The Duncan Custom – Pumped Up and Pushed to 11

I want my bridge pickup to be able to cut through the mix. It needs to really crunch, have a percussive quality when playing muted parts, and have a fast response. The other thing is that I need the pickup to not be too hot: it has to retain some organic qualities. I mostly aim for bridge pickups that are in the ballpark of medium to high output, where there’s enough power on tap get some really heavy tones, but not so much that you lose that “woody” sound.

On paper the Duncan Custom looked like it would be right up my alley. It’s a moderately high output pickup with a high-but-not-too-high resistance of 14.4K and an EQ scale of scale of 7 (bass) – 6 (mids) – 9 (treble). With a ceramic magnet, the Custom should have a fairly tight low-end response. This is particularly important for heavy high gain work, especially if the guitar is tuned down from E standard. All of these figures added up to a pickup suited for my rhythm guitar style, so I ordered a Trembucker-spaced Custom to review [click here to read more about Trembucker spacing].

As per my Pearly Gates neck model review, I loaded the Custom into my 1995 Ibanez RG470, which has a basswood body, maple neck with rosewood fretboard and retro-fitted Edge bridge. The Custom is listed as being great for balanced instruments, especially with rosewood fretboards, and my RG470 is very balanced tone-wise, so it should be the perfect base for testing the Custom out.

I plugged into my Blackstar HT-5 and kicked straight over to the dirty channel to see just what the Custom was capable of. I hit a few big power chords and was immediately blown away by how big, tight, and organic the Custom sounded. It really felt like a PAF-style pickup that had been loaded up on steroids and pushed to 11. Palm muting produced some very nice tight percussive tones. The low frequencies were big without being overbearing, and the strong mids and highs made sure that the Custom wouldn’t just generate a big wall of sound. There’s still a nice degree of note separation, even with some pretty big chunks of dirt.

The Custom is a great pickup for single note passages too. Everything sounds tight, defined and big without getting too shrill as you work your way up the fretboard. The Custom sings and provides oodles of sustain thanks to the pickup’s natural compression. It’s a simple task to pull off harmonics of any kind, and they’ll really scream if you want them to.

Roll down the guitar’s volume and the Custom does a reasonable job of cleaning up. Pick or strum softly and you’ll get some softer, warmer tones; hit harder and you’ll get some bite. The same goes for playing through the clean channel. To get the best results you still need to roll the guitar’s volume down a tad.

I split the Custom with a  Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound Flat in the middle position, and found that the Custom split nicely in conjunction with the single coil to provide classic twangy tones when using a bit of overdrive. With a clean setting this selection gave a nice clean rhythm tone which was probably a lot more useful to most than just the Custom in series. The tight, warm lows and present mids and highs create a balanced clean tone, which still has a little bite when the strings are hit hard.

The Custom is a fantastic pickup for any style of music that requires big dirty tones. Heavy blues, rock of all forms, punk and metal players will all dig the Custom for its big heavy tone, fast attack, and tight bass. It holds up particularly well when tuning lower than E standard, and unlike a lot of higher output pickups it still retains a great organic woody tone. If you’re after a pickup that provides balls to the wall tone while still retaining some of that classic PAF voice, then definitely check out the Duncan Custom.

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  1. I tune to Drop B for my band ( and bought a JB and a Custom to trial in my LTD EC-1000, and decided the custom was perfect – with a coil split, I can add some really vicious bite to distorted parts, and also play it clean with some love chimey tones. Still haven’t found a good neck match though, have tried it alongside a Jazz and some mystery pickups from old projects, so any suggestions would be great!
    I want a warm tone from the full humbucker, and a very clear split for clean work (body is mahogany w/maple cap, and mahogany neck w/rosewood board)

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