Misha Mansoor Talks "Ragnarok"
13th October 2017
Misha Mansoor is best known as the guitarist in progressive band, Periphery. He's also known as "Bulb", a name that inspired the etching on his first signature pickup with Bare Knuckle Pickups, the Juggernaut. He's now back, with his brand new signature pickup, the Ragnarok. The Ragnarok, created by Tim Mills, Misha and Adam "Nolly" Getgood, is a chunky, fat sounding pickup that’s also devastatingly tight and aggressive; a hot ceramic pickup with a smooth top end and incredible clarity. We grabbed a few minutes of Misha's time to ask him about the creation of the Ragnarok, why he loves working with Bare Knuckle and how Nolly's ears got involved.
So, let's start at the very beginning. What was it that started your relationship with Tim and Bare Knuckle?
I first became aware of Bare Knuckle on forums. Then when I saw Pin from Sikth was using them in his Blackmachines and I saw what the covers were. Honestly, that was something that was really eye-catching. So I did research on the company and it seemed like they were viewed as a premium pickup. At that time I hadn’t really experienced anything like that, but after all the praise I thought, maybe I’ll jump on one. I remember taking a leap of faith on a set, and when I put them in the guitar I was absolutely blown away. I felt like this was the next level of pickup. It was something I hadn’t really been exposed to at that time, but once I was I then found it very difficult to go back to the other pickup sets. Funnily enough, that was at a point in time when we [Periphery] had begun to be offered free sets of pickups from some of the other companies, which were very good pickup sets, but I found myself going out and buying Bare Knuckles instead because that’s how much I liked the sound. I had no problem paying for Bare Knuckle sets so that I could have those instead of the free pickups that I was being offered. That started the love affair. When I like something I like something, and the price is the price, that’s just the way it works. That’s kind of been like my career in a nutshell!
"I found myself going out and buying Bare Knuckles instead because that’s how much I liked the sound".
Eventually Tim and I met, and we started talking, and I was really blown away by how passionate he was, and how knowledgable he was. Despite the fact he was so knowledgeable, he also seemed to be very aware of the fact that making pickups is equally an art as much as it’s a science and he had a penchant for experimentation. I had been using Bare Knuckle Pickups for some time by this point, and knew the range, so I knew what was available. So, when I thought that it was an appropriate time I came to Tim with the idea for a pickup, and said I’d like it to be a signature pickup. I said to Tim that I had a tough problem to solve, and I thought he would know how to tackle it. Tim was very open and very excited about that idea, which I think was because for him it was a chance to experiment and try stuff out! That was for a sort of Jack-of-all-trades precision tool, which eventually became the Juggernaut. That did very, very well for both of us, and it has been my favourite pickup. I found it very difficult to use anything else. It took a while to develop that pickup, but that design was made to be my favourite pickup, so I had a hard time imagining anything else that was available that I would want.
How did the Ragnarok come about from that relationship?
As time passed, I began to wonder if there was another angle we could approach the same problem, because there is more than just one sound that I’m after. Whereas the Juggernaut is a very balanced, surgical tool, I was wondering if there was something we could make that was a very aggressive, in-your-face pickup that still retained the Bare Knuckle aesthetic of being open, hi-fi and high quality, and rich, because usually those things are mutually exclusive. I think that approaching Tim with that, again, gave him a tough problem and the opportunity to experiment with many different ideas that he had in his back pocket.
"I think we’ve created something that I think we all wish that we had but that nobody had quite nailed yet".
