Few weeks ago, we went to an awesome store to test several Stratocasters for my fellow friend.
During that intensive testing of the best sounding axes under 2500 Eur, the winner in sound was the Eric Johnson model, that sounded several steps over any other model (including some relics and other interesting variants).
But, my friend election was an American Deluxe, because of its ergonomics and added features (deluxe tremolo, staggered locking keys, compound radius fretboard, etc.).
Our goal was to give to that axe, at least, same quality sound as the Eric Johnson model had, with the help of David Allen's Dover pickups.
I've designed some special wiring for this axe, to overwrite the no-sense stock alternative pickup combinations and, my fellow friend luthier did the wiring and overall set-up.
The axe was sounding really good but, did we success?.
How to know it without a fair axe to axe comparison, right?.
We needed to compare both guitars, in a fair way, by using exactly same gear without changing anything, between one or the other test.
We went back to the store and, ask them to allow us to test both axes with same rig, because we were very curious about final results. That Eric Johnson had the sound, the Deluxe the playability so, if we achieved the sound in the Deluxe, we had the complete axe on hands.
First, we were plugged in an amp that made everything to sound lifeless. It was the George Benson's model of the Fender's Hot Rod series.
Ok, maybe it can work for a semi-accoustic guitar and Jazz stuff but, it wasn't our coup of tea.
As soon as we moved on the Bassman reissue (same we used first time to test every Strato), bells, chime, spark, quack came back to life and, that was a key point to do a fair comparison.
For driven tones, we used the Bogner Ecstasy Red pedal, that would allow us to test how the singles stand under hi gain conditions. So we covered from clean to hi gain and, everything in between.
During the first phase, we were just trying the Deluxe with Dovers alone and, fine-tunning pickup's heights, once the fair Bassman revealed every nuance.
Also, we checked the alternative wiring of my design, finding really useful the 5 alternative combos (LP Neck virtual humbucker / Tele single/single virtual middle position / LP virtual middle position / Tele humbucker/single virtual middle position / LP virtual bridge humbucker).
Results of virtual humbuckers with Dovers isn't vintage-alike but, hot output humbuckers, instead.
Virtual bridge humbucker sounded fatter than any LP vintage humbucker but, awesome for hi gain stuff, anyway.
Once we were satisfied with the sound of the Deluxe with DA's Dovers, the doubt floated on the air: "Ok, that is sounding crazy good but... really good?... did we achieved a sound with the quality of the EJ model?".
My fellow friend started to play a part of a song and, I said: "Stop here. Just get that EJ, select same position and replay same part!".
Just after the first note, everything was clear but, he finished the part, anyway.
We swapped the guitars several times more with some other song parts and, trying several (standard) positions. Always same results.
You know, sound differences are very difficult to explain but, I will try it.
Overall, the EJ model sounded as being pushed back in a Z edge of a tridimensional sound, while the Deluxe with Dovers sounded in your face. Similar effect to what happens when you change from an small combo to a bigger open back cab.
Dovers sounded string-to-string and note-to-note more defined but, not in a cold and aseptic way but, in a very musical and harmonically rich way.
Under hi gain, the Dovers stand firm without issues, delivering huge sound and, without going muddy, blurry or just undefined. Any pinch or artificial harmonic is achieved with ease, shredding, tapping, palm mutes, everything works with attitude. The well defined piano-alike basses give a good body to the sound and, helps to achieve a powerful sound, without going undefined.
And the winner was...
Well, taking into account that the Eric Johnson model was BY FAR the best sounding Stratocaster under 2500 Eur in that store and, taking into account that such an axe sounded as shy or pushed back and undefined compared the Deluxe with Dovers then... the winner was... the winner was...
Yes, you can name it!
Deluxe with David Allen Dovers !!!.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to record a video with this comparison, since this could potentially affect brand's relations. So, if you are a follower of this blog, you will know that I care about tone and, you can just believe on this or not. But, to me, David Allen pickups are the most exciting pickups I've ever tried and, go some step over Bareknuckle Pickups (which were my preferred ones, up to now).
I don't know how David achieves it but, man, you owe a good set of David Allens to know how good your guitar can sound.
Some height adjustment tricks for David Allen single coils
If you are used to standard mass production pickups, you need to be aware that the sensitivity of awesome boutique pickups, as David Allen's ones needs a more careful approach to determine the right height for each pickup. I've lost lot of time with several sets and several Stratos so, I'm feeling in a position where I can share something to help you in the process.
First, you must understand that the balance side to side (low E / high E strings) is more important than the average height of the pickup. There is just one plane (determined by both sides height) were those pickups sound perfect, any slight side unbalance can mask the sound.
So, that's the procedure I've followed:
- Lower the three singles to pickguard level.
- Start fine tuning the Neck pickup.
- Raise the low-E side of the pickup until you get a clear defined, good output sound for bass strings.
- Around that spot, 1/8 of turn of the adjustment screw will make a clear difference.
- Raise now the high-E side of the pickup until you get a clear balance in every string. Double check balance by playing same note in same fret of low and high E strings. Check the chord overall body and consistence, note by note.
- Once the both sides are balanced, raise both up or down, same screw turns, up to get the best sounding result.
- Check now with some overdrive or distortion pedal. The sound should be liquid, sustained and well defined. Otherwise, readjust pickup.
- Once you have the neck pickup fine tuned. It's time for the Middle pickup.
- Just measure the gap between pole and string bottom in both sides of the neck pickup, while you press related string against the last fret of your fretboard.
- Once measure, press again the string for each side and adjust the gap for the middle pickup to the exact same height.
- Play with 1/8 turns of the adjustment screw to fine tuning the middle. Maybe, you will need to raise both sides 1/8 to 1/4 of screw turn respect of the neck. Be sure you have both sides well balanced, as explained for the neck pickup.
- Try the middle with some distortion and, readjust when needed.
- Now, check the notch position that combines neck + middle pickups. If you need to fine tune, do 1/8 screw turn adjustments to the middle pickup, until you get the perfect notch sound.
- Time to go for the bridge pickup.
- Measure middle heights (as described above) and fine tune the balance of the bridge pickup.
- Try with distortion and fine tune.
- Try then the notch position that combines middle and bridge pickups. Fine tune bridge height to get a good quacky sound.
- Check that the output of the three pickups seems the same, in loudness.
- You are done!. Enjoy it!.
Try to use some simple design single channel amp, with a good organic and clean sound.