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Review: Bullock Guitar Pickups custom hand wound alnico 2 jazz bass pickups

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Snaxster, May 6, 2015.


  1. Snaxster

    Snaxster

    Nov 29, 2008
    Background

    Still seeking new examples of fine single coil jazz bass (and now PJ) pickups to play, and buying more hand wound sets of them from independent makers, I am having trouble keeping up with the influx. Thus my reviews will be sporadic for now.

    Though I will not be doing any structured or comparative reviews of pickups, I wanted to share with TalkBass my experiences of any I like best. Also, I wanted to give these pickup makers some exposure in the bass community. That I can tell, if most of these makers are known at all, it is for their guitar pickups, but not for their bass pickups.

    Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of these makers. I am just a guy who likes bass pickups.

    FAQ

    Q: How do these jazz pickups compare to make/model XYZ? Do they sound better in the 60s or 70s position? Etc.

    A: Sorry, but I don’t know. This review is only my observations of these pickups themselves, as I installed them in one bass guitar.​

    This review of bass pickups is my third. It is about a custom set I ordered from Bullock Guitar Pickups (www.bullockguitarpickups.com on the web; Bullockguitarpickups on Facebook; toez10 on eBay; bullockguitarpickups on SoundCloud).

    1. 2.

    Maker profile

    Pickup maker Matt Bullock is based in Oregon. Since the info on his Facebook page says he is based in Michigan, I assume it is outdated. On TalkBass, I found a smattering of posts mentioning Bullock bass pickups, dating between late 2013 and almost now, May 2015. Also at the Facebook page is

    “I've been working on several custom pickup projects for electric guitars and basses - making single coils, humbuckers, p90s, p bass pups, and jazz bass pups.”​

    I will guess that Bullock has been making pickups for sale for about two years. In one of his eBay listings, he mentions that he has “been working on guitars for more than a decade…” So his pickup business must be an outgrowth of that.

    Some specifications

    “Vintage 60s”

    made in USA
    hand wound
    RWRP set
    bridge pickup 8.49K
    neck pickup 8.27K
    alnico 2
    fiber bobbins
    42 AWG wire
    vintage-style cloth wiring
    potted

    Retail, packaging, etc.

    In his emails to me, Matt Bullock always seems cheerful and upbeat. Though his replies arrive in fits and starts, to me that is a sign of a busy person. I would rather any maker spend their time making things than emailing me, so that suits me fine.

    Turnaround time from custom order to shipping was about two weeks. That’s very quick for custom, in my opinion.

    The packing for shipping was spartan: each pickup was in a small, plastic zipper bag, and the set was in a bubblewrap envelope. This would turn out to be the only thing I found lacking in my order. I think that for safety’s sake, more padding and a box are better when shipping pickups.

    The undersides of the pickups were marked “Bullock” and either “neck” or “bridge”.

    Function

    Note that I installed this set of pickups with passive electronics.

    Just after I installed this set and played it for a good while, I wrote Bullock Guitar Pickups to say I thought the set was “fantastic”. Now some days later, I still think that.

    To my ear, the emphasis that characterizes their sound is not in the highest harmonics; not in the glassiness or air. Rather it is in slightly lower high harmonics. Descriptors like “chewy” and “sinewy” came to mind. Nuanced, strong midrange, just punchy enough. Bass is nice, sweet, and fat enough. Dynamic and tactile response to playing inputs. Swirling harmonics, lovely metallics ring on top, when you play that way with the tone open. As I play these pickups more, I notice a toughness to their voice. It isn't all delicacy and sensitivity; they are scrappy as well.

    There are three traits of these pickups that I found quite interesting:
    • At first, after playing for a while, I realized that I was hearing the alder bass as ash.
    • With a V/V/T setup, these pickups were very sensitive to volume balance between them. Maybe they are more resonant than is usual; but sweeping their relative volumes is like changing the center frequency of a filter.
    • Their sound is superb with the tone control rolled all or nearly off, especially the bridge pickup. Vocal, hinting at formants if you play it that way, it gets you squarely into “Money for Nothing” guitar territory.
    Conclusion

    That I can remember, playing this set was the first time I knowingly played single coil bass pickups made with alnico 2 magnets. So, since also this was the first time I played Bullock pickups, I cannot say for sure how much of what I heard was specifically attributable to either.

