Anyone who has fallen in love with the sweet,
hypnotic tones of certain vintage-PAF humbuckers has most certainly been disappointed
and frustrated with the availability and price of
those heralded tone machines. Most guitarists
and gearheads know of the famed Gibson PAF,
and many who have searched for the elusive
tones they provide have had to look elsewhere
to satisfy their cravings. Even those lucky few
that have managed to track down a pair of vintage late-fifties PAFs still have to play a game
of tone-roulette, as not every pair measures
up to, say, Jimmy Page’s live tone at the L.A.
Forum in 1972.
The more frugal players have realized it can be
a rather expensive gamble—sometimes costing
thousands of dollars—and have turned to less
costly alternatives from small manufacturers who
are attempting to capture that sound. The surge
of smaller, more concentrated boutique pickup
outfits has been one of the most powerful driving forces in this golden age of guitar gear. One
such company, Rod Kinkade’s Skatterbrane, has
entered the fray with its own line of vintage-voiced, meticulously crafted pickups.
Skatterbrane is a one-man operation consisting
solely of Kinkade. He founded the company
out of dissatisfaction with several pickups that
he put into his personal Les Pauls. Unwilling
to settle for anything less than his ideal tone,
he started to wind them himself. Skatterbrane
takes notice of possibly the most glaring quirk
of PAFs: their inconsistency. Original PAFs were
basically wound until the bobbins were full, and
most specimens had windings that were uneven
between each coil. When combined, these dis-crepancies make up the tonal characteristics that
define that roaring, unbridled sound. Sometimes
this led to poor-sounding results, and other
times the outcome was stunning.
BY JORDAN WAGNER
The Skatterbrane Standard Set endeavors to
reproduce the best of the best. Lying beneath
the nickel-plated over nickel covers are two
coils, of course, both wound uneven and
unpotted. Coupled with them are rough-cast
Alnico II magnets (Alnico V is also available)
and vintage-style, pushback braided wire.
Ratings for the set sent to PG for review were
8. 31 K and 7. 49 K, bridge and neck pickups
respectively. I installed this set in a 1998 Gibson
Les Paul Studio. Having a reputation as a bare-bones workhorse, the Studio proved to be a
solid, basic canvas to allow the true nature of
the pickups to shine. The difference between
the Paul’s stock pickups and the Skatterbrane’s
through a stock 1973 Marshall Super Bass head
was clearly noticeable.
it have character. Harmonics are everywhere,
and the attack sensitivity is wonderful. In some
cases, the volume knob didn’t even need to be
addressed at all to clean up the tone—just a
lighter, softer attack was all it took. Rolling the
tone knob down to 0 delivered a killer woman
tone, one aspect of the pickup that Kinkade
himself is extremely proud of.
One evident difference was the quality of the
sustain; the Skatterbranes were exceptional
even when using an smooth, light attack on the
strings. Also, undoubtedly one of the best traits
of the neck pickup is the depth of its sound.
The Super Bass already has a good amount of
low end, but oftentimes it can muddy up with
certain pickups when playing harder. Not only
did the amp respond by keeping a consistent,
clear tone though different styles, but it showed
another mannerism that it has in common with
its ancestral brethren: loudness. PAFs are known
for their low output, and vastly different from
today’s modern humbuckers that tend to add a
hi-fi quality to the tone. However, their low output can often allow the amp to “breathe” more,
since the signal isn’t so hot and congested.
Thus, the tone has a great piano-like quality that
stays focused and wide, which is something that
the Skatterbrane Standard neck pickup does
The Final Mojo
Skatterbrane is undeniably on to something
with this line of vintage-voiced humbuckers.
They offer different variations on the model,
such as PAF or Patent Number stickers on the
underside, and an Alnico V magnet option.
My only regret is that there aren’t more pickup
models available to choose from. As good as
the Standard Set is, it would be great to see
other types offered, such as a P- 90 or a Tele
bridge pickup. However, if this set represents
Skatterbrane’s dedication to the craft, it’s almost
certain that this won’t be the last time that we
hear from them.
you want to try out a set of
pickups by a talented, up-and-coming builder.
you’re looking for a broader
range of choices.
Moving on to the bridge pickup, I pushed the
amplifier harder into power tube overdrive
by cranking the first channel volume to about
12 o’clock. Immediately, the bridge position
squealed, due to the unpotted nature of the
pickup. Backing off of the volume knob and
lowering the volume on the amp to a little over
11 o’clock seemed to help this, but it should
be noted that at a louder volume some play-
ers might have trouble in this department.
Interestingly enough, this supposed “flaw” is
actually another thing that gives the pickup
its great, wide-open character. And boy, does
Click here to download
sound clips of the
pickups in action