REVIEW: DiMarzio Area J bass pickup set

DiMarzio’s Area J set is designed to sound as close to original J bass pickups as possible, but in a humbucking configuration to remove any background noise. Nobody likes excessive noise at the best of times but this is especially important today where bass distortion and biamped rigs seem so much more common than any other time I can think of. Who wants to plug into a multi-amp rig of doom, spend hours dialling in punchy clean low end and a growly, distorted treble, only to have the whole thing overwhelmed with 60-cycle hum? No-one, that’s who.

I installed the Area J set in my Fernandes Jazz Bass copy. It’s a great instrument with a very playable neck and an authentic natural tone, but the stock pickups were a little lacking in character. They were also noisy as all get-out despite extensive and very high quality shielding throughout the electronics and pickup cavities. See?

As you can hear from that sound clip (with both pickups at full volume), the bass didn’t exactly sound awesome with the original pickups… especially because there was a ground hum that needed to be repaired. It was there when I got the bass and I hadn’t had a chance to fix it yet. But if you can listen past that problem, you’ll hear a bass that has definite Jazz Bass character, but is a little one dimensional.

Installing the Area J set was extremely easy. After unsoldering each original pickup and lifting them out, it was simply a matter of sitting the Area Js (the back unit is slightly longer than the front one) on top of the pickup shielding plates, screwing them down, soldering the red wire of each pickup to the centre tag of its respective volume pot, soldering the green and gray wires to the back of the pot, then joining the black and white wires together and shielding them off. While I was in there, I diagnosed the cause of the ground hum – a broken wire from the tone control to the output jack. The pickup set came with a little instruction leaflet (also available for download on the DiMarzio website) which, in addition to a simple text outline of how to remove the old pickups and install the new ones, includes a couple of alternate wiring methods which take further advantage of the pickups’ humbucking nature. I just went for the standard Jazz Bass wiring. I left plenty of wire for future experiments with push-pull pots and the like, and plugged in.

The bridge pickup is bright yet warm. By itself the sound is clear but not sharp – especially suited to that classic Geddy Lee sound, where you want to jump out from a mix and leave some low-end real estate for the drummer and rhythm guitar to occupy. This pickup seems to respond especially well to playing with the fingers, especially when you get a little bit of nail involved for some clarity and definition. The neck unit sounds fuller and rounder than the bridge, which makes it useful for John Paul Jones-style fingerpicked lines around the 7th-12th fret region. The lows are not overwhelming, and the high end is smooth and clear.

Here’s a Rush-sounding clip using the bridge pickup:

Here you’ll hear the bridge pickup panned hard right, the neck pickup hard left, and both pickups (blended 100% neck, 70% bridge) in the middle:

Here’s the neck pickup, both as a main bass part and as a lead instrument (with unhealthy amounts of compression and a smattering of delay to play up a vintage vibe):

And finally here’s a big ol’ distorted demo – a little bit Chickenfoot, a little bit Audioslave:

After much messing about I found my ideal Jazz Bass tone with the front pickup at 100% volume and the rear one backed off to about 70%. This gave all the fullness of the front one but with a little more definition, especially when using a pick. I also really like the sound of this particular ratio when run through heavy distortion with the amp’s treble wound back a bit for that growly Billy Sheehan kind of tone. Billy’s tone is a lot more complex than this, of course, thanks to the special pickup layout of his DiMarzio-loaded Yamaha Attitude basses and the particulars of his amp rig, but the Area J set can get you somewhere in the general area thanks to its clear tone and lack of hum. You won’t get those hi-fi bass-and-treble-boosted slap tones without further processing, but you’ll get great natural jazz, soul, R&B, blues, classic rock and metal sounds with ease.


Thanks to DiMarzio for providing this pickup set for review. Thanks also to my 3-year-old son who wanted to help me, so I talked him through typing the colours of the pickup wires.

REVIEW: Fernandes Ravelle Deluxe Baritone

In some circles, Fernandes is known for the high quality copy guitars it made in decades gone by. I have a rather impressive Fernandes Jazz Bass copy, for instance. For others the Fernandes Sustainer, a pickup system that provides infinite sustain and controllable feedback by interacting with the string itself, is a thing of legend, the key to a sonic Eden populated by the likes of Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Reeves Gabrels and Adrian Belew.

Fernandes calls the Ravelle Deluxe Baritone (discontinued in the USA but still available in some markets, or check eBay) the most aggressive axe it’s ever made, and it’s easy to see why. Apart from the distinctive Ravelle styling, which looks like some kind of medieval weapon concealed within the lower half of an otherwise subdued looking 50s solidbody guitar design, this mahogany-bodied beast features fire breathing EMG pickups and an extended scale length designed for maximum impact when tuning down.

The Ravelle Baritone came tuned to B and was strung with heavy D’Addario strings selected to get the most out of the extended 27” scale length at such a low tuning. The hardwear, in classic metal tradition, could be ‘none more black.’ The Gotoh-made Tune-O-Matic bridge and Stop tailpiece good choices for maintaining tuning stability, while the break angle of the bridge to the tailpiece seems to add its own little mojo in terms of sustain and fullness of tone.

Electronics consist of a pair of EMG 81 pickups, a 3 way toggle switch, and volume and tone controls. The fretboard has a 14” radius, with a 5 1/8” Graph Tech Trem nut. What? A trem nut? Hang on, bucko, there’s logic behind this lunacy. Sure, at first it would seem like an odd choice – why would a nut designed for keeping vintage tremolo systems in tune be used on a fixed bridge guitar? But it makes perfect sense when you consider that there’s no ‘standard’ string gauge or even standard tuning for baritone guitars, so this self-lubricating nut is a great way of covering all bases and coping with the demands of a player who may change string gauges and tunings several times before settling on their preferred setup.

