REVIEW: Seymour Duncan SH-15 Alternative 8

Not content with releasing the Blackout and Livewire active pickups with unprecedented power, Seymour Duncan has unleashed the SH-15 Alternative 8 passive humbucker. The 8 in the Alternative 8’s name is derived from its Alnico 8 (Aluminium/nickel/cobalt alloy) magnet, and this pickup marks the first time this magnet has been used by Seymour Duncan.
The Alternative 8 has a DC resistance of 17.68k, making it one of the hottest passive humbuckers in Seymour Duncan’s history, almost stepping on the toes of the mighty Distortion Parallel Axis, a ceramic magnet humbucker which weighs in at an imposing 21.3 k. The pickup features hot coils wound for maximum output, enhanced further by the natural qualities of the Alnico magnet. While a ceramic magnet might sound tight and bitey, Alnico adds warmth and presence to the true midrange as well as the upper mids, while taming the fizzy buzz factor.

Seymour Duncan rates the pickup’s tonal response as Treble: 9; Midrange: 8; and Bass: 7, with a resonant peak at 4.46 KHz. In contrast, the famed Alnico II humbucker favoured by Slash has a DC resistance of 7.6k, and its tonal response breaks down to Treble: 8; Midrange 4; and Bass: 7, with a resonant peak at 7.1KHz, resulting in a more open, airy tone more suited to bands with multiple guitars.

I tested the Alternative 8 in a Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Standard through my Marshall DSL50 all-valve half stack. I usually keep the Marshall’s gain at about half way, and goose the input with an overdrive pedal for a little extra fullness and body depending on the guitar and pickups. This certainly wasn’t needed with the Alternative 8. This pickup is loud, chunky and gutsy. It’s ideally suited for single guitar bands, especially when the guitarist really wants to be noticed. The tone is bright and full, with lots of midrange ‘poke,’ making it a great pickup for lead playing. The dynamic response is a little squashed at medium gain levels – picking harder doesn’t increase the volume, but it fills out the bottom end of the tone response nicely. The pickup’s natural compression also makes it great for legato techniques.

Options include a nickel or gold plated cover, if you don’t like the exposed coil look, and the pickup can be ordered in standard or trembucker size (more info here), the latter spaced for Fender-style or Floyd Rose-equipped guitars. It’s important to buy the right size for your guitar, because if the pole pieces of the pickup don’t line up with the strings, you risk a cataclysmic mismatch in volume from one string to another.

This is one of those pickups that rewards the player for putting in a little more detail and finesse. Every little phrasing choice is presented loud and proud for the audience to hear, which can be either intimidating or liberating depending on your approach. But if you have the guts to take on this monster, it’s well worth the tonal payoff.