I just put down “Katie May,” the wonderful guitar I just reviewed from Perry Riggs’ Slash L Guitars. From the first time I plugged her in up to now, one of the most striking things about the guitar that I shared with Perry was the incredible tone and dynamics from the Lollar Imperials he installed. Having played Les Pauls for years, one thing I’ve become accustomed to is the “bloom” from the pickups when sustaining a note.
It’s hard to characterize exactly what “bloom” is and unfortunately it’s difficult so record. But when a pickup “blooms” I hear and feel it as a subtle change in character of the note being played. The overtones and harmonics seem to take over, creating a sweet-sounding tail-end to the note. With a Les Paul, the overall experience of the note is a distinctive “honk.” It was a very pleasant surprise to hear the Lollars do that.
Apparently, the Imperials are PAF-style pickups, and from what I’ve been able to gather from other sources, many people have found them to be great replacements to the BurstBuckers in their Les Pauls. After my experience with them, I’d tend to agree with that. But we’re talking about Katie May, and in Katie May – excuse the cliche – they’re a match made in heaven!
One thing that is notably different in the Imperials compared to BurstBuckers is the smooth top-end. There’s just enough high-end sparkle to provide a great balance to the tight low-end these pickups produce, but it’s not ice-pick sharp. I wouldn’t call them warm which, especially with a Les Paul, often translates to a muddy tone in the neck. The Imperials, on the other hand, whether in neck or bridge are extremely balanced. Of course, the neck pickup is warmer than the bridge pickup; that’s to be expected. But it’s not muddy as this clip illustrates:
For more clips, check out the review of Katie May.
This is a simple riff but what I wanted to demonstrate with it is that while there is a definite emphasis on the low-end, it isn’t so much that it muddies the tone. When I hit the lower strings, you can hear the notes clearly.
Another incredible thing about the Imperials is their incredibly wide dynamic range and sensitivity. For instance, I can set an amp at the edge of breakup, set the volume on the guitar at about halfway, and easily roll overdrive up and down, setting it to exactly the amount that I need. Could be the pots that Perry has used. Volume changes are very even throughout the entire sweep of the pot. Irrespective of that though, the pickups respond beautifully.
Having been around gear a long time, there seems to be a lot focus on tone woods when talking about guitars. Make no mistake about it, tone woods are important, but pickups are a huge factor in tone and I find that they’re often overlooked. I liken them to tires on a car. You have to have the right tires for the car. If you don’t, not only will they look funny, they’ll affect the performance. You wouldn’t put passenger tires on a Ferrari, would you? Or you wouldn’t waste money on Z-rated tires for your Nissan Versa (maybe a “ricer” would – worst I saw was a whale tail on a Corolla – but that’s an entirely different topic). So it is with pickups. You can have an absolutely gorgeous guitar that sounds like crap due to the pickups. I got lucky with my R8 which has BurstBuckers. I love ’em in that guitar, but I’ve played some LPs that sound horrid with the same pickups! The point to this is if you have a match between guitar and pickups, your world will be right. With Katie Mae, because of how she plays, I could sit with her all day long and never get tired of how she feels. Add to that the awesome sound of the Lollar Imperials, and all is right in the world!