The world of guitar pickups is growing fast and it can be a challenge to know which models to get from which brand. TTS Pickups is a fairly new company based in Oklahoma USA that’s taken up the challenge of making high quality hand wound pickups. They offer a wide range of models and I was especially intrigued by the custom Crazy Diamond set inspired by David’s Black Strat tone. Here’s my review.
It’s easy to forget that pickups play an important role in your tone. We spend fortunes on pedals but neglect what should be the very basis of the tone. Just what good sounding pickups are is highly subjective but it does wonders to your tone if you at least consider what pickups you want. Do you favour a classic transparent 60s or 70s tone or perhaps something hotter with more output? Perhaps you’re happy with how the guitar sounds off the shelf but most guitarist want to experiment with different tones as they develop as a musician and discover their “voice”. It has nothing to do with being a snob but everything to do with tone.
All TTS pickups are made on request in a close relationship with the customer. Single coils feature flatwork (instead of bobbins) that is assembled by hand with un-magnetized Alnico pole pieces. The pickups are wound to desired specs, potted (waxed) and magnetized. The whole operation allows you to get exactly the pickup and tone you want.
The custom Crazy Diamond set tested for this review feature:
– TTS 65 Haze neck (5.9k)
– TTS 65 Haze middle (5.9k RW/RP)
– TTS 200 Proof bridge (6.8k)
All three with Alnico 5 magnets and coated wire.
David’s original Black Strat feature neck and middle pickups from a 1971 Fender set and a Duncan custom wound SSL1-C. My assumption is that this would be very similar to the Fender CS69 + SSL5 setup. The Fender NOS and Replica models however feature a Fender Fat 50s neck, a custom wound middle and a Duncan SSL5. This is a slightly different setup commissioned by David.
The TTS 65 Haze is spot on the Fender CS69s – my favourite of all the vintage style low output single coils. It has the typical mids scooped transparent tone with a bell-like top and punchy lower end that defines the late 60s Hendrix era. This pickup in the neck and not least middle positions is very typical of David’s classic Pompeii and Dark Side tones as well as the more recent sounds. Compared to the Fender CS69s the TTS 65 Haze has a noticeably more open tone. Once you turn up the amp the neck in particular gets incredibly smooth and dynamic and even some of the brighter overtones (that many find too bright on the 69s) are slightly rolled off. I can’t decide which of the middle pickups I like best though. The CS69 has a slightly fatter lower end but the TTS is considerably more dynamic making it ideal for those Echoes tones.
The TTS 200 Proof is kind of a mix between the Fender Texas Specials and Duncan SSL5. It has the familiar mid rangy crisp Texas flavour with a warm punchy lower end as the SSL5. I’ve used the SSL5 for some years now and like it very much but the 200 Proof offers something different and perhaps a more open and transparent tone that the SSL5 – which I know many miss.
All three pickups go very well with the typical Gilmourish pedals. The Tube Driver and Colorsound Powerboost sound a bit more defined and transparent while the Muffs sound slightly more focused in the top frequencies especially.
I’ve tried tons of different pickups brands and models over the years but strangely enough I always drift back to trusty old Fenders. Although everyone seem to offer something different it ultimately comes down to taste and how trained your ears are. What I do know though is that proper hand wound pickups sound a lot more open and dynamic than the average assembly line models (including Fender and Duncan – although one can argue these are hand wound as well). An A/B test makes it very evident and while the difference doesn’t blow your mind it’s enough to make you rediscover the true pleasure and simplicity of a great sounding guitar plugged straight into an amp. Old school winding will always demand a close eye and a firm hand, which again results in a better tone. To my ears TTS Pickups have managed to offer this quality.
Check out the TTS web site with more info on each model and other pickups.