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Nailbomb Humbucker Pickup

Review by Brett Petrusek

23rd May 2016

"First of all, upon opening the box I was surprised to find a set of strings and a pick from the company. Tim Mills, owner of the UK-based Bare Knuckle operation, said he thinks it’s the best way to introduce a pickup to its new owner by providing a new set of strings so the first sounds you’ll hear are optimal with fresh strings. That’s not a bad idea at all, since I’ve actually changed pickups using dead strings and had a less-than-favorable first impression. Anyway, back to the pickups. The examples we received were a set of "urban camo" covered humbuckers with four-wire leads. The look is over the top and totally bad-ass, but they’re also available with open coils or traditional covers for the purists out there. Having measured the output on each of the pickups (bridge, 15.71K-ohms; neck, 10.31K-ohms) I should note that the manufacturer says he also makes a special neck model to perfectly match the bridge model, and that in some cases the neck model might be totally different as far as the magnet type and wire gauge, etc., are concerned. I used three target guitars for our test: a garden-variety 1980 Les Paul Custom, a B.C. Rich Mockingbird in koa from the ‘80s, and a 1981 all-maple Gibson Explorer CMT. The test amps were a 1964 Fender Princeton Reverb for clean tones, Bogner Ecstacy for crunch and heavy overdrive. So, I started with the Les Paul and immediately noticed the picking dynamics. Picking hard and soft yielded not only the expected differences in volume but also a very wide range of tones. Even while playing clean and backed off a bit in the volume, it retained the sparkle but still had bite when needed. When played through the Ecstacy overdrive blue and red channels, it delivered plenty of clarity and note definition when playing big, distorted chords. Rhythms were hot and biting but never harsh. Pick harmonics came very easily too, and single notes above the seventh fret seemed to fatten up and punch hard. Still, even at the most distorted settings I was able to clean it up really well by backing off the volume. Held notes sustained very well, and it was easy to get that cool octave feedback. On the bluesier side of things I was able to get many warm clean jazz/blues tones out of the neck pickup, and even some spankin’ tones. The middle switch selection also yielded smooth, warm tones that were perfect for blues playing.

The maple Explorer was next. As expected, the pickups yielded a brighter tone in the allmaple body of this unit than they did in the Les Paul. There was a bit less low end than the Les Paul, but even so it was more than adequate. It was really tight and punchy, and muted picking produced an amazing effect on the lower strings. Due to the metal magnet in the pickup, the high end was smooth and completely free of harshness. Upper harmonics were sweet and musical. One important aspect of this pickup is the overtones it produces: They’re very much like an original Gibson PAF in that they’re musically related to the notes you’re playing.

Finally, we put the pickups into the B.C. Rich. This was a much different animal, given all the splitting and switching combinations. Normally in these guitars there is a two-position switch for series/parallel wiring, but I like to put in a three-way switch for series/parallel/single-coil splitting. And since the Nailbomb pickup uses asymmetrical coils, this was a very interesting experiment. I preferred the totally split sound—despite its not being hum-canceling--because it was very sparkling and beautifully clean. The other position did make for a cool, crunchy rhythm sound when overdriven. One can experiment with which coil is selected when using the single-coil mode, and get some good results. And of course, this guitar had tremendous power with screaming harmonics and sustain. It’s the ultimate rock guitar, even for low tunings.

The Nailbomb may be one of the best new pickups I’ve heard. It’s certainly a great choice for versatility, though the company does offer a full line of pickups. They are a bit pricey, but the soul is all there in that organic tone. It’s also worth a visit to their website (bareknucklepickups.co.uk), if you have time. In addition to being truly hand-wound masterpieces, theses guys are doing some seriously cool things visually. They embrace some very creative concepts when executing their craft."

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