Price paid: $ 40
Purchased from: Dragonfireguitars.com
Sound — 8
The Dragonfire Vintage Bucker set intrigued me for some time. I've used their Screamers set in the past with decent success on a few budget guitars, and the Alnico 5 magnets & quoted 16.9k DC resistance on the bridge Vintage Bucker totally screamed "cheap JB clone!" to me in spite of the write-up on the website promoting them for classic rock, jazz and blues music.
I finally took the plunge (not that $40 is much of an investment) on a black set with no covers and installed them in a 1996 Epiphone Birdseye Les Paul that I recently scored, replacing the mediocre stock pickups. Plugging into a Line 6 Spider IV 75 or a Boss ME-25 into computer monitors, I quickly found that the bridge unit is definitely NOT a JB clone.
Don't be fooled by the 16k+ DC resistance on the bridge pickup like I was (and yes, I did test mine with a multi-meter to verify it), the bridge unit is definitely a mid-gain pickup, mainly due to the EQ curve. The bridge pickup is on the brighter end of the scale, with a suppressed midrange, again, similar to a Duncan '59. It doesn't have the broad, thicker sound of a JB or a DiMarzio Super Distortion when overdriven. The VB bridge is crunchy and articulate even under high gain - surprisingly so given the relatively high DC resistance. The low end is present but not overpowering. If you want clarity and bite with more volume than a true PAF clone, this is a good low cost option. For me, I'd prefer a bit more push in the midrange for a broader, heavier sound (I play too much thrash metal for my own good). Since I'm not looking to invest a lot in this guitar, I'll likely get another Dragonfire Screamer for the bridge to replace this and call it a day. Don't get me wrong, the VB bridge *is* a quality pickup for the price and sounds great for everything from country up through classic metal. Just don't expect it to roar and crunch like a JB as I (somewhat foolishly) hoped it would.
The VB neck pickup is very Duncan '59-ish as well. This one is a keeper for me as I prefer a more vintage sounding pickup in the neck. The lead tone is smooth but with a nice liquid brightness. Just like the bridge pickup, the articulation and clarity is there. Clean tones aren't super-bright like a Duncan Jazz but are very nice nonetheless. The Vintage Bucker neck unit is a great budget neck pickup for pretty much any style.
Reliability & Durability — 9
Dragonfire pickups seem to be reasonably well constructed, and the Vintage Buckers are no exception. I see no reason why one couldn't rely on these for any situation, including live playing. The glossy black bobbins and the metal slugs & screws combine to give them that classic open-coil PAF look.
One small item I really appreciate is that Dragonfire pickup leads come pre-stripped and tinned, with the white and red leads already soldered together. Even Duncan doesn't do that. The pre-stripping and soldering eliminates a bunch of fiddly work which is nice.
Overall Impression — 8
I've been playing for nearly 20 years and I jam on a broad range of styles including blues and classic rock, but more often than not I'm jamming on classic thrash and heavy metal - think Priest/Maiden & Metallica/Anthrax, along with more modern stuff along the lines of Killswitch Engage and Disturbed. I have a bunch of guitars, including a few dedicated to lower tunings for the modern stuff.
The Epiphone in question is tuned to E Standard for classic rock, blues, and old school metal. The Vintage Bucker set would be truly ideal if I was strictly hanging in the blues/classic rock/hard rock realm. My love of the heavier stuff pushes me in the direction of higher output bridge pickups. The bridge pickups on my other axes are Duncan JB's, DiMarzio Super Distortions, EMG 81s, or Duncan Blackouts. The Vintage Bucker bridge pickup is just a touch too mild compared to those. That's not Dragonfire's fault - the pickup lives up to its name. I took a chance on it strictly based on the high quoted DC reading. It certainly doesn't sound like your typical over-wound pickup. Thus proves that DC resistance does not always equate to actual output.