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Old July 18th, 2013, 12:12 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Stuart Blackguards... just installed

So I ordered these a while back from Virtual Vintage Guitars. After hearing all the rave reviews I needed to find out for myself. Jason was very prompt on replying to emails, even when the pickups mysteriously shipped to another state, after arriving in my state. He went above and beyond by calling USPS and tracking down where the package was and helping it get to me.

This evening I finally had a chance to install them in my guitar, which is a guitar I put together about 10 years ago now. Its got a USA Custom Guitar super light weight swamp ash body (vintage style cuts) and a Allparts Fat neck, most of the parts are standard Fender stuff. 3 brass saddles at the bridge of course. Its made up to look like a blackguard era Tele. Its had a Van Zandt flat pole set in it since about 2009 and I've been very impressed with those pickups.

So I dropped them in tonight and played through my Vicky Bassman to test it out after I was done. The bridge is slightly more "lively" or microphonic than my Van Zandt, but to my ear it had a very similar tone. There was very slightly less twang to the tone with the Stuart, and the Stuart was slightly warmer, not a lot. The neck pickups were different, the Van Zandt is somewhat stratty sounding, but if you roll off the tone it sounds pretty jazzy. The Stuart pickup was definitely more jazzy with almost no top end, but I got the volume to be pretty close to the bridge pickup.

Anxious to try it out Friday night with the band and see how it sounds "in real life". Tonight was just a very quick run through comparison. Then I plan to adjust the Stuart pickups to really find the sweet spot.

So I'm impressed with the Stuarts, but the jury is still out over whether they'll replace my Van Zandts.

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Old July 18th, 2013, 09:16 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Congrats !

I usually set my amp brighter when I use my Stuart Blackguard Thinline. The inbetween position is also excellent sounding, which makes for 3 really different tones.
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Old July 18th, 2013, 12:11 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Question, why are there 3 wires on the neck pickup? I assume yellow is hot, black is ground, what is the white wire for?
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Old July 18th, 2013, 12:17 PM   #4 (permalink)
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crank the amp and use the volume on your guitar for control... it makes a difference.
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Old July 18th, 2013, 01:43 PM   #5 (permalink)
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4 way wiring
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Old July 18th, 2013, 02:44 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JTM45blues View Post
Question, why are there 3 wires on the neck pickup? I assume yellow is hot, black is ground, what is the white wire for?
ready to use with a 4 way switch.
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Old July 19th, 2013, 09:41 AM   #7 (permalink)
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There's something to be said about Van Zandts... Thanks for the honest review. Goes to show that less fancy boutique pickups can hold their own against more fashionable ones. It's probably more of a lateral move than anything. JMO YMMV
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Old July 20th, 2013, 12:25 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Update#1 - I adjusted the blackguards on Thursday evening to be lower and got a really nice "sweet tone" out of them. I noticed the treble strings were compressed sounding and the bass strings were woofy when the pickup was closer. So I plugged into my 5E3 clone and cranked up to 6-7 and used the volume control. Pretty good tone, got some twang back, a warm, present type response to the bridge pickup. Neck pickup I also adjusted slightly, but its still on the dark side and very jazzy, but in a good way.

Update #2 (Gig) - played a club last night, used my Vicky Double Deluxe. Rockabilly, honky tonk and truck drivin country and jump blues. I noticed that they were "more subdued" or lower output than my strat pickups or the previously installed Van Zandt's. I used my amp on about 3.5, and my SHO for boost. For solos I also had to turn on the boost side of my Ghetto Driver to a minimal setting. Overall it didn't have the cut or twang banging authority of the Van Zandt. It was warmer sounding on the bridge and still had some zing and sting. Neck pickup sounded cool for some West Coast jump blues stuff. Middle position was pretty awesome for rhythm work.

One thing I noticed about the bridge pickup being lower, there is less "clank" when I flip the switch from neck to bridge.

