Hipshot B sounds exactly like the original except it doesn't move around and it's louder. My favorite. TI nickel flats are the loudest. My favorite. AVRI 62 pickups are insanely good. I prefer Fralin 5% overwound for added thickness and wallop but that comes at the price of a little detail. Just the same that's as far as I would go from stock AVRI 62, after that the tradeoffs get bad to my ear, also too much magnet is a whole set of string pull nightmares in itself, that warbling. As you say, the playing is the thing, and we can choose things to optimize the plank for best dynamic range, lowest noise, slingshot attack, texture (grunt or growl). And you're right, tone...well that's just a balance of frequencies filtered or boosted, and that's what EQ is for. I have a great all-wenge neck with a big 1 KHz spike. No prob, 6dB of cut and it's fixed. To me a great piece of wood isn't mostly about tone, it's about how it responds to, stores, and releases a note. A player who plays with a compressor will never know. He can save a fortune, he can even play a 2x4.