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"Remembering EVH" & Creation of the Axis Pickups

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  • "Remembering EVH" & Creation of the Axis Pickups

    Just saw this on the DiMarzio site: LINK

    Thought the section on the development of Eddie's signature MusicMan pickups was interesting:

    Steve Blucher:

    The first thing I heard at the studio was a track
    using the neck position in one of the Music Man
    prototypes. Ed said he really liked the sound.
    The sound was very processed (chorus and delay)
    and the actual sound quality of the pickup
    was hard to discern. The pickup was a Duncan
    Custom Custom (medium output, very warm
    sound, Alnico 2 magnet). My initial idea of the
    neck pickup sound Ed wanted immediately
    went out the window.

    I still thought it might be useful to install a prototype
    f what eventually became The Humbucker From Hell
    in one of the Music Mans. It was a lot brighter
    and cleaner than the Duncan, and a lot different
    from anything I’d previously heard of Ed’s playing. It
    also cut through the effects better. Ed shook his
    head and said, “Nah.” I also brought a bunch
    of capacitors, to use as high-pass filters on the
    neck pickup to cut down on mud, and a PAF
    Pro for reference and a Double Whammy for
    the bridge.

    Ed had commented in several interviews that
    he had avoided using a neck pickup because
    EQing an amp for the bridge pickup always
    made the neck pickup sound like mud. That
    caused me to assume (incorrectly, it turned
    out) that the neck pickup needed to be very

    Ed liked the sound of the Custom Custom in the
    neck position of the Music Man prototype and
    was reluctant to change it. He suggested that
    the production guitar could have a Duncan in
    the neck and a DiMarzio in the bridge. Sterling
    said that DiMarzio should be given the opportunity
    to supply both. I think he liked the fact that
    we wanted to go the extra mile to make Ed
    happy and not just pull something off the shelf.

    Ed plugged in his main touring guitar, the
    striped 5150, so we could hear the bridge pickup
    as a reference. The guitar had a damaged
    Duncan JB in the bridge and a Kramer neck.
    This became the starting point for the bridge
    pickup sound he wanted.

    Ed told me the pickup changed after the high
    “E” string had caught under the lip of one of
    the coils during a show. The sound changed in
    a way he liked, and this became his favorite
    pickup. When we compared it with a stock JB in one
    of the Music Man prototypes, Ed didn’t like it
    as much. The damaged JB sounded more solid
    and focused, especially in the mids, and the
    highs were fatter. Ed wanted me to make the new
    DiMarzio bridge pickup to be as good or better than
    the damaged JB.

    After assuring him I wouldn’t change or damage it,
    I asked Ed if he would let me remove the
    pickup to measure it. The DC resistance of a
    JB reads about 16.4K Ohms. Ed’s pickup measured
    180K Ohms! Measuring the coils individually produced
    a normal reading on one coil (8K Ohms) and about
    160K Ohms on the other. (Something peculiar happened
    when they were connected.) I think the 160K coil, being
    neither open nor shorted out, was functioning
    as an inductor as well as a standard coil. The
    damaged coil was clearly functioning, as the
    pickup still cancelled 60-cycle hum as well.

    Larry DiMarzio:

    When Steve told me that the pickup still worked but was
    reading 180K, I said, “Great, we’re going to build Eddie
    Van Halen a broken pickup?”

    Steve Blucher:

    At some point in the afternoon, everyone in
    the studio took a break and went outside. (I remember
    some talk about doing wheelies in the parking lot.)
    I stayed in the studio and took the opportunity to
    check out the red striped guitar. What struck me
    immediately was how easily it played and how good it
    sounded acoustically; and the guitar had great sustain
    up and down the neck.

    The neck was very straight, and the action was
    low. The frets were pretty worn, but there was
    no pitting and no string buzz. Acoustically, the
    guitar had a very even balance both across
    the strings and all the way up the neck.
    This kind of response generally only happens
    when a guitar has been played for a long time.
    The studio day ended when Valerie came over
    from the house, telling Ed that dinner would be
    ready soon.

    Larry DiMarzio:

    When Steve got back to New York, all new
    prototyping got underway. We ended up with
    5 bridge prototypes and 6 neck prototype
    pickups, and everything was rushed to Music
    Man as soon as they were finished. Within a
    few days, one of the new neck prototypes hit
    the mark displacing the Custom Custom. I felt
    Duncan was using AL2 to mimic old demagnetized
    Gibson pickups, but every time Eddie got
    a drill near it, the pickup died. The new DiMarzio
    neck pickup incorporated an invention that
    Steve devised to reduce string-pull and soften
    the magnetic field.

