A long story about axis pickups.
Because I really needed some single coil sounds for the gig, I asked a reputable tech to modify the guitar with a push pull pot to split the pickups. I also asked to him to make sure that the middle position hum cancelled when split. I don’t know the details of what he did, but he achieved exactly what I asked.
I went on to use the guitar heavily for a few years, but over time it kind of fell by the way side. I really had to admit that I preferred the sound of a strat for single coil sounds, and an SSH guitar ended up fitting the bill of “all around guitar” for the gig a lot better than the axis (for me/IMO). Also, the more I played other guitars, the more I began to find the Axis to sound mushy/flubby in humbucking mode. It was weird, because so many people swore by those pickups. I pretty much stopped playing it (although I loved the playability, just not the sound) and even lent it to a friend for 3 years.
Anyway, fast forward more than a decade and I needed a Floyd-equipped guitar for an 80’s rock gig. I decided to try to resurrect the old Axis, but it still sounded flubby for me, so I opted to try some different pickups. I ordered some VHII’s from Bare Knuckle and was HUGELY disappointed. They sounded AWFUL in the guitar. Very thin/tinny/sterile and completely lacking in character with distortion, although they sounded awesome clean. Loved the online clips, but totally didn’t work in this guitar.
When I removed the original pickups to install the VHIIs, I noticed that the shielding on the wire was beige, which is different from every other picture I have seen of Axis pickups. I began to wonder if the pickups themselves had had to be rewired or modified in some way by the tech who did the original work for me (no records available now). I called up the folks at DiMarzio and they provided some excellent customer service, offering to take a look at the pickups and conduct repairs, if needed. So I sent them in.
In the meantime, I also talked to the folks at BKP about my VHII’s and they spent a long time trying to help me figure out something that would work better. In the end, they offered to exchange them for their recommendation – Holy Divers.
Both sets of pickups – the Holy Divers and the overhauled Axis pickups arrived in my mailbox a few weeks later. I was both pleased and dismayed when the overhauled original pickups proved to sound WAY better than they used to. I am convinced that something had to have been done to the original wiring that affected the tone. Maybe it had to do with trying to get the middle position to hum cancel. Who knows? But anyway, I finally began to understand why people like these pickups. Plus I was annoyed at myself at spending a lot of money on the BKP replacements, which weren’t really “needed” after all.
Seeing as how I had paid for them, I decided to install the Holy Divers and try them anyway. IMO, they actually sound even better overall. I find them noticeably tighter in the low end and more articulate (easier to hear the notes in a distorted chord). Also, the neck pickup is a bit less buttery, which is more to my taste. One area where they are weaker than the original pickups is when I turn the volume down to clean up a distorted amp. The original pickups sound sweeter to me in that situation. However, since I predominantly use my axis for distorted tones, the Holy Divers still work better for me. So I’ve left them in place and now have a set of axis pickups for another guitar (not for sale).
So I learned a number of things from all of this.
First, maybe a guitar doesn’t always have to do everything. I really &%*#ed up a perfectly good guitar trying to “improve” it. Maybe there is something to be gained from just learning how to get the most out of an instrument. I did not redo coil any coil tapping this time around.
Second, I need to make sure that I fully understand the implications of any modifications I propose to an instrument before I have them completed. I made some assumptions in this case that were totally wrong.
Third, both DiMarzio and Bare Knuckle Pickups are companies that provide excellent customer service and stand behind their products. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention that shipping things back and forth across the Atlantic when things don’t work out is a pain (BKP).
Fourth, I would recommend Holy Divers to anyone looking for good replacement pickups for an Axis. I suspect they might also be good for other brighter-sounding guitars. I would also NOT recommend the VHIIs for this particular guitar.
Congratulations on getting to the end of this post.