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A Double Cream humbucker set, that isn't DiMarzio, and costs only $25

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by Antigua Tele, Sep 13, 2016.

  1. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 2, 2014
    west coast
    DiMarzio managed to trademark double cream exposed bobbins in the early 80's, and since nearly all aftermarket pickups have been produced by US based companies, DiMarzio has had a monopoly on the double cream racket.

    Someone mentioned on another guitar forum that you can find double cream humbuckers from Chinese retail sites, and for dirt cheap. US trademark law doesn't extend to China obviously, so these are completely legal.


    And here it is, the Donlis "Sell Free Shipping N&B 1 set Wax potted Cream color 4 output wires Alnico 2 guitar humbucker pickup"
    https://www.aliexpress.com/item/Sel...259823681.html?spm=2114.13010608.0.118.J7Rlob

    You're probably thinking, but yeah, they're crap pickups. But are they? I've taken the time to do a detailed comparison between the Donlis neck and the DiMarzio 36th Anniversary neck. I bought two Donlis neck pickups, only because I prefer low output bridge pickups, and I intend to use neck pickups in both positions.

    The Donlis cream humbucker is also offered with AlNiCo 2 magnets, you just have to search AleExpress for it. There are quite a few interesting looking pickups, and I hope that be assuaging fears that these pickups are substandard, that guitarists might feel emboldened to mine their offerings. They would certainly be a more unique addition to your guitar than the pickup du jour from Seymour or DiMarzio.

    [​IMG]


    Are the materials of good quality???


    The only materials that are electrically relevant is the metal. The plastic parts can support neither a magnetic field, nor an electric current, so they are inert.

    In order to compare the quality of metals, I've performed measurements for DiMarzio 36th Anniversary, then transferred the metal parts to the DiMarzio's coils, so that they bobbins and wire are constant, while the metal parts change.

    Here is the Donlis beside the 36th Anniversary. The cover will come of for these test to make it an apples to apples comparison.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    Lots of wax in the DiMarzio:
    [​IMG]



    Baseplate Comparison

    First comes the base plate, and as you can see, the DiMarzio 36th Anniversary is not actually a PAF replica, as they allude to on their website, but a DiMarzio "airbucker", which just means they forego the wood spacer and retaining bar and instead place four plastic washers around two of the slugs and two of the screws. The effect is that there is about 15 to 20% less flux density at the pole and screw tops, which DiMarzio claims mimics the effects of a magnet that has degaussed naturally with age.

    [​IMG]

    Here is the Donlis. As you can see, it uses the more correct spacer / retainer setup, but uses plastic instead of wood, as does Seymour Duncan, and even includes two plastic spacers. The reason there are two spacers is because, unlike the spec PAF, the conductor wire enters the baseplate on the same side as where the two coils hook into the conductor wire, where as original PAFs had the conductor wire entering on the opposite side of the base plate, so the conductor cable spanned all the way across that space along the top. The Epiphone ProBucker happens to be arranged the same way, except they used two wood spacers instead of plastic.

    [​IMG]


    And here is the test being performed, with the DiMarzio coils attached to the Donlis base plate:

    [​IMG]



    Here is the measured result:

    [​IMG]

    The black line is the DiMarzio baseplate. The Donlis shows a resonance about 200Hz greater, and peak difference is only 0.4dBV, which is to say the difference between them is completely inconsequential, and would be impossible to hear.





    Slug & Screw Comparison


    In the picture below, the DiMarzio and its screws are far left, the Donlis is in the center, and a Gibson 57 Classic is on the right. The Donlis' fillister screw heads match the Gibson 57, where as the DiMarzio's screws have slightly smaller heads.

    [​IMG]

    The way this test was performed was similar to the plate; first the DiMarzio was measured as-is, then the Donlis' screws and slugs were transferred into the Diarzio's coils, and then the measurement it taken again. For this test, there is no base plate under the coils, though I kept the AlNiCo 5 bar in place because, along with the wax, it was helping to hold things together.

    [​IMG]4

    The difference here is 60Hz and 0.4dBV, even less difference than was seen with the base plate swap, and that's really saying something, since these are core materials. Again, the differences are of no consequence.



