The Birth of the Black Winter
Seymour Duncan offers many different pickups for many different kinds of players, and a lot of the time those pickups are built with a particular tonal mission in mind: a pickup for blues, for hard rock, for jazz. But perhaps the most specific ‘genre’ pickup in the Seymour Duncan catalog is the Black Winter. This is a humbucker whose entire reason for being is to blast out heavy, aggressive slabs of distortion, as favored by the Black Metal players of Scandanavia.
The story of the Black Winter goes back to 2012 when Cathy Carter Duncan struck up a discussion with Seymour Duncan’s Finnish distributor about the idea of a limited-release product just for that market. A little thank-you specifically to players from that part of the world. The Black Winter came about through what we informally call the “skunk works” program; projects that could bypass our normal new products gates and give people a chance to quickly release cool and fringe-style products like the Black Winter and the SLUG. Senior Global Sales Manager Alex Semple – a dude who knows his metal – suggested a heavy metal-type pickup would be perfectly appropriate, and the name was inspired by the song ‘Black Winter Day’ by Amorphis.
Alex collaborated on the design with Derek Duncan in the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop, and we had several players beta-test the neck and bridge models, including Keith Merrow, Ola Englund (Six Feet Under, The Haunted), and Teloch of the band Mayhem. They all loved the sound and responsiveness so we knew we had something special on our hands.
We then decided to open up the Black Winter to Finland, Norway and Sweden, the perfect trio of countries to launch such a metal-oriented pickup. And as soon as fans around the world found out about the Black Winter, they demanded that they be able to get their hands on the pickup too. So after a few months of Scandanavian exclusivity, the Black Winter was made available to all export markets and the USA.
Some players compare the Black Winter to the Distortion, but each pickup attains its tone in a different way. Unlike the Duncan Distortion which uses a single large ceramic magnet, the Black Winter features three ceramic magnets. The Black Winters also feature different wire than a Distortion as well as a custom winding pitch. When compared with the Duncan Distortion, many players will tell you that the Black Winter set has a heavier and thicker yet clearer tone which makes it unique. It also has a responsiveness and speed not unlike Blackouts. In short, for many metal players, the Black Winter is the ultimate passive humbucker.
The look of the Black Winter is, of course, black. Black as the grim night, black as a Spinal Tap album cover. “Black is the classic look for metal attire, amps, pedals, straps, guitars, and pickups,” Alex explains, “So Derek and I knew right off the bat that the Black Winter would have to be black apart from just the name. So Derek was able to give it a ‘murdered out’ look with black bobbins, black bottom plate, black screws and studs.” Red wire was also used for a vibrant (maybe even unsettling) contrast when you peek into the small square on top of the bobbins. A classic Old English font was used for the silver logo, further cementing the ‘dungeon’ vibe of the pickup’s metallic intentions. “We knew we had to make it look as cool as it sounded,” Derek Duncan says. “We wanted it to look different than the pickup their dad had in his ES-335. That’s when we came up with the old English logo and black bottom plate and black poles/screws. It was basically a two-man team with no input from anyone else. We didn’t want it to get watered down at all.”
Due to their high end response Black Winter pickups are favored in mid- to dark-voiced metal-style guitars. A Trembucker version is offered for use in the bridge position of tremolo-equipped guitars too, and you can also get it in 7- and 8-string versions. And we’re hearing from plenty of players who like the Black Winter set for hard rock and, in the case of the neck pickup, even blues-rock. But the main intention of the Black Winter is to, as Alex says, “cover all eras of metal from thrash to extreme death metal.”