When it comes to heavy music we guitarists search endlessly for the next big thing. Ever since the first razor slashed speaker-cone we’ve been obsessed with finding new ways to make a chunk of wood sing like the song echoes in our heads. Of course, with such great emphasis on what magic piece of kit is waiting for you just over the horizon, it is easy to overlook the tools we already have at our disposal. So, without further delay, grab my hand to travel back in time to a land where Toto held the line and Donna Summer taught us the joys of easy women. Some call it 1978, I call it “The birth of a monster”.
Seven years after the introduction of the wildly successful Super Distortion, someone at Dimarzio decided to push the boundaries of what a replacement pickup was capable of. Sitting well above the rest of the Dimarzio stable at, 15.83k with an output rating of 510mV, the X2N is one of the hottest, most blistering pickups ever produced. The term “Apocalyptic” comes to mind, but this veritable beast of a pickup has a trick up it’s sleeve.
Many of you may have already developed an opinion on this subject and may be asking yourself why I’m writing a review of a pickup that’s older than I am when countless other contemporary manufacturers are releasing “metal-oriented” pickups by the truckload. Well, it’s pretty simple: your opinion is wrong, and I have a case of IPA to work through. So let’s hit it.
If you install this pickup and set it to the same height adjustments that you’re comfortable with in all your other guitars, you will hate this pickup. The dual-blade configuration gives this pickup a planetary amount of magnetic pull, so setting it too close to your strings will kill your sustain and give you a sharp, almost clinical attack. While this may be ideal for the extreme metal crowd, its also what I hear the most complaints about; and I understand why.
When I first ran this pickup into the front-end of my Hovercraft, (by way of a solid ash LP copy), I was conflicted. Palm muted riffing sounded huge but chord work and leads sounded compressed and stifled. Unwilling to accept the pickup as a one-trick pony, I grabbed my screwdriver and lowered the pickup. A lot, as in flush with the pickup ring, and the difference was incredible. The pickup instantly became more dynamic in sound and feel. What once sounded like a claw hammer hitting sheet-metal, now sounded like an oil-press punching holes in the earth. Riffing stayed tight, but had depth;leads had plenty of cut and I could feel the impact of chords in my stomach. The pickup had taken on entirely new characteristics. It had an incredibly even response with no harsh overtones. The lows were tight and resonant, the mids had growl and body; the previously harsh highs had a more relaxed character that made leads a joy to play.
The X2N had gone from being articulate (yet harsh) to being bold and thick, and in doing so – it cleaned up beautifully. Even rolling back the volume didn’t dull the sound at all, as it stayed bright and clear. Make no mistake, the X2N does NOT sounds vintage. Even backed way off from the strings it retains it’s modern feel and tone – and you know what? It’s refreshing. To have a passive pickup that isn’t a PAF is a wonderful change of pace. It has more output than an active pickup without the sterile compression.And rather than coloring your sound, it adapts to the true characteristics of whatever guitar you install it in.
Even if you’ve already tried this pickup you owe it to yourself to spend some time with it. Take it to dinner, give it a cuddle, get to know it, and see what it can do for you. You may be surprised at how willing you’ll be to lower the gain on your amp and let the guitar do the heavy lifting.
Special thanks to guest contributor Devin Bartnikowski for this review