This is a review of a Bare Knuckle Holydiver bridge pickup fitted to a Jackson SL3 Soloist (maple neck-thru, alder wings, rosewood fretboard and OFR). I'll post a review of neck and middle pickups seperately.

The first thing to say is that the statement on the Bare Knuckle website that this is ‘a celebration of the original '80s hot-rodded humbuckers’ is entirely appropriate. If you’re looking for that classic 80s Metal tone then you need look no further. I’ve heard many people describe the Holydiver as being fat, rich, organic and fluid and all of these terms apply. I can’t believe how much thicker and warmer my guitar sounds now. It’s still no Les Paul but it’s made a distinct move in that direction. This is easily the best pickup I’ve ever used.

In exactly the same guitar, I can compare the Holydiver to both a Bare Knuckle Nailbomb and a Seymour Duncan JB. In a very similar guitar, I can also compare it to the Cold Sweat. As this is a replacement for the JB and as a lot of people compare a Holydiver to a JB, I suppose it makes sense for me to start there. Overall, I like the JB so it’s a good starting point but it’s certainly true to say that if you like a JB, you’ll LOVE a Holydiver. I liked the JB because it had that 80s Metal vibe about it but it still sounded a little thin to my ears and while being a more articulate pickup than many give it credit, it was still prone to mushing up a bit at the bottom end under gain. The Holydiver has a similar tonal footprint but is just so much more in every way. It’s significantly thicker, richer, more organic and articulate in its tone and has really made my guitar sing in a way it never did before. The fat lower mids really help to chunk it up so that lead playing cuts through well and gives the tone plenty of body and fluidity. I think it’s easy when talking of a pickup as being ‘fat and fluid’ to imagine it will mush up but this simply doesn’t. For all its thickness it remains a highly articulate pickup. Play chords with a good dose of gain and the distortion is warm, thick and smooth in just the way it should be but each note remains distinct within that rich and harmonious chord.

I think the fact that this pickup is associated with the sounds of Whitesnake and Dio is a given but it does a lot more than that. I actually find the Holydiver to be far better at doing the John Sykes tone in my Jackson than the 'Cold Sweat' model. In my guitar the Holydiver is perfect if you want to play the song ‘Cold Sweat’ whereas I always found the Cold Sweat pickup to be too bright for that song, though I accept that might be slightly different if you were playing a Les Paul.

As a lead pickup, this is excellent. Everything you may have read about this being the best lead pickup BKP make is entirely true in my opinion. I think a lot of people rightly talk about the Holydiver’s ability to play leads but this also excels at rhythms where it’s a powerful pickup with lots of body and just the right amount of aggression so it can stretch to more modern Metal but also cover more restrained tones. Everybody talks about the Bare Knuckle 'Nailbomb' being incredibly versatile and it certainly can be but I’d have to say that I actually find the Holydiver to be a significantly more versatile pickup to use. Its natural home may be 80s Metal but it can easily cover Metallica levels of gain as well as Disturbed, though obviously not being as scooped. Moving in the other direction it plays Free very well and has a lovely clean tone as well. I’ve now tried this guitar on cleans, Blues, 70s – modern Rock/Metal and modern Pop Rock and it covers them all really well. I play all of these styles in my band and can use my guitar for all of them without any trouble. While it’s a great Rock/Metal pickup, turn down the gain, add some delay and tweak the tone control if you want to and you can play some great Blues. It can get a great Gary Moore tone too. Would I change anything about it? No.

I was originally a bit worried about putting a Holydiver in my guitar as the EQ chart on the website shows it as being very mid-heavy and a maple neck-thru guitar tends to be middy anyway but I needn’t have worried. There are certainly a lot of mids there but I think it’s a lot of low mids as opposed to anything else. The low mids give it much more body than I’d imagined it would have and as such, I think the EQ numbers are a bit misleading. Instead of a B/M/T of 5/7/6, I’d say it’s actually rather more balanced than that, possibly more like 6.5/7/6.

I think the Holydiver would work very well in any guitar. I’m sure it would thicken up a Strat-style guitar beautifully and certainly works well in a maple neck-thru. In a Les Paul it will sound absolutely huge but I seriously think it has the articulation to pull it off with stunning results. If you’re after an exclusively modern, djenty sound then you can look elsewhere and Bare Knuckle certainly have pickups that cover that style but if you want a pickup that is highly articulate, fat, fluid, organic, warm and rich that is equally good at sweet leads and powerful rhythms and can cover a wide range of sounds then I can’t think of a better pickup for you to buy. This really is the best pickup I’ve tried so far by any manufacturer and by quite some margin. I can’t recommend the Holydiver enough.
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