REVIEW > D. ALLEN
By JORDaN wagNeR
a wide scope of rock. With the Twin, the
bridge position yielded a gorgeous Tele tone,
perfect for precise fingerpicking in the vein
of Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins.
But if you’re a Strat player with a jones
for hard rock, these pickups are worth a
look too. After I fired up a vintage ’ 81
Marshall JCM800 connected to an Emperor
4x12 cabinet, the bridge JohnnyBlade came
alive, bristling with harmonics and a solid
low-end foundation. Single-note leads positively popped, and legato lines felt super
fluid and defined. Dropping the Marshall’s
gain and cranking the master opened up
the pickup’s classic rock possibilities. The
JohnnyBlades are very sensitive to pick
attack, and with the even-ordered overdrive
from the Marshall’s EL34s and a heavy
hand, I got one of the best tones I’ve heard
for copping Pete Townshend’s rhythm work.
David Allen’s popular CS StratCat pick- ups are the toast of boutique forums
and discussion boards everywhere, and
recently his pickups caught the ears of country and rock virtuoso Johnny Hiland, who
worked with Allen to design and produce his
latest set, the Johnny Hiland JohnnyBlades.
Covering All the Bases
My test bed for the pickups was a 2011
Fender Classic Series ’60s Stratocaster, a
workhorse that sounds pretty great in stock
form. After mounting and soldering in the
pickups, I buttoned up the guitar and fired
up a Fender ’ 65 Twin Reverb reissue.
After starting with the neck pickup on
its own, I was amazed that it was only 5.3k.
The tone was vibrant and lively through the
Twin as I laid into a rhythmic blues groove,
but much more powerful than I’d expect
from a pickup at that resistance level. The
pickup’s overall tone and feel wasn’t cluttered
or foggy-sounding anywhere. And there was
a certain hi-fi element to the tone with
extreme detail in the lows and low-mids that
was breathtaking through the Twin’s reverb-soaked output—especially at louder levels.
The neck pickup certainly doesn’t sacrifice punch. There’s a perceptible midrange
boost, and the snappy lows are perfect for
funk work. When mixed with the middle
JohnnyBlade pickup, though, the combination becomes an absolutely killer tool for
blues and jazzier leads. Instead of fighting
each other for space, the two pickups work
together in a sort of harmonic handshake
that produces a landscape of sweet, rolling
highs, gorgeous mids, and earthy lows.
Hiland is known for his chicken-pick-
in’, but fans of his playing know he’s
pretty keen on rock and even metal
at times. So he wanted a bridge
pickup that could do it all—
stay silent and clear, but be
able to cover country,
jazz, funk, blues, and
Hiland is not only known for his fluid playing, but also for having a great ear—which
proved to be a significant factor in the
development of the JohnnyBlades. Allen
produced a total of 20 prototype sets before
he got what Hiland wanted. But the arduous three-month process resulted in an
absolutely stellar-sounding set of pickups.
The main goals of the JohnnyBlades are
to deliver great single-coil tone, stay noiseless,
and be versatile enough to cover a wide range
of genres. Each pickup uses two custom blades
crafted from nickel-plated cold-rolled steel,
which are then highly polished. Each pickup
sports four-conductor wire, custom ceramic
magnets, fiber flatwork bobbins, and plain
enamel wire wound in a special scatter pattern
for better balance between each pickup and
to add some vintage spice to the recipe. The
resistance level varies quite drastically from the
neck to the bridge pickups— 5.3k for the neck,
6.3k for the middle, and a whopping 9.2k for
the bridge—but each pickup stays consistent
in terms of volume and feel.
The hum-cancelling JohnnyBlades are an
incredible replacement for standard single-coils. They’re super versatile, have great
output, and killer range. If you’re looking
to expand on the versatility of your Strat or
other triple single-coil guitar without sacrificing the essence of what a great Stratocaster
pickup should be, it would be hard to go
wrong with D. Allen’s Johnny Blades.
you’re looking for more tonal range
from your Strat.
you prefer a mellower tone at all times.
D. Allen Pickups
9.2k bridge pickup
or use a mobile device to hear
audio clips of the pickup at
136 PREMIER GUITAR FEBRUARY 2012