Price paid: £ 235
Purchased from: Bare Knuckle Pickups
Sound — 9
Over the last few months I decided to treat my guitars to some TLC (that is actual Tender Loving Care and not the '90s girl band), and had set ups done, and for my Gibson Les Paul Studio I thought a new set of pickups were in order. I bought the guitar with the Gibson Burstbuckers in it and while playing to through a Marshall Vintage Modern Stack for a few years was fairly happy with the sound except that I always felt the guitar a little Hot and Bright. About 6 months ago I switched the Amp for a Vox AC30, an amp I'd liked to have owned for a long time, and found the Les Paul to be way too bright for my liking even if I constantly played through the Neck pickup.
So, after hitting the internet hard on a search frenzy and having talked to my guitar tech (that makes me sound way more professional than I really am) I got on to Bare Knuckle Pickups. They have quite a few options on their website and to be honest all the sound clips sounded exactly the same as the previous one, so I dropped them an email which they replied to very quickly and they gave me a few options taking into consideration my Amp, Guitar and the kind of sound I was looking for.
So, I settled on a calibrated set of Black Dog pickups, and these things are for want of a much better word are incredible!
The sound, for what I like, is almost perfect. I really like the mids to be pushed, which through an AC30 isn't an option on the amp settings, so, I needed to compensate elsewhere and the Black Dog is a pickup that does this wonderfully. It's Bass and Mid response is fantastic with excellent clarity but enough power to make each individual note sing. There's a real throaty grunt from these things and the sound is really full even while playing single string stuff high up on the fretboard.
The highs for me on the Neck pickup are pretty much perfect, they sing but don't pierce your eardrums when hitting those pinch harmonics high up the fretboard. Clarity is not an issue either when playing chords. There is great note separation provided you're not trying to push your distortion pedal past 11! On a clean sound the Black Dog sounds very rich, not at all muddy and not at all brittle, which was a big issue for me as I love a good clean tone.
My only issue with the sound is that I still think the Bridge pickup can sound a little too bright for my tastes. I generally roll the tone pot off on this pickup but it can be a fine line between "brightness" and "honking" especially with a clean tone.
The Black Dog is incredibly versatile and picks up on the nuances of your playing technique with superb results. I do a lot of hybrid picking and am a firm believer of the majority of your sound comes from your hands rather than a myriad of effects (not that there's anything wrong with a fat healthy pedal board) and I believe the Black Dog gets the best sound possible from your fingers and/or pick.
These pickups are definitely built for sound and not power. The Black Dog is called a Hot Vintage pickup (Neck 7.7K, Bridge 9.4K both Alnico V magnets) but you can definitely get Hotter pickups, but, I believe that you definitely sacrifice tone quality with more power. Besides that's what the volume knob on your amp is for.
Reliability & Durability — 9
These pickups have been put through their paces already in live situations and in studio recording situations and I have to say that so far they have been a joy to play. Live, they're great because you can adjust them on the fly with the Volume and Tone pots to get the best out of the room you're playing in and know that the pickups will respond very well. The build seems to be pretty solid and they look and feel like they will last the life of the guitar without any problems at all. You have the option to have these pickups covered/uncovered, wax potted or not and made with a 2 or 4 braided conductor hookup. I went for nickel covered, wax potted 2 conductor hookup and felt very impressed with the build quality.
Overall Impression — 9
My over all impression of the Black Dog is that this is a pickup set that is meant to get the best from your playing, your amp and your effects chain. You can drive them hard and maintain clarity of sound. You can strum away with a clean tone and they don't get muddy and though they may not have all the top end sparkle of some other pickups the highs are still there with a glass bell like quality, which definitely suits me and my desired sound.
They make my Les Paul a great compliment to my Fender Deluxe Telecaster offering a weighty vintage rock sound, a warm jazzy clean on the neck pickup if you tweak things a bit and enough weight and meat on the bridge pickup to play a Jack Black face melting solo that will make grown men weep and the ladies toggle your guitar tone and playing prowess. These pickups look great too. You can get them to order in a range of different colours and designs. I went for Nickel covered and the Bridge pickup is engraved with the Bare Knuckle logo. Some of the designs and engraving cost a little extra, but you may as well look the business as well as sound great.
The only problem there was installing these was that because Gibson have decided to make life very difficult for you to replace your pickups without buying direct from Gibson (basically all Gibson guitars from around 2011 have a PCB circuit board built onto the Tone/Volume pots) it meant the guitar had to be rewired and new pots and capacitors had to be put in. So, be warned, if you are looking to replace your pickups in a Gibson check first that you don't need to spend yet more money on rewiring the entire guitar.
That said, I think the whole process has definitely been worth the money and would definitely recommend Bare Knuckle Pickups! I honestly wouldn't be without my Black Dogs. I've tried various other pickups before from very reputable manufacturers including Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio but I definitely think for sound and build quality Bare Knuckle are very hard to compare with. An excellent pickup set at great value with incredible tone!