With both of these pickup designs, Nolly (Adam Getgood, Periphery) was heavily involved because I trust Nolly’s ear so much. Him and I have worked so much with guitar tones and he has such a fine-tuned ear. I always think that if it passes his test, then it’s probably a good thing. It happened that way with the Juggernaut, that he was entirely on the same page; he wanted this sort of hybrid, middle ground between an alnico and a ceramic because we liked exactly the same things about both, and we both wanted to know if there was a way we could create that. It turned out there was. We have both been really fascinated with the way bands like Killswitch Engage would use active pickups like EMGs to get this very compressed mid-range with their guitar tones, but neither of us are fans of active pickups. There’s an effect you get from actives that we were after, but wanted to get in a passive pickup. When it came to designing the Ragnarok, we didn’t want that dull or undynamic characteristic that actives can have, and that was a tough one to crack. Nolly was the one that was making sure everything was up to par. I knew that if between me, Tim and Nolly we all agreed we had something good, just like with the Juggernaut, then we'd have created something really special. In the end, that’s how the Ragnarok came to life. The pickup is something very special, and it’s very different from the Juggernaut, it occupies a very different “space” in the Bare Knuckle line-up. I don’t think there’s anything in the BKP range, or in the pickup world in general, that’s really like it, and that’s one of the reasons why I love it so much. I think we’ve created something that I think we all wish that we had but that nobody had quite nailed yet.
The Difference Between the Juggernaut and the Ragnarok
What were you looking for with the Ragnarok that the Juggernaut didn’t do for you? What’s the difference between the two?
The main goal of the Juggernaut is to be everything all at once. So it needs to be aggressive, but it needs to shine on cleans; it needs to be tight but it needs to be sweet. It was all about balance. It was all about finding the most balanced, even-handed pickup. If you think about it, Periphery may be a metal band but we need our clean tones to be as beautiful as our heavy tones are heavy, and we use mid-gain tones that need to be genuine mid-gain. We don’t want anything to be skimped in that regard.
"The design role was very clearly first and foremost that we wanted to create the most aggressive pickup in the BKP range".
The Ragnarok was something that we just wanted to be aggressive, in-your-face. We didn’t really design it with clean tones or mid-gain in mind, that was sort of a happy accident, and I’ll take it! The design role was very clearly first and foremost that we wanted to create the most aggressive pickup in the BKP range. So, philosophically it was approached from a very different angle, and in practice it is a lot more aggressive. It’s aimed more at getting the most out of your distorted tones or gain tones without having to put too much in. I pick very, very hard when I play, and I love it, especially when I’m playing live, or when I’m tracking, that’s when I pick really hard, and with the Juggernaut it doesn’t bottom out. The more I pick, the more tone I extract out of it. The Ragnarok. by comparison, is a lot more compressed. It’s still a very dynamic pickup, so I’d say you don’t need to pick supremely hard to get the sweet spot. There a lot of people who don’t pick very hard and for those kinds of people, they’ll find the Ragnarok a lot more friendly and forgiving. The Juggernaut can be quite an unforgiving pickup because it’s more of a surgical tool, but the Ragnarok I’d say is a lot more accessible because it’s more of a sledgehammer.
For the Juggernaut and Ragnarok, Tim gave Nolly and Misha a set of numbered prototype pickups that they had to demo, and nobody other than Tim knew what they were. They played each one, recorded it, and then listened back to them. Each time, they had to make notes and come up with their favourite. Each time, Tim had already got an idea of the one the other two would like, and it's turned out that both times that these were the pickups that Misha and Nolly chose.
The process of how you came up with the Ragnarok with Tim and Nolly is explained in our videos, but I’d like to know how you three, Nolly, Tim and yourself, chose the sound you wanted and created for the Ragnarok. What did you think Tim had come up with when it came to playing the prototype pickups?
Honestly, I had no idea. The reason is that for the Juggernaut he did such wildly different things. Just to be clear, on the process it always starts with a conversation between me and Tim. It starts with me saying this is what I’m after, do you think this is possible? Then Tim will think about it, and then he’ll come back with a few different ways to tackle this problem. He will purposely make a few different pickups that try to solve the same problem in completely different ways. It’s really interesting, because he obviously knows what’s what, but he wants to blind-test us. He wants the feel and the sound and the response to dictate what we like. We have a computer we’re recording each pickup onto so we can reference it, but a lot of it is just down to your gut-reaction. I remember with the Juggernaut there was just one set that Nolly and I said was the “the one”, but if memory serves, it also happened to be Tim’s favourite set. That’s really cool, because I used a bunch of abstract words to describe this thing, and he’d nailed it. We all agreed that, and it just shows that we’re all on the same page.
