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I'm a big fan of noiseless single-coil pickups so I was happy
to try the DiMarzio Area series pickups which are latest generation noiseless pickups and
have been getting good reviews. I received five pickups for review: two Area '58s, an Area
'61 a Virtual Vintage '54 Pro and an Area T Telecaster Bridge pickup.
Overall the build quality is fairly good, with neat windings and flatwork and with the
excess potting wax cleaned off. The magnets are nicely machined and bevelled on top and
the pickup covers are snug but easily removed and replaced.
Not everything is perfect though. Firstly the wires to the
pickups are not soldered to the traditional eyelets, but rather connected straight into
the coils and are simply looped once through a hole in the base for primitive strain
relief. This means the wires cannot be replaced and if they were pulled out, they might
pull out of the coil, destroying the pickup. The wires from the pickups themselves are
very thin. They seem to be the same thin wire used inside the shielded wire DiMarzio uses
for most of their humbuckers, but without the extra wires, jacket or shielding.
A minor point is that the model label is a cheap looking
piece of paper stuck to the bottom of the pickup. This could cause problems if the label
is damaged or missing and you are trying to identify a pickup or trying to figure out
which pickup is which in a set.
Installation and wiring in a Strat was easy. The pickups fitted nicely into a pickguard
without being too tight or too loose and the mounting hardware is included. The screw
quality was decent, but the plating could be better. The wires stripped, tinned and
soldered easily without the insulation shrinking back or melting.
I did run into a problem fitting the pickups to a rear routed
body without a pickguard. The pickups didn't fit in the pickup cavities because of the
"strain relief" loops of wire adding slightly to the base width. A quick notch
in the base to recess the wires worked well to get around this.
The pair of '58s in neck and middle with the '61 in the bridge gave me the classic,
percussive and glassy Strat tone, but with the modern twist of a slightly hotter bridge
pickup. Dynamics aplenty in all switch positions and plenty quack in switch positions two
and four. The slightly hotter '61 tames the harsh "icepick" common in bridge
position and gives a slightly hotter lead tone, but not so hot that it loses the
"quack" in position two. The middle pickup alone is very good and the '58 in the
neck is wonderful - warm and full, but articulate. This was the winning combo for me, and
a set of three '58s would obviously work well for a brighter, more vintage correct tone in
all switch positions.
A '58 in the neck, a '61 in the middle and the Virtual
Vintage '54 in the bridge. The neck position stayed the same, but the '61 wasn't as
gratifying in the middle position as it was in the bridge, and tended to make the middle
three switch positions a bit lacklustre. The '54 in the bridge worked well as an even
hotter pickup to kick the amp into a fatter bluesier drive. Overall this set was very
balanced output wise and fairly flexible, ramping up in gain gradually from position five
to position one, but was not as tonally satisfying. Replacing the '61 with the '58 was
much more satisfying, although position two did lose a lot of quack.
Finally I tried the Area T bridge pickup in my Tele/Strat
hybrid and found an excellent Tele - very bright and punchy without being overly thin or
harsh. I couldn't resist popping in the '58s in the neck and middle and they are a perfect
match - Tele tones from bridge and position three (which is wired for neck and bridge
pickups) and Strat from the rest. Now the guitar does snap, quack and pop!
Of course for many, the main attraction of the DiMarzio Area series pickups is that they
are noiseless - and they are all very quiet indeed. As single-coils they are totally
convincing, mostly quite toneful, and do not lose brightness or dynamics as some other
designs do. The hotter models do trade off some tone in exchange for power, but the same
is true of real single-coils. There are a few flaws in the construction and I sincerely
hope DiMarzio reconsider the lack of eyelets and shielded wire in future revisions.