Yes, many of us buy pickups because a famous person is associated with them. Sometimes we buy them because of the descriptions on Seymour Duncan website, and sometimes they come from posting questions and reading responses on the Seymour Duncan Pickup Lounge forum.
Most signature pickups, like the new Slash Alnico Pro II, are bought because people hope to achieve the singing, soaring sound that Slash is known for. However, when I first read about the Duncan Alnico Pro II, I wasn’t a guitarist that followed Slash’s career closely. At the time, I probably couldn’t name a single song he had played on. Everyone I asked about the APH-1 called it ‘the Slash pickup’. This was, of course, before his signature set had come out. All of my research about this pickup, which used adjectives like warm and sweet, pointed me in this direction. I needed a neck pickup that was certainly warm and sweet- almost like a female alto voice.
However, the music I made was so different than what Slash does. I tend to write ambient music, with guitar synth and loops. Quite the opposite of Slash’s hard rock. Since I used to work with a female vocalist, I wanted to replicate that sound on guitar. I bought the Alnico Pro II neck pickup for this purpose, based on the soundclips on the site, as well as the description. Not knowing much about Slash at the time (yes, I do now!), I was hoping what I chose would be right for what I needed. I liked it so much, I did a video (you may need to refresh the page to see it):
Yes, I tend to use some strange sounds, and some strange guitars sometimes too- but that is the point. Guitarists should continue to be creative, and sometimes that means using a pickup differently than it was intended. Slash’s set might excel at hard rock, but I have played some very honest believable jazz with a Les Paul loaded with his signature set. I might have never have tried that if my experience with the APH-1 neck pickup hadn’t been so good.
The point is that there are lots of signature pickups out there, and they are usually bought with the idea in mind is that it will get you that much closer to an artist’s sound. I think this is partially true in as much you can separate the gear from the head, hands and heart of an artist. However, an artist signature pickup can be a great launching point for a guitarist to find their own sound, too. If I had never taken the plunge an tried the APH-1, I may have never known about how flute-like and vocal a pickup can sound. I certainly had not heard that sound in my stock pickups. I had a sound in my head and moved towards it. It didn’t matter to me at the time if it was associated with an artist I knew little about.
We can surmise that active pickups are generally cleaner and clearer (and higher output) than passives. This isn’t always the case. I owned a Steinberger guitar that someone had put Mick Thompson EMTY pickups in, as active as they come, designed for low tunings. I played it in standard tuning, with a graphite guitar and mostly clean. Sounded amazing. You don’t know until you try these things.
So, anyone ever get great results using a Signature Pickup for something other than it was intended? I can’t be the only one out there. Now if we could just extend the same openness to other aspects of our gear and guitar choices. We know that buying the right pickups points us in the right direction, but we are the ones who have to take the next step.