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Thread: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

  1. #1
    Junior Member LostTheTone's Avatar
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    Default Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    I'm in the middle of a guitar rebuilding project, turning a mostly forgotten and very distressed strat copy into something that I might actually want to play. There is a whole woodworking and refinishing thing also going on which I won't get into (long story short; finishing guitars by hand is hard) but of course there is the much more exciting bit with the electronics.

    This guitar is routed for HSS, but I have replaced the pickguard and will be fitting her out as just a single humbucker. The question is which humbucker, and that is what brings me to you.

    This guitar is definitely not going to versatile; it's going to be my Drop C guitar for playing metally metal and nothing else. I almost feel spoilt for choice when it comes to that kind of pickup these days, but also a bit out of my depth. It's hard to make a confident choice when it seems everything would be pretty good. If I'm going to drop £100+ then I want something that fits well, ******.

    I am looking for chuggy rhythm with clear definition at the bottom end. I am not a lead player, but I play some fills and easy/short solos, so the top end needs to be reasonable but isn't my biggest concern. I'm much more of a modern metal kind of guy - Bands like Chimaira and Machine Head, rather than your black metal.

    I don't know what wood the body is by the way; when I got the finish off I found a very pale, very hard wood and a lot of black epoxy/grain filler. Make of that what you will.

    Black Winter or Nazgul both seem appropriate, but I am a bit uncertain because I can't really tell the difference from how they are described and/or reviewed. They both seem to be “good”. And then Bare Knuckle Pickups make about 7 different pickups that they swear are great for downtuning (Aftermath, Ragnarok, Painkiller, etc) but which I again cannot begin to tell apart, and which also cost a premium.

    Many swear by actives – A Blackout Metal would seem an obvious choice, but so would an EMG81. I am not opposed to active at all, and in fact I'm tempted because I like the extra clarity, but choosing one or another is still a problem. Oh and then there are these Fluence things I have heard about, which are apparently good but versatility isn't my goal here.

    I have too many choices – Someone for the love of god help me narrow this down.

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    Mojo's Minions dave74's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    M.T. blackout bridge or Nazgul

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    Tone Member BleedingFingertips's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Although I own two pickups you've mentioned (Black Winter and Nazgul), I wouldn't say that Drop C is something that requires a pickup marketed specifically for "downtuned metal". So, for "metally metal" I would also suggest Parallel Axis Distortion (I own one too and use it occasionally in Drop C). Compared to Black Winter and Nazgul, it has more warmth at the top end and is better suited for your rare solos

    Pete Cotrell made a video on YouTube in which even JB sounded killer in Drop C. And many people dig JB for its lead tone.

    Maybe you should also take a look at Alternative 8. I haven't tried it but from what I've heard it definitely fits your requirements.

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    Super Toneologist elelpe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by BleedingFingertips View Post
    Although I own two pickups you've mentioned (Black Winter and Nazgul), I wouldn't say that Drop C is something that requires a pickup marketed specifically for "downtuned metal".
    +1

    Screamin' Demon is more than enough for Drop C. I like it's versatility (can go from clean to mean) and it has a lot of harmonic and sustain.

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    Tone Member BleedingFingertips's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by elelpe View Post
    +1

    Screamin' Demon is more than enough for Drop C. I like it's versatility (can go from clean to mean) and it has a lot of harmonic and sustain.
    Well, that's marketing. If the manufacturer claims it's for 80's metal, people go for it. Then they pay some YouTuber to make a review that follows the marketing claim.
    I still wait to see a good video review on Black Winter and its versatile applications. No, it's brutal metal frenzy every f****** time...

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    Junior Member LostTheTone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    I do feel you that it doesn't necessarily call for a dedicated pickup - Most of the bands I like never had any pickups built for the purpose.

    At the risk of exposing my ignorance - At what point is a tuning low enough to require a more dedicated pick up? Is the slew of new pickups really just designed for that kinda Drop A and below zone? It feels like a really small niche to have so many relatively new pickups for 6 string guitars playing in 7 or 8 string tunings. *shrug*.

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    Junior Member LostTheTone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by elelpe View Post
    +1

    Screamin' Demon is more than enough for Drop C. I like it's versatility (can go from clean to mean) and it has a lot of harmonic and sustain.
    It's funny you say that because I originally bought an Invader for this project, but had to sit and wait for other parts and installed it into my standard tuned explorer just to see what it was like. I needed to replace the bridge pickup anyway (the old one was apparently not f-spaced and I didn't notice for 10 years) and I liked the Invader enough to just keep it. Thing shreds.