    Steve Blucher:

    Ed was happy with the softer and quieter
    sound of the Alnico 2 in the neck position. My
    thinking was AL2 was unstable, and when Ed ran
    a power drill or Ebow over the guitar, the pickup
    would begin to demagnetize.The solution was
    to use a fully charged AL5 magnet but create
    air gaps to separate the magnet away from the
    pole pieces. This new design yielded the same
    gauss at the pole piece as AL2 while producing
    a stable magnetic field at the same time.
    The air gap pickup had another benefit, it was
    clearer and more open than an AL2 pickup.
    I felt that would be a better choice for Ed’s
    neck position and DiMarzio got a patent for
    the new invention. (US5399802A.)

    Side note: We’ve continued to use the same
    or additional patent technology on lots of
    other DiMarzio designs over the years:
    • Air Norton
    • Air Zone
    • Air Classic
    • PAF 36th Anniversary
    • PAF Bridge model (DP103 & DP223)
    • Fortitude Bridge
    • LiquiFire
    • Pandemonium Neck
    • AT-1
    • Ibanez Kiko Loureiro signature guitar pickups

    Although the new bridge samples were
    better, Ed still preferred the damaged pickup.

    Larry DiMarzio:

    Steve got to work on two new bridge designs. One
    included an idea he had for unbalancing the coils
    (pickup A) and the other was a more traditional
    winding style (pickup B). Both had more of the mids
    and warm highs that Ed wanted, and magnetically
    both used fully charged AL5 without an air gap.

    DiMarzio had a test guitar that let you pull
    pickups in and out quickly and we compared
    them before sending them to Eddie. I thought
    Steve’s new designs were the best that I heard
    and much better than the JB that was also being
    considered. I liked the “E”, “B”, and “G” strings on
    the JB but the wound strings got too muddy for my taste.
    Both of Steve’s new designs kept the wound strings
    pristine by comparison. I preferred the mixed coil version
    (pickup A) and bet Steve that would be Ed’s choice.

    Sterling told me that both of the new bridge
    pickups were loaded into Music Man guitars and
    Ed really liked both of the new pickups. Dudley,
    Sterling, Eddie and Steve Lukather were all playing
    the guitars. They were stuck and Ed couldn’t
    make up his mind which he liked better. He was
    switching back and forth and Luke said “One,
    that one” pointing at the the guitar with Pickup B.

    So pickup A was rejected by a hair and it was
    Steve Lukather who made the final call. (Luke
    still has the number 3 Music Man Van Halen.)
    I loved pickup A, the one that wasn’t chosen,
    and released it as part of the DiMarzio line later
    that year naming it The Tone Zone.

    Steve Blucher:

    The Tone Zone is louder, but the pickup
    in the Music Man has warmer, more focused
    mids, pretty similar to the damaged pickup I
    heard at the studio.


    The Tone Zone
    Bass: 8.5 Mid: 8.5 Treble: 5
    Output: 375 DC Resistance: ~17.3K Ohms
    US Pat. 4,501,185 (<--dual resonance, aka: mis-matched coils)

    MM/EVH Bridge
    Bass: 8.5 Mid: 8 Treble: 5.5
    Output: 345 DC Resistance: ~17K Ohms
    US Pat. 5,39,9802 (<-- "air" technology, aka: gaps between the magnet and pole pieces)

  • #2
    cool read and interesting ed liked a cc in the neck


    • #3
      I keep thinking about the crazy high resistance (180K) noted on one coil of the JB pickup that the Axis was ultimately modeled after.

      It seems like the string getting under the coil may have somehow scratched or scraped the magnet wire, removing material and causing a resistance bottleneck in the coil winding without rendering it totally useless.

      Sort of a "happy accident", so to speak. Like a one-in-a-million shot to damage the coil without truly breaking it. Very interesting!


      • #4
        really fascinating article. it clears up so many rumors, confirms others, and creates even more! seems to confirm the rumor on the dimarzio board that the EVH/MM bridge bucker is 2 matched coils from the tone zone (i forget if it's screw or slug). thanks for sharing it!
        Quality riffs in about a minute...


        • #5
          There is some talk on the dimarzio forum that the axis set is just two 8.5 coils from a tone zone, and the neck is just two 7k coils from an air Norton. Supposedly this comes from someone at Ernie Ball? The choice between these and the tz/an set was a coin toss.

