The pickups in your guitar are as important as any stompbox and a good set of quality pickups can do wonders for your tone. California based D. Allen pickups has gained a lot of praise lately for their hand wound custom pickups and I recently got a couple of sets that promised classic Gilmour tones. Here’s my review of the Tru Vintage 54, 69 Voodoo and Voodoo Blues.
Choosing the right pickups for your setup can be a challenge. You might realize that the pickups you finally decided on doesn’t sound anything near what you’d expected. All of my Strats has featured Fender CS69s at one point and all of them sounded different. The reason is that there’s no such thing as two identical guitars. Even though they have the same wood, contour, lacquer etc, there are all these little nuances that creates a unique tone. So what pickups should you choose? Well, that really needs to be your decision, based on the gear you have but one thing is for sure – hand wound quality pickups will always be a welcomed upgrade.
All D. Allen single coils are made by hand, making each bobbin with laser cut fiber flatwork, hand beveled alnico magnets, scatter wind, wax pot, use USA cloth push back hookup wires, finish off with a fabric tape. The tone character is designed in close relationship with guitarists and by meticulously studying vintage models.
Tru Vintage 54
The Tru Vintage 54s (alnico 3) are based on the pickups featured in the very first line of Fender Stratocasters. These are known for their glassy transparent tone with a rounded lower end and a hint of mid range. This is instant surf and Shadows but also a perfect match for David’s legendary #0001 Stratocaster.
I’ve always been a fan of the 54s and in my opinion they’re ideal for big pedal boards when you want a transparent tone as possible. They can sound a bit thin and bright though. Especially if they’re combined with maple necks or if you’re used to hot overwound pickups or humbuckers. However, the Tru Vintage 54 has an incredibly smooth top that stays creamy even when you crank the amp really good. The fat lower end and slight mid range makes them very dynamic and versatile – almost to the point that you forget that these are indeed low output vintage style models. Highly recommended if you’re desperately seeking that Stratpack 2004 tone or simply a set that’ll cover most of David’s 70s tones.
VP 69 Voodoo
The 69 Voodoo’s (alnico 5) are based on the late 60s Fender pickups employed by Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, SRV etc. Recognized by their transparent tone, thunderous lower end and crisp top, this is as close as you’ll get to Machine Gun and Echoes!
Over the years I’ve become more and more fan of the 69s. Although similar to the 54s, they respond even better to tube amps and high gain pedals and the boosted lower end makes them slightly warmer. Having used numerous different Fender 69 clones over the years I must admit that the Voodoo’s gave me a huge grin when I plugged in my trusted Strat. These are so scooped (middle frequency rolled off) that they can easily be mistaken for John Mayer’s Big Dippers. I also think Allen has better achieved the balance between the punchy lower end and the fairly bright top, which sometimes can be hard to combine with certain pedals.
Recognizing that many players feels that the stock bridge can be just a tad too bright, D Allen has beefed it up from the usual 5.8k to 6.2k. Not a huge difference but enough for the pickup to sound considerably warmer with just a hint of mid boost.
Voodoo Blues SSS
The Voodoo Blues set feature a neck and mid 69 Voodoo (both 5.8k) and a slightly overwound bridge pickup (7.58k) wound with extra thin thread to bring out the dynamics. A common complaint about the late 60s pickups, is that while the neck and middle sound fat and well balanced, the bridge often sound thin and spiky. The Voodoo Blues bridge is designed for a higher output and smooth, creamy mids while still maintaining that classic late 60s tone with a distinct, bright top.
The Voodoo Blues is very close to what you’d get from combining Fender CS69 with a Duncan SSL5. However, the Voodoo Blues bridge sound much more open than the SSL5, which on some guitars can sound just a bit too dark. I must say that I prefer that dark tone but the Voodoo Blues bridge is probably a better choice if you’re running lots of pedals and cables that kills some of those top frequencies.
I always try to stress the importance of a good sounding guitar and amp. This is a much better and longer lasting investment than any pedal. After all, playing an instrument is about inspiration and no pedal will sound inspiring without a good basis. This, however, doesn’t mean that you need to blow all your savings but a guitar that you’re comfortable with will sound even better with proper pickups. A good rule when you buy a new guitar is to focus on the comfort, playability and how it sound acoustically. If the pickups do sound good, then you got yourself a bonus. If they don’t then I strongly suggest a new set of good quality hand wounds. For me, good quality pickups can be measured by how well they respond to your picking technique and whether they maintain their character when you adjust the guitar volume. Dave Allen has got me convinced with his great sounding pickups. Highly recommended!
Check out the D. Allen Pickups website for more details and ordering info.
I haven’t recorded any clips for this review. Soundclips will never do pickups justice because you can manipulate the sound with different recording techniques (choice of mic, mic placements, recording and mastering software etc). Check out these songs for a close reference:
TruVintage 54s: David Gilmour performing Marooned at the Stratpack show, Wembley Arena 2004. #0001 1954 Stratocaster with Demeter Compulator, Chandler Tube Driver and MXR digital delay into a Hiwatt+WEM setup.
VP 69 Voodoo’s: Pink Floyd performing Echoes from the Live at Pompeii film, 1971.. The Black Strat clean for all the rhythms and a (silicon) Fuzz Face with Binson echo for the leads into a Hiwatt+WEM setup.
Voodoo Blues: David Gilmour performing Then I Close My Eyes at Royal Albert Hall, 2006. The Black Strat with Demeter Compulator, BK Butler Tube Driver and delay into a Hiwatt+WEM setup.