Tim did the exact same thing this time, but with the Juggernaut he put that one in the middle, which one would expect. This time, what he didn’t tell us was that he put the Ragnarok first. I remember even making a comment, saying “Oh I’m ready to go with this one!” Nollly thgouth the same way, and Tim’s favourite one was the first, again which was our favourite one. I felt for a second that I had to question myself, that this wasn’t my favroutie because it was the first I had heard. But then we looked at it objectively and compared each one, and the first one was still our favourite. As it turned out, Tim had purposely put his favorutei at the beginning just to throw us off and test to see if this would change our decisions. Despite the fact it did kind of throw us off, we landed right back at the first one. Once again confirming that, not only are we all on the same page, but that Tim has this magical ability to know what it is we’re after with just these abstract words. This is one of the reasons why I love working with Tim, because we have this great chemistry when it comes to this stuff, and is one of the reasons why I absolutely love or almost need Nolly with me for this process. Nolly has such a fantastic ear, and I really trust him, so if the three of us are on the same page about pickups then we’ve got something genuinely special.
Which brings us to Adam "Nolly" Getgood, who has been integral with the Juggernaut and Raganrok designs. He came down with you so that his wife could film the process, and to lend you his ears. What is it about having him with you that you like; is it just those ears and his honesty?
Nolly is one of my best friends in the whole world, and he’s one of the most fantastic guitarists I know; his tone is incredible. I’ve known him for so long that we know what it is we’re both after. When we first met, the things we were looking for tonally were a lot more different than they are today. As time has gone by we have both moved towards very similar tones.
"[Nolly has] been such an integral part of the design process of both of these pickups".
The bottom line is I just trust him, I really, really trust his ear. I work with him on enough things where I see his ear at work, and I know it’s very special. It’s a very, very special gift that he has so I’l always ask him if he’s available and if I can have his input. It can be nerve wracking if you have to make the decisions all by yourself, and with Tim not providing any clues at the beginning, as he is trying to keep the test blind, it can be great to have another person there who can say yes or no, and his input is so valuable. He’s been such an integral part of the design process of both of these pickups. I definitely don’t want that to fall by the wayside. If I have any regrets with the Juggernaut it’s that people don’t know how involved Nolly was with that. That wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular, we just didn’t have a whole lot of footage, or any footage! We just put this pickup out and because it bears my name, or my name is attached to it, it may seem like Nolly wasn’t involved, so I've been trying to rectify that retroactively; this is how we did it this time, this is also exactly how we did it last time too.
What to Expect From Ragnarok
What do you think people can expect from the Ragnarok? When it’s released and they start playing it, what are they going to hear?
I think people are going to hear something that has a bit more of a sweet mid-range to it, which works really well for aggressive tones and balance. Relative to the Juggernaut, it’s got less top-end, so if anyone thinks that the Juggernaut was a little too bright or a little too hi-fi, I think they may be fans of the Ragnarok. I think they’ll be shocked by how good the Ragnarok is on the cleans, split tones and mid-gain tones, and that’s something that I made sure to demo as well. Tim, Nolly and myself were all very surprised by how capable it was in those contexts. But I think people may also be surprised by how different a pickup this is, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people out there who didn’t gel as much with the Juggernaut who would absolutely fall in love with the Ragnarok as a result of them being very different pickups, approached from very different angles.
Playing the Ragnaroks
Have you had a chance to play the Ragnarok on any recordings or live yet?
