The Kramer Chronicles, Volume II: The Pearly Gates

When last we left off, I’d installed the ’59 set in my resurrected-mutant 80s Kramer Voyager. It sounded great, but the idea was to see how different combinations worked in the guitar, so we’ll be moving on to the next bridge pickup combo (the ‘59 neck remains). While the ’59s sound great, and fully nail the vintage vibe – something slightly hotter than the standard PAF, but not quite “distortion” class could be also very cool in this guitar’s bridge slot. It does kinda look aggressive after all, so we wouldn’t want it to be … “mild”, would we?
With that in mind, I decided to try the Pearly Gates bridge model next (a neck model is also available). Almost everyone who knows of the Pearly knows they were originally designed to recreate the sound of the pickups in Billy Gibbons’ legendary Les Paul of the same name. The cheap sunglasses-wearin’, beer-drinkin’, hell-raisin’ sound that practically defined Texas Blues Rock. Wound ever-so-slightly hotter than a ’59 or the average PAF, with an Alnico 2 magnet.

According to Seymour Duncan “The Pearly Gates is sweet, but slightly rude, with great sustain and a bright top end that make harmonics jump out of the guitar.” Sure, that sounds like a plan! It’s also supposed to work great with Ebony fretboards, too – which the new Boogie Bodies “Large Banana” headstock neck on the Kramer just happens to have. And hey, if it’s good enough for the Reverend, I figure it’s gotta be pretty cool. I again requested a Trembucker spaced model in zebra, and got to work. I once again wired the Voyager for the most versatile configuration its cramped control cavity allows: A single push-pull 500K pot for the volume wired to coil-split both pickups,  a CTS 500K pot for the tone control, and a mini DP/DT (double-pole, double, throw) for the pickup selector.

 

“Hey, kid – give me your lunch money. OR ELSE.”

I found the Pearly to be an interesting beast. While similar, it’s got a little bit more “oomph” and growl to it than the ’59B it replaced, and it has a more pleasant high end that’s bright but not at all harsh. It’s a little more robust in the mids, too, due to the Alnico 2 magnet. I love the mids, but I’m sometimes a little wary of the A2’s softer bass response, which didn’t seem to be an issue with the PG. While there is some sponginess to the low end, it still has thunk. It’s an attention-getter. But yes, it is indeed simultaneously “sweet” sounding, but it does have this grindy, percussive vibe that yes, could certainly be described as “rude”! I found that especially at higher gain settings, it basically sounds like it could go nuts at any moment depending on how hard you dig in with your right hand, but it’s still not a “distortion” class humbucker. It retains clarity. You’re still hearing wood, strings and fingers no matter how much gain you throw at it, but it  definitely has a more unique personality under gain than the ’59 bridge. More “string” to the vibe, perhaps. It’s lush and inviting, not “Ow, quit it!” (always a great quality in a bridge pickup).

The harmonic claim is not an overstatement either, as I found it easy to get angry, howling artificial “pings” on low strings as well as screaming or squealing harmonics on the high strings. I could roll the pick anywhere between where I’d normally pick by the bridge to the neck pickup and get things to pop out almost anywhere on any string. They really do seem to jump out of the guitar. The tone is big and organic, with warmth and sparkle. Fat without being muddy, and bright without being shrill.

 

“That’s right, we bad…”

The Pearly Gates is probably one of the coolest mid-gain pickups I’ve encountered in that respect. And since it’s still in the neighborhood output-wise, it also matches up great with the ’59N (though I’d love to check out a PG neck someday too!). I found the single-coil tone is useful as well. It’s an odd dichotomy, though: Here you have this kind of low output pickup that makes your picking hand work a little harder, yet artificial harmonics are seemingly easier to achieve than with some higher output models! Who knew? It won’t just do blues rock: AC/DC-style open chords sound gigantic, and it never looses the organic quality of a low output pickup. It has tons of bite, but again isn’t raspy sounding to me. As great as the ’59B is, and despite the angelic-sounding name, it sounds polite in comparison. If they were cousins, the Pearly Gates would be the one that drank, and maybe had gotten in trouble with the law a time or two. You’ll hear what I mean.

Again I did set of sample clips re-amping a track with the PG bridge going through several Acme Bar Gig Head Case amps and Recabinet speaker sims to show how well the Pearly performs regards of what you throw at it. Although I played a different riff from the last chapter, basically the same amp array used in Vol. I. However for this first “Quarter” amp clip, I threw in a tweed cabinet to accentuate the twang of the Pearly in a cleaner setting. I can imagine this sound working great with a vibrato effect thrown in as well…

Here’s the Head Case “Gypsy”, and Recabinet Green 4x12s. Through this fairly bright-sounding Plexi-esque emulation the same chords suddenly have this great authoritative snarl and attitude about them!

Voyager PG Marshall Gypsy by jhale667
Re-amped through the higher gain, angrier sounding HC “Prometheus”, rather than wilt, the Pearly toughens and tightens up accordingly:

Voyager PG Prometheus by jhale667
Moving on the the “Heavy 6160”, the Pearly still retains its signature string-heavy grunt and snarl, even under tons of gain.

Voyager PG Heavy 6160 by jhale667
Here’s another quick instrumental track using the PG in combination with the ’59N for a ZZ-esque backing rhythm, and on its own for a bluesy lead on one track and a more wanky one on another at the end, both with heavy emphasis on the artificial harmonics.

Voyager PG “Inexpensive Eyewear” by jhale667
And there you have it, another chapter of the Kramer Chronicles completed, and a kick ass bridge pickup newly discovered! It sounds killer in the Alder-bodied Voyager, but I can imagine it sounding (even more) phenomenal in something heavier like a Les Paul! All hail the Reverend Billy G, Father Seymour and the Pearly Gates!

 

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