DiMarzio‘s loaded pickguard ideas tap into two facts of guitar life, one pleasant, one not-so-pleasant: tonal improvement, and soldering. Everyone wants better tone. Some of us like the smell of hot solder in the morning, others of us detest this work, and yet others just kind of bear it because they know it has to be done and they’d rather do it themselves. (Me, I’ve worked as a setup/repairs tech so I’ve done more than my fair share of soldering and rewiring, and although I find it kinda therapeutic, I don’t really like to do it unless I have to these days… but I digress).
So along comes DiMarzio with a series of carefully constructed pre-loaded pickguards for Strat containing all the goodies you need to pimp your axe, with the added bonus of not having to solder anything. All you have to do is pop off the existing pickguard, snip a few wires, screw those wires into the replacement loaded pickguard, screw that down, restring and have at it. I replaced the stock pickguard and electronics on my beloved old Status Stratocaster copy in about 7 minutes, from removing the old strings to putting on new ones.
Before we delve into the tones though, let’s look at the options available:
Area setup: A hum-cancelling, vintage-style setup with an Area 58 in the neck, Area 67 in the middle and an Area 61 in the bridge.
Vintage setup: True Velvet bridge, middle and neck pickups (with hum-cancelling in the 2 and 4 positions thanks to a reverse polarity middle pickup).
High Power setup: ProTrack in the neck position, Fast Track 1 in the middle and Fast Track 2 in the bridge.
HS (formerly YJM) setup: HS-4 hum-cancelling pickups in the neck and middle positions and an HS-3 in the bridge.
Billy Corgan setup: BC-1 in the neck position (modified version of the Air Norton S), Chopper in the middle and BC-2 (based on the Tone Zone S) in the bridge position.
So how do they sound in my beloved Strat copy?
Area 58. An extremely dynamic pickup. Y’know how some neck pickups just seem to mush everything into the same frequency range and give you a nice flutey sound but without much variation? The Area 58 is pretty much the opposite of that. It can sound thick (especially with the tone control rolled down) but it can also sound thin and wiry, or loose and juicy. Riffs that bounce around between open E pedal tones and zippy mid-neck chord stabs really show off the sheer range of tone that can be wrung from these pickups. Picking hard gives you that classic Stratty ‘noodle sound’, while picking more softly or even with the fingers is great for authentic, soulful R&B – think Curtis Mayfield. Groovy.
Area 67. A lot of cool stuff happened in 1967, not the least of which was the mighty wallop of one Mr James Marshall Hendrix. The Area 67 captures the bright, clean qualities of single coils of that era. While a lot of players tend to think of the middle pickup only as something to combine with either the bridge or neck pickup for those classic quacky sounds, I’m a sucker for a good middle pickup, to the extent that – shhh – it’s kinda one of my secret weapons. I just love using the DiMarzio single coil on my Ibanez UV777BK for solos, especially at medium gain levels with lots of legato. The Area 67 is great for this, because it’s bright and clean enough to reveal the fine edges and detail of your playing, but placing it in the middle position is the perfect location to add a little fullness too.
Area 61. For my money, early 60s Strats are where it’s at. I’ve been super privileged to get my paws on a few through the years, and there’s just something magical about the tone of those axes. It’s slightly hollow, yet rich. You kind of feel like you can hear each little vibration of the string, right down to the windings. The Area 61 captures this vibe without the hum. Presented here in the bridge position, it has a lot of treble, but it’s a pleasant, musical treble, not a slice-your-ears-and-make-you-cringe one. Combined with a warm overdrive pedal you’ll get great SRV tones, while the clean sounds are twangy and clear. It’s very dynamic, making it great for those soulful bends way up high on the neck while also adding a great vocal tonality to rhythm work down near the nut.
The split positions have all the sharp-toned, hollow quack and cluck you could possibly as for. The neck/middle combination has a killer deep-but-not-muddy low end, while the middle/bridge setting has greasy rock written all over it, as well as melodic country sounds. Both options are great for hi-fi ultra-clean Satch sounds as well.
Whereas once my old Strat copy sounded tired, noisy and indistinct, it now sounds vibrant, quiet and toneful. The solderless Strat set has really given the guitar a new lease on life, and greatly increased the tired old axe’s chances of getting to spend quality time away from the guitar stand.
[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]Buy the DiMarzio Area set at Musician’s Friend.
DiMarzio Area set (individual pickups)[/geo-out]