Yeah, we designed the pickup in December 2016 and I’ve had two guitars fitted with them in that time. On all the tours I’ve done this year there’s been at least one Ragnarok guitar with me. That grey pro-series Jackson 6-string I have with the carbon fibre covers that probably looks black to most people from afar, that’s got a Ragnarok set in, and the silver burst 7-string with the orange pickups, that’s been the Ragnarok too. If anyone has seen me playing either one of those guitars, they’ve heard the Ragnarok in person. I have used them for tonnes of things without telling anyone what they are, and I’m always recording and writing stuff for projects I have coming out, so yeah it’s been a lot more things than people realise, and once the pickups are out I can reveal where they’ve been used. It’s one of the things I’ve had to keep hush hush, but I spent a lot of time studio-testing and live testing the Juggernauts before we put them out, because Tim and I both understand the importance of road-testing pickups before they go out, and it’s very revealing. The live sound and set-up is very different, there’s a lot of things that you don't realise will be an issue that appear when you test live. There are also some things that can be a positive in a live setting, things you don’t hear until you’re there on a tour and you have a whole bunch of data that you can collect. But the Ragnaroks performed beautifully, absolutely beautifully, on the road, and I have been reaching for them in the studio a lot. It’s just great to have both at my disposal, both the Juggernaut and the Ragnarok, for two completely different things.
Carbon Fibre Tattoo
The Bulb etch has already been used for the Juggernauts, and is instantly recognisable now. Can you tell me what the idea was behind the carbon fibre tattooed covers?
When we were in the studios Tim said, “Hey, we have this laser-etching machine, we can laser-etch pretty much anything!” So I asked if he could laser-etch carbon fibre. He didn’t think there was any reason why not, so we tried it out and it looked incredible, it looked so much better than I expected it to. Because it is subtle, from afar it looks black, so it’s a very understated, classy look. I’m a huge fan of cars, and carbon fibre was big on sports and race cars, so there’s definitely that association there, which makes me very happy! That became something that came with the Ragnaroks then, and I’ll probably be getting most of my Ragnaroks with carbon fibre tattooed covers. It’s one of those things that looks very cool up close, but it’s not loud, and won’t ruin the look of a classy guitar.
What's in a Name?
When you came up with the name "Ragnarok" you had been through a load of car-related words, and things that were to do with overdriven tones, but you settled on "Ragnarok", the name of one of your Periphery songs. What made you choose that?
Ragnarok, apart from being a very aggressive Periphery song, in Norse mythology means the end of the world, which we thought was a very fitting name for the most aggressive pickup in the Bare Knuckle range. It was something that I thought would fit quite nicely and is a unique name, but also tied in quite nicely for any fans of the band who would understand the connotations of that very aggressive tone.
Did you know that the Raganrok Thor film was being released around the same time?
Funnily enough, this happened last time, when we released the the Juggernaut, which is named after the album that came out around the same time as the pickup. The album was released in two parts, the Alpha and Omega sides. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Pokémon games, but they released a game at the same time that was also two games, Pokémon Alpha, and Pokemon Omega. And they even had two colour schemes as well! It wasn’t intentional, it would be impossible as both things would have been in the planning for the past two or three years, but to the public it looks deliberate!
How does it feel to have the opportunity to create two signature pickups?
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do things like this. It’s pretty much a dream come true, to have one of the best pickup designers of all time design you your own custom set. Then to have somebody like Nolly there, who has just the best ears ever, to help you to design the product and vet it and make sure it’s the best. I feel very, very lucky to be in that kind of position because there is no way I could do this on my own. So I just feel very fortunate, and very grateful for the opportunity to do "round two" of pickup design with Tim, which is honestly just so much fun. I love it! I have such a great time whenever we come to Cornwall to do this, and I’m so excited to be able to do it again. I’m very grateful to everyone for their hard work on this. We have something very special as a result, and I can’t wait to see what people think of it when it comes out. I hope it inspires a lot of music. After we get this done I end up with this pickup that is just the best thing ever; what more can you ask for?
Keep an eye out for more from Misha coming soon!