When it comes to neck humbuckers I’m a fan of fairly bright, cutting tones with no mud. A neck pickup needs to have a fairly clean sound, even when under a lot of distortion. I like for it to have a bit of attitude too. I have no time for ‘friendly’ sounding pickups. But they do need to clean up nicely and split well too.
Looking through the specs of various Seymour Duncan pickups I decided I might give the Pearly Gates a go in the neck. The description of “sweet, but slightly rude, with great sustain and a bright top end that make harmonics jump out of the guitar” really appealed to me.
I loaded up my 1995 Ibanez RG470 (which has a basswood body, maple neck with rosewood fretboard and retro-fitted Edge bridge) with the Pearly Gates, along with a Seymour Duncan Custom in the bridge. I bought this guitar brand new and it has been through a lot over the years. It doesn’t get played as much these days due to the two neck cracks it’s sustained, the heavily worn frets and the fact that I have more than one electric guitar now, but when I do play it always feels like an extension of my body.
The Alnico 2-loaded Pearly Gates is listed as having a resistance of 7.3K for the neck model, with an EQ scale of 6 (bass) – 5 (mids) – 9 (treble). This makes for a warm sounding pickup with plenty of high end to help cut through the mix.
I plugged into my Blackstar HT-5 and kicked in the dirty channel to play some dirty blues-rock single note work. The first thing I thought was “Wow! That description is bang on target.” Pick softer and the Pearly Gates is sweet, but dig in and it gives off so much attitude your mother will scold you!
The beauty of the Pearly Gates in the neck is that it’s full sounding but not too muddy. It’s possible to play chords and single notes at the low end of the fretboard without it all turning to mud. If you compare the Pearly Gates to a 59 model in the neck you’ll notice the extra mids, which help the Pearly Gates to cut through. The 59 model has a more hollow sound due to the reduced mids, where as the Pearly Gates gets a little twangy, which helps cut through and gives the pickup its attitude.
Roll the guitar’s volume down and the Pearly Gates cleans up nicely, with a nice warm tone that sings so sweetly. Hit the strings hard enough and a little of that attitude comes back though.
Switch back to the clean channel and the Pearly Gates shows off its softer side. Open and barre chords are beautifully warm and they sound fantastic with either a pick or fingers. Single note runs sing just as sweetly with plenty of articulation. Hit the strings really hard and the Pearly Gates will start to sizzle, but not to the extent that it does with a bit of distortion.
The Pearly Gates is the perfect candidate for blues, most forms of rock, and even heavier music if you’re like me and prefer a fairly clean-sounding neck pickup. It never loses its clean attack and attitude, even with large amounts of dirt. If you’re after a neck pickup that’s clean but with a bad attitude, definitely try out the Pearly Gates. Just make sure your mother doesn’t hear you playing through it!
Here’s Paul Rose demoing the Pearly Gates: