Steve Vai has used various signature DiMarzio pickups over the years: the Evolution, the Breed, the Blaze, Evolution 7 and Evolution 2 (as well as the set made exclusively for the transparent acrylic 20th Anniversary Jem). And his pickups have something in common with his music: they all seem to be designed to explore and address a specific sonic question. The Evolution is bright, middy and somewhat hyper, for instance, while the Breed is warmer and more vintage. Steve’s new Gravity Storm set comes from a different place to the Evo, Blaze or Breed. As Steve recently explained to me: “Well, the Evolution is very high output, high gain. And my sound as a result is a very distorted sound. And I like that – I always have. But with the Gravity Storm I wanted something tighter in the bottom end, and maybe a little less… not output, but distortion, so I can crank the amps a little more. And the Evolutions can have a tendency to be top-endy sometimes, y’know? And the Gravity Storms have a smoother top end.”
The bridge Gravity Storm (model number DP253) weighs in at an output of 340mV and a DC resistance of 15.19Kohms, and it has an Alnico V magnet like the Breed, rather than a ceramic magnet like the more strident Evolution and Evo 2. The Gravity Storm neck pickup (DP252) has a ceramic magnet, an output of 290mV and a DC resistance of 12.56Kohms.
I installed the Gravity Storm set in my 1987 Ibanez RG550. It has a basswood body, maple Wizard neck with rosewood fretboard and a floating Ibanez Edge double locking vibrato bridge. I left the stock Ibanez middle single coil intact.
The bridge Gravity Storm is definitely Vai’s fattest sounding pickup to date. Its treble content in particular is almost the inverse of the top-happy Evolution, and players who were scared off by the Evo’s high end will be much more comfortable with the Gravity Storm. There’s a smoothness to the high end and a roundness to the attack which together invite the player to explore sustained notes and legato techniques. It has a big fat midrange and full bass, and these qualities help to make it Vai’s biggest-sounding ‘power-chorder’ to date. And while the Evo and Breed seemed to have a slight compressed vibe, the Gravity Storm is bold and dynamic. It’s almost like taking a Breed and pressing the ‘Fat’ button on certain amps or overdrive pedals. And it absolutely thrives on being plugged straight into the amp. The clean sound is quite nice too: not jangly or stabby.
The Gravity Storm neck model is much fatter-sounding than the scooped Evo, Blaze and Breed humbuckers. The bass is just thick enough to do that ‘mushing up’ sound which Vai sometimes employs when he plays super-fast on the bass strings, and the ratio of midrange-to-treble is almost oboe-like. Again this really invites legato techniques. But the focus is quite tight: there’s a directness to picked notes which almost recalls the ‘poke’ of a hot version of a noiseless single coil with a slight 60s voicing. It’s still recognisably a humbucker, but a very defined and slightly ‘grainy’ one.
Here’s a little clip I recorded which will give you an idea of how they sound. You’ll hear the bridge pickup first, and then the neck. This was recorded with a Marshall DSL50 mic’d with a Shure SM57, and a small amount of reverb and delay added in Studio One 2. No pedals, no compression, no EQ, just pure guitar/amp/ambience.
If you’re after a particular Vai sound from previous albums, the Gravity Storm set isn’t quite going to get you there. It’s got maybe a little bit of Alien Love Secrets about it, but it really should be taken as its own pickup. If you’d like to hear it in a Vai musical context, check out the track “Racing The World” from The Story Of Light. But like any pickup, it’s best to think about what it can do for you and your music. And the Gravity Storm set offers a pair of voicings that are not quite like any other pickup set: fat and smooth but more ‘hot’ than ‘warm.’