A long time ago now I was urged into considering my general sound and tone of my rig. It was pointed out that a guitar that was rigged to sound good in the bedroom, a full on bassy, pouding sound with a lot of gain, would not work well with a live band. For a while I shrugged this off confident that what I was hearing on a daily basis from my 4x12 was what was needed live. I was quite wrong.
The most important things I've come to realise for a good live guitar sound is a tight but light bass response, decent and strong mids and trebs that are cutting but not anything too shril and ear peircing.
Whilst the tone can be influenced greatly by many factors, the wood of the guitar body, the amp you're using... even down to the thickness of your strings a fundamental component of what generates your tone is the pickup.
In the past I've had trouble distinguishing between some pickups, even models put out by the famous companies such as Dimarzio and Seymour Duncan. I've been using said Seymour Duncans and Dimarzio's now for ages and the only real model I've come across that was exceptional and hugely different made by either company was the Super 3 pickup by Dimarzio, which I still love. I have a lot of time for the original Evolution too and I've hit on a pair in one of my Jem's that I will never remove or alter as they suit the body perfectly. Old faithful in that respect.
Generally though with most of the models put out by both companies, I've been somewhat disappointed in the actual difference in tone between pickups and to some extent the lack of extreme and "naughty" pickups on offer.
So, always on the look out for something exceptional along the lines of a contemporary sound I came across the very well regarded and slightly hyped bareknuckle pickups. Players that I respected were swearing by the things, apparently able to offer sounds that nothing else could provide. So were they right? Simply put, you betcha.
The first gamble I took was on the model called the Nailbomb. I say gamble as it was a situation of wanting something new and different and literally taking someone's word for it. Straight off the bat, no real research done at all. I just ordered it and bought it. When it got here I installed it into my RG1570, with a bit of difficulty. The legs were square ended instead of the normal rounded edges... this made it impossible to put into the guitar without a little modificaiton.
So... a bit of dremmelling later and a few chunks out of the guitar the pickup was installed. I strung it up to standard D and plugged the thing in. It was an experience I'm not going to forget in a while, that a single pickup was able to change and enhance the sound so greatly was like nothing I'd heard before. The amount of punch put out by the pickup was just right, the gain and drive fed to the amp was brilliant and the mids kicked in at exactly the right point to enhance the sound without making it too bassy or too shrill.
To this day I've not found anything like it. It's like an evolution pickup that is more creamy without being fizzy, provides a bit more gain and punches through at exactly the point in the mix you want it to. Fed through an ENGL Invader 100 amp into an Orange 4x12 cab and cracnked up it provided an immense amount of crunch and balls without being overly bassy. Very impressive stuff. A friend who I handed the guitar to basically commented on the fact it made him sound like a better player.
I've not tried the pickup in standard E tuning, only around the standard D to drop C# area and within that boundary it works very well indeed. I can't speak for higher or lower tunings, but with the distinct lack of overwhelming bass and shrill treble, I'd have to assume the pickup would handle it quite well. The pickup whilst being packed with balls and great mids is what I'd call "well behaved". It doesn't offer anything massively absurd or out of the ordinary but what it does offer is absolute class. It will not let you down.
So in summary of the Nailbomb, if you want a nice bridge pickup to upgrade your guitar and you're playing balls out, contemporary metal or rock, stick one of these into the guitar and you will not be disappointed.
So... my next experience was with the Warpig and finally the Painkiller. I'm going to group these into the next chunk of the review for one reason. They offer the "absurdity" that the nailbomb doesn't, but in different directions.
I bought a calibrated set of Warpigs, so both a bridge and a neck position and installed them into a light body, basswood Jem 77VBK. The breed pickups that came out of the guitar were tinny, shrill and fizzy in my opinion. I didn't play the guitar at all because I detested, literally detested the sound the Breed's created. So with that in mind I upgraded to the Bareknuckles and gave it a go.
The initial reaction was very good, the sound was far fuller, harmonics did come through just as nicely if not better than before and the amount of punch / gain delivered by the pups was genuinely exceptional. I used them for a couple of practises with the band until Keir commented that my sound was quite bass heavy. The sound was still bass heavy when set to 0 on the Invader 100 head. Not good, but perhaps just doing what it was designed to do.
The pickups were dialling in so much whomping bass response even in Standard E it was drowning out the mids of my sound and preventing me cutting through when I needed to. With that in mind I decided to replace the bridge pickup of the set with a Painkiller.
I did a bit more research on the Bareknuckle site and this ceramic magnet beast was apparently what I was looking for. The Painkiller is apparently similar to the Nailbomb but features slightly more treble response and a lot more mids. Being in a band tuned to standard E in this case, cutting mids are the entire basis of our sound and is crucial for me to be heard. The Painkiller is marketed as a "Djent" sounding humbucker, capable of intense mids and screaming harmonics whilst providing a tight bass response.
I've had a bit of a play through a decent practise amp but nothing through my main rig yet and I can tell the difference already from the Warpig. The pickup is what I'd class as naughty, maybe a little bit difficult to control for a beginner but provides amazing flexibility and tone for the skilled player. I'm expecting the pickup to leap more into life and provide some crazy harmonics and mids when driven nicely through a high gain head and a decent cab. Hopefully able to cut through any mix.
So my summary of the two pickups thus far:
Warpig: A little disappointed in this pickup, BUT that is purely because it does not suit my personal needs. That does lead me on to wondering just who would require that much bass responce from a mid ranged instrument. The chug and thump I can get out of the Nailbomb is immense but it's in the right place to be heard in a band. The thump out of the Warpig is unlike anything I've heard before, including a Seymour Duncan Invader installing a particularly heavy Gibson Les Paul, but I'm wondering what the real point of it is.
The main point I'm making is that the further you downtune your instruments, ideally in a band setup, the further away from the realms of a bassy and gainy sound you want to be. I've heard bands in the past with 6 strings downtuned to drop B or 7 string guitars that dumped a shitload of gain into the mix as well as a huge bass response ... and perhaps "heard" then becomes the wrong term. The guitars drop so low into the mix you can't actually hear them at all and the only way you can actually hear anything is by putting your fingers in your ears and filtering the shit out.
For this reason I'll reserve judgement a little on the Warpig in the bridge position but to restate, only buy this if you're looking for an insanely over the top bass response... or aren't looking to play extreme metal. I can't see it really being any use if you want the audience to hear anything unless you tweak the hell out of your setup to neutralise all the bass.
The one positive thing I can say aout the Warpig is the warm bass response of the neck position pickup is a winner. The point of the neck pickup for me is to create warm and bassy cleans or leads that aren't over exagerated. For this purpose the Warpig is spot on for my needs, so it stayed in the neck position to compliment the Painkiller now in the bridge.
The painkiller, I am impressed with. It's basically a Nailbomb taken to the next level with increased harmonics, mid punch and few more trebs inserted into the mix. If you're after something insane that provides maximum flexibility, tearing mid punch and a dump load of gain then go for this model.
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Update: - I used the Painkiller for the first time in practice the other week and just wanted to add this... if you're going to use this pickup in a high gain amp setup then I'd seriously urge you to make use of some sort of noise gate or noise suppresser. Or both. I found the pickup so raw and loud I had to turn the sensitivity of my noise suppresser way up from the normal setting, the gate on the ENGL Invader wasn't having any of it, just let the normal feedback responce of not playing anything cut straight through even on full sensitivity... you have been warned.