Previously, I told the story of my rosewood Tele. I love that guitar; it’s so clear and warm and chimey! But, it doesn’t have the boldness, rawness and raunchyness of what I consider to be the ‘real’ Telecaster sound. As you can read in the ‘Telecaster build blog’ episodes, I was working on a Telecaster with specs I wanted, and I loaded her up after a week or two of tinkering, with a set of pickups. I chose the Seymour Duncan Jerry Donahue lead pickup and the recommended pickup to go in the neck position, the Alnico 2 Pro Single Coil for Telecaster.
Before I’ll tell you anything about the guitar and what my experiences were, let’s listen to what these pickups sound like!
First up: the Donahue lead pickup
Here we hear the Alnico 2 Pro in the neck and in the bridge. Great to compare the sweeter highs of the Alnico 2 Pro in the bridge versus the Donahue lead pickup, which has a bit more bite to it.
I did some setup first: action, broad intonation; the usual stuff. I plugged it in my ’79 Marshall JMP 2203 and hit the first E chord. I heard a great tone when the guitar was unplugged: lots of bite, a bit of chime and just a nice, chunky aggression. I expected to hear the same through my Marshall, but nothing happened! It helps if the cable isn’t just plugged in the guitar, but also the amp, don’t ya think?! So after a reset, I hit that E chord again and all I could do was smile. So much attack and balls, I couldn’t believe it. I just wanted to get a sample of the pickups so I could write a review and then take it apart as soon as I could to refinish the guitar, because the color is just ugly in every single way. Not the finish – that turned out as I wanted it to be: raunchy, dirty and ‘abused’ (but not reliced, just very thinly applied and a bit ‘rustic’) – but the sound at that moment blew me away so badly, I immediately forgot my refinishing wishes.
I’m not a country picker by any means. I don’t like to play clean and twangy all the time. I like to ROCK, and I couldn’t imagine a Tele to sound great when played clean (twangy and biting) and also sound great with overdrive: lots of push, aggression, tight yet slightly sweet in the upper mids; Jerry Donahue style clean and Billy Gibbons with overdrive. But this guitar, this set has exactly that. The woods are just plain ash and maple, and the pickups are ‘off the shelf’ pickups. No special wiring, special woods or customized winding of the pickup. Perhaps that makes the tone even more so impressive.
It’s like a compete transformation when I play clean or with overdrive. You get so much bite and sizzle in the higher mids and treble when clean that those blistering country licks almost play themselves. Even I, not being a country player at all, tried my hands at some country licks. But for me, it excels with overdrive. The mids get a bit saggy and chewy, but with exactly enough push in the upper mids to cut through any mix.
The neck pickup is a completely different thing. I expect a Tele to have a smooth, sweet sound on the neck pickup with an incredible amount of clarity, and this pickup delivers just that. Compared to the ’54 vintage rhythm pickup, the Alnico 2 Pro for Telecaster has a bit more warmth and creamyness and a bit less transparency. The output is a bit less than the Donahue lead pickup but a bit more than the ’54 Vintage Rhythm pickup.
I was completely amazed on how quiet these pickups are. I don’t experience a lot of feedback when I play with my Telecaster, and noise is also negligible. Is this set suited for everything? No, not really. The neck pickup isn’t compressed enough to sustain high-gain metal solos. The bridge pickup isn’t compressed enough to do those ‘chugga chugga’ supertight palm muted riffs. But let’s be honest: do we really buy Telecasters with single coils to cater those styles? No, I don’t think so! The Jerry Donahue lead pickup and the Alnico 2 Pro Rhythm pickup make up for an incredible versatile set, ensuring a coverage of all the basic styles and tones you need. Twangy, punchy, balls-to-the-walls chunkyness, transparent and warm lush leads… you’ve got it all with this set, and always with that classic ‘Tele’ thing going on.