    But how does it compare to premium humbuckers???

    I've compared the frequency curves of the Donlis to three other pickups in all, the DiMarzio 36th Anniversary neck, the DiMarzio PAF Pro, and the Gibson 57 Classic:

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Here are how the plots compare, with each wired in series:

    [​IMG]

    The Donlis, the black curve, happens to be the brightest of the group, with the highest resonant peak. The Gibson 57 (gray) has a lower Q factor than the other three.

    The takeaway here is that there is nothing exceptionally different between the Donlis and these other esteemed humbuckers. It's peaks are not way off in left field, they're right there with the rest of the pack.

    Here is a loaded comparison. A loaded comparison is one that approximates the effects of volume and tone pots and a guitar cable:

    [​IMG]

    Under load, the differences between these pickups because even further diminished.

    Here's a close up of the plot lines below 2kHz. The software is limited, and unfortunately the peaks are cut off in this view.

    [​IMG]

    The steepness of the resonant peak is known as the Q factor, and while it is different for each pickup, you have to keep in mind that the volume and tone pot values (250k, 500k, 1 meg) also change the Q factor dramatically. These pots often have a poor tolerance, meaning that you buy a 500k pot, but it ends up measuring closer to 450k or 550k. Therefore, the Q factor for all these pickups is a moving target in an actual guitar setup. The difference in Q factor must therefore be substantially set apart in order for it to be considered a quality that makes that pickup unique.


    In Conclusion

    The Donlis are not identical to anything, which frankly, is a good thing, and from a quality standpoint, it's impossible to argue that they leave anything to be desired.



    Here are some basic measured stats from the Donlis neck:

    Donlis Double Cream PAF-Type Neck Humbucker

    DC Resistance: 7.38K
    - logo coil: 4.65K
    - plain coil: 4.39K
    Inductance:
    - series: 3.702H
    - parallel: 0.9245H
    - screw coil: 1.5056H
    - slug coil: 1.7186H
    Calculated C:
    - series: 119pF (129-10)
    - screw coil: 107pF (117-10)
    - slug coil: 108pF (118-10)

    Resonant Peak:
    - series: V: 0.4dBV f: 7.29kHz black
    - parallel: V:-5.2dBV f: 10.9kHz red
    - screw coil: V:-5.2dBV f: 12.0kHz green
    - slug coil: V:-4.1dBV f: 11.2kHz gray
    Loaded Peaks (200k ohms & 470pF):
    - series: V:-4.1dBV f: 3.17kHz black
    - parallel: V:-5.5dBV f: 6.51kHz red
    - screw coil: V:-6.8dBV f: 6.67kHz green
    - slug coil: V:-5.7dBV f: 5.06kHz gray

    Gauss at screw tops center: 250G
    Gauss at slug tops center: 290G


    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    Setup details:

    Bode plots are made with a Velleman PCSGU250 and the supplied probes in 10x mode, with the function generator feeding a driver coil of 0.48mH, placed on top of the pickup and driven with 2Vpp. The pickup is connected to an integrator circuit (V4), designed by Ken Willmotthttp://kenwillmott.com/blog/, and fed back into the Velleman PCSGU250. I measured the integrator's capacitance to be 10pF, so that amount is subtracted from the capacitance calculation.

    The inductance and Q measurements are made with an Extech 380193 in "SER" series mode, and the mean value between the 1kHz and 120Hz modes is recorded. The capacitance value is derived from the inductance and measured resonant peak.

    Magnets are tested with a Spin Doctor ERhttp://gravitastech.weebly.com/spin-doctor-er.html
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016

  2. Nightclub Dwight

    Nightclub Dwight Tele-Meister

    307
    Aug 12, 2016
    Pittsburgh
    Wow. I was just talking about double cream humbuckers a few minutes ago. Cool.
     
    jackinjax likes this.

  3. Sandhill69

    Sandhill69 Tele-Holic

    Age:
    68
    702
    Jun 18, 2016
    Colorado
    Thanks, ordered some !
     

