The Evolution humbuckers are a mainstay in the Steve Vai palette of tone for coming up on 30 years. Sure, he dabbles in other flavors. The Evo 2 bridge. Gravity Storm set. The Breed Set. Dark Matter 2 set. Even the newer Utopia set. Yet it seems like the Evolution set is one you can stick a pin in for the Vai vibe for the past few decades.
Full Disclaimer: When I am first picking up a Ibanez JEM in the store, it’s back when the PAF Pro is the stock pickup. By the time the Evolution is shipping in the JEM, I’m admittedly not even looking at the JEM (hangs head in shame! LOL!). Additionally, whenever I talk to most other players about Vai, it’s almost always about his playing ability. Which is to say that I’m not hearing people say “I want THAT tone!”
And then there is what I read about this set of pickups. Historically, most comments from players include words like sterile or harsh. That is sort of where my head is for all these years when it comes to chasing down any of the Vai model pickups. Of course, I’ve had the Ibanez Universe since 1990, which is where my series on 7-string pickups comes from. As you remember, I did acquire the JEM 77P in 2022. That will be more relevant here in a minute.
This Evolution set is going in to an alder double-hum super-strat style guitar. Maple neck with 25-1/2″ rosewood board and 22 frets. Tuning is E standard with 09-42 strings. Harness has Bourns 500K pots, Switchcraft 12120X 3-way toggle, and Pure Tone 1/4″ output jack.
Why this guitar and not the basswood JEM? The JEM is rigged for direct-mount. This Evolution set has regular unmolested stock mounting holes. Sorry, but I don’t have the time these days to plug and re-drill in the JEM for the smaller mounting screws. This will also apply to the upcoming Vai-themed reviews on the Evo 2 bridge and the Breed set. Moral of this story: blame Ibanez. HaHa!
Yes, we talked about this in the Tone Zone article. So if you’ll just permit me to copy that section:
Dual Resonance is basically mis-matched coils. Coils being imperfectly matched is not all that much of a big deal. It’s common for several pickup companies to allow about a 5% variance. But dual resonance is an intentional mis-matching of the coils to produce a specific “tuning” of the pickup’s voice.
Sometimes that can be using different sizes or different types of wire. Other times that can be just putting more or less wire on one coil than the other. Trust me on this one. Don’t waste too much time trying to figure out how they make the sausage on this one. Just enjoy your tasty meal and move along. LOL!
This is a better set that years of bias brings me to expect. Is it aggressive? It can be. Is it brutal? Only as much as you make it. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rare unicorn of a 1959 PAF humbucker. LOL! But it’s way more musical than some of the standard convention might suggest. As you will see in the specs, the Dual Resonance produces a bit of a coil offset. Just enough to suggest flipping the coils to see if alternate orientations better suit your sonic goals.
The Evolution bridge has a tuning to the voice that makes it harmonically rich across the range. Single notes and full chords have a dimensional character that transcends conventional “shred” stereotypes. Giving slower-paced, more melodic lines some time to breathe and you will discover vibrant overtones. Even still, kick it in to high gear and marvel at the unobscured access to dynamic precision.
Shifting to the neck position is a hard rock player’s delight. Decadent without being too full. Focus with no brittle or rigid elements. The very important mid-range has more of a vocal tendency than the notorious nasal honk of many neck humbuckers. Tread in to the low end and the notes retain clarity. Take it on up high and enjoy a bold presence that keeps the edge from getting too sharp.
Cleans are clearly intended to work with the JEM switching, which puts pairs one humbucker coil with the center single coil in both the 2 and 4 positions.
Oddly, DiMarzio does not have an official demo for what one of their Top Tier players has been using for 30 years. Let’s see if we can let Vai’s work do the heavy lifting on this one. Let’s start with “Jibboom”, from 1999’s Ultra Zone:
And how about some “Dyin’ Day” from 1996’s Fire Garden:
Evolution Bridge DP159
Series – 13.668 K
Inductance – 6.149 H
Split – 7.989 K
Split – 5.717 K
Parallel – 3.331 K
Magnet – Ceramic
Output – 404 mV
Evolution Neck DP158
Series – 12.869 K
Inductance – 6.029 H
Split – 7.563 K
Split – 5.333 K
Parallel – 3.125 K
Magnet – Ceramic
Output – 294 mV
The Evolution humbucker set is going to be good for fusion, hard rock, progressive metal, djent, nu-metal, thrash, metalcore, hardcore, blues rock, garage, classic rock, alt rock, tech metal, shred, 80s rock, 80s metal, tech metal, and more. It’s available in over a dozen bobbin colors, over 10 cover options, and 3 pole piece colors in both standard and wide pole spacing.
For reference, this DiMarzio Evolution humbucker pickup set evaluation was conducted with a Fractal Axe-Fx II XL+ featuring Celestion Impluse Responses and Fractal MFC-101 MIDI Foot Controller. In addition, real cabs in use are Marshall 1960B, Mojotone British, and Peavey 6505 cabs loaded with Celestion Classic Series Vintage 30s and Classic Series G12M Greenbacks.
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