Ravelle Baritone, meet Marshall DSL50. The Ravelle is a straight up ass kicker from the very first chord. Those used to tuning down on standard scale instruments, or even dedicated 7-stringers like myself, will realise very quickly that they’re missing out by playing lower tunings without the extended scale of this baritone. The extra length keeps the string tension tight and makes the note definition sharp and punchy. On a down-tuned standard scale guitar, play a chord and the notes drift around a little bit, especially if you’re using lighter strings. On this baritone, the tuning remains solid, but more importantly, there’s a punch and oomph to the note attack that you just can’t get with a standard scale length. The EMG pickups add some bite and fizz to the top end, so not only does the Ravelle thud you in the chest, it also takes off some skin – metaphorically speaking of course, unless you get a bit too wild with that sharp treble side cutaway during live performance…

The Ravelle Baritone has uses for everything from metal to country, though pickups with a coil split option might enhance its use for the latter. While I thought I would generally pretty happy to stick with my 7 string when I need to get down to low B, now I’m not so sure.

CLICK HERE to see baritone guitars on eBay

NEW GEAR DAY: DiMarzio Area J bass pickups

Just got a new set of pickups for the Fernandes Jazz Bass I wrote about a while ago. The stock pickups are already pretty cool but they’re a bit noisy which won’t do when I start piling on the gain for some of the rowdier stuff I write. The Area J pickups are designed to sound like vintage J Bass pickups without the hum. Awesome.

Here’s what DiMarzio says:

Been waiting for a bass pickup that sounds like a vintage J Bass® pickup and cancels hum? Your wait is over. Bass pickups are usually described with aggressive terms such as “amazing punch” and “thundering lows”, but that’s not the sound of vintage J Bass® pickups. They’re all about warmth, sustain, and a clean, singing tone. The Area J™ captures all of those qualities. It is not loud, but it has a very focussed attack, so it has power where it counts – at the center of the tone. The lows are very clear and clean, and the highs are both smooth and open-sounding. We’ve reduced the magnet-pull, and included 4-conductor wiring to allow both series and parallel humbucking modes.

I’m going to record some clips of the bass before and after the new pickup installation so you can hear the difference, so keep an eye out for that.

CLICK HERE to buy the DiMarzio DP249 Area J Neck and Bridge Pickup Set from Musician’s Friend for $109.95.

10% Off Value Brands at (coupon: VALUEME, exp: 8/31)

NEW GEAR DAY: Fernandes Jazz Bass

Check it out! I recently picked this up when a friend asked me to do a little repair on it before selling it on eBay. After about 20 seconds of playing the bass I determined two things:

1) it was just a simple grounding problem, and 
2) I wanted it!
So I looked up the average used price online and made an offer. Then Mrs I Heart Guitar offered to make it a combined anniversary/late Valentine’s Day present, once again cementing the fact that I’m the luckiest dude alive.

The bass is made in Japan and apart from the headstock it seems like quite an accurate Jazz Bass copy. There’s something about this bass that is very playable, and it has that great warm, round sound that got me addicted to Jazz Basses when I first heard John Paul Jones. I’d still love to get a G&L L-2500 5-string some day, and the review I posted on that model the other day was a reflection of my G&L G.A.S attack, but this Jazz Bass sounds perfect for a lot of the stuff I’m working on right now.

CLICK HERE to see Fernandes Jazz Basses on eBay.

NEWS: Metallica, Fernandes, Zon and Yamaha

TMZ reports that Metallica has issued a cease and desist notice to Fernandes Guitars to stop them using Metallica bass player Rob Trujillo in their advertisements, and while the news has brought about near Napster-era levels of anti-Metallica sentiment across the internet, none of the reports seem to mention that Trujillo has had a signature Zon bass since 2004 and is now playing a series of custom Yamaha basses.

The TMZ report states: Nothing in life is free — unless you’re famous — but this time freebees have put Metallica’s bass player in the middle of a serious legal battle. Their new bassist, Robert Trujillo, had an existing promotional deal with Fernades Guitars in North Hollywood. For being able to use his likeness in advertising, Fernandes was giving Robert a pile of custom basses. But Metallica has its own promo deal with ESP Guitars — and now that Trujillo is an asset of Metallicorp, their lawyers have slapped Fernandes with a cease and desist letter demanding they no longer use Robert or Metallica’s name or likeness. Rock and roll used to be much cooler than this.

Yamaha reports that Yamaha Artist Services Hollywood master luthier John Gaudesi made three basses for Trijullo, which he is using on Metallica’s current tour. Yamaha Artist Relations manager Mike Tempesta says “The result of the custom basses we created for Robert is a totally unique looking bass. We were honored to be involved in the creative process of providing Robert with instruments exclusive for him based on his wants and desires. It’s a very satisfying process for all involved, and we can’t wait to hear the reaction from the fans that see him perform with these instruments on stage.”

Yamaha says, “The basses are modeled after the TRB5PII. They are made of 2-piece maple core, with maple wings, Indian rosewood fingerboard, a 34″ scale, and the electronics system was custom designed based on Trujillo’s specifications.”

The Yamaha bass is not available to the public yet, but we’ll see what happens come NAMM time in January 2009.