Few pickups are so amazingly well designed that they take on almost any magnet you throw at it as the SH-5 Custom. There are three totally unique pickups available in the Custom family, all of which share the same basic ‘DNA’ – the coils and baseplate – but differ in its type of magnet.
We have the SH-5 Custom, SH-11 Custom Custom and SH-14 Custom 5 as part of the ‘Custom’ family of pickups. The 59/Custom is also part of that group but uses one coil of the Custom and one coil of the Sh-1 ’59. In this article I’m going to take a closer look at these individual pickups and their unique tones. But first, check out this video:
In the late 1970s, Seymour Duncan launched the SH-5 Custom pickup. It was designed as a hotrodded PAF and uses a 43 AWG wire with a ceramic magnet. The wish was to have the loose, organic feel of a PAF pickup but with the tightness and power of a modern pickup. And oh my, did Seymour succeed in his goals! The Sh-5 Custom works amazingly well in nearly all (solid) body guitars. The highs are pronounced, mids aggressive and bold and the low end is tight. Nevertheless, the Custom isn’t as tight as the Alternative 8 or as fluid as the JB. In fact, the overall feel is much more akin to a PAF. So, if you desire a modern approach to the PAF tone and feel, the Custom is absolutely right for you.
SH-11 Custom Custom
The Custom Custom was designed in the early 80s to craft a warm, smooth tone with plenty of output. Some claim it was an effort to capsule the ‘Brown Sound’ in a pickup, others say it was designed for Santana, to enable him to get his warm, smooth tone no matter what guitar he put it in (perhaps to warm up Gibson’s L6 guitars he was using at the time or maybe his Yamaha SG2000?). At any rate, the SH-11 Custom Custom is a great pickup if you don’t require tons of output but do want a smooth, warm tone. Compared to the Alnico 2 Pro, the Custom Custom is a bit hotter with a bit more ‘sag’ in the low end and when put next to the SH5 Custom, the Custom Custom is a lot warmer, smoother, exaggerated midrange and slightly more bounce in the low end. Take a listen to Rob Chapman demoing the Custom Custom versus the JB.
The Custom 5 wasn’t a put in the standard lineup after a heavy lobby by the users of the Forum Group in 2004. Basically, the Custom 5 used to be made by swapping the ceramic magnet of the Custom or the Alnico 2 of the Custom Custom for an Alnico 5 (hence the name: Custom 5). The reason why they swapped mags? To come even closer to the hotrodded PAF feel than any previous pickup could offer. Compared to the Custom, the SH-14 Custom 5 has a slight scoop in its midrange as well as a tempered output. It’s easy to compare the Sh-14 Custom 5 with two other Alnico V pickups, the ’59 and the JB, so let’s do that too! The ’59 offers a more boomy low end, clearer highs and less ‘sizzle’ in the upper mids than the Custom 5. The JB, on the other hand, has a lot more output than the Custom 5 and a totally different feel: much more modern, tighter in the mid range as well as an almost vocal like fluidity in the upper mids. The Custom 5 is perhaps one of the most versatile pickups for making hybrids: pair it with a ’59 and you have a pickup that has the best of both worlds: the tightness and power of a modern pickup, the organic tone and kindness of a PAF. Make a match with the JB and you get a pickup that’s really out of this world: empowered yet nuanced; organic yet fluid; tight yet dynamically rich.
In 2004, a member of the Seymour Duncan Forum, Bach2Rock, got the idea of mixing the coils of a Custom and a ’59. He called it a 59/Custom Hybrid. Makes sense. The result? The best of both worlds. Characteristics of each pickup were noticeable but the overall character was one of a pickup, totally its own. Our friends at Premier Guitars made a review, much more elaborate and eloquent than I could ever hope to write, so click here to find out what they have to say about it. In short, it’s got the tightness, punch and roar of the Custom but the organic tone, ‘kindness’ and upper mid cut of the ’59, without the cons of each. If I’m not sure if I want to go ‘modern’ or ‘classic,’ I pick the 59/Custom Hybrid cause it works so amazingly well for both sides of the spectrum.