          Anyone ever tried it or had an axis set apart to see? I am interested in doing this but I don’t own any axis pickups to compare it to.


          • #6
            i have an axis and an ibanez rg with a tone zone in it. the guitars are so different it isnt a fair comparison, but i will say i found the tone zone decent, but the musicman is the best sounding guitar i own. I LOVE the bridge humbucker tones.
            Quality riffs in about a minute...


            • #7
              Although the article shows a Pat. NO. for the "MM/EVH" bridge, the article indicates twice that only the neck model actually had the "air" technology.

              Also, the "air" technology patent expired about 5 years ago from what I can tell! Other companies should be able to produce pickups with similar technology these days, if they wanted.


              • #8
                I found this part the most intriguing:

                Ed plugged in his main touring guitar, the
                striped 5150, so we could hear the bridge pickup
                as a reference. The guitar had a damaged
                Duncan JB in the bridge and a Kramer neck.
                This became the starting point for the bridge
                pickup sound he wanted.
                Lefty Lounge Lizard's Guitars & Amps Extravaganza

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                • #9
                  Why do I suddenly have the urge to ask MJ to make me a broken JB?
                  “The hell with the rules. If it sounds right, then it is.” - Edward Van Halen


                  • #10
                    The high-resistance ("broken") JB thing is definitely interesting.

                    It seems like a resistor between the coils *might* behave similarly to what Eddie experienced, assuming the source of resistance in Eddie's JB was occurring near the beginning of the second coil? But how much different that result is compared to simply going from 500K pots to 250K, for example, is something I would have to think through a bit more.

                    Also, if the increased resistance was caused by the first coil being damaged, then perhaps we'd see a slightly different effect than if it were the second coil...or maybe not. Inductance would obviously remain the same, since the amount of wire on the coil isn't changing, but I'm guessing the amplitude of the resonant peak would drop.

                    I guess the question becomes...could it audibly impact the response and/or resonant peak of just that one coil and not both? In a sense, it could be like going to a smaller wire gauge on that one coil, but not sure if the effect would be as significant.

                    Interesting that the development of the Axis set led to well-known patents that fueled much of the DiMarzio lineup for the next 30 years!
                    Last edited by Masta' C; 02-11-2021, 08:13 PM.


                    • #11
                      Surprised to hear of a CC in the neck in one and 230k JB in the bridge in the other. He's "the man" and we're all tone chasers swapping magnets.

                      I've always thought of EVH sound as being much brighter than everyone else in the business. Can't help but wonder what the 'even' 5150 imparts to the sound.

                      I have a neck pickup in a Rick with a ~230k resistance but it still works. It's very dark sounding, however. It's not possible to damage the coils as they are wrapped in chrome. I think weather/rust/corrosion affected the coils somehow. I wonder if the 180k broken JB just ends up sounding darker, something like a JB/A2, which IME matches the description "solid and focused, especially in the mids, and the highs were fatter."

                      Makes me want to try a JB/A2 + CC, and a ToneZone + AirZone (or whatever is closest to the final neck - they didn't really say what production would match; I'm not that familiar with DMZ line to recognize by specs)


                      • #12
                        EVH always struck me as someone who wasn't particular about things as he got older. I think he could make anything work for him, and what he got attached to later in life had little to do with what he started out liking (and he didn't care about that inconsistency).
                        Dave, Ambassador/Writer/Artist for Seymour Duncan


                        • #13
                          He must have been running a really bright amp.

                          Sent from my SM-A115A using Tapatalk


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by beaubrummels View Post
                            Makes me want to try a JB/A2 + CC, and a ToneZone + AirZone (or whatever is closest to the final neck - they didn't really say what production would match; I'm not that familiar with DMZ line to recognize by specs)
                            The closest to the EBMM pickups in the DMZ line, according to DMZ, are the Tone Zone and Air Norton.

                            The B1/N1 pickups in the EBMM are something special. If I was to get a pair of DMZ pickups for that era tone, I'd go for the Air Zone and Air Norton. The Air Zone is still plenty hot but a little more open sounding.


                            • #15
                              It's well established that the Tone Zone/Air Zone are close cousins, but the Axis pickups are simply more versatile. I've enjoyed my de-aired AT-1, which DiMarzio stated was closest to the Axis bridge for a time, but it still isn't the same.