The Painkiller is a pickup that has come to me with much regard. One of the touring players that I know uses the Painkiller and incessantly praises the quality of tone he gets. When I was able to get my hands on a set, it’s a no-brainer to grab it.
When people think of “Painkiller”, it is generally Judas Priest‘s Grammy-nominated 1990 album that comes to mind. This is when Priest is at their thunderous and speed-riffing best. Bones are still healing from the crushing of the intense wailing imposed from the twin-guitar juggernaut. Yet guitar geeks that are in-the-know also associate this era of Judas Priest with active pickups. That’s not what is going on here.
Speaking in generalizations, the classically accepted vibe of an active pickup is that the squashed, or rather, smothered headroom yields a desired compression that works for many aggressive hard rock styles. It’s sorta like stripping everything away, and then trying to put it back in with the active circuit. And if you know anything about Bare Knuckle, there is nothing about what they do that has to do with that.
As such, if you are afraid the Painkiller humbuckers might sound “active”, then fret no longer (ha! a pun!).
For this install, the Painkiller set is going in to the same guitar used for the Silo humbucker set evaluation. This means that the BKP 550k pots and the BKP caps are part of the wiring harness. That’s a neutral-sounding double-hum guitar with a German Floyd Rose 1984 tremolo system. Tuning is E standard with 10-46 strings.
Let’s not kid ourselves, you’re wanting to hear about how it shreds. LOL! If you are looking for a metal machine, the Painkiller is your huckleberry. In the bridge, the lows are punchy and deliberate. It’s easy to keep your chugs and your pedal notes under control. Not quite as razor sharp and vice-like tight as maybe the Aftermath or perhaps the Juggernaut models, but pretty close.
Mids are super important to balance the character and the Painkiller excels at it. More than just a growl, it’s more of a sizzling roar that’s tuned to make harmonics pop. Find a harmonic. Tapped. Pinched. Whatever your pleasure. If you aren’t getting the most clear and sustaining harmonics from the Painkiller, go take some more lessons. HaHa!
The Painkiller neck is quite transparent and still very fluid. It’s a prog metal guitarist’s playground. I’m digging how the lows remain full without getting dark or muddy. Quite a feat, I must say. The highs have a presence that’s a little round but with plenty of edge. The mids are very helpful in the neck position as well. Full, yet open-sounding, and never nasal or wonky. The neck has a character than can easily slide over to heavy blues as to shred.
Take a look at some demo videos by German studio musician Julian Daniels:
How about those clean amp tones? I generally lean toward the middle position for clean tones from the Painkiller, but I do find both pickups can do clean very well going from chimey in the bridge to fuller in the neck.
Want some specs?
BKP Painkiller Bridge
Series – 15.435 K
Inductance – 6.122 H
Split – 7.899 K
Split – 7.564 K
Parallel – 3.859 K
Magnet – Ceramic
BKP Painkiller Neck
Series – 13.513 K
Inductance – 5.396 H
Split – 6.823 K
Split – 6.722 K
Parallel – 3.382 K
Magnet – Ceramic
13K in the neck?!? Yep! There are plenty of neck humbuckers with hotter winds. Done right, like the Painkiller, it will reveal new options for your tonal palette.
The Painkiller is going to be good for Punk, Hardcore, Hard Rock, Progressive Metal, Djent Metal, Nu-Metal, Thrash, Death Metal, Shred, and Extreme Metal styles. I find the set to be versatile enough to get in to Garage, Heavy Rock, Fusion, Metalcore, Grunge, Progressive Rock, and Tech Metal. It’s very much a take on legendary distortion-class humbucker for a modern player.
Like most Bare Knuckle humbuckers, the Painkiller is available in 6, 7, and 8-string variations. There are over a dozen bobbin colors and pole screw options to choose from when ordering. If you like covers, BKP offers many cover and radiator selections to personalize your humbuckers.
For reference, this Bare Knuckle Painkiller 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 in use are Marshall 1960B, Mojotone British, and Peavey 6505 cabs loaded with Celestion Classic Series Vintage 30s, Classic Series G12M Greenbacks, and Heritage Series G12-65s.
8Ω 16Ω 59 Alnico 2 Alnico 3 Alnico 4 Alnico 5 Alnico 8 Bare Knuckle BKP Brass Brown Sound Celestion Ceramic Custom Shop Dean DiMarzio DMT Dual Resonance EVH Fishman Floyd Rose Fluence Gibson Humbucker Ibanez JB Jimmy Page MJ Mojotone Nut PAF Pariah Pickup Professor Guitarism Satch Satriani Schaller Seymour Duncan Singlecoil Single Width Speaker Steve Vai Tech Tip Tremolo