Bareknuckle Pickups

The guitar world as we know it is a constantly changing landscape full of variables that come and go. The ability to customize guitars like we can do today is a stark contrast to the world that existed 30 years ago.

One of the biggest trends right now is in the world of Boutique Pickups and Pedals. It seems everybody is trying to come up with the latest and greatest way to achieve the guitarist ultimate passion; finding their individual tone.

Pasquale Custom Guitars has developed our own signature series of pickups that were designed to capture the natural characteristics of our hand selected woods and hardware.  This is one of the key elements to the overall feel and sound of our guitars.

One of the other key players in this new market of boutique tone is Bare Knuckle Pickups, a company in South West England founded in 2003 that has really made a name for themselves designing new tones with signature style pickups. If you are reading this web page, then you are familiar with searching the corners of the world for great tone and you have probably already heard of Bare knuckle Pickups. I have been hearing about these pickups for a while and I am constantly asked how they sound and how well my pickups compare to them.

With cool pickup names like, Nailbomb, PainKiller, Warpig, Holy Diver, Rebel Yell and Aftermath it’s easy to assume that they built their reputation by being super cool and trendy, but the truth is that these guys have been winning awards for their tone for years.

I recently finished a build for a client who was adamant about using Bare Knuckle Nailbombs in his guitar. He had been reading all about them and listening to samples online and was certain that these were the answer he was looking for in his search for tone.  I too, had been reading all about the awards that the guys at BKP have been getting so I was dying to give these “award winning” pickups a try.

The guitar was a one piece mahogany body topped with a beautiful piece of quilt maple.  The neck was highly figured maple with a matching fingerboard and stainless steel frets. The bridge was a signature FU Tone bridge with a big brass block and titanium saddles The two humbuckers were to be run into a 5 way super switch and split the coils in position 2 and 4 so I could get some traditional “strat style” tones.

I threw in the Nailbombs and we were off to the races.

The Crunch Tone was punchy with a good balance of lows, mids and highs, although I thought the output was a little low for a pickup called “The Nailbomb”. The Alnico V magnets presented a warmer, rounder sound than would the optional ceramic version.  The tone had a very good midrange growl and still sounded creamy and smooth. The low end gain sound was very similar to a Seymour Duncan SH-6 Distortion Pickup but with less output. The Midrange punch has a warm, hollow sound to it that was very reminiscent of a DiMarzio Vintage PAF pro. All in all I really liked the crunch tone.

It’s not certain whether the low end growl came from the pickup or from the mahogany body which has more natural low end that other woods. It’s also not certain whether the mids and the highs were a result of the added brightness from the stainless steel frets and titanium saddles.
The clean sound I felt lacked a lot of soul. Perhaps it was the 15.5K output or perhaps the pickups were really just not designed to focus on the clean side of tone. I mean they are called “Nailbombs” right, they weren’t called “Jazzmasters”.

Nonetheless, I felt that they lacked a warmth and presence on the clean side that should be there in any pickup, let alone a designer “boutique” pickup, especially one that literally cost twice as much as a Seymour Duncan Distortion or a DiMarzio. With the coils split in positions 2 and 4 the sound was definitely improved with a brighter “quacky” sound that is very reminiscent of a classic Fender Strat.

The full humbucker clean tone seemed bright and bitter. It had a tin ringing to the sound that added an unpleasant flavor to the tone. In their defense it is not certain that this brightness came from the pickup itself or from the stainless steel frets and titanium saddles that can definitely add brightness to the sound. I added a .40 value capacitor to the tone knob instead of the standard .22 capacitor to try to add in some lower frequencies but the sound just got muddy and dark.
Nonetheless the pickups were installed and the guitar was picked up and taken home for its test run.

Within 24 hours my client called me back and wanted the Nailbombs taken out and our Custom Pasquale Alnico Pickups installed.

Prior to designing his guitar we had tested several different guitars with various wood combinations and hardware and pickup options to get the tones that he wanted. His favorite sound was from a mahogany body with a maple neck and Pasquale Custom Alnico Pickups. This gave him his full spectrum of clean and dirty sounds. After picking the woods and choosing his hardware options he was certain that the Bare Knuckle Pickups were the final piece to his tone puzzle so we gave them a shot.

He got his guitar home to realize that the sound we tested was not the sound that he got. We swapped out the Nailbombs for the Pasquale Alnico Pickups that he tested originally and we had our sound that we were after.

Now this is not to say that Bare Knuckle Pickups or Nailbombs are bad pickups. It just that they were not right for this client in this situation.

My honest evaluation of The Bare Knuckle Nailbombs is that they are a decent pickup that has potential to do great things. The crew at Bare Knuckle has done a great job designing their products and an even better job marketing them.

I also believe that our Pasquale Custom Guitar pickups are a better option when it comes to balancing tone. The key to great tone does not lie in the pickup alone. A pickup merely amplifies the natural character of the wood. The key to balancing tone is to balance the guitar to the client’s needs. It is such a difficult task to design a pickup that will meet the demands of every player so we designed our pickups to complement our guitars and we design our guitars to meet player needs.


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Phone: 312-912-7533

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