24 December 2006
|I've always had a love/hate relationship with
the Rickenbacker 360-12 electric 12-string: I love the tone, but I've never been
comfortable playing them. So when I bought a nice playing Dean
Sarasota electric 12-string recently, I started looking for ways to get more of a
Rickenbacker jangle from this Gibsonish constructed guitar.
I've been meaning to try out GFS pickups for a while now, and GFS tout the
standard humbucker size Memphis pickups as being "Rickenbacker tone vintage jangle
pickups". Also, at only US$ 38.95 each, they were inexpensive enough to take a chance
on, so I ordered a set in chrome as well as a pair of chromed brass pickup mounting rings
for $9. Total price, including $38 shipping (half way around the world remember): $124 - a
lot less than I would have spent on a single "name" pickup.
GFS pickups are relatively inexpensive, being US designed by Massachusetts based Guitar Fetish (www.guitarfetish.com)
but manufactured in Korea. To further keep prices down, GFS pickups are only available
from the Guitar Fetish site. And they do manage to keep prices down - their humbuckers
sell for between 30 - 40 US$ and Strat pickup sets between 48 - 68 US$! Of
course, the natural question on seeing prices like this is "Yes, but are they any
GFS Retrotron Memphis in chrome
|GFS have been getting a lot of attention on
various mailing lists and message boards lately, with the overwhelming response being
positive. True, many of these opinions are from inexperienced folk who have replaced
typically lacklustre stock pickups in cheap guitars (where almost any replacement is bound
to be an improvement), but there are enough knowledgeable people with well regarded
opinions giving the thumbs up to make them worth investigating. To be honest, at these
prices, there is be little loss if a set of GFS pickups do not work out.
The thing that intrigued me about the GFS pickups is the available range.
While they have the usual ranges of common "based on a PAF with more..."
humbuckers and "based on a 19-- Strat" single-coils, they also have quite a few
more unusual models too: Gretsch Dynasonics and Filtertrons, Rickenbacker Toasters,
Dearmond, Danelectro Lipsticks, etc. They also make versions of many of these pickups in
accessible sizes such as humbucker sized P-90s and Strat sized Lipsticks - making them an
ideal choice for replacing stock humbuckers and singlecoils.
GFS Retrotron Memphis in gold
As with most of the GFS Retrotron line, the Memphis pickups have a look which is
quite retro - reminiscent of Gretsch Filtertrons - with a chromed cover and 12 exposed,
adjustable polepieces. The chroming could be better, as it does have a bit of a cheapish
look to it, but not too bad - acceptable in this price range.
Each pickup comes with all the mounting hardware necessary: height adjustment
screws, mounting ring screws, springs and mounting rings. The mounting rings are for flat,
rather than arched tops, so they were of no use in this application, but it's nice that
they are included.
Installing the pickups themselves was pretty easy, although the wires were only
just long enough as my pickup selector is more or less where the bridge tone selector
would be on a Les Paul. The wires could have been a couple of inches longer, which would
work for any control layout. After all, it's much easier to cut wires shorter if they are
too long than have to extend them for an unusual configuration - and it wouldn't add much
to the cost.
Rear of the GFS Retrotron Memphis
I did run into some problems, but this had nothing to do with
the pickups. I generally hate working on archtop wiring, which involves attaching nylon
line to each part, pulling everything out through the F holes in the top, working on
everything and then pulling it all back in to place. This means that if I need to do
anything to an archtop's wiring, I usually do everything: socket, switch, pots, wires and
caps - then I know I'm not going to have to go back in there for at least the next few
years. What made this particular job even more difficult was the Sarasota having smaller
than usual F holes, which it turned out were too small to fit a regular size CTS pot
through - something which I only realised after I had everything neatly wired up and ready
to pull back inside. I hate working on archtop wiring! Not having any quality small size
pots on hand, I was forced to loosen the covers of the pots to get them through the F
holes, and then reassemble them through the holes while inside. Fun. Have I mentioned I
hate working on archtop wiring? There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I got it
right in the end. I did a quick pickup height guesstimate, tuned up and plugged in.
OK. Here's the crux of the biscuit: these are very nice sounding pickups and they
DO capture the essence of the idiosyncratic Ric pickup tone. They are bright and jangle
very nicely, but without any trace of harshness. In fact, the pronounced high end is
surprisingly smooth, without even a hint of brashness. All three switch positions provide
quality usable sounds and all are very articulate, with even the neck pickup by itself
having good note definition. The middle setting, with both pickups on, is not quite as
hollow sounding as I would like, but that's personal preference - it's still a good,
balanced sound.They seem to be fairly vintage output level - much quieter than the stock
Dean Zebras, about the same as or slightly less than a standard PAF. The bridge and neck
models are calibrated nicely so I didn't have to lower the neck pickup or raise the bridge
model further than I like to balance the levels.
I haven't finished tweaking yet, but these good looking and good sounding pickups
are definitely keepers for this guitar. They are good enough that I'm looking forward to
trying other sets of GFS pickups in future.
|GFS flat chromed brass pickup rings
I also ordered a set of flat chromed brass pickup rings (at $9 a pair) to try
on top of the stock black pickup rings - an idea I got from Warmoth which I like (see
picture on the right).
Sadly the chrome GFS pickup mounting rings I ordered did not
work out. There were machining marks visible through the chrome as well as having a few
sharp edges, making them quite untidy looking. The inner diameter was too large for the
pickups, and the overall size and mounting holes did not line up with any of the mounting
rings I had - including the GFS ones.
The Warmoth idea of mounting a flat chrome ring on
top of a black plastic ring