Earlier this year I got an awakening, in the form of checking out the YMI5150 Model-A axe. Lots to love there, but the awakening was the DiMarzio Super Distortion. Really a re-awakening because I’d used DiMarzios (Super Distortions and Dual Sounds) for years back in the day.
Bang! Was a shot to the ears. Fell in love again with the way e notes jumped off the fretboard, slammed into the amp and made the guitar more fun to play.
I’d forgotten some of that – maybe all of it – in my chase for vintage-like tone. That chase got me to the HUGE importance of a killer amp, but something was just…missing. And what it was, come to find out, was DiMarzios.
Don’t get me wrong. Not exactly a pickup graveyard in my basement, but let’s just say I’ve got more than I can possibly use, from several manufacturers, and – here’s the thing – I like ’em all.
But every winder/designer seems to have a personality or style or whatever you want to call it that you can hear in their pickups, and after playing the Super D I was re-hooked on the unique stuff of DiMarzios.
That experience made me pull out my old Ernie Ball Music Man Axis Sport with the designed-for-EVH DiMarzios, and holy crap are those sick pickups. Just incredible. So when I heard the wood coming through on Stevie Vai’s new tracks and that DiMarzio was coming out with new Vai co-designed (or whatever) Gravity Storm pickups, I wanted to test ’em out…
…but not without a little fear. Not scared, just once upon a time I had a chance to buy a Carvin Legacy half stack (gen 1 of the Vai signature amp), and while I did buy the stellar cab, I was surprised at how bassy the head was.
Experienced some of the same phenom with Joe Satriani’s gear. Meaning the bassier, vocal-type quality, which I guess you’d expect from solo guit artists…which I think is one reason Satch went to Marshalls for the Chixfeets. But whatever.
Install Hell, Then…
Because I didn’t know what to expect form the Gravity Storms, borrowed an axe from a buddy to slap them in. He was cool to lend it, but when I took a good look at the thing I was a little bummed.
First of all, it’s junk. A Korean-made Epiphone SG, not a good one if there are any good ones. Pots were frozen or bad, wood was who knows what, and the entire pickguard functioned as the pickup “rings” too. Not only that, the pickups had one mounting screw on one side and two on the other. Doh!
Anyhow, after arm-wrestling the thing on my deck for a while, I finally got the pickups installed – with the seized tone controls disconnected. Was the end of the day, I was beat, but I was fo sho gonna plug that sucka in and hear it.
Honestly, I was stunned. Stunned that that POS guitar could sound evenly remotely decent let alone how great it sounded. It had all that DiMarzio “stuff” going on.
So I played it for an hour even though it almost physically hurt to play, and not just because I was on one knee that long thanks to the POS strap hangers. I mean the guitar, which I did not set up, was tough to play – BUT the pickups made it fun to play.
If that sounds like BS to you, bear in mind that I’m playing this thing through a stellar amp (Top Hat Emplexador) and speakers (4×12 with 6402-cone Celestion Greenbacks), so that’s 75-80% of good tone right there. Even so, I couldn’t believe it.
Everything I like about good pickups (to my ears) is there in the Gravity Storms, notably clarity, upper mids, an “organic base” (not bass) – in other words, the organic feel and tone of the amp and speakers was still there. Plus that DiMarzio fun factor: The notes doing things I like, and my brain and fingers having all kinds of fun with that.
The bridge pickup has that lively DiMarzio-made EVH pickup feel (sweet!), but with more bass. Which doesn’t mean it was bassy, woofy, tubby or whatever bad adjective there is about bassy. Means I could hear the bottom two strings more than most other pickups I’ve played (more on that in part 2).
Bearing in mind that Steve plays a 24-fret, Fender-scale, basswood-bodied (gack!), Floyd-equipped guitar, I’m sure that makes a little more bass more important. Having said that, I dialed out the “extra” frequency response there with a pickup height adjustment and a slight Bass knob roll-down on the amp. And obviously it’s just my preference.
Would the bridge pickup sound good in a naturally warmer guitar like some (not all) Les Pauls? Yes. But whether it’s the right choice or not depends on your ears.
I really like the bridge pickup. But the neck pickup I loved – and I never use the neck pickup. Grew up in the axe-slingin’, shootout at the Marshall corral ’80s when there basically was no such thing as neck pickups. Kinda like the ol’ boobs on a bull thing – useless.
But I installed the Gravity Storm neck, so I definitely was going to hear it, and – wow! Never have heard anything like it. It literally sounds different depending on where you’re fingering on the neck, which I find amazing.
For the first 9 frets or so, it sounded somewhat Strat/Tele neck position-like, then at around the 12th fret it sounded like a Les Paul woman tone, and then above the 15th fret it was back to Strat territory.
Incredible. It’s so much fun to hear that. Can’t wait to put that pickup in other guitars.
Overall to my ears, the Gravity Storms are a home frickin’ run.
> This is not a “review.” My ears, hands and gear are different than yours, and in this case these pickups were made for the discerning ears of Steve Vai. So bear all that in mind, just like I would.
> The Gravity Storms sound great, but still have not gotten a fair shake from me – because they’re in a crappy guitar with crappy pots. Soon as I can, going to rectify that and report back here.
> Coming up: interview with the one and only Steve Blucher of DiMarzio about these pickups. Great interview…stay tuned.
> Here’s a quick vid I threw together that explains some of the above. DO NOT expect to hear what I’m hearing in the room. The audio doesn’t allow for that and was not the purpose of the vid. And yes, guess I lost a little more hair this year, dang it….
From the DiMarzio website:
A high-impact pickup doesn’t need a tremendous output level to make its point. Where the Evolution® Bridge Model is about power and sharp-edged tone, the Gravity Storm™ is more about depth and warm highs and mids. It’s very much a plug and play pickup — it doesn’t require a lot of tweaking to get a great sound. Because the highs are very fat, it’s possible to increase treble response on your amp without losing tone and sustain on the high frets.
Wiring: 4 Conductor
Magnet: Alnico 5
Output mV: 340
DC Resistance: 15.19 Kohm
The flavor of The Gravity Storm™ Neck model is sweet and warm, but the texture has an edge to it. It has the depth of a humbucker with some of the bite of a single-coil.
Most neck humbuckers don’t do a great job at reproducing pick harmonics, especially if they have a warm sound. This one’s different, particularly with 24-fret guitars. The combination of fat neck position tone with harmonics is something we haven’t often encountered before. It has a throaty quality that sounds like a cross between a humbucker and a single-coil.
Wiring: 4 Conductor
Output mV: 290
DC Resistance: 12.56 Kohm