SD p/us, a nice set of Zhangbucker Pagey 2, stock Ibanez p/us from the late 70s, some rather nice stock HBs in a few MIJ guitars. Plus a couple sets of rather amazing Guild p/us in several 70s era guitars.

    I'm not looking for some specific, signature tone. What I do want is a not harsh, warm and clear bridge sound, and a neck p/u you can actually use at higher volumes without mudding out. Sounds that have depth, not the flat, harsh kind of stuff I've heard in too many overwound humbuckers.

    For my Les Paul. It's a "Lacquer Taste" LQ plaintop Epiphone, MIJ. Tried a set of Stephens Design HB sized HBs in there ... the stock Epi p/us were rather nice, but just lacked something. The Stephens p/us were excellent in their own way. Great neck tones, but the bridge was a little too thin.

    Heard a clip of the Ian Anderson guitar with his own p/us and just could not resist. Ordered a pair (250 I think) thinking maybe I'd get lucky. And that's what happened. Now I can really hear this Les Paul, how the body pushes the sound, what it can do. A couple different amp setups.

    - Allen Encore head or
    - Musicman RD50 head or
    - Sewell Wampus Cat combo (not using the combo speaker)

    into a Jenkins 2x12 w/Emi legend GB speakers, or Jenkins 1x15 w/Weber Cali ceramic. TIM, delay and reverb.

    Everything about these p/us works perfectly. The bridge only goes in a classic LP direction, this soaring, fat sound. Middle position, with neck volume up just a bit higher than bridge, has this resonant bounce. And the neck only sound is probably the prettiest neck only tone I've heard in person.

    Some rehearsal clips, Allen Encore through the 2x12 I think. First time I played it w/these p/us. Bridge only. Pretty rough to start, not the best but you can sure hear the pickups in the solo.
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=11260363

    Both p/us I think.
    http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=11260362

    Been playing this guitar lots since then. I won't be swapping these pickups out. They're addictive.
    MD
     
  15. jjp

    jjp Senior Member

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    Here are my thoughts: I play mostly blues and some rock/blues stuff. I really like the sound of Duane Allman's guitar, and I also like early Stones (Exile, Sticky Fingers) and early Lowell George (Little Feat).

    I have a 2011 Traditional which comes with 57 PAFs. I struggled to clean up the neck PU by making a range of adjustments on my Mesa LSS, much to no avail. I found it muddly in both the 1st and 2nd channels. I basically never played it through my stock 75' Fender SFPR as I found that it just didn't do the amp justice (unlike my Deluxe Strat and 52 Hot Rod tele).

    I was really at a loss of how to get rid of the "mud" and was close to trying another brand of PUs when I came across another thread here on changing pots and caps. I consulted with a very reputible guitar shop (The Twelfth Fret in Toronto) which has one of the best tech shops in Canada. The tech I got happened to be a former professional musician, and lover of the Les Paul.

    He too strongly recommended changing the pots (to 500k) and caps and went on to say that it would bring out the life in the stock Gibson 57 PAFs such that I would be wasting my money on new PUs. So, I did it. I love the sound of this guitar now, and it gives me the blues/rock tones that I am after. There is no mud, better seperation between the bass and the treble tones, particularly during bar chords, and is just all around brighter and more articulate. The only reason I could see trying another set of PUs would be purely experimental and out of curiosity.
     
  16. patentcad

    patentcad Member

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    i like the Fralin Pure PAfs in my LP Standard Plus. Much better than the Burstbuckers.

    My quest is not over.

    As if it could ever be over.
     
  17. vmjoe

    vmjoe Member

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    You are so right. I don't care what pickups someone has, if the pots and capsare substandard, the pickups will not sound their best. I have been very happy with RS Guitarworks pots.
     
  18. supa-fuzz

    supa-fuzz Member

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    I have to agree that 1960's t-tops are my watermark and favorite pickups, honestly they are probably better than original PAF's which I have heard some that were not all that great.

    I will say that in my experience what pickups/guitar sounds good in thru one amp, may not sound so good in another amp. A change in the speakers and what didn't sound good before, now does.

    My boutique experiences have been very favorable with WCR's and I would say that his sound clips are accurate representations to what I have experienced. But everyone is gonna have different results, I use the Darkbursts, Fillmores, and Godwoods in Gibson-type guitars, my main amp is a PRS Blue Sierra 50watt head run thru a vintage Hiwatt 4x12 loaded with Fanes.

    I also use alot of Duncan pickups; Alnico II Pros are great all around and I can do alot with them, actually in my korina V they sound like a fat les paul in the neck position. I have had great experiences with Golden Age/Parsons Street humbuckers from Stewmac, they are consistent, handmade here by them and sound great. I have used these in many guitars and they are right up there in terms of tone and output with my old 60's t-tops.
     
  19. Demioblue

    Demioblue Member

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    To be honest, the Antiquities aren't bad. I've heard that they vary from set to set, so maybe I got a set that didn't work for me? They were musical and articulate enough, just the wrong sort of tone and EQ I was after. That particular set was not my cup of tea, and I don't have the time to go tone hunting thru a stack of them.

    Believe it or not, I found that the NVS bridge from Graphtech was a great product! It gives you the 2kHz spike from metal saddles, yet retains the smooth coating from the "graphite" saddles and is also magnetically locked to the body. I didn't quite like the ABR-1 tone, but that's also subjective to certain guitars.

    :agree

    Though, I did manage to A/B the Japan set against a USA set, though I didn't own the latter. They have very similar characteristics, but I wouldn't say one is better than the other. I loved the creamyness of the bridge pup for the Japan set, though it wasn't as clear as the USA set. I prefered the clarity and chime of the US neck pup over the japanese one. So, if I were to get a Holmes set for myself, it would probably be a H450 for the neck, and a J455 for the bridge!

    Thanks. Unfortunately I didn't get round to doing a recording for that. I liked them enough, but I got a great offer on that guitar from a friend, so I sold it. Along with the pups.:rotflmao

    I can totally understand why he says that. For me, with the Skatterbranes, my quest is over too. I'm really happy with the earthbranes, and my custom set. If I do get another suitable guitar in the future, I'll look nowhere else, and probably get a set of Jazzbranes (hopefully for a 339!)

    I did both. First the electronics, THEN the pickups. I found that the electronics didn't do that much in terms of clarity for my guitar, but certainly made the knobs a lot more useable, and a believer in great components. Of course, the stock tones were a bit livlier, but not as much as I'd have liked. When the Skatterbranes went in to replace the SH55s and the 57 Classics in 2 guitars, it felt like someone lifted a quilt blanket off my amp!
     
  20. bartmcartman

    bartmcartman Supporting Member

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    Lots of good information in this thread, thanks!
     

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