Price paid: $ 89
Purchased from: www.Prosound.cl
Sound: Hi everyone! I have 15 years of guitar shredding, and I have this pickup mounted on a Jackson RR custom. Indeed it's a passive pickup, a modified EMG-HZ 2 with ceramic and steel magnets. The highlight is the Booster (ABQ), which basically it's an EMG Afterburner Preamp, with a 3 band EQ. I'd searched many information about this preamp before buy this, and in terms of quality seems to be superior than the Jackson JE-1000 Booster (the one that Alexi used on his stolen Jackson RR) and inferior than the MM-04 (which it's included in the ESP Alexi's signature models). This feature makes this pickup in extreme versatile; you can make it respond like an active one turning the booster on, or make it "passive" just keeping it off (by pushing/pulling the volume knob).
Thanks to the regulable gain control you can go even from substracting gain (very useful to improve the clean), to very (seriously) very much gain, enough to burn an small solid state amplifier (and I'm not joking).
Also you can improve the versatility by exploring the posibilities with the 3 BAND EQ, which have 3 pins, for "high", "mid", and "low" frecuencies ranges. The default configuration (the Alexi's setting) it's "high and low on, with mid off", it will make blistering high distortion tones, but excessive bright and muddy clean ones, making peaks on the sound wave that make your signal clip even through a compressor. Otherwise if you boost the mids and lows, scooping the high frecuencies the clean tones improve considerably, putting out something around Alnico II - V / PAF / Neck PU / Vintage Humbucker tone, but definitely different to it's ceramic nature.
Of course I have mine installed on bridge position, on a single-humbucker Jackson RR custom (alder body, rosewood fingerboard). As I said, if you add gain and boost all the frequencies you can get an impressive blast of massive distortion. To be more specific, it's very sensible to dynamics, and every "little noise" that you make while you're touching the strings, it's really well perceived by the pickup magnetic field, then compressed (not too much), and boosted by the pickup preamp making the sonic sensation of "extra dirt", on the high distortion settings. To my ears it's like EMG85/SD Blackout Mick Thompson but more closely to DiMarzio D Activator X Bridge, conforming a very nice mix between the "organic" of a passive, and the compression and gain of the "active" pickup, an interesting feature which is not achievable by a simple EQ or boost pedal.
I'm running through my "all terrain combo": NS-2 -> SD-1 -> DS-2 -> CS-3 -> MT-2 -> CE-3 -> Line6 Floor POD Plus -> mixer console. The boost works pretty well with the overdrive and distortion pedals. I also had tested it "line directly" on a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier, and a Marshall JCM 2000, and the result is, to put it in a simple word: a "nuke" (but in detrimental of the clean tones, obviously).
With distortion it makes some base noise (like the most of the passive PUs) which increases in high gain settings. But when I use the NS-2 Noise Supressor I can completly reduce the undesirable noise to zero. // 10
Reliability & Durability: Pretty well made, the bottom plate it's vacuum sealed, and to give you an objetive hint of durability: I've changed the hardware screws on my guitar at the same time that I've installed this pickup, I always have the caution to clean the hardware before put the guitar back to the case, AND the hardware screws have started to rust FIRST than the metal components (magnet screws, plate) on the HZ-ALX. Note: no fancy, just common pickup mounting hardware screws, obsessively cleaned after each use.
The counterpoint it's that you depend on the function of 2 devices (pickup and ABQ) to keep it in properly function. Whatever, in plain sight, the ABQ looks reliable too. The wiring it's mainly (not totally) solderless and the owner manual covers the installation instructions comprehensively. // 9
Overall Impression: PROS:
- Very versatile, if you are a Hard Rock / Heavy Metal, and you love the sound of passive pickups instead of active ones, the tone for you it's here. You just need time tweak the right preamp configuration.
- Organic "passive/PAF" behavior (dynamics, color) with high gain output.
- It's passive, so it would not leave you in the middle of the show if you forgot to change the batteries. Also the EQ works even without batteries.
- You can reach pretty convincing clean humbucker sounds.
- You really need some time to deal with all the combinations to finally find your tone (to sit down, unscrew/screw the back control cavity and test each setting).
- Doesn't seem the best choice for a longstanding "active pickups" guy. I prefer describing the ALX-HZ as a "super passive" pickup rather than some kind of "active" one.
- It's a humbucker, so the clean tones will be dark and fat. Not expect a stratocaster super-clean single coil sound.
- It's noisy (rectifiable with a noise supressor).
I hope I've been helpful.
Greetings. // 9