The P-Rail Paul: Tone report

Discussion in 'Guitars in General' started by Deft Tungsman, Aug 22, 2008.

  1. Deft Tungsman

    Deft Tungsman Member

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    For the curious who've yet to try the new Seymour Duncan P-Rail pickups, I present the following tone report.

    If there is one thing I have never liked about my '79 The Paul, it's the pickups. I tried replacing them twice, once with a pair of Bill Lawrence original blade humbuckers and once with Joe Bardens. The Lawrences sounded better in the heavily-modified SG I had at the time, and the Bardens seemed to work better in Fullerton than in Kalamazoo. So for the last decade or so, The Paul has remained chained to its original T-tops, which work well for classic rock crunch but are far too wooly and indistinct for clean/semi-clean tones.

    The P-Rails offer many wiring options. The guy on Youtube who spanks away on the same little riff as he walks you through the various settings has two little three-way switches to get blade, P90 and full humbucker for both neck and bridge. I wanted The Paul to look the same as always, so I installed two push-push pots. With this configuration you lose independent control over each pickup, but you gain a fourth sound (both coils in parallel).

    If I'd had my druthers, I probably would have wired the guitar for independent volume and tone controls as per original spec. The problem was I had no spare wire and had to make extremely economical use of The Paul's original leads. I opted for the single vol/single tone arrangement out of necessity, but after several hours playing the guitar yesterday, I've decided to leave it this way. Simple, fast and intuitive.

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    Now, the tone report.

    1) Humbuckers in series (both knobs down):
    With respect to the original T-tops, this is the "apples to apples" setting. A big warm sound with nice definition and attack and no overcrowding in the midrange. Cleans up nicely as you wind down the volume on the guitar, but with fewer tonal nuances as you do so than with my benchmark 88 CU24. Better than the original pickups for sure, but not $180 better.

    2) P90s (volume knob down, tone knob up):
    Great P90 tones all around! I always suspected that my guitar would come into its own with a set of P90s, and that hunch has been confirmed in spades! The bridge is round and clear at lower volumes, and develops a hearty growl as you turn things up. Special mention goes to the neck at full volume, killer lead tone with excellent response to picking dynamics. These P90s seem a tad less harsh on some settings than those on my McSoapy, but you have to factor in the latter's maple top, which makes it a brighter guitar than the all-walnut Paul.

    3) Blade single coils (volume knob up, tone knob down):
    While no single coil will ever make The Paul sound like a strat, these pickups perform quite well. With neck and bridge on together, there's a bit of quack, but not nearly as much as on my CU24. Separately, both units give a nice range of tones that are neither spiky nor anemic. Not as harmonically rich as the P90 setting, the output is lower and has more air.

    4) Humbuckers in parallel (both knobs up):
    This setting has come as a surprise to me, and I'm so glad I went for the 4-sound wiring option. The sound is warm but not as dense as with the 'buckers in series. There's less bite and bloom than with the P90s, instead of sharpness you get smoother attack and a cleaner voice, and the bridge pickup on its own at full volume nails that Malcom Young sound. With both pickups on, there's a great "beefy strat-quack" tone that is very expressive.

    All in all, the P-Rails are an amazing bit of design and engineering. Because I didn't have the right capacitor for the tone knob, it has no effect and is only part of the switching circuit. But with all the options on tap, who needs a tone knob? One volume knob is all it takes.
     
  2. jota

    jota Member

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    Nice. Can you record something?
     
  3. Bill Brasky

    Bill Brasky Senior Member

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    Either that Seymour Duncan P-Rails video is the worst demo video ever or these pickups suck. That video killed any interest I had in these pickups.
     
  4. Deft Tungsman

    Deft Tungsman Member

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    Yes, that video should feature in an Economics 101 textbook: Highlights in Lousy Marketing.

    An Econ drop-out, I was foolish enough to buy the things anyway.:jo





    Do I regret my foolishness? Not one bit! :dude

    I'll see what I can do to give everyone a recording of these amazing pickups. Anyone know how to post video on youtube?
     
  5. hour9

    hour9 Member

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    Excellent report, thanks for all of the info.
    I wonder how these would sound in a 335?
     
  6. JimH

    JimH Member

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    Thanks for that.
     
