Nordstrand Pickups

A Different Way of Frying Chicken

In the early 90’s my career pursuits took me to Los Angeles to pursue a full time career as a professional guitarist. I enrolled myself in study at The Musicians Institute in Hollywood and thoroughly immersed myself in the L.A. lifestyle.

My career path led me on a lifelong quest for tone. Part of that quest for tone was finding the perfect guitar. I soon found out that it didn’t exist at the time so I built my own guitar and started down a path that eventually led to the formation of Pasquale Custom Guitars.  The other half of the quest for tone was finding the perfect amp which led me to Custom Audio Electronics in North Hollywood California.

Custom Audio Electronics was the hub of Amp Guru and Super Genius Bob Bradshaw. Bob was the underground secret to great amps and brilliant tone. I got to meet Bob and we discussed his “soon to be released” CAE 3+ Tube Preamp.  I was fortunate enough to get one of the original Blue Face 3+ Tube Preamps before they switched the production models to the Silver Face models.

At the time I was waiting to get my preamp I found out that the some of the last Blue Face Models went to Kirk Hammett from Metallica, Michael Wilton from Queensryche, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth and of course yours truly. I didn’t just buy a preamp but I actually had Bob build me a rack system with digital effects and a midi switching system. Keep in mind that this was long before the development of digital amp modeling.

During the customization phase I was introduced to John Suhr who is currently the head Guru at Suhr Guitars. John was working at Custom Audio at the time and he designed the EQ section on the 3+ Tube Preamp. He was also building custom guitars in the back of the shop.

I spent a few hours with John playing through different set ups of preamps and power amps in search of “the sound” that I was always looking for.  I asked John what the difference was between the set ups and why one combination varied from the other.  Some set ups used all tubes, some had tube preamps and solid state power amps etc.  Ultimately I wanted to know which amps were the best. His answer to my question was brilliant in a Forrest Gump kind of way and has stuck with me to this day. He said “It’s just different ways of frying chicken. At the end of the day if the chicken tastes good you don’t care how it was cooked, you just eat it”
That answer was very profound to me. Much like Forrest Gump’s mama, John Suhr managed to explain tone to me in a way I could understand. I had become so consumed with the latest “brands” that I forgot to let the actual sound be the final judge. This simple statement about fried chicken put everything back in perspective.
Now …fast forward 24 years. I am behind the wheel of my own guitar company. I am committed to the lifelong pursuit of tone and I am about to release my own signature line of guitars designed to fulfill the pursuit of tone that exists in passionate players.

I have designed my own set of signature pickups that are made to my specifications to match my choices in wood and hardware ultimately giving voice to the guitars that I make. I believe that Pasquale Custom Pickups are the best sounding, most versatile pickups that you can buy…and then I get a call from a guy named Pete.
Pete Chiovarou is the OEM Sales Manager for Nordstrand Pickups. Pete saw my business profile on the Linked- In website and called me to talk about the new Nordstrand Shush Puppy Single Coil Pickups.

He said that Nordstand Pickups had created a truly noiseless single coil pickup that did not have the dreaded 60 cycle hum. It was not a stacked double coil but a truly dead silent single coil pickup that still had all the characteristics of a classic single coil.  
I told him that I had a drawer in my shop full of pickups that promised that same story but fell tragically short and I wasn’t really interested. I mean I had just designed a great set of signature pickups. Why would I want something else?

Pete was persistent about the quality of their product and finally offered to send me a set for free.

Now there is one thing I know as the owner of a small business, If someone is willing to give their product away for free then they truly believe in that product. So Pete had my attention and I asked him to tell me about the history of the company. His first sentence shifted the dynamic of our relationship.
He said that the owner, Carey Nordstrand, was a designer and pickup winder for the Suhr Custom Shop before he set out on his own.  Immediately my mind rushed back to my conversation with John Suhr 24 years earlier about frying chicken.  Why would I want to try these Nordstrand Pickups? Because at the end of the day it’s all about tone and how it sounds.

So Pete and I struck an agreement that I would try a sampling of their pickups. I ordered a set of Shush Puppies matched with Standard NVH Humbucker and I ordered a set of Hot Output NVH Vintage Humbuckers.

Our Agreement was that I would pay for all these pickups but if I was unsatisfied in any way I could send any or all of them back at any time. As a small business owner I know that Nordstrand cannot afford to give out free stuff. I know this because I cannot afford to give out free stuff.  When you are a small upstart business every dollar counts and you cannot absorb the cost of giving away “free” product. However, that also means that I can’t afford to add more wasted money to the “drawer of dead pickups”. So we agreed to a free trial which I would pay for if I like them.

As a side note, it is the ultimate douchebag move to ask or expect anything for free. That is why I refused to take Pete’s pickups for free. (That is all I have to say about that!)

With all that being said I can honestly say that all the Nordstrand Pickups are installed and I was truly surprised.
My review of each their products is below.

NVH Hot Humbucker Pickups

Our first test was a set of NVH Hot Humbucker Pickups that were put in a Modern 24 guitar. The woods we used were Alder for the back with a flamed maple top. We also used a maple neck with a figured maple fingerboard.

