With the Apex pickups, Schuyler Dean set out to create a balance between the Fender Wide Range Humbucker and the Stratocaster pickup. For the short version of this review, know this: the Apex Humbuckers are bright, bell like, articulate and generally awesome. For the long version, we’re going to need a little in the way of back story…
Chances are, if you know the name Seth Lover, you know it from U.S. Patent 2,896,491. The “Patent Applied For” in 1955 for the Gibson humbucker pickup. What you may not know is that after many years at Gibson, Mr. Lover left Kalamazoo, MI for sunny, Southern California—little town called Fullerton, to be exact. It was here, that he went about designing an equally awesome “humbucking” pickup, the Fender Wide Range Humbucker.
The Wide Range was designed to sound more like Fender’s bright and twangy single coils than Gibson’s thick (and some would complain, muddy) humbuckers. It achieved this by utilizing individual CuNiFe (Copper/Nickel/Iron) pole pieces rather than the metal screws over an AlNiCo bar magnet construction of the Gibson PAF. As such, guitarists that love the Wide Range Humbucker, love it for its bell like highs and rich, but articulate mids. Fender used CuNiFe rods because the process for machining AlNiCo into threaded, screw-type pole pieces was costly and difficult.
Fender re-issued the Wide Range Humbucker on more than one occasion, but they have never been the same as the originals. As such, vintage Wide Range Humbuckers increase in price every year.
Luckily, Schuyler Dean Electric Guitar Pickups is around to pick up (pun intended) where the Wide Range humbuckers left off. The new Apex Humbuckers are intended to strike a perfect balance between the Wide Range Humbucker and a Stratocaster pickup and do what Fender could not by utilizing individual AlNiCo pole pieces. This means they get even closer to Fender single coil territory, and with four-conductor wiring, they can each be split into a single coil pickup.
I recently had the pleasure of installing the Schuyler Dean Apex Humbuckers in my Reverend Roundhouse. To make the most of the versatility offered by the four-conductor wiring, I paired the Apex Humbuckers with a push-pull tone potentiometer as a coil tap. I considered using individual switches as taps for each pickup, but I didn’t want to drill extra holes in the guitar. I should also point out that in split mode, the active coils are reverse wound/reverse polarity and therefore hum cancelling when in the combined, middle position.
So how do they sound? The short description is that they are fat like a humbucker, but with more clarity and definition. The neck pickup sounds full and round without any mud. The bridge pickup is bright and twangy like a good Tele pickup but with a little more heft. If I were to compare the Apexes to pickups you might have encountered; in humbucking mode, the Apexes sound like a cross between a PAF and a Filtertron.
Splitting coils is a different matter. If you’re like me, trying to get multiple tones from a single guitar, I’m sure you’ve experienced plenty of awesome humbuckers that sound anemic when you split the coils. Luckily, this is not the fate of the Apex Humbuckers. When split, they sound shockingly similar to a good Stratocaster pickup. Case in point: I’ve been on a bit of a Pink Floyd kick lately. I blame the VFE Tractor Beam Phaser I’ve been using and how close it gets to the Uni-Vibe tones from Dark Side, but I digress. When pairing the coil-tapped Apexes with a Skreddy Lunar Module Deluxe into a Catalinbread Echorec, I was able to dial in a tone that just about nailed David Gilmour’s Dark Side- and Wish You Were Here-era tones.
The Apex Humbuckers are the ideal humbucker for people that favor Fender single coil tones and are especially well-suited to the guys who are chasing Hendrix and SRV tones. Thanks to the lack of mid-range congestion, they sound beautiful when paired with a Tube Screamer into a Fender amp. And with a Fuzz Face circuit, they sound sweet, clean up easily, and don’t tend to overwhelm the input the way so many humbuckers can.
It might all be perception, but the combination of slightly lower output and the more present high frequencies appear to increase the available headroom in low-wattage amps. Where my little 1965 Vibro Champ used to distort at “3” on the dial with the stock humbuckers in my Reverend Roundhouse, I can now turn it to “5” before it distorts. I had similar results with my Princeton Reverb and my AC15HW.
Did I mention that these pickups are beautiful and generate the “what are those pickups?” response from fellow guitarists? You just can’t go wrong.
What we like: Bright, full tone without the mud or the hum. The ability to sound like a Strat pickup. They have an original design that looks cool as heck!
Concerns: These are for guys that want classic PAF tones. And what you gain in clarity you lose in “fist-pumping” bridge pickup riffage.