Price paid: $ 150
Purchased from: Amazon.com
Sound: Just before you get too far into the review, take note that this is a review for both the neck and bridge pickups. I'll do my best to describe each one in depth. I also may come across as an endorser, but I have to say that these are my favourite pickups I've used for heavy metal music. They conquer all sorts of subgenres and sound killer.
Lace Drop & Gain pickups are, well, pickups specifically designed for drop tunings and high levels of gain. Some reviews I've seen have labelled them as "passive EMGs", but I think this description does them no justice. Drop & Gains are more than a one trick pony, and sound great playing blues all the way to sludge metal. Seems like you hear that claim a lot, huh? Well I can assure you it's entirely true in this case. Before I describe how the pickups sound, I'll go over my setup for those interested...
Amp: Orange Tiny Terror (with Tung-Sol 12AX7 tubes)
Just a note here... The TT isn't what I'd call a metal monster (mainly the lone tone knob prevents fine tuning), but with the Lace pickups I really can get a great metal tone out of it. Not just Iron Maiden tone, or Crowbar sludge, but tight crunch the likes of which Anthrax utilize.
Cab: 1x12 Traynor (one Celestion Greenback, closed cab)
Guitar: PRS SE Custom 24 (with the Lace pickups)
Pedals: Took 'em out of the equation to test just the pickups
I wanted pickups that could take my Vintage voiced amp into a metal machine, yet still handle blues and jazz easily. Well, EMGs just didn't do it for me, and I saw a few artists I like used Drop & Gains. Installed them and was pretty blown away, in all honesty. The neck pickup is what I'll mention first, as it's the best of the two. On a clean setting, it reminds me very much of a classic PAF Humbucker. It's very bass-y, but doesn't cut out all the highs, and overall has a nice, warm sound. Clean, the neck is perfect for blues. SRV just sounds right (maybe a little dark? ), and I even got "Under The Bridge" (RHCP) to sound pretty dead-on with this pickup, which surprised me. But, let's get to what this is really for! Metal \m/
I tried a lot of different styles of metal with just the neck pickup, and couldn't find one that sounded bad. I started out with classic tunes like "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son" (Iron Maiden) and "Painkiller" (Judas Priest). I found the tone of the neck to be perfect for the rhythm, but for those screeching leads, it's lacking. I then downtuned to D Standard, trying my hand at "Flying Whales" (Gojira), and "Colony Of Birchmen" (Mastodon). The thing I liked most about the neck pickup is that it kept it's clarity even with the high gain. If you know the two songs, you also know that they feature many dissonant chords and notes, and often they sound really muddy with other pickups. The D&G neck keeps a huge amount of clarity no matter how much gain you throw at it, it seems. I cranked the gain up a little bit more and tuned down a half step, so I could play some Down and Isis. Both sounded, once again, excellent, and even with the low C# (or B in Isis' case), I found the notes shone through. Even playing Am or Bm with the gain up, it was easy to pick out individual notes. Awesome!
After this, I tried the middle position. To sum it up in one word, I'd have to say "X2N". The combination of the two pickups really just reminded me of the sound you'd get from a DiMarzio X2N. There's still a lot of clarity, and you get searing lead tones and crunch along with it. It's not really the same crunch you'd find in an EMG (I didn't find anyways), but that makes sense as these are passive pickups. I played through "Crystal Mountain" and "Symbolic" by Death, and I found my tone was almost dead on. No amp tweaking or pedals needed - the pickups alone took my guitar and amp to the sweet sound of Death as it were. All in all, both pickups combined gave me a Super Distortion or X2N sound.
Now sadly, to the part where Lace looses marks from me. The bridge pickup. The Drop & Gains sound awesome together, and the neck pickup is an absolute dream to play. But the bridge sounds like a HOT Squier pickup. It's just really nothing special, and rather than sounding full and searing, the tone sounds flat and jangly. I have a G&L with a single coil bridge, and it's a lot hotter than the Lace D&G pickup. Maybe it's my ears - I'm not as much a fan of single coils - but I just didn't like this pickup. Clean, it actually sounds fairly nice. You can get a good sound for Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" or maybe some Death Cab For Cutie. It's not unbearable, and if you have a tone knob on your guitar, that can help change the sound a lot. But, throw a high gain challenge at this pickup, and it falls short. I was expecting the bridge alone to be the "X2N", but it seems to be the combo of both that sound great for leads. It's weird to me that it sounds so good with the neck, but so bland by itself. Maybe put in a different guitar, or with an amp that has more tone options, it would sound great? Someone else will have to try it out.
Ultimately these pickups are pretty awesome. They're about the same price as any set of EMGs or DiMarzios, and it's just up to taste to decide which you want. I would recommend them over the other brands out there, though, as I find these are the hottest passive pickups I've played, that still sound good. They're versatile, quiet, look good, are well built, they're unique, well-endorsed (not counting myself), and can transform your amp more than you realize. I went from using four separate distortions or overdrives to using one just because of these! Surprised me on that level as well.
As one last side note, these pickups also sounded good with all sorts of pedals (tried reverb, trem, phase, delay, distortion, and overdrive). I don't see why they wouldn't have sounded good, but just in case you're a pedal nut like me, well... These work great with all pedals! // 8
Reliability & Durability: It doesn't have a nickel or gold cover, so I doubt it'll fade anytime fast. Wiring was all good, pickups came in perfect condition, and were pretty easy to install (handy instructional CD came with the pickups). Obviously if you don't know what you're doing, get a tech to put them in. I'd throw these pickups into absolutely any guitar I wanted to turn into a metal beast - they can do lots more, but these sound their best when playing metal. I think these will last longer than the Korean guitar I put 'em in. Haven't gigged with them yet, but we're talking about pickups here, not pedals. // 10
Impression: As I mentioned before, the bridge pickup really just sounds unpleasant to my ears. Even with my amp set on a more bass-heavy setting, I find the bridge is too bright and jangly, and it almost sounds lifeless. It sounds nice clean, and gives a Strat vibe, but with gain it can be quite ear-piercing. So if you're looking to get JUST the bridge pickup, choose something else. I guess if I hate anything, it would be the plain-ness of the bridge. That being said...
I also mentioned earlier that the neck in combo with the bridge sounds FANTASTIC. By combining the two pickups it's easy to achieve EMG crunch (especially with palm mutes), but the pickup still sounds like a Vintage PAF. It's honestly very fun to switch between the bass-y neck position and then the middle position - you'll notice the difference right away. The extra-high, jangly bridge pickup is "tamed" by the neck, and it just sounds great. Clean it's good, but the middle setting for metal is the best I've used. I love the neck most of all, as I play tons of Drop B tunes on this particular guitar. No more muddy tone when I'm 2.5 steps down, just pure metal.
I can't really think of anything else to say. If you play metal and want an upgrade, at the very least, consider these pickups. They're different than what else you've seen out there, and in fact are probably the quietest pickups out there. I've seriously never heard pickups this quiet. That's something anyone who've heard these will tell you - whether they like them or not. Lace have had mixed reactions in the past, but I think with Drop & Gains, they've made something special.
One very final note... I used a ton of hyberbole and I've come across as thinking these are the nest pickups ever. Well, they aren't. They're the best pickups I've ever used for metal, and that's something I stand by. Each example I gave I also hope you'll consider at least; I'm a picky bastard about tone, and when I say it "nailed it" or "came close" I damn well mean it. Cheers and keep on rocking! // 8