Released in June 2016, the Skinnerburst humbucker set follows 2012 deftly-named Joe Bonamassa Signature Pickup Set. Both are from MJ’s Custom Shop. Where as the previous set was a stab at recreating the P.A.F. pickups in one of Bonamassa’s old 1959 sunburst Les Pauls, the Skinnerburst pickups are different. Well, alright, the Skinnerburst are an attempt at replicating a set of P.A.F. pickups from a different one of Bonamassa’s old 1959 suburst Les Pauls.
“How are they different?” you ask. Well, since you asked… The 2012 set has an Alnico 2 in the neck and an Alnico 3 in the bridge. The Skinnerburst set has an Alnico 3 in both. Other than that, the 2012 set is about 7.64k neck and about 8.06k bridge. The Skinnerburst are a little hotter. I’ve heard that under the hood, the 2012 set is a double cream neck and a double black bridge. The 2016 Skinnerburst are both double cream.
“Double cream?” you ask. Yep. I popped the covers. Just not a fan. So yes, I can also confirm the bobbins are definitely butyrate. Does that matter? The materials used for bobbins and spacers and so on? Technically, yes. Even down to the weave on the vintage style lead wire. Would most people know the difference if they couldn’t see or smell it? I doubt it, in many cases. It’s something for the tone-sniffing elite uber guitar geeks to nerd out over and maybe a little something to help justify an increased cost in the mind of the end user.
Bonamassa talks a little about the perceptions of value in this video:
How does it sound? Like a P.A.F. replica. LOL! Let’s cut to the chase. When testing the prototypes, they used one of 300 copies of the Skinnerburst guitar. So… it kinda sorta seems as if a new $7,000+ guitar and some new pickups were mated together in a way to match something close to 60 years old. Is this where you wonder how it’s going to work out in your $400 Epiphone Les Paul? Fret not (ha! a pun!).
To my ears, the Skinnerburst set sounds like pleasantly sweet humbuckers. Pretty even across the mids, with the slightest bit of rounded nuance in the highs. The lows are a little bit woody but a little bit juicy. You can get a clean tone easily, without too much fidgeting with the knobs. Of course when it comes to a bit of grit or a dab of dirt, the Skinnerburst is going to be at home with blues, heavy blues, blues rock, Southern rock, grandpa rock, and I’d even suggest a little rockabilly.
There’s a nice bloom to the notes, be it in single lines or in big chords. The character opens up with an interesting complexity and a touch of clarity thrown in for good measure. And knowing how I can be, I found that giving the amp a slight bump into the next level of saturation can put things comfortably into some riff rock.
Wanna see some specs taken from my set?
Series – 8.58 K
Inductance – 5.024 H
North – 4.28 K
South – 4.30 K
Parallel – 2.15 k
Magnet – Alnico 3
Series – 8.25 K
Inductance – 4.451 H
North – 4.13 K
South – 4.12 K
Parallel – 2.06 k
Magnet – Alnico 3
Did you catch that? Almost perfectly matched coils. Indications seem to be that there was very limited access to poking and prodding the original pickups in the Principal Skinner guitar. Additionally, the old P.A.F. pickups aren’t known to be wound to a turn counter as much as to either a timer or until the bobbins were full. Going with practically identical coils is an interesting approach.
The Skinnerburst was a limited run of 800. I found my set earlier this year, but it seems they are all sold out at this time. The Duncan company has become a little notorious for taking limited release items and then letting them loose again as a production model. The Black Winter, Whole Lotta Humbucker, Alpha-Omega, and JB/Jazz Prototype are some examples that come to mind.
However, I’m thinking that if you keep an eye out around mid-January 2018, you’ll find another Bonamassa fix. Or, if you’d prefer something a little more like the Skinnerburst, take another look at my article on the Mojotone Alnico 3 P.A.F. style set that they can make for you.
For reference, this Skinnerburst pickup set evaluation was conducted with a Fractal Axe-Fx II XL+ featuring Celestion Impluse Responses and MFC-101 MIDI Foot Controller. Real cabs used were Marshall 1960B cabs loaded with Celestion G12-65s, Vintage 30s and G12M Greenbacks.