I know, I know, I’ve been covering a lot of neck pickups lately. And that’s true. A bit of a reflection of the search I’ve been on trying to find some options that work in a few different settings. And from the conversations I’ve been having with other players and some pickup builders, I don’t think I’m alone.
It seems as if there are a lot of players out there that just really don’t use the neck position all that much, due to the tones they want and they tones they are getting. This can leave players in a position of just sticking with the bridge pickup. And believe me, I’ve done that and I have nothing against a guitar with a single bridge humbucker. I do like me a single bridge humbucker guitar.
But there are so many cool playing options available with the right neck pickup. Consider the Slash’s into to GnR’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, as easily achieved on a neck pickup with the tone all the way down. Or consider how your lead and solo work can take on a new depth and girth.
When it comes to my hunt for rock-themed neck pickups, DiMarzio has really been delivering. I’ve tried the Humbucker From Hell, the LiquiFire, the Super 2, and I have the 7-string Blaze as a stock pickup. They all bring something different to the table that’s good enough to make you want to partake.
The D Activator was hard to get a bead on when I first looked at it. The name sounds a little aggressive and the description starts off wth a references to popular active pickup qualities. But on paper, the specs look good…so I have it a shot. And I’m liking it.
It has a presence that I find to be nicely balanced for a neck voicing. Not too loud and not too quiet. Not too thick and not too thin. Think of an all-around clutch player that can handle offense and defense.
Better yet, in term of other DiMarzio neck pickups, let’s start with the HFH and the Super 2. They have similar numbers on the DiMarzio tone chart. The HFH can be a little rigid and stiff, and the Super 2 can be a little powerful and boomy. The D Activator slips right in there, with an output a little closer to the Super 2, but a little more articulate like the HFH.
The D Activator also fills in the space between the LiquiFire and the Super 2. It delivers the more focused voice of the LF and has the added brightness and cut in the high end of the Super 2.
Looking at the pickup on it’s own merit, I put it in a solid maple super strat with a maple neck and an “Official” Floyd Rose double locking trem. This is not a hard maple, so the tone of the guitar is closer to alder or poplar and not extraordinarily bright. The D Activator neck really holds together well. The low end delivers some thump, but doesn’t flub out or get muddy. The mids and highs are very nice for lead work in the neck position. All the harmonics tricks I tried cut through with as much clarity and vitality to make you forget you were playing a neck pickup.
It has a DCR that would make you think it’s a vintage or a PAF pickup, but it delivers a level of output that can stand you up and knock you over. I suspect a bit of that is due to the offset coil windings and how that allows more frequencies to come through, leaving you with voicing that transcends the limitations of that numbers on the paper.
series – 7.20k
split N – 4.08k
split S – 3.13k
parallel – 1.77k
output – 385 mV
A few weeks back, I grabbed the DiMarzio DP219 D Activator neck pickup and I do really like it quite a bit. I’m not really known for getting “matching sets”, but a pal grabbed a full set of the 7-string models and can’t say enough good things about the D Activator.
Since one of the big-name companies said they don’t want my business, I’d been really giving the DiMarzio catalog a close look and trying to get a bead on how their tone chart translates to what my ear is used to hearing. I mean, the DiMarzio pickup picker is probably the best and most accurately updated tool of its kind that I’ve seen. And DiMarzio seems to have really hit a nice stride of finding new voicings that really seem to be appealing to players. So…good for them.
The D Activator bridge is installed in the same guitar as the D Activator neck. A maple super strat with a maple neck and an “Official” Floyd Rose trem. I think I mentioned in the previous review that this maple is a softer variety and not quite as bright, putting the tonal response a little closer to alder or poplar. I also wired it to switch between series and parallel, the same as the neck position.
This pickup is quite dynamic. I find it very touch sensitive and responsive to pick attack. I was not aware the coils were asymmetrical and the results are impressive. Most impressive. Harmonics pop out with ease and have plenty of drive to sustain. It has a midrange roar/growl that I always look for in a bridge pickup…a smidge throaty, but far from overbearing. The high end is defined and has lots of cut, but it not too sharp and does not suffer from the “ice pick” syndrome that some players don’t like in a pickup. The low end is what really lured me in further….I just do not care for boom or flab or mud in the low end of any pickup in any position. And this pickup does not have any of that. But it is not crisp or rigid or brittle in the lows either. Instead, it has a nice deep rich low end that retains more focus than you’d expect for a pickup with that much presence in the lows. It’s a design that I find pretty innovative in a pickup like this.
The description on the DiMarzio site talks a lot about trying to being the best qualities of an active to a passive and that’s all good and I can dig where they are coming from. But when a player reads “active” it can color their perception. I’ve played several active models across a few brands and I don’t hear anything in the D Activator that should be any concern for players that just don’t like “active” characteristics. A bit of a shift in the marketing of this model could be relevant.
Something that really hits home with this pickup is how the DC Resistance would imply a “hot vintage” output, for those that subscribe to the fallacy of DCR = Output. The output of this pickup is up there past the DiMarzio “Super” series. But as I’ve found, it is not a muddled uncontrollable gain monster. The way a pickup is voiced is everything. The alchemy of the materials and the way it is wound trumps the DCR.
series – 11.11k
split north – 5.38k
split south – 5.74k
parallel – 2.78k
output – 470 mV