A long time ago my brother Gordon had a Telecaster. It was his first really good guitar. It was blond and had a rosewood fingerboard ($270 at the Music Machine in Norwalk CT in 1977 – Gordon). For Christmas one year I bought him a pickup to replace the stock neck pickup. I wasn’t really up on what was current then gear wise and the aftermarket pickup business was in its infancy. This was the ‘70s and even Seymour Duncan mailed a Xerox copy of something he had typed when you called and asked for a catalogue.
I bought him a Velvet Hammer Strat neck pickup. I was probably told by the shop that sold it to me that it would fit with a little work. Of course it did and I’m sure that by Christmas day afternoon were were hacking away to make it fit. While memory isn’t always spot-on, I do remember how good it sounded.
It had that glassy clear liquid Fender sound. We had no Black or Silverface amps, not even a Fender but the sound, that sound was there. The Tele sure didn’t sound like before we installed the Velvet Hammer. Years later I had a Strat and I also installed a Velvet Hammer into the neck position of that. That sound has stuck with me. I love a good neck pickup more than any other position on a Strat or a Tele.
Travel ahead 30+ years and now I have a Tele I built up from parts. I used UpfrontGuitars to source the Emerson pots/caps, the Rio Grande Vintage Tall pickup set and a few other items.
At first figured I’d be swapping pickups after I got the guitar sorted but in fact the Rio Grande’s are very, very good and have held steady for nearly two years now. I don’t know why I should have been surprised how good they are. They aren’t a “big name” brand and unknown to me at the time. The bridge is nice and thick with no Cowboy twang that dominates the tone. I can make it bright but I can also make it grind. Through my 5E3 clone I can get a great clang and clear tone with that great Tweed grizzle on top.
I also like the neck pickup very much. Not a muddy Tele tone as I’ve found on some Fender Tele’s. It has a good true Fender tone. But I had to change it. Why? Because Gordon told me about this Arcane “42” Tele neck pickup that brought that clear glassy Strat feel to a Tele. So I had to try it right?
Well I’m pretty sure this pickup will stay in my “Swan-o-caster”. Wow. The note separation even within that Tweed gritty envelope is superb. All those adjectives, piano like on the wound strings, clarity, brilliance etc., apply here. This is classic Fender Strat tone. David Gilmour comes to mind; Mark Knofler and John Mayer to name a few. With chords or single notes there is that honest true Strat sound, the Fender sound.
Where the Rio would get a little blocked up when turned full up the “42” doesn’t. The “42” stays more articulate. Either pickup sounds fantastic turned down as honestly most pickups do. The “42” can get a me a great scooped almost cocked wah tone when I dial the guitar tone done to maybe 7 and then play up around the 12-16th frets. There is also a kind of Robin Trower sound played this way. The solo from the Stones “Can’t You Hear me Knockin” comes to mind. Just all those iconic Strat tones leaping from my Tele has me very pleased. I got just the sound I wanted while jamming along in my head to “Like a Rolling Stone” as in Hendrixs’ version from Monterey Pop. Even without any Blackface kind of amp I can get that “clang”, the percussive strike of a Strat.
The ‘42” gets its tone from being a 5.75k wind vs. the 7.17k wind of the Rio. The Rio has longer magnets that protrude beyond the baseplate. So really once again it shows that outright turns of wire “X” and magnet strength and length make a real world difference. That 5.75k wind of the “42” is pretty low these days. Fine by me. I’d rather hear a pickup amplify the sound of a guitar than just sound like pickup.
So there you go, just another view of one piece of gear vs. another. I’m pretty sure I’ll try an Arcane in the bridge at some point. Toss up between the ’50 and the ’51 Experience. Stay tuned.
– Neil Swanson