Ernie Ball was making the Music Man Eddie Van Halen model in the early 90s. It was a bit of a change, with a neck humbucker being something that Eddie hadn’t really been all that associated with previously. We finally had access to a set of new pickups hand-picked by Eddie for his own signature guitar. When Peavey started to put out the Wolfgang model guitar (and pickups) sometime around 1996 (early 1997?), people were wondering about the DiMarzio pickups in the Music Man that had become a favorite with guitar players. Thankfully, Ernie Ball was able to retain access to these humbuckers for other Music Man models.
Since then, these custom DiMarzio humbuckers really can’t be found anywhere outside of Music Man guitars. Most notably, the Music Man Axis model, which is practically identical to the aforementioned EVH model – with small changes such as a re-positioned toggle switch, for example. It’s been confirmed that these same pickups can also be found in the Albert Lee HH model and the AX40D released under Ernie Ball’s “Sterling” brand. And yes, I did personally speak with Music Man and DiMarzio to confirm.
In a testament to how cool these pickups are, I have spent a stupid amount of time trying to acquire a set. Why? Well, yeah, I thought I could do better in my EBMM Axis and started swapping around… which lead me to (foolishly) thinking I’d not need the custom DiMarzio set… and sold them. Bone. Head. haha! Wasn’t long before I wanted them back and I had been keeping an eye out ever since. They very rarely pop up in the secondary market, and are often times priced through the roof. It was a stroke of luck that a few sets appeared recently and I was able to score a set for about the same amount that I originally sold mine. Nice!
Ernie Ball Music Man Axis
What can be said? They are really nice and versatile great humbuckers. I installed them back in my EBMM Axis, fitted with a push-pull pot for switching the neck pickup to parallel mode. Everything I remember about the first time I played these pickups is still there… mainly, how well they clean up when rolled back. The bridge is full and open with some spank and edge and a slight hint of a jangly flavor on the big open chords. The neck is big with heavy lows that don’t get too thick and a mid range that almost wants to get into the cocked wah voice and highs that manage to cut through with the slightest sprinkling of sweetness.
Dirty tones seem to be what this set of pickups is made for. Both pickups really have that drive (or “push” as I sometimes call it) to really sustain a note from any position on the neck I wandered while still being very touch sensitive and responsive to different pick attack. The bridge totally shredded my Vai/Dime/Gillis “harmonic squeal” tests. The neck is very well suited for rich, full lead work that has enough bite to cut through.
For something that well-suited for dirty tones, it’s the clean tones that come as a surprise. Things ride the edge of breaking up when turned up. But when rolling back the guitar’s volume knob, things get clear and chimey and a little glassy and spanky. Flipping to any position and it’s there. There’s not much need to wire anything to split or for parallel… but I did anyway. lol! Parallel in the neck just sorta allows nicer clean tones, which is a bit of a personal preference, and almost a bit redundant when these pickups clean up so well by rolling back a bit.
Series – 18.07k
Split north – 9.14k
Split south – 8.97k
Parallel – 4.53k
10.269 H (series)
Series – 15.29k
Split north – 7.64k
Split south – 7.69k
Parallel – 3.83k
9.874 H (series)
Here is Mr. Van Halen using these pickups:
DiMarzio Website, DiMarzio Facebook, DiMarzio YouTube, DiMarzio Twitter, DiMarzio Instagram
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