    But I can attest to the overall excellence of this set, so that must be Bullock’s doing. And I can deduce that since the spectral response of this set is unlike any alnico 5 pickups I recall playing, much of what I am hearing in them must be characteristic of alnico 2.

    If that’s right, then I can say that the alnico 2 sound is seductive, and that Bullock did an excellent job of featuring it in these bass pickups. Perhaps not for everyone, alnico 2 bass pickups with “normal” output might be favored by tap players, any light touch players, or anyone wanting to add more snarl to their bass guitar. Probably it is for fretless players of the “mwah” school, too.

    Clear as a bell, but traditionally instrument-like rather than hifi, this alnico 2 “Vintage 60s” Bullock set is the newest addition to my short list of favorite jazz bass pickups.

    I liked them so well that I ordered from Bullock a custom “Vintage 60s” P pickup (underwound and no potting) and a “Vintage 50s” jazz pickup set, both alnico 5. How can jazz bass type pickups be “Vintage 50s”, you ask? I guessed the right answer, which I will share in my review of that set.

    Best,

    Snaxster
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2015
  2. bassvirtuoso

    bassvirtuoso My God, it's full of chrome! Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 28, 2006
    Nebraska
    Keep these up!
     
  3. Snaxster

    Snaxster

    Nov 29, 2008
    Thank you, Sir. I'm tryin'!
     
  4. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Dug this review. Look forward to more.

    Can you elaborate on "swirling harmonics"?

    The underwound P pickup you mention intrigues me, as my main bass is a P/J and there are very few sets that are truly balanced between the P and the J, but that's what I'm shooting for. Any specific reason for requesting the pickup unpotted?

    Have you noticed much hum with these?

    Thanks again for your review. Will look into Bullock pickups as a result.
     
  5. Snaxster

    Snaxster

    Nov 29, 2008
    Hello, Mark. I'm glad you liked the review, and I hope the Bullock pickups suit you if you get them. I suggest studying the options at Bullock's website, then designing your pickups with him.

    To order a Bullock P/J set, after agreeing on the specs, you will add a P pickup and a J bridge pickup to the order separately, then include comments about your specs or sonic objectives in the "Other instructions" field at the product page and/or in email.

    swirling harmonics

    Did you ever play a piano unaccompanied? If you play a chord on a piano with the sustain pedal held down, then stick your head in the piano and just listen quietly, you will hear the texture of harmonics that gives the instrument much of its character.

    Swirling, scintillating, cascading, etc. It is like that in guitars, too; more noticeably so in bass guitars since the fundamental is lower, thus setting the harmonics more in the sweet spot of human hearing. Comparisons to tamboura might be pushing it, but it is similar.

    underwound and not potted

    Full credit for me using this idea goes to pickup maker Owen Duffy, proprietor of O.C. Duff Pickups. Of special interest to you is the P/J set that Owen is making for me now. In that set, the P pickup will be underwound and both pickups will not be potted.

    According to Owen, part of the characteristic sound of many old guitar pickups, heard decades after they were made, is that their potting is decayed, effectively leaving them un-potted. I had read about un-potted pickups before. But it was Owen who confirmed for me that the desirable trait in them was the preservation of "air", the very high audible harmonics that can let a pickup sound "open", "spatial", and so on.

    A player who seeks maximum hollowness, woodiness, openness, and air in a P pickup can specify that it be underwound and not potted, among other things.

    Soon I will be reviewing a custom set of O.C. Duff jazz bass pickups. They are potted and not underwound, but are customized in other ways.

    hum

    In the Bullock alnico 2 jazz bass pickups, I did not notice any more or less hum than in other single coil J sets I have been playing. I think it's a fair question, as you implied, about whether in single coils alnico 2 is any more prone to hum than alnico 5. Based on this one example, I would say that it is not.
     
  6. Snaxster

    Snaxster

    Nov 29, 2008
    Today I learned that Bullock Pickups is no more for now. Matt posted the news at his company homepage.

    I told Matt I was sorry to hear it, wished him well, and said I never would give up my little collection of Bullock bass pickups (two custom J sets, one custom P, and one stock P).

    As of now, if you own a Bullock pickup, you own a collector's item.

    Good luck, Matt! Thank you for the excellent pickups.
     

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