The Kramer Chronicles Volume V: The JB/59 set

In part five of the Kramer Chronicles, by reader request, we’ll check out what is one the most desired bridge pickups and pickup combinations ever: the workhorse ’59N and the legendary JB. The SH/TB-4 JB is the flagship humbucker of the Seymour Duncan line and the most sought after replacement pickup in the world – for good reason. It’s one of the most identifiable tones in rock, and seems to bring its unique character to whatever guitar it is installed in, instantly turning it into a rock machine. Its higher-output coil-wind and Alnico 5 magnet give it an authoritative snarl that is the epitome of rock attitude. This is the pickup Jake E. Lee, Warren Demartini, Skid Row, Steve Stevens and so many other respected names in rock used in their heyday (and some still to this day).

Thunderbolts and Lightening, almost kinda frightening…

The JB is synonymous with rock, no question about it. It’s standard equipment in a plethora of offerings from various manufacturers such as Charvel, Schecter, and the current Gibson-owned incarnation of Kramer. I noticed it’s an even more popular combo than the Custom/’59N pairing I tried in the last Kramer Chronicles installment, so my expectations were already high. I’m starting to think about what’s gonna live in the Voyager at least for a while after this adventure is over, and that combo was pretty serious. It set the bar pretty high, and I wanted to see if the JB would possibly be able to vault over that benchmark tone mojo. You have to figure though, if that many companies have faith in both combinations, and seemingly by popular vote, the JB wins – you pretty much can’t go wrong.

What are YOU lookin’ at?

The fact that the JB has so much character means that it can be especially sensitive to wood type, so I was curious – much like in the case of the Custom – to see how it matched with the Voyager’s Alder body. I was prepared to swap out the 500k push-pull volume for a 250k if the JB‘s signature vibe was a bit too much, but I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary. It certainly wasn’t when I tried one in my Koa Warmoth Strat known as “Excalibur.” In fact it still resides in it, because the JB pretty much rules in it! But you never know, each piece of wood is different – so I tend to keep potentiometers of both values on hand for just such an occasion. Always be prepared, right?

Once again I already had the Zebra TB-spaced pickup I requested mounted to a near-correct height in the provided mounting ring, so as usual, the pickup swap was a breeze. All I had to do was connect it in the usual volume/push-pull for coil-split/tone/3-way switch set up and away we go.

“NO you can’t have the remote, and get off the couch!”

As soon as I’d installed the pickup and plugged in, I knew the JB was going to work in the Voyager too. It suddenly had that “horns up” rock tone we all know and love, and I wanted to play epic arena rock riffs. Open chords now had the characteristic anthemic-sounding howl, and the harmonic squeals could wake the dead. It’s got punch, but a slight give in the low end that would allow it to sit comfortably in a mix without competing with the bass player.

And while I know it works that way by design, I’m beginning to think the need to dial down to a 250k potentiometer is the (extremely rare) exception and not the rule. I can see maybe needing to do it in something like one of my already bright and slightly snarly ash-bodied, maple-necked Strats, but once again, not the case here. Which makes me 0 for 2 on needing to change the volume potentiometer with the JB; the 500k unit works just fine, and this pickup sounds absolutely killer in alder. It’s bright without being piercing, with robust, pronounced mids, and a solid low-end that’s still tight enough to be taken seriously under heavy gain.

If the Custom was the perfect rhythm pickup in the Voyager, then the JB is the perfect lead pickup far and away. I say that because to my ears in this guitar it’s got nearly as much beef and chunk as the Custom that preceded it, but the pronounced upper midrange gives it a noticeable advantage in the highs, allowing more shrieking harmonics and soaring lead tones. This is partially because of the different winds, but also because the JB sports an A5 magnet, which gives it a brighter, less brutish tone than the ceramic that still rocks hard, but with a measure of finesse. Less “slab” of beef; still beefy but a more gourmet-level “thinly-sliced” juicy tone that drips with attitude. It also plays nicer with the ’59N – both combos, work, but the JB and the ’59N together are thick as thieves as the saying goes. To put it another way: if the two combos were dishes, the JB/’59 set would come with extra awesome sauce.

 

“I may look like the others, but I am a far more formidable an opponent than they can ever be..”

This makes the final decision a little more complicated, as the JB/’59N set is at least as if not more impressive than the Custom/’59N pairing if by virtue of the overall more pleasing lead tone alone. Actually, it gives the combo a slight edge in the “most versatile” department, and due to the Alnico magnet the lower gain tones are a little more classy-sounding. If I was forced to pick between the two combined with the ’59N, I think I’d have to go with the JB. I can see why this combo is more popular with lead players, and guitars geared more towards them, as it easily holds down the rhythms but can stand out better for solos as well. It’s a positively lethal combination!

I re-amped a new clip with the familiar Head Case amp emulations I’ve been using for the series, each one with increasingly more gain showcasing how the pickup reacts to whatever you throw at it. First off, the classic Plexi-vibe of “Gypsy”:

Nice and grindy, with killer-sounding open chords. Characteristics even further accentuated under more gain as with HC “Prometheus”:
Voyager JB Prometheus by jhale667
The palm-mutes are not only chunky, they’re also percussive, which can’t be a bad thing! Once you step up to the full-on high gain realm of the “Heavy 6160” the JB really shines, as the same riff practically screams:

Voyager JB Heavy 6160 by jhale667
Here’s the now-customary for the Chronicles rhythm/lead tone example clip so you can get an idea of what the JB/’59N combo can do. The Rhythm was done with two instances of Head Case as was the lead. Hopefully you’ll hear how killer a combination this is!

“No fair – we want Duncans, too!”

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