By Dave Eichenberger
Contrary to popular belief, there are other types of music other than rock, metal, blues, and country. While not as popular as it was, say, 40 years ago, there is still a sizable jazz guitar community out there. Of course, jazz has been played on many types of guitars, and archtops, while they are wonderful, still remain the traditional choice. However, great jazz has been played on solid bodies, semi-hollowbodies, and thinline guitars as well. We cannot forget the offshoots of jazz, like jazzy blues or fusion, or any type of improvised music which can use just as many broad types of guitars to get their music to our ears. This article will feature the pickups Seymour Duncan recommends for the jazz players out there.
What is the jazz sound?
Jazz is such a broad term. Certainly, jazz can be as varied as Charlie Christian, up through Tal Farlow, through the octaves of Wes Montgomery, and the burning fusion of Allan Holdsworth. There isn’t any one jazz tone, but there are some things we can point out about each one. Certainly, in the era before people replaced pickups in their guitar (and before Seymour Duncan was even born), people stuck with stock pickups. So, the classic jazz players from the turn of the 20th century stuck with whatever pickup came in their guitar. Charlie Christian was one of the first to really play amplified electric guitar in a jazz context in the late 1930s, and the pickup on his Gibson ES-150 was a single coil, as that was what was available at the time. Later players like Joe Pass and John Mclaughlin used humbucking pickups, while Ted Greene used single coils. Any pickup that can produce a clean and clear sound is fair game. Generally, jazz players stick to vintage output pickups, and if they want to overdrive the amp, they do so via pedals or amp distortion. The idea is to keep the pickups from compressing the signal, and keeping dynamics in tact. Traditional jazz tends to go for cleaner, darker sounds, while in modern times (like in many genres), there is a split between keeping that traditional sound alive and forging new sounds. With this in mind, there are several choices for the modern jazz guitarist no matter if you are improvising over the changes to Misty or forging new sounds using music notation you had to invent yourself because there is no other way to transcribe it.
All the Things Bob and Seymour Are
Bob Benedetto is not a new name to those who love classic and modern archtop guitars. While many people might take issue with the high cost of some mass-manufactured instruments, they probably haven’t priced a great handmade archtop lately. Bob’s instruments are worth every penny. Bob Benedetto and Seymour Duncan have collaborated on a handful of pickups that imbue any archtop with a little bit of Bob’s magic.
Benedetto B-6, S-6 & B-7
Designed to enhance the natural acoustic resonance of a fine archtop, the Benedetto B-6 is a standard-sized humbucker ready to drop into any humbucker slot that uses a traditional ring. It is designed to be used with a variety of flatwound and roundwound (gasp) strings, too. If your thing is straight –ahead traditional jazz, and you have acoustically fine-sounding instrument, the B-6 will translate that beautifully to your amp. The S-6 model is the same pickup in a floating humbucking housing, so you don’t have to cut into your precious archtop. It is also available in the B-7 model too, designed for 7 string guitars (the classic jazz 7th string is tuned to a low A). The B-6, B-7, and S-6 are designed for a flat response.
Classic archtops from the 1930’s to the 1950’s used many of the same types of pickups available in their solidbody counterparts. Bob and Seymour came up with a Benedetto PAF.
It is voiced like a slightly hotter PAF pickup from the golden years of jazz, with enough bass that it can help even classic solidbodies get a traditional jazz sound. It is available in black nickel or gold, and comes with 4-conductor wire should you decide to split the coils.
The Benedetto A-6 is, if there ever was such a thing, a higher output version of the PAF. At 11k, it will drive an amp harder, and is perfect for those guitarists that want thick jazzbox sounds with more modern strings and a lighter touch. It has a flat EQ, and the Alnico V pickup will ensure that you will be heard over the annoyingly loud horn player.
Four on Six
The 59 is an especially versatile pickup. Equally at home shredding classic rock licks as well as classic jazz, the 59 has been one of Seymour’s most popular pickups for decades. The huge lows and highs are EQ’d perfectly for giving a solidbody some jazz flavor, and it still retains articulation for the blues gig the next night. Equally at home played dead clean as with overdrive, the 59 remains the go-to pickup for guitars where versatility is the key. The 59 neck pickup in the bridge position is said to be one of Allan Holdsworth’s favorite choices for his searing legato.
The Whole Lotta Humbucker (set)
The Whole Lotta Humbucker set is usually more thought of as a blues and classic rock pickup, but it makes a great pickup for early fusion styles as well. At the dawn of the fusion movement in the late 1960’s, jazz players were plugging into their 100 watt Marshalls and playing more notes per second than what was thought possible. The Whole Lotta Humbucker is like a lightly boosted classic humbucker, with enough power to add some overdrive and compression to the classic vintage sound. Add a doubleneck and 10/8 time, and you’ll be soaring with the Birds of Fire overhead.
Seth Lover Set
The Seth Lover pickups were designed by the guy that designed and built PAF pickups more than 50 years ago Seymour uses that magic formula, and the original winding machine to create a vintage output pickup that is perfect for hollow, semi-hollow, and solidbodies. These faithfully replicate the output, eq, and sound of a vintage humbucking pickup bought in 1955 and transported through time to find a home in a modern instrument.
If you ever had a vintage instrument, or wondered what a pickup would look like and sound like 60 years later, the Antiquity is designed just for you. Wound on the original Leesona machine that wound PAFs back in the day, these pickups are slightly degaussed and aged to look like a pickup that has had an awful lot of II-V-I progressions played through it. Made like they used to be, Alnico II magnets ensure that you have that vintage, slightly scooped, sweet sound. These are perfect for recreating the look and sound of those jazz greats we all learned from.
Who can ask for anything more?
Jazz is a term that divides as many people as it brings together. From traditional sax-like lines, through chord-melody, to boppin’ octaves and fusion, there isn’t just one type of ‘jazz sound’. You can create your own sound by learning about the sounds and techniqes of the masters. Jazz is so broad, that like most types of music, there are few rules. But we all know, at some point, those players weren’t afraid to break them.
Have you ever played jazz? Who is your favorite jazz guitarist?