In this installment of the Kramer Chronicles, since we’ve already explored the low and mid-gain territories with the 59s and Pearly Gates, let’s try something that errs more to the brootals, something able to make this thing sound as aggressive as it looks – by installing a TB-15 Alternative 8 in the bridge position.
The Alt 8 is one of Seymour’s more-recent offerings and the first of their production humbucker line to be designed around the A8 magnet. The A8 has a unique flavor, one that seems to span the gap between Alnico and ceramic magnets in that it has Alnico sweetness in the highs and ample mids, but also has a tight low end similar to a ceramic. A8 magnetss are a favorite among SDUGF DIY mag-swappers (myself included) and can add a cool character to a Custom, ’59 or a JB wind, to give just a few examples. I’m personally a huge fan of the Custom 8. But this is a completely different animal.
Rather than spicing up a familiar, existing Duncan coil-wind, the Alt 8 is wound specifically (and somewhat secretively) to be a high-output A8 humbucker with a tonal character and vibe all its own. Oh yeah, I’m interested. By the way, all the pickup changes for the Kramer Chronicles were expedited by the fact that the folks at Duncan are kind enough to include a flat, black mounting ring with each Trembucker’s packaging, as well as the usual mounting screws and springs. This allowed me to have each pickup ready to go as I pulled the other without having to take the extra time to undo the preceding pickup each time. In fact, I could reinstall the ’59 or PG with ease because they’re still in the mounting rings, hey! But they’re particularly useful for first-time TB installs – no searching for a mounting ring that fits the Trembucker baseplate: it’s in there!
I’d been interested to check the Alternative 8 out already, and the Voyager seemed to be the perfect candidate, even from a visual perspective. I do however, want to maintain some level of tonal diversity in this guitar, a versatility that belies its somewhat aggressive appearance, and not just “kill everybody” tones all the time. It’s always kind of cool to have am “I didn’t think sounds like that were possible with that” guitar. So the push-pull coil-split volume/tone three-way switch configuration remained for that reason.
This pickup is supposed to work well with well-balanced, warm-sounding instruments, which the Alder-bodied Voyager certainly is. Apparently it excels with rosewood fretboards, so it’ll be interesting to see how well it fares combined with the Ebony board on the Voyager. It’s also supposed to pair well with the ’59N… Being of significantly higher output, I wondered how the single-coil tones of the Alt 8 would fare compared to the split tones of the ’59 and Pearly that proceeded it, too. Only one way to find out…
I wired up the Alt 8 and restrung the Voyager. As soon as I fired it up it was clear: compared to its predecessors in this guitar it is an instrument of blunt force trauma. And I definitely mean that in a good way: forceful, in-your-face mids are the first thing you notice. It’s like a sledgehammer in that regard. The bass is tight and focused, and the pickup is extremely sensitive to pick dynamics, never mushing out on fast single-note picking on either the low or high strings. The top end is present but thanks to the A8 it’s not harsh. It retains clarity.
On lower gain settings it’s punchy and assertive. Chords and solos have this great throaty bark unique to the A8, and this wind does seem to accentuate the best qualities of the magnet. Clean and single-coil tones were also loud and punchy, but quite pleasing to the ear, unless a thin, middle-of-the-road, hollow sound is what you’re looking for. That isn’t happening here, sorry!
It sounded great in split-mode combined with the ’59N as advertised. They’re a very cool, versatile combo for rock and metal. I can see this being a really great pickup for metal actually, because you could keep up with a double-kick drum pattern all day long and never mush out. It’s tight and aggressive when you want it to be, even with drop-tunings, but still cleans up well with the volume knob.
Dialing the tone control back a bit lends a slightly darker vibe, but it sounds great with the tone on ten, so I tended to leave it there, especially for distorted passages.
Lead playing is a joy with this pickup, but rather than smear your notes like most high output pickups the Alt 8 seems to embellish them, and it in turn makes you want to work harder (much like a lower output pickup would) to make sure you’re on top of things. In other words, despite its high gain, the Alt 8 isn’t especially forgiving of mistakes. But that’s a good thing, in that again it inspires you to stay on top of your picking. If your right hand is on it, you’ll be rewarded with percussive staccato picked notes, and equally if your left hand is happening fluid legato playing is also possible. All the while the tone is even and singing. That’s one aspect where I’d compare it to a JB, even though their tones are vastly different: both not only make you want to wail, they make you feel like you can. That can’t be a bad quality in a bridge pickup, right?
This time, for variety I did different quickie riff clips for each amp emulation. For Volume III’s Head Case emulated “Quarter” clean example clip, I decided to start off in single-coil mode to show how usable the tone is, and then near the end you’ll hear me flip it to humbucking mode where it gets much fatter:
Moving on to the mid-gain “Gypsy” plexi-esque head, the Alt 8‘s throaty growl asserts itself…
Voyager Alt8 Heavy 6160 by jhale667
And here’s the example instrumental track, an heavy little ditty I’ve entitled “The Thickness” that shows of the beefy rhythm tracks and smooth liquid leads you can pull off with this beast!