  4. Artslap

    Artslap Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

    Age:
    49
    466
    Mar 17, 2014
    Sydney, Australia
    In a blind test do they sound any different?

    CP.
     

  5. RLee77

    RLee77 Friend of Leo's

    May 15, 2016
    Silicon Valley
    The double creams have always been my fav color for humbuckers. I've found you can actually get them from some of the boutique winders, by asking them to put them under the metal covers -- then you just remove the covers when you get them. (As long as they don't sell them as double creams.) Always thought the dimarzio patent was ridiculous.

    Your info and analysis is interesting, but drawing conclusions about something as subjective and elusive as pickup tone (or amp tone) from frequency plots can, at best, only get you in the ballpark; the nuances that players hear (or don't hear) can't really be measured with a plot.
    I'm not disagreeing that the pickups are equivalent to the mainstream brands; they could very well be -- but neither can one say that they sound the same based on measurements like this.

    Also wanted to note that inducing a voltage into the pickup by using another coil as a primary changes the chacteristics, since the signal generator's output impedance is reflected into the pickup coil, likely quite different from a string vibrating in the field. (Or, maybe not, just thinking out loud.) But the plots are interesting and useful, thanks for putting this together.
     

  6. GuildX700

    GuildX700 Tele-Holic

    Age:
    58
    889
    Apr 28, 2016
    USA

  7. GuildX700

    GuildX700 Tele-Holic

    Age:
    58
    889
    Apr 28, 2016
    USA
    Anyone ever try their Chinese Les Pauls? I saw one, a "Gibson" ripped apart, it actually had a solid flame maple cap on it. An "R9" for $189. Be funny if it actually played and sounded good.

    [​IMG]
     

  8. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Holic

    755
    Apr 20, 2014
    Ontario
    I like the concept of blind tests in theory, but in practice they are too complicated and expensive to perform to a satisfactory level of experimental validity. So my current thinking goes with a "betting model"... would I gamble something (perhaps my pride, or beliefs...I don't gamble for money) on a blind comparison, given a complete set of measured parameters?

    There are many ways in which a blind test can be misleading by allowing subject bias to leak in, statistical errors and so on. So you should explain what you mean by a blind test.
     

  9. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Holic

    755
    Apr 20, 2014
    Ontario
    Great work. Where else can you find information like this?
     
    Kerryelectric likes this.

  10. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Holic

    755
    Apr 20, 2014
    Ontario
    I doubt it. Chinese luthiery skills aren't really up there yet.
     

  11. Obsessed

    Obsessed Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Nov 21, 2012
    Montana
    I put some Vanson zebra PAFs in my semi hollow for about the same price with excellent results, but these look very impressive. Thanks for doing all of excellent comparison work. For the price, they look to be worth a try, and no brainer, if you want double cream.:)
     

  12. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 2, 2014
    west coast
    It's technically a trademark, an identifying characteristic as opposed to an invention, and yes, it's evil. They claim double cream is an identifying mark of a DiMarzio, and yet most people don't make that associaion, and are surprised to discover that's the sole reason double creams are not offered by other companies.


    There's not really any proof that when people hear a difference between two pickups that they are actually hearing a difference, at least not beyond these proven electrical differences. If you make that presumption that your hearing is infallible, then you take two otherwise identical pickups, and you end up searching high and low for a difference that isn't necessarily there. I'd argue that this is why companies like ThroBak exist, because you go down a rabbit hole that's really all in your mind, scrutinizing crazy things like the butyrate content in the plastic bobbins. It's akin to telling a paranoid person that the government really is out to get them, and then selling them tin foil hats.

    The magnetic coupling between the driver coil and the pickup is much too low for that to happen. I tested this a few months ago
    http://www.strat-talk.com/threads/m...d-a-texas-special.390958/page-14#post-2361421 and found that the distance between the driver coil and the pickup made no apparent difference.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016
    awasson and songtalk like this.

  13. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 2, 2014
    west coast
    Another thing I want to mention, in general, is that almost everybody has experienced bad sounding import pickups, and those do exist. Here are a few examples how they can be made badly:

    First you have old Japanese fake humbuckers, like the one seen here:

    [​IMG]

    There's only one coil, so it's not humbucking, and there is a huge excess of steel or pot metal, which is going to cause high eddy current losses.

