At last we come to the third and final installment in what has been easily one of my favorite series’ of articles to write! Completing our most Holiest of Pickups Trinity (amen!) is none other than the manufacturer that started it all...and by “it all” I mean aftermarket pickups.
A Distorted Perspective
The year is 1972. Alice Cooper is letting school out, Brian Johnson has a few more years to go before he leaves Geordie to fill Bon Scott’s smelly, whisky-soaked shoes, and the first ever Star Trek convention is hosted in the NYC Hilton!...er… I mean…more obscure music references…ahem…
Do not disparage them, for we Trek fans are a proud and noble people.
Perhaps one of the most interesting turns in pop music is the now increasingly popular heavy metal genre, with bands like Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, and Led Zeppelin either coming into the full swing of their musical power or are just beginning to spread their evil, evil wings and fly. And as the music gets heavier, the need for louder, more dramatic guitar sounds is more deeply felt.
While many other folks were busy making bigger and louder amps, pointier guitars, and more and more pedals in order to chase the power/tone dragon, a then unknown gearhead by the name of Larry DiMarzio chose to tackle the idea of improving upon and enhancing your sound right at the source: pickups. Instead of trying to desperately squeeze out the most voltage you possibly could on the amplification/effects side of your signal, DiMarzio proposed a modification that proved to be just as dramatic and effective in increasing output and tone as it was simple: replaceable pickups. That’s right. DiMarzio was the first to make a mass-market replaceable pickup and it brought the industry to a whole new level for tone junkies world over.
If you grew up in the golden era of 70s and 80s heavy metal (or if you’ve ever heard a Boston song in your life), you KNOW the sound of DiMarzio. Here are some of their best-known pickups:
- Super Distortions: This fella was the first direct-replacement pickup in the industry. Specifically designed to drive the gain stage of your amp to more intense levels of RAWK, the Supes Distorsh (as the kids are calling it…probably) produced nearly twice the electrical output of standard pickups of the time. They were enthusiastically embraced by rockers in search of efficient ways in which to produce as much distortion as possible without necessarily having to crank it up to eleven. DiMarzio has since elaborated on their flagship pickup with different flavors such as Super Distortion 2, Super Distortion 3…etc, as well as single-coil and soapbar-sized versions for direct replacement.
- D Activators: Let’s say you want all the power and aggression that comes with an active set of pickups, but you’re just not on board with batteries. The D Activator and D Activator X models are DiMarzio’s clever (and passive) alternative to active pups. Known for great sensitivity and attack as well as a roomier, more “organic” feel and plenty of headroom, these are incredibly popular pickups, especially as a pair.
- Areas and Area T’s: heading into the single-coil universe, we have some pretty cool options in the Area models for Strats and the Area T’s for Teles. With most of these models, the big idea is vintage tones with as little hum/noise as possible and less magnet pull. Some Area models get a tad more adventurous such as the Area Hot T which you could sum up in the question, “What would happen if you made a Tele pup with PAF tones?” Hmmm… Excellent bass pickups can also be found in Area J and Area P models.
- Evolution: Here’s one for all you Steve Vai disciples (or, "Vai-sciples" as the cool kids probably say...maybe). This is a ‘bucker for those who ain’t just playin’ around; they’re making their tone an event. Tight, aggressive, and none-too-polite, the Evolution and the Evo 2 pairs are both products of tons of research, blood, sweat, and RAWK that provide the necessary presence for perfect solos and punchy riffs.
- Tone Zones: made in both double and single-coil sizes (and P-90), the Tone Zone is a DiMarzio masterpiece famous for balancing high output with spacious, generous dynamic range. These pickups are incredibly versatile and harmonically rich, making them quite popular for all sorts of players.
Other honorable mentions from DiMarzio include the PAFs (Pro and Classic), the Air Norton, Crunch Labs, and many, many more that I would love to dissect and brag about but the average reader’s attention span isn’t so - Ooh look! Skittles!
Here’s three reasons why we here at Bigfoot proudly stock DiMarzio…
1) They Make Something for Everyone
Much like many of the leading pickup producers these days, DiMarzio understands the value of making not just quality products but diverse ones. In the end, what makes a pickup great or not is the taste and preference of the consumer; so it follows that the best approach for pickup success is to make a little something for every tonal palette. DiMarzio is also highly conscientious about creating different versions of their most popular pickups for different guitar formats (i.e. routing, wiring, string spacing*, etc). This makes them convenient for folks looking to get that great tone in their guitar with the least amount of hassle.
2) Unique and Clever Tech
Larry DiMarzio kicked off the early seventies with keen innovation and a sense for player practicality, qualities that the manufacturer still upholds to this day. The evil geniuses at DiMarzio are quite proud of their patented technologies, two of which I’d like to point out: their Dual Resonance technology and their Air technology.
DiMarzio’s Dual Resonance technology is a simple idea but an impactful one. Speaking generally of modern manufacturing, each of a humbucker’s coils are wound about as symmetrically as you can possibly get them in order to ensure the cleanest, most consistent sound. But it is fair to say that when one ‘bucker’s coil is wound slightly differently from the other, a bunch of new tonal possibilities can open up (especially with a coil-split option). Humbuckers featuring Dual Resonance are wound just slightly different between each coil which many players and tone junkies agree can improve upon an otherwise traditional ‘bucker tone, opening up the sound for more harmonic play and dynamics.
In addition to the Dual Resonance stuff, DiMarzio also features several pickup models with Air technology. Put simply, these pickups are constructed with itty-bitty gaps between the individual pole pieces and the core magnet itself. The result is a lessened magnetic pull on the player’s strings allowing them to vibrate more freely. This has been known to improve sustain and pick response, and many “vintage tone” fans appreciate them for the way in which the gentler magnetic pull imitates some of freer characteristics of aged or worn magnets.
3) Finally, Our Three C’s:
We sure do like out three C’s at the shop: consistent, well-crafted, and colloquial. Like the other two divine names in our transduction Trinity, DiMarzios are 1) made right here in the good ol’ US of A, 2) are well-respected and amply endorsed by the some of the world’s greatest players (Vai, Petrucci, Satriani, Gilbert and so on) and 3) are top-shelf quality products! We’ve been playing ‘em, installing ‘em and selling ‘em for years and we here at Bigfoot would be delighted to get you learned up on DiMarzio. So come on by the shop and ask us what pickup is best for you!
That’s it for the Holy Pickup Trinity Series featuring EMG, Seymour Duncan, and DiMarzio. Keep in mind that we carry many other brands of pickups and are big on pickup exploration so be sure to head on in to the shop and talk pups with us. We’ll hook you up!
Stay excellent and have a good week!
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*A quick word on F-spacing: Back in the day, aftermarket pickups were created with two different standards in mind: Gibson, which traditionally opts for narrow string spacing at the bridge, and Fender, which traditionally features wider string spacing at the bridge. Floyd Rose bridges and many other manufacturers tend to have similar bridge spacing as Fender so DiMarzio (and other pickup designers, including Duncan who refer to it as “trem-spacing”) usually offer two types of spacing for most of their pickups pole pieces. DiMarzio’s exceptions are X2N and D Activator X which utilize “universal spacing”, which usually work in most guitars.