So I’ve recently acquired this PRS 20th Anniversary Standard 24. Looks great and plays great, but I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with its stock pickups. The 20th Anniversary Standard 24 comes armed with PRS’s Vintage Bass (VB) for neck and Hot Fat Screams (HFS) for bridge of which are the typical pickup combination on older PRS models.
While the VB/HFS combo does sound good, my recent quest for tone has seemed to have developed a different palate for my now very picky ears. I guess after owning dozens of guitars, and being in a band where we only play our original songs, I’ve begun to have very specific preferences about the exact tone I need. I’ve found the Vintage Bass to be lacking the character I’m looking for, while the Hot Fat Screams seemed to be a little too harsh for the type of music I play.
Seeing that the built-in tones wouldn’t work for me in the long run, I decided it was time I swapped them out for something that suits my style. I was actually a little iffy about the idea of having to change the pickups for a supposedly high-end guitar. So to do justice to my PRS, I thought that only a boutique, high-end aftermarket pair will do. I searched online, reading forums and lurking on eBay and Reverb, and have stumbled on the Lindy Fralin Unbuckers. The clever naming of this pickup already suggests its specialty – a humbucker that can also sound as a real single coil, hence the “unbuck”. I thought this was a great idea, as I’ve always loved both the thickness of humbuckers and the sparkle of single coils. The problem with splitting humbuckers is that while their humbucking tones sound good, their split coil tones always sound second rate. There’s usually a volume drop when running split, and you never really get the mojo associated with real single coils.
Wanting the best of both worlds, the Unbuckers seemed to be where my direction was heading. I also own a PRS Paul’s Guitar which also features great coil splitting abilities and has set the bar with how coil splits are supposed to sound to my ears. I decided to take a shot in the dark and bid for the Unbuckers I saw listed. The problem with purchasing pickups is that you never really get to try them first, and they can always sound different depending on the guitar you mount them onto. So I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers as I won the bid at $ 172. That was actually a great deal as these pickups are usually listed for $ 300 brand new.
Finally, it has arrived. The patina on the chrome covers gave them a beautiful aged look which very well compliments the slightly worn finish of my guitar. Once I had the VB/HFS pair replaced, it was time to give my judgement and see if these so-called boutique pickups really live up to their hype.
I tested the humbucker mode first starting with clean. Both neck and bridge pickups had great PAF characteristics, leaning more towards the brighter side. The low output gave a very clear and defined note articulation. The neck pickup had a nice open sound, while the bridge pickup was kept tight and balanced. Running with some dirt using my Strymon Sunset, the Unbuckers had a nice spanky grit on low gain mode. On high gain mode, they’ve managed to maintain their distinctive clarity without getting muddy at all even as I’ve pushed the gain knob further and further.
One thing to note though is that the Unbuckers are not “chugging” pickups. As opposed to the stock VB/HFS which really did give that macho testosterone filled low-end crunch and wailing highs, the Unbuckers will certainly leave you hanging in that area as it never gets over saturated with gain. Not an issue for me though since I don’t play music that requires that much distortion. I ran my signal through my effects laden board and the tonal fidelity was just amazingly clear amidst all my delays, modulations, and reverbs running at the same time. This is perfect for ambient guitarists such as myself who like to have plucked notes cutting through.
I pulled up my tone knob for split coil mode. I repeatedly changed between full humbucker and split to check if there was any signal loss and couldn’t really perceive any. Volume was very consistent in both modes. As for the tones, the split mode was not only useful, it was actually very desirable. Splitting doesn’t just thin out the sound, but really gives you fantastic single coil goodness. I like that it’s got the twang of a Telecaster while still being distinctively unique. After all, I didn’t get a PRS only to have it sound like a Fender. Hitting the strings hard gives a nice percussive tone which is great if you’re into chicken picking. Even when on high gain, both the neck and bridge pickup never sound ice-picky even when you move further up the neck up to the 24th fret.
The Lindy Fralin Unbuckers were my first jump into boutique pickups. It was a risky move but was very much worth it. Lindy Fralin’s claim of no volume loss and great tones hold true which makes these pickups a great choice for those who love humbucker and single coil sounds and want just one guitar to cover both bases. The clarity and tonal characteristics of the Unbuckers are simply astounding, which for my taste, makes them a great upgrade from the stock VB/HFS pickups. Although my Anniversary PRS has lost its ability to wail and scream due to the mellower pickups, that is something I really wouldn’t miss. I’d totally recommend the Unbuckers for those who prefer clarity over output.
You can check out the Lindy Fralin Unbuckers here -> https://www.fralinpickups.com/product/unbucker/