The American Steele humbucker set is an amalgam of a few of pickup maker Jim Wagner’s more popular models. Florida-based guitarist Anthony Steele discovered he needed to cover a lot of ground as a gigging player. The Crossroads neck and the Godwood bridge met the requirements.
Of course, the Crossroads model would be a nod to that Clapton tone around 1968. Before opening up a huge can of worms, I’m simply going to say that I can dig that “Crossroads” may have been recorded with the SG or with the 335. Either way, Clapton’s tech has said that Gibson “Patent Number” humbuckers were in use.
The Godwood half of the American Steele set is one of Jim Wagner’s most popular humbuckers. Wagner generally refers to the Godwood set at fat and rich. Many of the selections from Wagner’s menu have a name with a reference to a tone it emulates. Crossroads, Fillmore, IronMan, etc. I’m guessing the Godwood is Jim’s attempt to put his best characteristics into a single model.
Wagner pickups became a blip on my radar about 5-6 years ago. And more recently, a pal tried a Godwood bridge and suggested checking it out. When an American Steele set became available, it was time to jump.
Given the reputation that Wagner pickups has in certain circles, I wanted to really put the American Steele set to the most grueling of evaluations. So I grabbed a double-hum mahogany guitar that has had a history of being a little finicky. I’m running 500k Bourns pots, Switchcraft 12120X 3-way, and a Switchcraft mono output jack, all connected with aerospace grade hookup wire.
During the pickup install, I hit the frets and fretboard with some Lizard Spit Fret Polishing Pads and Fret Board Conditioner, respectively. I’m also digging the Slick Nuts Slot Lube for friction points.
My first thought is that the American Steele is a pretty versatile little set of humbuckers.
The Crossroads neck holds together well under gain. Tons of sustain for slower, bluesy licks. Lots of clarity for fiery barn-burning speed runs. While the low end holds together pretty well, the highs have a little more cut than sweetness. There’s a fun quality in the decay of a note that allows the mechanical noise of the fingers to come through.
Considering the Godwood bridge, I think it might be the start of the American Steele set. Plenty of drive and bite. Significant transparency without too much push or compression. The whole “fat, rich, and juicy” part really doesn’t come across as much. Maybe if you’re expecting the chimey bite of a PAF-class humbucker. So yeah, it might be all juiced up in relation to the Wagner catalog.
As a set, there is something that rings true from some of the comments I’ve heard about the American Steele set. The greatest strength can also be a weakness. The American Steele appears to have been imagined as really versatile. To get one character out of the neck and another one from the bridge might be more of a change in voice from one position to the other.
I think this might be more of an issue in the days that we live in where “calibrated set” is a thing. Players that have a need to have the same voice in both positions might should give extra thought about the American Steele set. However, those determined to find different flavors from each position can make the American Steele set a consideration.
How about we take a listen? Here’s a clip from the Wagner website:
Ready for some specs?
Series – 10.24 K
Inductance – 6.917 H
Screw – 5.118 K
Slug – 5.131 K
Parallel – 2.563 K
Magnet – Alnico 5
Series – 7.756 K
Inductance – 4.134 H
Screw – 3.872 K
Slug – 3.887 K
Parallel – 1.9411 K
Magnet – Alnico 5
Whoa there! Those are some interesting specs, wouldn’t you think? For starters, those are polished Alnico 5 magnets. Not rough cast. And not Alnico 2. Also, those coils are fairly evenly balanced for humbuckers with such clarity and harmonic complexity. Additionally, I’m not seeing Plain Enamel wire. And the set that I have has short mounting legs and the bobbins are not butyrate. *Gasp!*
Just saying that it’s another example of the end justifying the means and letting your ears be the determining factor. Of course, this set, or even this brand, is not the be-all end-all. But it’s going to be ideal for someone. Sniffing the cork on arbitrary specs from something made 60 years ago with no quality control doesn’t mean it’s better.
Some of the artists that use the American Steele set include members of Buckcherry, Marshall Tucker Band, and Iced Earth. Crossroads users include members of Bachman Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, and Pete Thorn. Godwood users include members of Dangerous Toys, Kentucky Headhunters, and Joe Bonamassa.
You can find the American Steele set via the Jim Wagner Pickups website. Bobbin options include black, double cream, zebra, white, and white zebra. It appears that covers are an options, but I had trouble finding that selection on the website’s order form. You can get them with vintage braided, 2-con, or 4-con lead wire. Wagner pickups go new for about $160-180 each. I’ve been seeing them move on the secondary market for between $85-100, if you keep your eyes open.
For reference, the Jim Wagner American Steele humbucker pickup set evaluation was conducted with a Fractal Axe-Fx II XL+ featuring Celestion Impluse Responses and Fractal MFC-101 MIDI Foot Controller. Real cabs used were Marshall 1960B cabs loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s and G12M Greenbacks.