    Second, a more modern problem is the use of cheap brass covers on humbuckers, which cause higher eddy losses than nickel silver covers.

    Thirdly, they can also under or overwind a pickup to an extent that is unpleasant, or wind the coil so tightly that there is an excess of parasitic capacitance. On Donlis' AliExpress page, they were even good enough to list the inductances of their pickups, establishing that they fall into the range of typical US made humbuckers. They said 3.8 Henries, I measured 3.7... very close. I don't even get that close to Fender's specs.

    4th, another kind of cheap, poor sounding pickup is the ceramic / steel single coil variety:
    [​IMG]

    The problem with these pickups is that they a) achieve less than half the flux density of a true AlNiCo Strat or Tele pickup, and b) the steel pole pieces cause excessive eddy losses than are typical of a humbucker, but atypical for Teles and Strats.

    The moral of the story is that an import pickup can be badly made in a variety of ways, but the Donlis is not.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016

  14. Zepfan

    Zepfan Friend of Leo's

    Nov 30, 2013
    Horn Lake, MS
    I have a cheap Chinese PRS clone made of Mahogany(body and neck) with a Flame Maple cap. It's a Rondo offering for around 180 bucks. The fretboard is fantastic. The only drawback was that it was damaged during shipping and that made it possible for me to get it very cheap. If it wasn't for a couple nicks here and there the guitar would be comparable to a PRS or Gibson. So there are many offerings available today from China with great craftsmanship, it's just that they are in a sea of bad examples and can be like flipping a coin to get one.
     
    fortj3, chemobrainkid and GrantR like this.

  15. Zepfan

    Zepfan Friend of Leo's

    Nov 30, 2013
    Horn Lake, MS
    Thanks for the info Antigua Tele. It's good to see more pickup offerings from China with Alnico magnets instead of the usual ceramic magnet pups at a good price. But it's bad for the big winders out there trying to survive in a stacked against them economy.
     

  16. Antigua Tele

    Antigua Tele Tele-Afflicted

    Jun 2, 2014
    west coast
    The business model seems to be moving to US based design and customer support, which makes sense since Americans know what Americans want, and then have things produced overseas. It would be nice to see the winders focus more on design and less on production. If ThroBak came along and said, "we worked with a Chinese manufacturer to produce an authentic PAF with a price point of $100, down from the previous cost of $550", then everybody wins, in theory. Instead, we have to insist that guitar parts be made in the US in order to be considered high quality. Some of the best "Scotch" on the market is being made Japan, btw.
     
    ShortBlack9 and JayFreddy like this.

  17. Zepfan

    Zepfan Friend of Leo's

    Nov 30, 2013
    Horn Lake, MS
    I've heard that there's some good Chinese Wines(not rice based) to be had these days. Japanese Scotch is a new one that I haven't heard of til now.
     

  18. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    Japanese single malt isn't necessarily a low cost alternative -- it's just good. It's not the equivalent of a $25 creme HB.
     
    Honest Charley likes this.

  19. jvin248

    jvin248 Friend of Leo's

    Apr 18, 2014
    Near Detroit, MI
    Good to see some chasing of the value pups!

    There are some sets on eBay that are great, including ceramic bar magnet types, in the range of $10-$15 per set, that you should check out. Probably even good to order the poorly designed ones too to complete the analysis charts.


    On the Strat-style pickups ... are you able to discern any measurement differences between pole pieces with chamfered or squared ends?
     

  20. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Holic

    755
    Apr 20, 2014
    Ontario
    I sympathize with them to some extent, but they are not underprivileged. Look at what they have. They have a well established brand. They have manufacturing and engineering knowledge and equipment. They have a physical presence in North America, and a large staff of English speaking employees. They have long established ties in the music industry. If they can't make those factors work for them, they're getting a free ride.

    Considering the smaller specialty pickup enterprises, I doubt that the imported pickups will ever impact their business. But if they have dreams of making it grow into a million dollar business, well...
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2016
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