Direct-Mounting Pickups Part II: The JB meets the PMS (Pickup Mounting System)
As those who’ve read my blogs know, I’m a HUGE fan of and have written about the benefits of direct-mounting pickups in your guitar. There’s a noticeable increase in resonance once the pickup is embedded in the guitar sensing more vibration from the body as well as the strings. It makes a good pickup sound great, so no reason it wouldn’t make an already great pickup like the Seymour Duncan JB sound absolutely amazing. Especially in a one-piece Koa body of my Warmoth Strat build AKA “Excalibur”! Of all my guitars, this one has always been the one that’s closest to “perfect” feel, response and tone-wise. I’ve been trying to recreate its vibe with various levels of success with each guitar since I built it in 1997. Direct-mounting the bridge pickup will most likely elevate it even closer to perfection level. Certainly wouldn’t hurt, if the Bomber guitar is any indication. In fact besides being “really really ridiculously good-looking”, the only advantage the Bomber has ever had over Excalibur is IMO the improved string and pick attack of the direct-mounted bridge pickup. It’s a difference I’ve noticed regardless of what pickup has been in the Bomber. I want that for the Warmoth, too.
Problem: it’s kind of hard to do that with old-school deep cavity pickup routs and/or if your guitar is rear-loaded and makes the use of plastic (or metal) mounting rings. Sure, you could just get some longer wood screws and simply slap them in there, but that’s not necessarily the correct approach. Doing that alone means now your pickup probably isn’t at the optimal height. There’s a school of thought with direct mounting that says that doesn’t matter once it’s in the wood, but some pickup routs are pretty deep, and the difference would be drastic and potentially noticeable volume-wise. The added “oomph” won’t be as appreciable if suddenly the pickup sounds ever-so slightly weaker because it dropped in the cavity. That’d be like subtracting before you add. Not what I’m shooting for here. Ideally I want the exact same tone enhanced. Not a new version of it. Ordinarily if you wanted to direct-mount your pickup and still maintain the favored height you’d build up the routs with wood shims to achieve the proper level. You can also try filling the holes left by the mounting rings with wood putty and matching the finish. The latter not really being a viable (or at least non-PITA) option on a clear-coated guitar like Excalibur. Leaving the holes showing is pretty ugly even from a distance, if you care about that sort of thing. Some guys don’t, but in this case, I do. Especially with Excalibur. What to do, then?
Enter the FU-Tone/Mike Learn PMS (Pickup Mounting System)! It’s an ingenious Bell-Brass bracket that allows height-adjustable direct mounting in standard pickup cavities. Designed by Adam Reiver and Mike Learn (of Learn Guitars, well-known for his amazing airbrushed graphic guitar finishes), the brass bar acts as a little tone soak, absorbing vibrations from the body and transferring them via the baseplate to the pickup.
Installation was a breeze, and if you’re squeamish about doing it using the included printed directions alone, there’s a cool How-To video posted on the FU-Tone YouTube channel and site. Short version, simply measure the pickup’s current height before removing it, and make sure you set it to be exactly the same using the PMS. Once installed, the benefits can’t be overstated IMO. It pretty much rules. Thankfully I can leave the mounting ring on for looks, but that’s all it’s there for now. It should be pointed out that the concept, due to the variously sized height-adjustment screws provided, could conceivably be used on something like a Les Paul, with none the wiser since you would re-apply the mounting rings! I think an LP with this done to it would sound frighteningly huge! Direct-mounting beats suspended pickups hands down. Off the top of my head I can’t imagine a solidbody for which it wouldn’t be a beneficial modification.
I like it so much I immediately ordered another one to put in the Bomber guitar, too. The pickup in it (a Jason Becker Perpetual Burn) is already direct-mounted to the wood, but in theory the brass may add a bit of enhancement. I’d also like to hear what it would sound like with the pickup raised a hair closer to the strings. Hello, no-hassle fine height adjustment and a Bell-Brass bed? I’m in. It’s likely I’ll eventually put them under ALL my humbuckers, in the bridge position at the very least.
Once I was done, after standing around enjoying some epic palm-muting and harmonic “ping” weirdness, I decided to cut some tracks with Excalibur. I had a piece I was working on that I’d laid down a rhythm track with my original 80s black Charvel build that sports a Duncan DIY Custom 8. Yes, that one is going to need a PMS install too! I panned that hard left and doubled it with the JB. The tones mesh excellently. The artificial harmonics you hear “pop” the most are all the PMS-enhanced JB, though. Oh, another thing: There’s I’m told some misconception that the JB doesn’t do Drop-D (technically C# here)? Well then, I offer that silly Instagram clip as Exhibit A to pretty much debunk that false assertion!
I tracked and then, being the huge Randy Rhoads fan that I am, doubled the lead with Excalibur. I switched off almost every phrase between the JB and the STK-S6 with no discernible volume drop or dreaded “huh?” effect. The transitions are utterly seamless. Not sure how much of that has to do with the fact that now both the neck and bridge pickups are direct-mounted, but one thing is clear: They’re a brilliant combo. I was so pleased with the effect I later went back and tripled that bad boy. But that’s another story.
This successful experiment did remind me there’s a reason why the JB is what comes in so many off-the-rack guitars. It’s got HUGE Rock tone, it’s versatile, and it has attitude for days. There’s little you can throw at it that it can’t take. The lead voicing is articulate, authoritative and inspiring, can’t be spoken highly enough of. Like I said, you almost can’t go wrong with it. But if you really want to give it that extra little push over the cliff of tonal awesomeness – direct-mount it (with a PMS)!