Before David Allen of D. Allen Pickups began designing and building his own high-end aftermarket guitar pickups in California's Bay Area, he was a research scientist for NASA specializing in, naturally, electromagnetism. In my estimation, that seems roughly analogous to retiring from Formula One to race go-karts, but I think it's safe to assume that he's well qualified for his current career path. Mr. Allen is also a guitar player and a tone nut, and his pickups have gained a following among a disparate range of players from Johnny Hiland to Minor Threat's Brian Baker.
We received a D. Allen Hot Vintage Set of Tele pickups for our own test mission, which we installed in a 2012 Fender American Special Telecaster. Allen likes to start his process with a certain year or player’s sound that he finds inspiring. He then tweaks the design to better suit modern players and materials. The Hot Vintage set was reportedly inspired by a set of Tele pickups from 1953. The bridge pickup is based on an alnico V magnet wound to 7.38 ohms resistance with 42 gauge plain enamel wire, while the neck pickup is an alnico III-based design wound to 6.88 ohms with 43 gauge wire. The set is reverse-wound, with the overall design goal being a robust, vintage tone that is equally at home spanky clean or mired in filth.
As luck would have it, we happened to have an actual 1953 Fender Telecaster in house here at Tone Report (featured in Issue 15) with which to compare the '53-inspired tones of the D. Allen Hot Vintage Set. Of course we weren't expecting a perfect match, given that every guitar is different, and that pickup construction wasn't quite the exact science in 1953 that it is today, but we figured it should be in the ballpark. We plugged both guitars into a newer Fender Princeton combo and were delighted to find that the tones were indeed quite close. The real '53 sounded great, but the bridge pickup had that treble-y "ice pick to the forehead" (to quote its owner) quality many old Teles exhibit. The American Special with the D. Allen Hot Vintage pickups, on the other hand, had a very similar overall sonic character to the real '53, but with a fuller bottom end and somewhat tamer treble. We were impressed, and our foreheads were pleasantly free of ice pick puncture wounds.
Period correctness aside, these are just some great sounding Tele pickups. I was especially struck by their excellent overall balance and high-end clarity. Through several different amps and a handful of pedals they stayed tight and defined, whether clean and twangy, lightly overdriven, or totally fuzzed out. I was pleased by the bridge pickup's deep bass and total lack of harsh qualities (rare for a Tele bridge pickup), and by the neck pickup's warmth and excellent string definition in scuzzy circumstances. I really couldn't make these pickups sound bad. If you've got the spare change and a taste for some next-level vintage style Telecaster pickups, you can't go wrong with David Allen's Hot Vintage Set.
What we like: Real-deal fifties Tele tones without the harsh ice pick thing, excellent overall balance and clarity.