When we carry a line of pickups, we try to do our best to get real playing time with them, and not just write what the manufacturer says about them. With some help from our new Sales Associate Eric, we’ve been swapping a lot of pickups lately. This includes three of David Allen’s more popular humbucker sets: Alley Cat, P-51, and Dirty Cat. On a relative scale these can sort of be characterized as “light, medium, and hot” in that order. Bear in mind though that the Dirty Cats are far from hot in comparison to some of the brutally strong pickups from a number of winders out there including Seymour Duncan, Bare Knuckles and others. As we said, it’s all relative.
With all three sets we got a chance to try them in both a mid-priced (Godin Core HB) and a higher end guitar (Knaggs Kenai). We tried then both at practices, jam sessions, and some real-life gigging situations. So while we have full write-ups on our David Allen product page, here are some quick impressions on living with the pickups.
Alley Cats – Patterned after the ’57 style of PAF, these Alnico 2 humbucker pickups are super clean and articulate. In the Core the neck pickup gets very close to a single coil sound, and while the bridge pickup sounds a little light on clean settings, it’s dynamite with some gain. The lower output, softer Alnico magnetic field and general “free” nature of the pickup generates spacious and singing rock tones that have multiple layers of harmonic detail. Maybe not the ticket of you desire something tight and modern, but gigging with our Kenai it was marvelously expressive. For my taste, the neck did not have quite enough “push” for singing solo work, but compared to many Alnico 2 neck pickups it was much less flabby on the low end. Hot pickups are not the only way to rock.
P-51 – David Allen’s take on the ’59 PAF, although it’s not really built like a PAF. The P-51 uses Alnico 4 magnet material, which has a fairly low magnetic pull, but more attack than an Alnico 2. Some people describe it as a cross between Alnico 3 and 5. Compared to the Alley Cats, the P-51 set was warmer with more midrange push at the neck, and gave up a little bit of top end brightness. It works better with gain, and kicks out some good blues tones without getting mushy or smeared. At the bridge the P-51 has a little more attack and snap, and for straight clean tones is probably a little more satisfying. Distortion tones are slightly tighter and more dense than the Alley Cat, and it’s a real toss up which I like better.
Dirty Cats – While the inductance (output) of the Dirty Cats is very similar to P-51’s, the DC resistance is at a level where you do start to hear it in the clean settings. Both pickups have a little bit of a midrange bump that makes the Dirty Cats a little less open and free sounding. However, they both turn down really well, and with a little volume roll-off lose lose most of their midrange congestion. The neck pickup uses Alnico 5 magnet materials, which gives it good attack and helps tighten up the midrange. It sounded very good in the wrap-tail bridge Core, but in the brighter sounding Kenai was a little “stringy” with a slight metallic edge. The bridge pickup is an interesting hybrid of Alnico 2 magnets and an un-vintage 11K DC resistance. It manages to be reasonably open sounding while also being the most “modern” voiced pickup in this roundup; with densely packed harmonics, and tight responsive low end crunch.
The Verdict – If you are in a wide-ranging cover band or just play an eclectic mix of music, the P-51 is a good choice, and our favorite. It’s very good at most things, and bad at nothing. Or if you tastes run a little heavier, opt for the Dirty Cats, which would kill at everything from Foo Fighters to modern Stadium-style Country. If you are into jazz, blues, or earlier classic rock (not 80’s), the Alley Cats really excel. The bridge pickup is “the tone” that defines a lot of classic 60’s and 70’s tunes, and for cleans the neck pickup is the clearest and most touch sensitive of the group.