We did the over drive test first and the first thing you notice about the NVH Hot set is indeed the volume. They are called HOT for a reason. These pickups absolutely scream. They are loud yet completely articulate. At full volume you can strike an open G chord and clearly hear every note in the chord individually.  
This pickup set will cover the spectrum from classic rock to full on raging metal with no problem at all. I was chugging Metallica riffs instantly. The deep, growly low end will shake the pillars of heaven and all points in between. The midrange is smooth and creamy and the highs sing without being harsh and brittle. The voicing on the pickups is a well-balanced blend between the low end growl and mid-range frequencies that are necessary to keep the tone from getting lost in the mix and there is no muddiness at all. The pickups are extremely responsive to palm muting and can be controlled easily even though they are extremely hot
The volume balance between the bridge and neck pickups is well voiced and the variance in the tone is not effected by a drop in volume like you experience with some mismatched pickup set.

The tone of this set is absolutely delicious and they have a unique voicing and character all of their own. The pickups feature Alnico V magnets and have a slightly darker midrange presence than our Pasquale Custom Alnico Pickups but it is a delightful difference that still makes our guitars sound brilliant.
All in all this is a first class pickup set that will go knuckle to knuckle” with any boutique set of pickups on the market.
Summary:  If you are a connoisseur of fine tone then you MUST try these pickups.
Our pickup test continued with the Nordstrand Standard Humbucker and 2 Shush Puppy Single coils wired in a Modern 24 Guitar. All the wood combinations were the same as the NVH Hot Humbucker test.

NVH Standard Humbucker

If there was any disappointment in this pickup trial it is in the fact that I tested the NVH Hot Humbuckers before I tested the NVH Standard Humbucker. The Standard Humbucker has the same tonal voicing as the Hot Humbucker but with less drive. This is not a flaw, it’s supposed to be that way. However I had gotten used to the warm creamy drive and super responsiveness of the Hot set and after that this one seemed like a lot less fun. It still sounded great but let’s face it …why settle for great when you can have brilliant.

I decided to step away from the test for a day and came back to test the NVH Standard Humbucker with a fresh set of ears and continue my evaluation.
From a fresh perspective this too is a brilliant pickup. It has a tone character very similar to a Seymour Duncan JB but has less midrange which creates a smooth and creamy sound that still has plenty of low end growl. The articulation is every bit as precise as the NVH Hot set and is a welcome joy to see in a “boutique “pickup because so many trendy pickup companies sacrifice articulation for drive and output.

This is the problem I have with EMG pickups.  I love EMG pickups for their overdrive tone but they lack articulation. They create a brilliant crunch tone with high saturation but they lack the articulation to recognize each note in a chord.

This is not a problem with the NVH Standard humbucker. It is a versatile classic rock style pickup that has the goods to work in any playing situation.

Shush Puppy Single Coil Pickups

The Shush Puppies are the reason I even wanted to test out Nordstrand Pickups in the first place. My quest for tone has had me searching for the bell like ringing tones that come from classic single coil pickups but without that annoying 60 cycle hum.  
I have always been told that to achieve the classic single coil sound we just had to put up with the dreaded 60 cycle hum. There have been many attempts to solve this problem over the years and the best solutions have been “stacked” humbuckers that fit into the footprint of a single coil pickup.  However these are not ideal because somewhere in the mix the bell like chime of a vintage single coils just gets lost. Stacked humbuckers have a warmer resonance and do not sound like vintage single coils.
Nordstrand Shush Puppies have solved that problem. These are indeed a great set of pickups that have a character that reproduces the classic tone of vintage single coils with absolutely no hum.

We used a set of clean wound shush puppies for this test with the same wood specs as listed above. The clean channel tone of these pickups is probably the best single coil tone I have ever heard. They have the presence that is warm and smooth but still has the chime and resonance to stand out in a mix. There voicing is unique and is not limited to just one tone. The variance in the voicing between the middle and neck pups is well balanced and extremely versatile. Small adjustments to the tone knob make big changes in the overall tone.  The shush pups were used with the NVH standard humbucker and I used a larger .100 capacitor to get more bass out of the humbucker which adds some warmth to the single coil tone.

If there is a downside to the shush puppies it is in the balance between the bridge humbucker and the 2 single coil pups. This is especially evident in the overdrive tone.
While the overdrive tone is warm and creamy, the sound between the bridge humbucker and the neck pickup drops in volume significantly when you switch between the bridge and neck pickup.  

I thought it may be in part to the larger capacitor so I switched it back to a standard .47 capacitor and it still seemed a little muddy. Carey Nordstrand says that this is because the Shush Puppies are lower output that the NVH humbuckers so the volume is lower which causes a significant unbalance between the two tones. This is unfortunate because it makes it hard to balance the overall tone and response of a standard HSS setup.

But, all in all the Shush puppies delivered on their promise of classic single coil sound with no hum. I may be able to run the pups into a pre-switch gain booster to increase their output while keeping the NVH humbucker output the same to see If that balances the guitar more.

Pound for pound I was truly impressed with the Nordstrand Pickup brand and I feel that they can bring a unique dynamic to our guitars. For more info check out

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