I know, I know, I’ve been covering a lot of neck pickups lately. And that’s true. A bit of a reflection of the search I’ve been on trying to find some options that work in a few different settings. And from the conversations I’ve been having with other players and some pickup builders, I don’t think I’m alone.
It seems as if there are a lot of players out there that just really don’t use the neck position all that much, due to the tones they want and they tones they are getting. This can leave players in a position of just sticking with the bridge pickup. And believe me, I’ve done that and I have nothing against a guitar with a single bridge humbucker. I do like me a single bridge humbucker guitar.
But there are so many cool playing options available with the right neck pickup. Consider the Slash’s into to GnR’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, as easily achieved on a neck pickup with the tone all the way down. Or consider how your lead and solo work can take on a new depth and girth.
When it comes to my hunt for rock-themed neck pickups, DiMarzio has really been delivering. I’ve tried the Humbucker From Hell, the LiquiFire, the Super 2, and I have the 7-string Blaze as a stock pickup. They all bring something different to the table that’s good enough to make you want to partake.
The D Activator was hard to get a bead on when I first looked at it. The name sounds a little aggressive and the description starts off wth a references to popular active pickup qualities. But on paper, the specs look good…so I have it a shot. And I’m liking it.
It has a presence that I find to be nicely balanced for a neck voicing. Not too loud and not too quiet. Not too thick and not too thin. Think of an all-around clutch player that can handle offense and defense.
Better yet, in term of other DiMarzio neck pickups, let’s start with the HFH and the Super 2. They have similar numbers on the DiMarzio tone chart. The HFH can be a little rigid and stiff, and the Super 2 can be a little powerful and boomy. The D Activator slips right in there, with an output a little closer to the Super 2, but a little more articulate like the HFH.
The D Activator also fills in the space between the LiquiFire and the Super 2. It delivers the more focused voice of the LF and has the added brightness and cut in the high end of the Super 2.
Looking at the pickup on it’s own merit, I put it in a solid maple super strat with a maple neck and an “Official” Floyd Rose double locking trem. This is not a hard maple, so the tone of the guitar is closer to alder or poplar and not extraordinarily bright. The D Activator neck really holds together well. The low end delivers some thump, but doesn’t flub out or get muddy. The mids and highs are very nice for lead work in the neck position. All the harmonics tricks I tried cut through with as much clarity and vitality to make you forget you were playing a neck pickup.
It has a DCR that would make you think it’s a vintage or a PAF pickup, but it delivers a level of output that can stand you up and knock you over. I suspect a bit of that is due to the offset coil windings and how that allows more frequencies to come through, leaving you with voicing that transcends the limitations of that numbers on the paper.
series – 7.20k
split N – 4.08k
split S – 3.13k
parallel – 1.77k
Darth Phineas is a long time music industry insider who provides his readers with unbiased reviews on musical instrument and guitar gear. You can read more of his reviews and check out industry news on his Facebook community Darth Phineas