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Tonerider Pure Vintage & Classic Blues

Stratocaster pickups

Published in PM August 2008
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Reviews : Guitar: Accessories
The Tonerider range of Stratocaster pickups appears to offer similar build quality and performance to some of the high-end, US-made boutique pickups, but at a very affordable price.
Paul White
Manufactured in the Far East and marketed through a very limited number of selected dealers in the UK, a whole set of pickups from British-owned company Tonerider costs around the same as just one of the US-made pickups. For this review, Dangleberry Music kindly provided both the Pure Vintage and Classic Blues sets for the Stratocaster, where both sets follow a similar construction, but the blues set is wound slightly hotter. The range also includes P90-style pickups, conventional humbuckers and Telecaster pickups.
These pickups are made using old-school waxed 'Forbon' formers like the early Fender pickups, and the Alnico V and III bar magnets (the set apparently uses a mix of both types) have a nicely bevelled top with a modified vintage pole-height stagger designed to better accommodate modern string sets with a plain third string. Another nice touch is the use of latex tubing instead of springs for mounting, as this provides a more secure fit with better mechanical damping. On the Pure Vintage model the coil former is black, while on the Classic Blues set it is grey, but in all other respects the pickups look identical, with tastefully off-white covers that fall short of the fake-looking cream or mint green often passed off as vintage.
While these pickups use authentic-style formers and magnets, and indeed vintage-style waxed-cotton-covered lead-out wires, the coils themselves are scatterwound. Scatter winding is a method of randomising the lay of the wire as it is wound onto the coil so that the inter-conductor capacitance is less than for an otherwise identical coil wound on a standard machine that creates a perfectly neat and orderly wind. The practical outcome of a lower capacitance is that the pickup can have a higher resonant peak than the standard version for the same number of turns, or it can be wound with more turns to make it hotter while maintaining the resonant peak of the standard version.
Pure Vintage
Each of the Pure Vintage pickups is marked on the bottom plate with its position (neck, mid or bridge) and its actual measured electrical resistance, which was, in this case, 5.8kΩ neck, 6.3kΩ mid and 6.3kΩ bridge. Installation is the same as for any other replacement single-coil pickup, and although the cloth-coated wires are a little harder to strip neatly, they are almost impossible to burn or melt! As you can see, I took the opportunity to add a little more screening using self-adhesive copper foil stuck to the back of the pickguard, as with single-coil pickups you can never have too much screening. If you do this, each piece needs to be electrically connected to the next using solder (apply very quickly to avoid melting the plastic pickguard), and the new screen needs connecting to a ground point such as the rear of one of the pots.
The pickups I replaced were of the modern US Fender type, and there was a noticeable tonal difference, which I liked. It seems the resonant peak of the Pure Vintage is higher than that of the pickups they replaced, so instead of getting hard-sounding highs, the top end is more shimmery and complex sounding, and less likely to sound gritty when overdrive is used. The mid-range is a little less pronounced than on modern Fender pickups, but because the resonant peak is quite high the pickups somehow manage to sound both warm and bright at the same time, and they mellow up nicely if you back off the volume control on the guitar very slightly. Those in-between pickup settings also exude bags of character and offer excellent hum rejection courtesy of a reverse-wound, reverse-polarity middle pickup, and the neck/middle combination nails that 'Sultans Of Swing' tone, while the neck pickup on its own gets you straight into the gentler side of Jimi Hendrix. Flip to mid and neck for that 'Wonderful Tonight' tone. If you want vintage tone with the typical moderate output of vintage pickups, then this is the set to go for.
Classic Blues
The Classic Blues set has more turns, upping the resistance to 6.1kΩ neck, 6.5kΩ mid, 7kΩ bridge so the resonant peak occurs at a lower frequency, favouring the upper mid-range a hint more. These pickups are designed to sound a little thicker and a touch hotter than the Pure Vintage models, where their smoother sound may help maintain note separation when using overdrive. The designers say they tried to create a late '60s vibe, "voiced for a faster attack on single-note lines". I fitted the set to one of my much-modified Fender Squires, which has a Mighty Mite replacement maple neck, Fender's standard Mexican pickups and a Vintage trem with full-mass cast iron block. Tonally, the pickups were not that different from the ones they replaced, though again they had a little more air and complexity around the high end. When comparing with existing Fender pickup models, I'd say these come close to the Fender Texas Special pickup set, which makes them perfect for aspiring SRV fans.
Though I could go into more detail about the subjective sound, I've learned from experience that the pickups are only part of the equation. A lot depends on the mass and stiffness of the neck, and whether the body is heavy and dense or light and resonant. The vintage Fender Strat vibe is still very much in evidence, but compared with the Pure Vintage set there is more punch and a very snappy attack, which should satisfy many modern players who want that extra shot of caffeine, but without sacrificing the classic Strat sound. Overall, I'd say that if you want to capture that boutique Strat pickup sound, but at a bargain price, one of these Tonerider sets should get you 95 percent of the way there.  0

Published in PM August 2008
In this article:
Tonerider Pure Vintage & Classic Blues £98
These pickup sets offer near-boutique quality sound and build at close to car-boot prices. The Classic Blues pickups are a touch hotter than the Pure Vintage and have a smoother sound, but either should satisfy.
Dangleberry Music
+44 (0)845 388 4985
Tech Spec
Classic Blues
Alnico V magnets in modified vintage stagger.
6.1kΩ neck, 6.5kΩ mid, 7kΩ bridge resistance.
RWRP for hum cancelling in notch positions.
Pure Vintage
Mix of Alnico V and Alnico III magnets.
5.75kΩ neck, 6.1kΩ mid, 6.4kΩ bridge DC resistance.
RWRP for hum cancelling in notch positions.