    In the mean time I have read that the Invader doesn't tune down all that well anyway, and that's part of why I got the jitters about what to buy.

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    of the Forum PFDarkside's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    My Drop C Guitar has an EMG 85. It’s Strat scale, maple neck and board, alder body. I really like the tone of the Custom in Drop C. I’d really like to try the Black Winter though...
    Oh no.....


    Oh Yeah!

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    Super Toneologist elelpe's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by BleedingFingertips View Post
    Well, that's marketing. If the manufacturer claims it's for 80's metal, people go for it. Then they pay some YouTuber to make a review that follows the marketing claim.
    I still wait to see a good video review on Black Winter and its versatile applications. No, it's brutal metal frenzy every f****** time...
    I recommend what I use. Your suggestion, Alt8, I used it for a long time for Drop A and drop C before I use Demon.

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    Junior Member LostTheTone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by PFDarkside View Post
    My Drop C Guitar has an EMG 85. It’s Strat scale, maple neck and board, alder body. I really like the tone of the Custom in Drop C. I’d really like to try the Black Winter though...
    Why an 85 over an 81, if you don't mind my asking? The 81 seems the "obvious" choice if I went with an EMG so it would be interesting to know what your thinking was.
    Last edited by LostTheTone; 05-21-2020 at 09:33 AM.

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    of the Forum PFDarkside's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by LostTheTone View Post
    Why an 85 over an 81, if you don't mind my asking? The 81 seems the "obvious" choice if I went with an EMG so it would be interesting to know what your thinking was.
    Two reasons, it came with it and I liked it in this guitar vs. previous experiences with the 81. I used to us an 89/SA/SA set a long time ago too, so the 85 sounds familiar. I think the extra low end works with the maple and longer scale. If it was a Gibson, (mahogany, 24.75”, rosewood) the 81 would probably work better.
    Oh no.....


    Oh Yeah!

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    Tone Member BleedingFingertips's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by LostTheTone View Post
    I do feel you that it doesn't necessarily call for a dedicated pickup - Most of the bands I like never had any pickups built for the purpose.

    At the risk of exposing my ignorance - At what point is a tuning low enough to require a more dedicated pick up? Is the slew of new pickups really just designed for that kinda Drop A and below zone? It feels like a really small niche to have so many relatively new pickups for 6 string guitars playing in 7 or 8 string tunings. *shrug*.
    Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you shouldn't use a dedicated pickup for downtuning. According to SD, those are SH-5 (Custom), SH-6 (Distortion), SH-8 (Invader), SH-10 (Full Shred), SH-15 (Alternative 8), Pegasus, Nazgul and Black Winter. Most of these pickups weren't "designed" for downtuned metal. They just happen to stay tight when you tune low.

    So, I just write down my recommendations without further ado:

    1. Parallel Axis Distortion - PRO: huge, fat and ballsy. Can fatten up a thin sounding guitar. Tight enough for Drop C. Good lead tones. Good sustain due to its unique design (less string pull). I have it in my 1H Jackson (Randy Rhoads type), tuned to D standard and occasionally dropped to Drop C. CONTRA: Not really versatile, but you don't need versatility anyways.

    2. Black Winter - PRO: Sounds huge. Although it's kinda "bright" you can get really fat, chunky tones with it. If you roll back the volume knob, you get some nice hard rock tones if you want. I use it in Drop C btw. Finally, it is said to split well for cleans (I don't have a push pull function though, so I can't tell for sure). CONTRA: Might not be great for solos

    3. Alternative 8 - PRO: Fat and loud, people call it a better (and more modern sounding) JB, nice lead tones - so might be a good idea for the 1H guitar. CONTRA: It's a unique humbucker and requires some tweaking with the pickup height to get your desired tone. As I said, I haven't used it yet but it should fit your bill.
    Last edited by BleedingFingertips; 05-21-2020 at 11:49 AM.

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    Administrator Mincer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Nazgul is more upper mids, BW has more true mids. BW does more things well, while the Nazgul does essentially 1 thing, and does it better than pretty much anything. It really comes down to what frequencies you want to enhance or emphasize.
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    Junior Member LostTheTone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by BleedingFingers
    Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you shouldn't use a dedicated pickup for downtuning...Most of these pickups weren't "designed" for downtuned metal. They just happen to stay tight when you tune low.
    You're right of course, and in truth all I really want is a high output pickup that stays tight in that lower tuning.

    The problem is there are the old ones which do so accidentally, and the newer ones which do so on purpose and pretty much all of them are branded as "metal AF".

