I've been looking around for some noiseless
"single-coil" pickups for my #2 guitar (a Cort
G-VT) for a while now. I'd been using the Fender Custom Shop '69 set of single coils,
but while I truly love the snappy tone of these pickups, the single-coil hum was been
driving me to distraction.
I've tried quite a variety of different noiseless pickup sets
over the years, and they've always been a bit of a compromise. While many of these designs
are really quiet, they often lack the sparkle, snap, detail or some of the personality of
true single-coil pickups. In some cases they even require you to change the pots to higher
values to get back some of the sparkle.
I'd been eyeing the Kinman range of noiseless single coils
for a while, but was reluctant to shell out that much money for something which I had
never heard before, regardless of the glowing reviews from some very believable sources
(such as Scott Henderson). I ended up doing a lot of research on them, even looking up
Kinman's patents and spending some time figuring out exactly what he was doing that made
these pickups different to other noiseless designs.
I was at the point where I was about to take the chance and
order a set anyway, when I got a chance to fit two different sets (the Woodstock set and
Traditional MKII set) for two of the guys working at Paul Bothner Music. I didn't get a
chance to play the guitars extensively once I'd fitted the pickups (for some reason, the
owners wanted to play them too!), but from my short experience with them they were
impressive enough for me to order a set of Woodstocks for myself.
Kinman pickups used to be a direct order from Australia - he had no local
distribution. Luckily, between me fitting the first and second sets for the guys at
Bothners, a local distributor took them up, and they became readily available. Custom sets
still have to be special ordered as well as Kinman's "no solder" harness (which
includes the pickups, all the wiring, pots, switches and even output jack prewired - for
those folk who are uncomfortable with a soldering iron.
I fitted my set with no real problems shortly after getting them. The only small
niggling thing was that the wires from the pickups are already cut to the precise length
for a standard installation - and I don't do standard installations. My usual earth point
is a star earth, with all the earth wires connected to a single solder tag at the 5-way
switch. The earth wires for the new pickups came already trimmed for soldering onto the
back of the volume pot, and would not stretch the extra 3 cm or so to reach the solder
tag, so I was forced to make the volume pot the earth point - no biggie though.
I was quite impressed with the extra hardware that came with the Kinman pickups.
There were two full sets of pickup screws (12 in total): one set with countersunk heads
and one with the more conventional pan heads. Six pre-cut pieces of surgical tubing were
also included to use as springs. I prefer the tone of real steel springs, but surgical
tubing is more commonly used these days as it helps pickups with feedback resistance. On
top of this, Kinman includes the cap and resistor for a standard volume treble bleed mod,
as well as a short length of shielded wire to use between the volume pot and the output
jack. All the wires were terminated with heat shrink tubing and the ends were already
tinned. All very impressive attention to detail, especially if you consider that none of
the major pickup manufacturers include any of these things, let alone all of them.
The documentation included was comprehensive, featuring complete wiring diagrams
for a stock Strat arrangement as well as Kinman's own version of the "neck on"
arrangement that allows you to have neck and bridge pickups or all three pickups together.
This "K7" system - differs from the standard method of using a switch by
using a "No-Load" pot which allows you to blend in as much of the neck position
pickup as you like.
It seems that everyone comments on the way the tone of Kinman pickups change depending on
how close to the strings they are adjusted. The other common finding is that every small
adjustment to height changes the tone. This is all true, and I can add that it is
one thing reading about it and quite another experiencing it. I found I was able to give
the guitar a totally different character depending on how high the pickups were. Every
single turn of a screw resulted in a tone change I could hear. The closer to the strings
the pickups were, the brighter, snappier and punchier they became, while backing them off
increased the woodiness and darkened the tone.
The magnets in Kinman pickups are relatively low powered,
which allows you to get the pickups a lot closer to the strings without
"Stratitis" than stock single coils - no reduced sustain, no pitch warble.
Kinman recommends a minimum gap of 2mm between polepieces and string for the neck pickup
(with the string held down at the 12th fret) and 1.5mm for the bridge pickup. I prefer
much lower settings than most as I find my right hand nails catch on the polepieces
otherwise, but still I ended up with the pickups about 2mm higher than I would usually set
single coils. Speaking of nails, the Kinman polepieces are bevelled and the G string
polepiece is lower than the traditional stagger (more in line with modern string sets with
unwound G strings), and I found this made the polepieces a lot less problematic.