Tonight we have another gig, and I'm going to use my Bassman and crank up the bridge pickup a little bit. I was very surprised that the Stuart bridge pickup was less output than my Jimmie Vaughan strat with VZ True Vintage pickups (they're wound to like high 5's or low 6)

Overall jury is still out.
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Old July 20th, 2013, 01:10 PM   #9 (permalink)
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For me, Van Zandt strat vs tele pickups is a strange thing. The strat pups are my all time fav single coils and i've used them for 20 years now. Every time i try something else i'm always sorry i did. Put van zandts in a tele, then tried them in another tele. Both times i found them to be one of my least liked tele pickups ever. Very strange. They just sounded tinny to the point i could never use them.
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Old July 20th, 2013, 08:20 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Both sets of Stuarts early 50's pickups, the Blackguards and Lapwraps, are the best pickups I've ever played, hands down. The magic is in the touch sensitivity and the perfect balance that they have.
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Old July 31st, 2013, 12:15 AM   #11 (permalink)
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A few more gigs played, I believe I have the pickups dialed in at this point. Overall, I still notice a loss of output/cutting power from my Van Zandt pickups. I hate to say the Stuarts have more "finesse", but after using them for a few gigs that seems to be an apt description. The Stuarts are sweet sounding pickups no doubt about it, nice clarity to the tone, especially on chords. They don't really have the raw twang or the living on the edge microphonic liveliness that I was hoping for on leads. Doesn't really sing like Buchanan either. Seems like on leads I'm having to really pump up the SHO pedal for output. Neck pickup is very low output at gig volume, sounds really nice at home though.

BTW, I'm not using a small amp for these gigs, the last 3 gigs has been my Vicky Bassman with the volume around 5 and channels jumped. So the "low output" is not coming from the amp end of the equation.

Going to keep trying for a while in August and occasionally report back, then I'll post a final verdict.
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Old July 31st, 2013, 12:37 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Thanks for the in depth reviews. That's always interesting to read from other people using the same gear. One good thing with the Stuarts is that you can set the amp louder, but if you need consistancy with another guitar you better raise the pickups a bit closer to the strings. The BG Stuart works for me if I put too much treble on the amp and then control it from guitars' tone !
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Old July 31st, 2013, 11:26 PM   #13 (permalink)
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...I hate to say the Stuarts have more "finesse", but after using them for a few gigs that seems to be an apt description. The Stuarts are sweet sounding pickups no doubt about it, nice clarity to the tone, especially on chords...
Your description of the Stuart Blackguards sums up exactly what I love about them.

But maybe the Van Zandt pups better meet your needs.
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Old August 14th, 2013, 07:00 PM   #14 (permalink)
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If you are wanting a bridge PU that is livelier, with more output, what would that be? Back to the Van Zandt or something else?

The problem I've found is that when you go with more output, you sacrifice sweetness and sometimes the twang you want.
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Old August 14th, 2013, 07:32 PM   #15 (permalink)
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I would never recommend the stuarts to someone who wanted more output. That is not how I understand them at all.

They are all about articulation and 'finesse' and singularity of sound.. when you drive the amp hard they come alive and have a sound that I have only heard on very very old teles (also driven)

I would concur that the 4 way switch is a good thing (I have one too) but I'd also say that I use the bridge pickup 90% of the time because the sound of the stuarts through the tone king imperial is, well, pretty much a sexual experience for me... it sounds like what I really dreamed of as a kid.
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Old August 14th, 2013, 07:49 PM   #16 (permalink)
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I wonder how the Don Mare Nancy clones compare ?

Im going to built a partstelecaster soon and am deciding on pickups.

Dons are #1 on the list as of now.
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Old August 31st, 2013, 12:10 PM   #17 (permalink)
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If you are wanting a bridge PU that is livelier, with more output, what would that be? Back to the Van Zandt or something else?