    If there was one such pickup on the market, no problem. If there was two or three at least it's be fine. When there's loads and all of them are better than what I have now... Paralysis by analysis ensues.

    Even worse, just about everything is in the same kind of price range - Just expensive enough that I want to get my money's worth. If there was any pickup for a few bucks less and also pretty good then I'd have a decision.

    I am leaning towards a Black Winter. No-one is saying it's a bad choice, which is a good start. Of course I can't find anyone with a trembucker in stock so this may stay academic for a little longer...

    I will look at a parallel axis though - That one hadn't come up before so I will have a poke around.

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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    I just put in an Omega bridge for C# tuning and I really like it. It doesn't bite an much as a Nazgul, but it's clear and articulate. Worlds better than what the guitar came with stock which I found to be muddy and dead sounding.

    I found this video to be really helpful when comparing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbRlcdNHYDM

    Timestamps are in the description so you can click right to any pickup you want and A/B fairly well by clicking back and forth between the timestamps.

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    Tone Member BleedingFingertips's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by LostTheTone View Post
    You're right of course, and in truth all I really want is a high output pickup that stays tight in that lower tuning.

    Even worse, just about everything is in the same kind of price range - Just expensive enough that I want to get my money's worth. If there was any pickup for a few bucks less and also pretty good then I'd have a decision.
    You can of course grab a Duncan Distortion or Duncan Custom, they're cheaper and many dudes swear by them. You may like them or not but then you can narrow down your choice better. Also, don't hesitate to look for deals on Reverb or Ebay. I bought my Parallel Axis on ebay and never looked back

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    Tone Member bigcupholder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Have you listened to the Keith Merrow demo of all the Seymour Duncan high output pickups on YouTube? If not, that should be your first step. It's the best pickup comparison out there IMO.

    The differences between some of the pickups you're considering are pretty stark there, notably the Nazgul, which takes the upper-mid/treble sizzle of the Distortion but shifts it down to the mids, then cuts off the rest of the eq response so it sounds really focused. The word chainsaw is used a lot to describe it.

    I have a Distortion in my D standard / Drop C guitar and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. The mids have a nice aggressive barking quality to them that you definitely don't get with EMGs (I tried both the 81 and 57 in this same guitar). It's just compressed enough to help your picking sound consistent on chugging riffs (which was a problem I had with the dimarzio evolution, which highlights every nuance), but not compressed to the point of being boring like the 81. The upper mid sizzle is both a good thing and a bad thing though, since it's tough to dial out and it sacrifices some clarity on faster runs or chords.

    For chugging metal rhythm that's not too technical, a Distortion would be my recommendation. It's great for what it does. It's a classic for a reason.

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    Junior Member LostTheTone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by bigcupholder View Post
    The differences between some of the pickups you're considering are pretty stark there
    It occurs to me that I am framing the question the wrong way. So, yes all these various things sound different (mostly in ways I can't quite describe, but can hear if I try) but are any of them bad? Is someone with a somewhat uneducated tone palette like myself going to be disappointed with any of these?

    If I'm not going to be disappointed by the cheaper options then I can slim it down to a Distortion, a JB or maybe an EMG-81. Any of those are more plausible choices to put into my underutilized Les Paul if I eventually go to something more overtly metal, so at least I'll always have a use for them.

    If I AM going to be disappointed by more mainstream choices, then that pushes me up to something more expensive, but then I want to be really quite sure that it is what I want.

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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    I'm sure you can find something you will like in the "mainstream" choices. Watch the video I posted (and that bigcupholder also pointed out) - it's incredibly useful to get a side-by-side comparison of tone. Even if the pickups won't sound exactly the same in your guitar and through your amp you will get an idea of the characteristics of each of them - which push mids,which push highs, etc.

    Listen to the JB and the Distortion in the video and make your call. Even with a limited tone palette, "tone" is still a very personal thing. So listen between your short list and go with whichever seems to be your personal fave. There's not a wrong choice - but there are certainly choices that will make YOU happier that someone else might not enjoy. I wish you luck!

  20. #20
    Junior Member LostTheTone's Avatar
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    Default Re: Narrowing Down Pickups - Drop C Project Guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by RexRemus View Post
    Listen to the JB and the Distortion in the video and make your call.
    I have done so now and, well, they sound good. They all sound good to me though, which I suppose underlines that I don't really need to overthink this.

    As a final question - No love at all for Invaders or Dimebuckers in this setting? I mean, they sound alright to me on the demo (admittedly not with good headphones) but no-one has mentioned either of them at all.

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