Yes, gentle readers, I know…I’ve been dragging this out for a few months. In my defense, I was trying to track down as many potential candidates as possible. However, now I’m back with a rundown of the lion’s share of pickups associated with the Van Halen tone…be it my an official tie-in or just those designed in homage.
We have the Arcane Inc. Brownbucker, the Bare Knuckle Pickups VHII set, the Smit’s Handwound Guitar Pickups EBS-2 Brownsound, the EVH GearWolfgang set, the Guitarfetish.com VEH, and a few DiMarzio production models. I will also speak from experience of the DiMarzio set in the Ernie Ball Music Man guitars and the Peavey Electronics Wolfgang bridge model.
With these in mind, what era are you looking to find? The late 70s, with the punchy sag in the lows and the sweeter high end with an overall punch-you-in-the-chest presence? Or the more articulate and defined tone that started in the 80s, when Eddie became more proficient and wanted display the hard-earned skills? Better yet, is there something the does it all? By all means, read on.
But let’s be clear. Are we playing through a dimed Marshall? With the product specific phaser or echo? Better yet…do we have Eddie’s fingers? Even if we get the Charvel® Guitars striped series guitar and play through the EVH 5150 amp, we can all only hope to get close. Let’s call that a disclaimer. wink And I do understand that there will be no way to win with the legion of Eddie fans with a topic like this, so please be kind.
There were some interesting discoveries about some of the specs of these pickups. Resistance ranged from the mid-8s to the mid and upper teens. Yet all had an open vibe of a hot-vintage pickup more than a PAF or a modern style. Some have Alnico 2 magnets and some have Alnico 5. Some come with f-spacing only, some only with standard spacing. All of them are bold-sounding pickups that lay it all out there.
Generally speaking, all of them are going to get you into the ballpark. Let’s face it, they are all playing for the same team. But if I had to pick one from this lineup that would get you closest to the overall late 70s tone, I’d have to give it to the GFS VEH model. That’s right, a $35 pickup. To a greater degree, it seems as if most of the models tested in this series didn’t get in to this era as much as I was hoping for…even when the name of the pickup suggested it. The VEH simply had the tone that came the closest to the bigger “brown” presence of 1978.
For a set that captures his more focused and articulate era, I really have no other choice than the EVH Wolfgang set….which is also the only one that I bought a spare set. This is a category that I would have expected to go with the DiMarzio set in the EBMM guitar, but the EVH Wolfgang neck model really won me over, with the BKP VHII neck coming in a close 2nd. Incidentally, the EVH Wolfgang pickups go on my short list of very articulate and focused and open-sounding pickups with an Alnico 2 magnet.
The pickup that I’d say spans both eras the best is the Smit’s EBS-2, with a just the right amount of sag in the lows and the right amount of focus in the highs. Sadly, Smit closed up shop right after he sent out my EBS-2. If you can find them on ebay, I think they are worth the effort.
Honorable mention in the “official pickup model” goes to the Peavey Wolfgang bridge pickup. I would totally put it up there with the EVH Wolfgang bridge. There are a few out there, still available on eBay. One of my regrets during this series was not being able to find a Peavey Wolfgang neck pickup, as based on the bridge model and the similarity to the EVH Wolfgang bridge, I would have expected a very fierce competition between the 2 sets.
Honorable mention in the “unofficial pickup model” would be tied with the DiMarzio DP214 Virtual Hot PAF (you can still find them new on eBay) and the DiMarzio DP223 36th Anniversary Bridge models. I know there are a few production model pickups across a few brands that can come dangerously close to the VH vibe. These two just stood out a little bit more to my ears.
When it comes down to it, all are really great rock pickups. Any one of these will cover a lot of ground with both dirty and clean tones. The versatility afforded with any one of these pickups is incredible. I know this is a fairly high level overview, but these have been covered in greater detail in my individual reviews of them (when my website goes live in a few months, it should all be easier to find for cross reference).
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, Twitter or his website is darthphineas.com