Guitar Gear Review: Seymour Duncan Silverbird SH-9 Humbucker

The Silverbird is a rare humbucker that was made almost 35 years ago. It’s more prominently known as the pickup found in the Silverbird guitar made by Zion, as commissioned by Guitar Player magazine in 1983. Reports of how many were made are generally the stuff of legend. It’s been said that less than 100 were produced, while it’s also been suggested there were only a few dozen.

At first glance, the Silverbird might make people think it’s the old Iommi model that the Duncan company makes that is currently known as the El Diablo. Preceding the Iommi by a solid decade, the Silverbird provides a little of the DNA for what followed. Mostly when it comes to the bobbins and the magnets.

The bobbins are Tele bobbins, which might have someone thinking they are too big. Fret not (ha! a pun!), I had no issue fitting them into a humbucker cavity. It is also generally found with it’s own fitted pickup mounting ring, but a trem-spaced ring should also do the job.

What looks like big thick rails are actually the magnets. The Silverbird has a pair of Alnico 2 magnets, right out there to grab a hold of that energy firsthand.

If you’re looking for a hard-to-find Duncan pickup, it doesn’t get much better than this. Even so, the Silverbird is almost as scarce as any hands-on evaluations. Fear not, gentle readers…

That’s right. Of the guitar gear curiosities that some send me to check out, the Seymour Duncan SH-9 Silverbird humbucker is one.

Generally speaking, the pickups that follow in the same basic design of the Silverbird are known for having a pretty heavy and dark character. So I’m not sure what to expect. Still, not to be too terribly confused for a trained monkey, I install the Silverbird into my main test guitar. It has 4-con lead wire, so I go with the typical (for me) series/split/parallel wiring. And away we go
The lion’s share of the SH-9 models that you can find on the internet seem to be 9BJ. That means Maricela (MJ) Juarez made it/them. It also means there’s a metric ton of mojo going on, because 1) MJ made it, and 2) it was made during what some are starting to consider the Duncan company’s Golden Age of everything always sounding good.

You know, it’s a pretty interesting pickup. A big bold low end that stays firm (is that a JLo reference?) and doesn’t get muddy. The mids are pretty even, with a bit of a grunt in the low mids and a bit of a snarl in the high mids. And the highs are chirpy and airy while retaining a bit of the A2 sweetness.

For dirty amp settings, the Silverbird can go vintage “brown” and it can do prog metal. Slight adjustments to the pickup height reveal a little more of a shift that I see in some humbuckers in this class. I’m still have a little shock over how much articulation there is in the punchy lows, which gives riffing a rhythm work plenty of authority thanks to the natural compression of the pickup.

The Silverbird has a little more push to it than a vintage style option, so clean amp settings might require a of a rolloff on the volume (at the guitar or at the amp). On split and parallel options, it blended really well with a P.A.F. style neck humbucker. By itself in series mode, you’ll easily get a usable crunchy clean.

This bad boy is so few and far between that I really can’t find a usable video. But you know I have specs:

Series – 14.29 K
Inductance – 5.608 H
Split N – 7.188 K
Split S – 7.109 K
Parallel – 3.565 K
Magnet – Alnico 2 bars

This pickup does show up for sale online from time to time, albeit not often. For what it’s worth, my experience would suggest going for the real deal original SH-9 with the 80s era sticker on the baseplate. In the event you find someone that doesn’t know what they have, the DCR specs clearly give it away.

The one reviewed here is currently for sale by the owner, including the original Zion literature. Shoot me a message on Facebook and I’ll get you in touch. SOLD!!!

For reference, this Silverbird humbucker evaluation was conducted with a Fractal Axe-Fx II XL+. Cabs are a Peavey 6505 cab and a Marshall 1960B cab using 12″ Peavey Sheffield 1200s, 12″ Celestion G12-65s and 12″ Celestion G12T-75s.

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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