Last year at some point I fell in love with the DiMarzio “made-for-the-Ernie Ball/Music Man-EVH-model guitar” hummers. Don’t know if they have an exact name, and they’re not sold to anyone except EB/MM. I have ’em in an old ash Axis Sport – killer guitar.
Those pickups: Each string stands out, stands up and sounds frickin’ great. No surprise since Ed Van Halen has great ears and I love his stuff. Guess one way to describe the tone would be like all of the good clarity-type things about Dumble-style amps, none of the stuff that doesn’t fit with rock, and just a great classic “nastiness.” A vintage-y base, but not vintage.
Think the opening riff to “Mean Street.” Gives me a little tone woody just thinking ’bout it….
Anyhow, sometime back I was talking to Steve Blucher at DiMarzio about that pickup, and asked if there was anything similar for a Tele bridge (single coil-sized). I wanted that clarity, push and definition, with no single-coil hum. He recommended the Tone Zone.
Steve told me, and has said before, that it was basically a coin flip for Edward Van Halen between the EB/MM pickup and what’s now called the Tone Zone. No reason not to believe him, so that’s a heck of a tonal endorsement.
Differences between the EB/MM EVH and the TZ boil down to EQ – to my ears the Tone Zone has more bass, meaning DiMarzio bass clarity, not mud – and a bit more sizzle, which I’m going to attribute to the ceramic magnet vs. the EB/MM’s more vintage-like Alnico 5 mag.
Guess the other difference is that the Tone Zone has gotten slammed over the years. Whatever. Steve was positive the TZ would be most like what I was looking for, so I gave it a shot. And he’s right. As advertised, it’s a hot, clear pickup. But some important buts:
> That pickup and all DiMarzios I’ve tried are VERY sensitive to distance from the strings. You can go from money to fuzzy with a quarter turn or less of the mounting screws. Case in point: I dialed in my Tele bridge TZ to where I really frickin’ liked it, but wanted to love it so I got out the screwdriver, fiddled a little, plugged back in…and immediately regretted it…then spent the next 30 minutes trying to get what I had back!
> You definitely lose the twang – what Steve said would happen – until you turn down. The TZ cleans up nicely. But if twang is your thing, I’m assuming you’re not dropping in a TZ anyway. On the flip side, there’s no Tele ice-pick treble at all with this pickup.
The only other thing worth noting is I wired it straight to a DiMarzio 500K pot. The Tone Zone is supposed to split well, and I got a push/pull pot for that purpose, but I lost patience with my soldering iron so nixed that plan…for now. Sometimes I do want to hear that treble, so I might revisit that at some point.
Oh yeah, my signal goes: Fender Classic Vibe Tele with TZ, straight into Top Hat Emplexador 50w head into 16 ohm Carvin Vai/Legacy 4×12 with Celestion Greenbacks (6402 cones = money!).
The only other bridge pickup I’ve been tempted to try in this guitar is a Wylde, aka Bill Lawrence, but can’t get the folks there to email me back so…. In no rush to get that soldering iron out anyhow.
Also want to put DiMarzio’s amazing Stevie Vai-okayed Gravity Storm neck hummer in this guitar, and would have already but the geniuses at Fender’s China factory over-routed the neck hummer slot. It’ll still happen, but a project/test drive for another day.
Bottom line: If you invest the time to tweak and understand the Tone Zone, it’s great. I’m happy!