Bill Lawrence Wilde L-202TN Review / L202TN Noiseless Tele Neck Pickup

Discussion in 'Just Pickups' started by AxemanVR, Sep 6, 2018.

  1. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    I actually bought my Bill Lawrence L-202TN pickup (wildepickups.com) a couple years ago...

    Bill Lawrence L202TN.jpg

    ...but since it's such an outstanding design I decided to give it a proper long term review.

    First a short synopsis of how I ended up with the L-202TN...

    My 1996 Fender Standard Telecaster had gone through several pickup changes, but after one unfortunate gig in a room with an obnoxious amount of electrical interference I decided I needed a Tele style guitar that was resistant to such a catastrophically noisy situation.

    I had been searching for the perfect "noiseless" pickup for years and tried pretty much every Fender version, including their "Vintage Noiseless", "N3" and "Samarium Cobalt Noiseless" (SCN) sets. I also tried a set of Seymour Duncan "Vintage Stack" noiseless pickups.

    Side note #1: The SCN pickups were actually designed by Bill Lawrence for Fender.

    Here's my 1996 Std Tele in its current form (with a Roland GK-2 Synthesizer pickup also attached to it):

    IMG_0546.JPG
    IMG_0547.JPG

    Anyway, I really like the Samarium Cobalt Noiseless bridge pickup, so I kept that one, but the SCN neck pickup (along with all the other noiseless neck pickups I tried) sounded rather dull and lifeless to me, so I gave Bill Lawrence's L-202TN a try and was greeted with a dynamic openness, clarity and warmth the other noiseless pickups definitely lacked (all important factors for getting an authentic single coil tone in my book). Don't get me wrong, the others didn't necessarily sound "terrible", they just didn't sound like a great single coil either (at least not close enough for me).

    What actually led me to posting this particular review at this particular time were several positive reviews I've read on Fender's "Gen 4" noiseless pickups and I found myself tempted to giving them a try - but then I played my Bill Lawrence equipped Tele once again and concluded that the Gen 4's couldn't possibly be much better (and were probably based on Bill's designs anyway). Besides, the Fender Gen 4's easily cost 30% more than the Wilde Bill Lawrence pickups, so the Gen 4's just will have to wait for the time being.

    The L-202TN is comparable to an average single coil Tele neck pickup as far as output goes and it actually matches perfectly with the Samarium Cobalt Tele bridge pickup.

    Side note #2: While pickup height in relation to the strings is often an important factor, as it pertains to the L-202TN there appears to be a somewhat critical range in order to best focus and capture the string vibrations in the most optimal way and little tweaks seem to make huge differences.

    I would describe my L-202TN as having a "flutey" tone that is smooth and warm but not at all muddy or indistinct like other stacks I've tried. It's nicely woody and hollow with a crisp picking attack, ala Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Little Wing" sound, something that a really good Tele single coil neck pickup sometimes - but not always - possesses (and yes I know SRV played a Strat). By "hollow" I mean it has a clear, airy, transparent 3-dimensional tone that many of us ultimately covet. In fact it has an uncanny resemblance to the Fender American "Pure Vintage '64 Tele" neck pickup in my 2006 Fender Highway One Telecaster and I must admit that I'm not entirely sure if I could tell which is which in a blind tone test.

    It works well for both sweet, ringing, full-bodied strumming and rich, silky-smooth leads. It takes to overdrive and lower levels of distortion very well (which is possibly a positive side effect of having certain humbucker characteristics), providing a "Santana-like" fullness and sustain. Higher levels of distortion tend to make things murky and blurred, but I never use the neck pickup this way myself.

    So, in a nutshell, while I acknowledge that the L-202TN may teeter on the threshold of having certain humbucker qualities, it mostly feels more like a nice, fat single coil pickup since it retains that all-important sparkle and chime we all come to expect with a Tele... and that is something not easily "dialed in" otherwise.

