Sunday, 3 April 2016

Ash Stratocaster: Pickup Upgrade

Recently, Adam from Pitbull Guitars graciously sent me a set of Benson '63 strat pickups to try out. It has taken me forever, but this week I finally got the pickups installed in my Ash Sratocaster. The pickups came nicely boxed, with each pickup individually wrapped in brown paper and twine - a nice touch that added to the overall sense that this was a 'vintage' product. Nice.

Unboxing the Benson '63 Pickups.
Each pickup comes with vintage, cloth push-back wire that is really stiff. This made working with  the pickups very easy indeed. My biggest concern about the pickup swap was that the I would lose my nice gold pickup mounting screws, but I should not have worried. The Benson pickups went straight into the pickguard using the standard Pitbull screws. Magic!

Fortunately the strat wiring is very straight forward, especially with these import 5-way switches. With just the 3 hot wires to take from the switch motherboard, and a common earth to remove from the back of the first tone pot, the Stock pickups were quickly removed and replaced.

The Stock Pickups ready to be removed from the pickguard.
The Benson '63s dropped straight in.
The pushback vintage wire made soldering a dream, with no risk of shorts in both the hot and earth wires. The stiffness of the wire meant that I could easily run all three wires down the centre of the pickguard to easily match the control route in the body. No messing around pushing wires back under the pickguard wile I tried to fit it this time! I used a couple of zip ties to keep everything nice and neat, and trimmed the length of the middle and bridge pickups to keep them all the same length. A pretty neat job all up, and very impressed how easy the Benson wiring made it.

All re-assembled and ready to rock!
With the wiring done and tap-tested to make sure everything was good, the pickguard was screwed back in to place and she was ready to rock again.

So how do the Benson pickups sound? Well, there is no question that the sound of the Benson pickups is a vast improvement over the stock offering. That is not to say that the stock pickups sound bad at all. Being a little gun-shy over such an important demo, I cajoled my friend Jonathan from Sydney rockabilly bank Rock Cat Rock to do some demos for me. When he first picked up the strat he remarked at how good the Stock pickups sounded.

But there is no doubt that the Benson's sound an order of magnitude better. The sound is fuller with a much better dynamic range. Highs are clearer, with a beautiful crispness to the sound. The string attack sounds just beautiful and the mid range is there in abundance.

We recorded two sessions. One with the Stock pickups, and then again with the Bensons. I have turned these sessions into 3 demo videos. The first shows the stock pickups, the second the Benson's, and the third provides a side-by-side shootout of the two. Although I don't have a great set-up for recording, I hope that the videos provide some illustration of the difference in the two. The guitar is being played clean into a Fender Deluxe Re-issue tube amp.

Pitbull Stock Pickups

Benson '63 Pickups

Stock vs Benson Shootout

So there you have it. My Ash Stratocaster is now a rock and blues beast thanks to Adam at Pitbull and the wiring gurus at Benson. Awesome stuff!