  7. 908SSP

    908SSP Supporting Member

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    I wired those into one of my Mojos a few months ago and found pretty much the same thing as you did. The Mojo is all mahogany and exhibits similar tonally options as your Paul. I will say that I am even more pleased with the parallel option so much so that I'd consider rewiring it so that the parallel setting is the setting with both knobs down rather than up.
     
  8. BergerMeister

    BergerMeister Member

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    Could you post a wiring diagram for the 4-sound setup like you did? I'm VERY interested in these pickups.

    The guitar I'll eventually put these in is routed for 3 humbuckers. Any suggestions for a middle pickup? I'd be really tempted to put 3 of these in there... that's a LOT of options!
     
  9. sarge40

    sarge40 Member

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    The schematic for that wiring is on the Seymour Duncan website.
     
  10. pullagnm

    pullagnm Member

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    Where did you get the push push pots?
     
  11. MartinPiana

    MartinPiana Supporting Member

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    Good review! I'm very curious about these too. Which do you think you'll be using least? Rails alone?

    I'd always thought having P90s and humbuckers was a dream....
     
  12. MartinPiana

    MartinPiana Supporting Member

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    Are the P-rails $180 a pair?
     
  13. Deft Tungsman

    Deft Tungsman Member

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    I got the push-push pots from warmoth.com, around $16 apiece, IIRC. I have a PRS CU22/12 with a push-pull pot, and I find it much more difficult to make quick changes with that kind of pot.

    Indeed, I will probably wind up using the rails on their own the least, but that doesn't mean that they sound mediocre. It's just that the P90s and the humbuckers in parallel seem to bring out the best of The Paul.

    One cool thing I've discovered is that while the series humbuckers have the highest output, the P90 sound harder hitting with the volume knob full up. I've been playing through a Tube Screamer with 1/3 drive, 2/3 gain into a Matchless Lightning 112, using only the guitar's volume knob to go from clean to dirty. The P90s have a clearer, more focused sound that seems to cut through with more intensity than the series humbuckers, a great mix of clarity and grit.

    Need I say it again? The P-Rails have transformed my 29-year-old one-trick pony into a veritable treasure trove of cool tones. I am having a blast working through my repertoire and finding all the sounds that work for different parts. With the single volume/single tone set up and the push-push pots, changing from one sound to another is a breeze, and the uncanny thing is that the transitions from one setting to another are smooth on the ear, and yet the tones are all distinctly different. No sudden pops or clicks, no EQ shifts that are so radical that it sounds like someone changed guitars mid-song. (If only that were the case on my '88 PRS Custom 24 with the five-way switch...)
     
  14. Deft Tungsman

    Deft Tungsman Member

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    Aye, aye, Cap'm, $179 for the pair from Musician's Friend.
     
  15. silot

    silot Member

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    Very, very interesting report ..... thanks a lot Deft !!
     
  16. Carl_Tone

    Carl_Tone Member

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    If not 3 90 rails, what about a Stag Mag....even MORE options...
     
  17. CitizenCain

    CitizenCain Member

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    Nicely done! I've been eyeing these pickups myself. Might have to make the jump now!
     
  18. MartinC

    MartinC Member

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    Great report. Thanks!

    Not sure if I have the need for p-rails right now, but if I'm scratching my head one day over how to get more versatility out of a guitar, I'll make a return to this thread.

    Incidentally, I didn't think much of the demo sound clips on the SD site ... I went ahead and bought a pair of Phat Cats anyway and have been nothing short of delighted with the results.
     
  19. Ramblin390

    Ramblin390 Member

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  20. beNsteR

    beNsteR Member

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    [​IMG]

    installed a set of cream P-rails in my maple body/maple neck Hamer (MIK).
    they work better in this axe than in my maple top/korina body singlecut Schroeder.

    my favourite sounds (in order of merit) are

    1. P90 neck for single notes - fat, articulate, sings
    2. P90 bridge for rhythm/solos - punchy with good bite
    3. Rails together - a nice funky strat in between sound

    *parallel does a credible bright vintage PAF emulation

    *i do not like the series sound, too hot, muddy.

    this is the schematic, but i used 1 instead of 2 volumes, and 0.022pf caps

    [​IMG]
     

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