    At this point I would like to add that I don't often use the Tele neck pickup on its own. For rhythm parts and cleaner leads I usually have it set to the middle position (neck+bridge) and for more soaring solos or aggressive power chording I switch to the bridge pickup only, but I find myself using the L-202TN on its own more and more these days and can now imagine further continuing this trend as time goes on.

    Earlier I mentioned that I have a Fender Samarium Cobalt (hum cancelling) Tele pickup in the bridge position. What I didn't know until I got the L-202TN was how perfectly it matches up with SCN bridge pickup. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised since Bill Lawrence designed them both.

    Just a quick FYI about the Samarium Cobalt Noiseless (referred to as "SCN" from now on) bridge pickup - since this may apply to other Bill Lawrence designed pickups:

    As I alluded to earlier, I wasn't overly inspired by the SCN neck pickup, but I have to say that the SCN bridge pickup is actually totally awesome! While running the L-202TN through its paces I took the opportunity to play the SCN bridge pickup (from clean to super distorted) and it kicked some serious butt! Everything you'd normally like in a Tele bridge pickup is there and more! Twangy and bold at cleaner settings, but totally "melt your freakin' face" when the distortion is max'd.

    I cranked the gain on both my TA-15 and Blues Deluxe lead channels and the SCN bridge pickup handled it without blinking an eye. Tons of rich, juicy harmonics and sustain while remaining clear and articulate. In fact I like this pickup so much that I'm pretty sure I won't be trying the "non-Fender" Bill Lawrence versions anytime soon. Of course, since the SCN's were designed by Bill Lawrence for Fender, there's a good chance that one of his current models will have the same characteristics - the trick I suppose is to figure out which one that is (there are several "Noise Free" models to choose from).

    Side note #3:
    I did initially have some severe feedback problems with the Fender SCN bridge pickup. After doing a little research I discovered that the bridge plate material caused the problem. Long story short; if a magnet sticks to it then it will most likely cause feedback problems with Bill's design. I ended up swapping the original bridge on my Std Tele to a Fender American Standard Tele bridge and that fixed it. The only reason I mention this is that you may have to consider a non-magnetic bridge swap if you choose to go with a Bill Lawrence stacked bridge pickup...

    TDPRI b.JPG

    Anyway, back to the L-202TN!

    As I mentioned earlier, while I don't normally use the Tele neck pickup on its own, I find myself doing it more so in this Tele than any other Tele I have ever owned, which is further testament to how good it sounds.

    I just want to finish this review by pointing out that there seems to be several good choices available from other manufacturers if your looking for hum-cancelling single coil size pickups. Joe Barden and Dimarzio both come to mind. I've only personally tried the Fender versions (Vintage Noiseless, N3 and SC) and Seymour Duncan's STK-T1N & STK-T3b. The SCN's are no longer available new, so I guess you can rule those out for all practical purposes.

    Other than the SCN bridge pickup I personally can't recommend any of the other Fender Noiseless offerings nor did I care for the Seymour Duncans. I'm sure there are people who would disagree with me but, in my personal opinion, none of them fulfilled the promise of providing that truly genuine single coil experience that I craved.

    So far the Bill Lawrence L-202TN is the only Tele style noiseless neck pickup I would personally recommend and, although I can't speak for their overall consistency or quality control, what I can say is that the one I got is Fan-freakin-tastic!

    My advise, assuming you're looking for something like what I described here, is to give them a try. They don't always have the fastest turn-around, so wait time can potentially be an issue, but, in my case it was definitely worth the wait.

    Good Luck!

    `
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
  2. hopdybob

    hopdybob Tele-Afflicted

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    if i remembered it correct, I have heard that at the end, Bill was not satisfied with the quality off the mass production of the SCN.
    to bad that Fender, like Gibson with the L6s, could not resist to trade money for quality and Bill' s design did not got the credit it deserved.
     
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  3. Gene O.

