The Canadian pickup maker Sanford Magnetics located in New Brunswick Canada has recently released a new low output pickup called the V68. As a Canuck myself, it’s always a pleasure to see some great Canadian products getting some well-deserved recognition. Low output pickups are steadily becoming more popular for those guitarist looking for a purer tone allowing the character of the guitar and amp to shine through.
Nate from Sandford tells me the idea for the V68 pickups originally came about when a customer wanted a really uncluttered, open-sounding pickup. The concept was simple. Let the guitar breathe and have the amp do the heavy lifting by getting the drive and compression from the amp and pedals. Nate says that the focus was mainly on developing an open, uncompressed, even sounding eq. rather than focusing on overall output. The pickups are constructed using A4 magnets, 42g plain enamel wire, Nickle silver baseplates, Nickel covers and I assume they are not wax potted as I was able to coax some nice feedback out of them when pushed.
I’ve noticed how some people seem to be reluctant to try lower output pickups. My opinion is that low-output pickup can deliver an abundance of tone and dynamics that high-output pickups simply don’t excel at. That is not to say that it isn’t possible to achieve a good sound with hot pickups or high-gain amps. If a player takes the time to dial in the sound it is, but it’s now equally possible to get a heavy sound with a low-output pickup. What it all boils down to is knowing how to get there. Of course, if it sounds good then it is good regardless of what method you used to get there.
I decided I would use my Zack Myers PRS as the donor guitar in this review. As usual, I prefer to play the new pickups for a few days after I install then to feel confident that I have found the sweet spot. I normally also refrain from commenting on the pickups until I have had a chance to play them in both a live situation as well as in the studio so I understand the full dynamic range the pickups can offer.
Overall build quality on the pickups seemed to be very nice. The braided wire and nickel covers gave the pickups some cool mojo appeal. I have to say that I am indeed a sucker for nickel covers. They age so nicely and provide that slight relic look after a while. Chrome covers tend to remain relatively constant since they are less easily tarnished.
Installation was no more difficult than other pickups I’ve used. I normally raise the bridge way up and sink the neck way down for optimal sound on a Les Paul type guitar and although the PRS is a semi-hollow body, the formula was the same. I noticed right from the start that the neck pickup offered quite a bit more bottom end compared to the bridge so the pickups did require some additional dialing in to achieve a balanced sound.
The amps of choice for this evaluation were a modded fender Blues Jr., as well as a Brunetti Pleximan, and a Rockitt Retro Marshall Plexi clone built to 68 specs. I wanted to hear the pickups through a low, medium and higher gain amp for full effect.
With a target DCR at only 6.8k the bridge pickup does allow the sound to breathe, yet I find that the pickups sounded best when the amp was running hard. At bedroom levels, the pickups sounded ok but performed particularly well with louder volumes or in a live situation.
I felt the lower output allowed the character of the guitar and amp to shine through. The nuances that are normally buried in higher output pickups were easily heard. The A4 magnets had a dryness to them and didn’t really push the mids and lows hard. They did provide a good amount of treble but were not harsh. The middle position yielded some really nice tones and was my favorite setting position with the V68 set. The bridge position gets a little tele-ish when you dig into it, and the neck pickup provides plenty of bottom end. When blended together they really deliver a very nice full bodied sound.
When playing through my 4x12 cabinet loaded with G12-65 speakers they came alive at higher volumes yet were a little more subdued when playing at lower bedroom levels. At times the neck pickup seemed to almost overpower the bridge pickup with its abundant lower end. I found that the speakers and pickup combination sounded a little unfocused at times due to the looser lower end of the speakers. The Fender Blues Jr. loaded with WGS ET65’s and a vintage 30 in a pine 2x12 open back cabinet was a much better match for cleans and overdriven it simply killed with the v68s.
My main impression of the pickups is that the neck position is immediately much fuller sounding than the bridge. I normally prefer the sound of bridge pickups, but in this case, I found the fullness of the neck pickup complimented the frequencies the bridge was lacking when in the middle position. It's funny because I normally rarely use the middle position on other guitars. In the case of the V68s, it was the best combination of the three.
I often find that neck pickups typically are more challenging harmonically to dial in properly. I usually test them by playing the opening riff to Billy Idol’s White Wedding to see if I can get those palm muted harmonics to hold together. Most neck pickups will not be able to do it. Only a few I have tried can pull it off. It’s simply not a normal thing to expect from a neck pickup, but it does give you a pretty good idea of the harmonic limitations of the pickup.
I was able to get some very sweet sounding clean tones. The interesting thing about these pickups is how well they straddle the line between clean and driven tones. I think Nate clearly has developed a really nice sounding pickup with these v68’s.
My final conclusion is that although I do tend to prefer a bridge pickup with a little more bottom end to it, the tones do cut through in the mix quite well in a live situation. The neck could use slightly less low end and slightly more note separation but it still sounds great. I’m just picky. Overall, if you take the time to really learn to control your tone via the knobs, amp, and natural gain, I am confident that these pickups will be quite rewarding for you. If you are looking for a generic tone, they may not be for you. I for one will be permanently keeping then in my PRS so I can enjoy them for years to come.
For more information on Sanford Magnetics pickups, please visit www.sanfordmagnetics.com