Important things first: yes, they sound like single coil pickups! The dynamic range
is spot on and they have every iota of the character and high end detail I expect from a
single coil. And good single coils at that... Every single switch position is good.
The tone was more powerful, darker and punchier than a
traditional Strat set, which is what I expected - the Woodstocks are Kinman's version of
the Fender pickups manufactured in 1969, which are renowned for these characteristics. So
this particular set is not for the player looking for more traditional, bright, bell-like
"twangy" Strat pickups. However, if you fit into this category, Kinman has you
covered with his Traditional MKII set. Kinman has also chosen to make these pickups sound
like the originals did when they were new, unlike many other pickup makers who make
There are also other improvements over vintage single coil
pickups - the string balance is excellent thanks to the modern polepiece stagger, without
the G string being too loud - which is the biggest problem with the traditional stagger.
The bridge pickup also as a slightly lower A string polepiece to tame the A string
brashness that a bridge single coil tends to produce.
|They look like normal
single coils from the outside...
|But they're a bit more
|Beautifully and very
|The pre-tinned screened
cable with heatshrink tubing
|The ground wires soldered
to the volume pot casing.
Overall, the tone has lots of tight low end that is never
flabby, enough dynamic range to respond equally well to subtle fingerpicking or full out
thrashing. Harmonics sing out and sustain has improved, thanks to the low gauss magnets.
They have enough edge and definition to make the guitar stand out in most mixes, without
ever becoming harsh. While like any good Strat pickup, they love lower gain to slightly
crunchy sounds, I found that even taking them to the extremes of distortion land (where I
rarely travel), they sounded great and every switch position sounded distinctly different.
There are two sounds I've never been overly fond of an a
Strat - the bridge or middle pickups by themselves. The bridge position often is too sharp
sounding, with an overabundance of "icepick" high end, and the middle tends to
be a bit bland in comparison to all the other settings. I'm happy to say that the
Woodstock bridge pickup is probably the best sounding bridge model I have ever heard, with
a little more power than the other two pickups and just enough treble to cut through when
driven, but not so much that the tone is overly aggressive or sharp - even with no tone
controls fitted. The middle pickup has a wonderful throaty sound with enough character for
anyone - an incredibly usable sound for those applications when the bridge pickup is too
incisive, the neck position is too dark and you don't want the "quack" of the
Speaking of quack - positions two and four have every bit of
this character that I demand from a Strat. I usually expect a bridge position pickup with
good driven character to detract from the combined sound of position two, but Kinman seems
to have got the balance perfect. Knopfleresque sounds abound!
I saved the neck pickup (my favourite) for last. The
Woodstock neck is clear sounding with a woody characteristic - just what a Strat neck
pickup should sound like. Think "Little Wing" Jimi. I was a little disappointed
with the neck position, not because there is anything wrong with it - far from it, it's
every bit as good as anything out there. However, based on my experiences with the other
positions, my expectations were so high by this time that I was hoping the neck position
would blow me away. I'm still experimenting with pickup heights, and will probably change
back to real steel springs for suspending the pickups, so I may still be surprised.
The treble bleed circuit works flawlessly, the treble stays constant as the volume
is turned down, without losing or gaining treble until the control gets down to 2 or 3
when the sound starts brightening a little. I don't see that as a problem, as it is very
slight and no-one works with the volume that low. The pot taper is also slightly different
with a more gradual volume change at the top limits of the pot, which I feel is an
These pickups are incredibly quiet - it's almost uncanny. I even set up a 17"
CRT monitor specially to see if I could make the guitar hum. I ended up holding the guitar
about two inches from the screen before I could hear any interference at all. Easily the
quietest pickups I have ever used, including other noiseless designs and full size
This set of pickups are far and away the best Strat set I've ever used,
including some really great true single coil sets. The tone is wonderful and very
inspiring, and they are really quiet.
I now find myself wondering what a set of Kinman Traditional
MKIIs would sound like <sigh>. I don't really want to convert my other Strat back
from Nashville tuning, but It would be a bit extreme to buy another guitar just to try a
set of pickups - even for me.