    Gene O. Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

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    I'm more interested in the mounting of the GK-2 pickup (I already use Bill Lawrence pickups). Is it help with double sided tape?
     
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  4. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    I've heard this too.

    Hard to tell what happened, but, like I mentioned above, I really like the SCN bridge pickup, so they might have gotten that right (at least in my case).

    On the other hand, the Fender SCN neck pickup was as disappointing as all their other attempts at making a noiseless neck pickup in my opinion, although I haven't had the chance to try the Fender "Gen 4" version yet, so the jury's still out on that.

    Anyway, based on the evidence it's not difficult to believe that Fender screwed something up with the SCN (neck pickup at least), which is, I can well imagine, why Bill was not happy I assume...

    `
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
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  5. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    Yes, my Roland GK-2 pickup is mounted using double sided foam tape. You may need to double it up to get the pickup as close to the strings as possible, which is critical for getting the best results.

    The rest of it is attached using the guitar's rear strap button. This is nice since you don't have to drill extra holes and it also makes it easy to remove. Unfortunately the pickup itself isn't easily removed due to the tape, but I have seen a "quick release" mount for these, which I'd like to try at some point:

    710x528_2276905_1186994_1459731350.jpg
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
  6. Gene O.

    Gene O. Tele-Holic Gold Supporter

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    I have an earlier GK-2, and a more recent GK-2A, which uses the strap button. I used hot glue to attach the GK-2 to my Strat. o_O I used the double-sided tape that came with it, but it didn't last too long. I'll PM you if I have any other questions, if that's okay. Didn't mean to hijack this thread.
     
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  7. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    You actually gave me a great idea... why not Velcro it on? Hmmm... I may have to try that!


    `
     
  8. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    Bill oversaw the early SCN production and trained the workers himself. Within a year of him leaving, Fender decided to move all of the workers to other departments for their exceptionally high standards and efficiency, which of course ruined the high standards Fender originally had with the SCN. It’s all bizarre corporate logic.
     
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  9. Derek Kiernan

    Derek Kiernan Friend of Leo's

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    Great review by the way! I really like the L202, which has none of the muddiness of a covered pickup but with a smoother resonance and highend character than your standard Strat pickup. I personally like having a more versatile pickup than the standard Fender single in the bridge, like the SCN design, but the L202 should make most players happy unless they really want the covered sound or a “sharper” Strat tone.

    In terms of pickups close to the SCN in Wilde’s program, the L298 is not far away. It was actually one of a few designs Bill gave Fender a choice of, but they decided on the SCN because using rare earth magnets was an opportunity to market them as using exotic material.

    Bill himself was impressed by what was possible with rare earth magnets in his design work, but was limited by Fender’s goals for their program. The neodymium-based microcoils are the result of Bill using rare earth magnets while doing everything the way he wants. He especially wanted to go lower inductance in the neck, but the decreased inductance in the bridge position allows the player to add their own coloration to taste with small capacitors. He switched to neodymium partially to put distance between his own program and Fender’s, since they were paying him royalties at the time :lol:
     
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  10. zombiwoof

    zombiwoof Tele-Afflicted

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    Who are those four hippies on your pickguard?. Man, what a bunch of losers!....:confused:
    Al
     
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  11. quadraverber

    quadraverber TDPRI Member

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    Bought the l202tn for my 04 USA deluxe tele with the scns after reading your post. I agree 100% that neck scn is very dull. Bridge scn is very full and versatile. The l202tn is my favorite neck pickups ever! Thanks for writing this post as I was almost thinking of selling this guitar. Very classic sounding without the shrillness or noise.

    I do think the balance is a bit off with the bridge scn output. It may be a tad dark as well. Thinking of going for a l200tl or a l298tl . But for now this is a huge improvement.
     
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  12. rigatele

    rigatele Tele-Afflicted

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    There's a reason why you're looking up at them.
     
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