Price paid: $ 289.99
Purchased from: The Axe Palace
Sound — 10
Being at the very beginning of the signal chain, and finely honed for the heaviest of metal, the Black Hawk pickups are pretty hot. Though they're marketed as a sort of "best-of-both-worlds" active/passive (but really just a passive) hybrid pickup, their output isn't quite as high as an EMG or a Seymour Duncan Blackout, but I really can't tell from the sound - speaking of which, is much deeper, dirtier, and thicker than I was expecting. The bridge pickup produces punishing lows with crisp highs, and a remarkable consistency in between; the neck pickup produces bell-like, fat tones that almost sound muted, and the true beauty of this pup really comes out with a clean setting. Both pickups provide a remarkably even sound across all 7 strings, and large chords never sound muddy or cluttered, even with the gain dimed and the bass jacked up. If anything, they make the Ibanez have an almost piano-like quality. The first time I played a 4th power Chord on the low B, I was taken aback by how strange it sounded; it made me realize how much of the lower frequencies that EMG's and other active pickups obscure, regardless of top-end clarity. Harmonics are also fantastically consistent all over the fretboard, and allow for more freedom with pinch and artificial harmonic techniques. It should be noted that the Black Hawks are pretty sensitive to changes in height (especially with the uniform, blade-style pole-pieces), and it may take multiple adjustments before the sound is really dialed in to the guitar.
Overall Impression — 10
The Black Hawk 7-string set is my first experience with Bare Knuckle Pickups, and - dare I say - any electric guitar pickup of this caliber, and they are simply fantastic. I purchased them after some extensive research (i.e. wasting time on YouTube and Soundcloud), looking for a replacement for the stock pickups in my Ibanez RGD2127. The in-house pups were passable for sure, but they sounded a little off; a friend of mind recommended Bare Knuckle Pickups as a potential replacement, but cautioned me that they were quite pricey. Two hundred and ninety dollars later (and a bit more for a new pickup rout), I couldn't be happier. A lot of guitarists are hesitant to invest in new pickups, especially when the money might be spent on something else that will produce more conspicuous changes to tone: amplifiers, effect pedals, or saving up towards a new instrument. However, you might reach a point where you have the right amp, the right effects, and the guitar that just feels in tune with YOU. Running an Ibanez Prestige RG through an Engl E670 half-stack with a full assortment of quality pedals, you'd think I'd have nothing to complain about. And for the most part you'd be correct. But pickups of this quality can take you much further than you've ever thought possible.
Reliability & Durability — 10
When wired and configured properly, the pickups are free of any microphonics. They feel solidly constructed and certainly look the part, though I've only had them for a couple weeks, making this category difficult to judge. However, I would like to mention that the two pickups work really well together as a set: switching between the two is almost transparent, and frequently confounding, as the bass and treble frequencies are almost identical between the two pickups. The neck pickup may sound slightly softer with smaller speakers using clean settings, but this disparity in sound disappears when using a dedicated speaker cabinet with quality speakers.