The crisp clear bite of Winter
Johnny Winter’s incendiary blues licks are legendary because he struck a perfect balance of speed, precision and rawness that never became neutered or clinical. In much the same way that the late Mr. Winter took a traditional form of music and made it into something completely unique, master pickup designer David Shepherd of Mojotone took the Firebird mini-humbucker and spiced it to perfection.
It is no wonder Johnny Winter gravitated toward the Gibson Firebird. His boisterous lightning-in-a-bottleneck lines are executed with full fret access complimented by the raised center block of Firebird. The bright bite of the Firebird’s mini-humbuckers perfectly translated Mr. Winter’s dexterously ferocious flurries where traditional humbuckers might have muddied and obscured the action.
Players with the pedigree and prowess of Johnny Winter are always looking to improve upon perfection, so when he approached Mojotone with the prospect of recreating his original Firebird pickups, the cards were on the table. With exacting precision, a recipe of aged cast Alnico 5 magnets and vintage-spec 42-gauge plain enamel wire was served up on a steel reflector plate.
Remake, remodel, capture lightning in a bottle
Not happy to stop at just a mere rehash of the famed Firebird mini-humbucker, Johnny and Mojotone have managed to retain everything we love about these unique pickups and take them several steps forward in both tone and performance. Common gripes voiced by the mini-humbucker bickerer are lack of low end, choked sustain and flat dynamics. I think it is safe to say that the old case against mini-humbuckers has been blown wide open with Winter’s signature set and what we have here is a pair of naysayer slayers.
Sounding off at 7kΩ for the bridge and 6.3kΩ at the neck, these brilliant mini machines perform a perfect aural balancing act. The transition from bridge to neck is seamless and free of volume discrepancies. There is also a full frequency response at all positions. The sizzling, swirling dynamics of slide lines ring true and clear even in the neck position where traditional humbuckers can muddy up. There is no danger of not being able to cut through the mix here. In fact, I imagine this may have been why another of my Firebird wielding heroes may have gravitated toward mini-humbuckers. The laser razor leads Phil Manzanera shot out into the stratosphere with Roxy Music were often charged with mini-humbuckers. They cut like a lightsaber through dense washes of Mellotron, tape loops, synthesizers, saxophones, drums and bass. Perhaps he will take notice of these perfected pickups…
What we like: The mini-humbucker has always had a unique voice that has inflections of both vintage Stratocaster and PAF pickups. Johnny Winter and Mojotone have managed to endow the slightly scooped bright tone of the originals with an extended low end, wider dynamic range and fuller frequency spread. With these essential upgrades, they almost have a Gretsch Filtertron flavored bite and growl to my ears. They speak with a distinct diction that could possibly propel the mini-humbucker out of cult-status.
Les Paul Deluxe players are not left out of the celebration and can specify their mounting option upon order. These fine pickups are available in chrome, gold, and relic finishes and all of them are handmade in the USA. Johnny Winter spent his last few months on Earth touring with these pickups and he loved them so much he proudly scrawled his signature on the back like a doctor prescribing a cure for the common tone. For those who are in the market for a mini-humbucker upgrade, the search is over.
Concerns: The only cause for concern here is that without a Firebird or a Les Paul Custom, some serious body modification would have to be performed to enjoy these beautifully voiced pickups. Of course, custom pickguards could also be fabricated.