The problem I've found is that when you go with more output, you sacrifice sweetness and sometimes the twang you want.
Hey there, to clarify I was not seeking more ouput than my True Vintage Van Zandt pickups I was hoping for the same output but a livelier , almost microphonic pickup that also has a little bit of a smoky vibe to it. I've heard it twice in person. Once was a Esquire Relic at Dave's (Nocaster pickup) the other was an early Fralin flatpole that was super lively and microphonic. Something akin to Roy Buchanan or some of the live cuts of Roy Nichols or Robbie Robertson from 1966 Dylan show.

The clarity of the Stuarts is superb, they also do look great. The twang is there but its not as out front as my Van Zandts.

Today I took out the Stuarts and dropped in a set of Custom Shop Nocasters. Going to gig em for a month again then decide. Stuarts are going in the closet for now.

It should be noted while I had the Stuarts in, I had tons of compliments on my tone from people in the audience.
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Old August 31st, 2013, 12:57 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Hey there, to clarify I was not seeking more ouput than my True Vintage Van Zandt pickups I was hoping for the same output but a livelier , almost microphonic pickup that also has a little bit of a smoky vibe to it. I've heard it twice in person. Once was a Esquire Relic at Dave's (Nocaster pickup) the other was an early Fralin flatpole that was super lively and microphonic. Something akin to Roy Buchanan or some of the live cuts of Roy Nichols or Robbie Robertson from 1966 Dylan show.

The clarity of the Stuarts is superb, they also do look great. The twang is there but its not as out front as my Van Zandts.

Today I took out the Stuarts and dropped in a set of Custom Shop Nocasters. Going to gig em for a month again then decide. Stuarts are going in the closet for now.

It should be noted while I had the Stuarts in, I had tons of compliments on my tone from people in the audience.
Totally understand the almost microphonic thing. Picks up that do that inspire a certain fluidity in my playing too. For what it's worth, try Klein Epic 52's, Broadcasters or Nocasters. They sound amazing but have that microphonic feeling resonant response!
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Old September 4th, 2013, 08:30 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Black guard set price

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Originally Posted by JTM45blues View Post
So I ordered these a while back from Virtual Vintage Guitars. After hearing all the rave reviews I needed to find out for myself. Jason was very prompt on replying to emails, even when the pickups mysteriously shipped to another state, after arriving in my state. He went above and beyond by calling USPS and tracking down where the package was and helping it get to me.

This evening I finally had a chance to install them in my guitar, which is a guitar I put together about 10 years ago now. Its got a USA Custom Guitar super light weight swamp ash body (vintage style cuts) and a Allparts Fat neck, most of the parts are standard Fender stuff. 3 brass saddles at the bridge of course. Its made up to look like a blackguard era Tele. Its had a Van Zandt flat pole set in it since about 2009 and I've been very impressed with those pickups.

So I dropped them in tonight and played through my Vicky Bassman to test it out after I was done. The bridge is slightly more "lively" or microphonic than my Van Zandt, but to my ear it had a very similar tone. There was very slightly less twang to the tone with the Stuart, and the Stuart was slightly warmer, not a lot. The neck pickups were different, the Van Zandt is somewhat stratty sounding, but if you roll off the tone it sounds pretty jazzy. The Stuart pickup was definitely more jazzy with almost no top end, but I got the volume to be pretty close to the bridge pickup.

Anxious to try it out Friday night with the band and see how it sounds "in real life". Tonight was just a very quick run through comparison. Then I plan to adjust the Stuart pickups to really find the sweet spot.

So I'm impressed with the Stuarts, but the jury is still out over whether they'll replace my Van Zandts.
I can't find a price for a set of Black Guards. How much are these ? Thanks, Lou
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Old September 4th, 2013, 10:31 PM   #20 (permalink)
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I can't find a price for a set of Black Guards. How much are these ? Thanks, Lou
By the time they were shipped I believe it was about $280. Spendy certainly, but its not much worse than any other boutique price.

Email the link at Virtual Vintage Guitars, they may even have a set ready to go.
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