Apr 10, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:This is one of the best sounding guitar pickups on the market today.


The Bottom Line: This is one of the best guitar pickups you can buy on the market today at any price.


             It wasn't very long ago that the idea of changing or upgrading the pickups in a guitar, in order to improve or alter the sound, was something that was considered to be quite radical, and almost unheard of.  If one did not like the sound of the pickups that came with their guitar, one would have to, in most cases, go shopping for a new guitar.  Thankfully those days are gone.  Now, if one likes the feel of their guitar, but does not like the sound of the pickups for some reason, it is relatively easy to find a set of pickups that will give you the sound that you are searching for.  Of course, one must remember that there is more to the sound of a guitar than the pickups alone, but there is no denying that a bad set of pickups can ruin the sound of even a great guitar, and that a great set of pickups can make a world of difference, and can make a good guitar sound great.  With this in mind, I am today going to be reviewing a really great sounding guitar pickup, and that is the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Humbucking Pickup.  Read on and see if this pickup has some of the sonic characteristics that you might be looking for the next time that you may be considering changing the pickups on your guitar.

            There are currently 10 models of the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Humbucking Pickup that are available without pickup covers.  The 10 coverless options are Black, White, Zebra (one black colored bobbin and one crème colored bobbin), Red, Red and Black, Pink, Green, Light Blue, Dark Blue and Yellow.  These 10 coverless versions of the SH-4 JB have a list price of $104.00, but they can be had at a discount for as low as $72.95.  There is also a version with a Nickel pickup cover which lists for $130, and sells fior $90.95, and another version that has a gold pickup cover, and that one has a list price of $135.00, and sells at a discount for $94.95.  All 12 of these versions of the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Humbucking Pickup are electronically the same, and the differ only in cosmetic appearance.

            Before I get into some further details regarding the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB, I would like to digress for a bit, and discuss some of the history and folklore that surrounds the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Humbucking Pickup.  Seymour Duncan is an American musician who moved to England in the late 1960's. He was trying to become known as a guitarist, but also, out of necessity, he also took a job as a repairman at the Fender Soundhouse in the city of London.  He became quite a celebrity as a guitar repairman and pickup expert, and reportedly did repairs and pickup rewinds for many of the world's most famous artists at the time, such as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, and Jimi Hendrix, to name just a few.  Seymour Duncan reportedly greatly admired Jeff Beck's playing ability, and the two men became friends. 

             Apparently as the story goes, Seymour Duncan heard that the original PAF pickups that Jeff Beck had on one of his guitars were switched by a dishonest guitar technician, and Beck was distraught over it.  As a token of his respect and friendship, Seymour Duncan designed a pickup for Jeff Beck out of some parts of a pair of broken early Gibson Humbucker's that he took from a Gibson Flying V Guitar.  Seymour Duncan rewired and "hot rodded" the pickups, and later put the pickups that he designed into a Telecaster body.  The bridge pickup was the now famous SH-4 JB Humbucking Pickup, and the neck pickup was a JM or (John Milner) Jazz Model in the neck position.  By the way, the JB in the SH-4 JB does stand for Jeff Beck, although it is frequently also called the Jazz Blues Humbucker, and the JM stands for John Milner (although more frequently referred to as the Jazz Model Humbucker) who was a character in the movie American Grafitti who was into hot rods, which happens to be one of Jeff Beck's passions.  But enough with all the trivia.  Seymour Duncan called the guitar that he made and gave to his friend Jeff Beck a "Tele-Gib" because of the obvious marriage of different parts of both guitar brands.  The current Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB is an outgrowth of the pickup that Seymour Duncan designed for Jeff Beck back in the early 1970's.

            The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB is Seymour Duncan's best selling pickup, and it is often referred to as "the world's most popular humbucker."  This pickup uses an Alnico V Magnet, which is often referred to as a "hot" Alnico because of its powerful modern sound.  The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB also comes with 4 conductor wiring, which allows one to have the option of wiring this pickup for coil splits, as well as for series and/or parallel operation. There are many websites, including the Seymour Duncan Website, that have a host of wiring diagrams for wiring different types of pickups in different ways to achieve different types of sounds. Typically, most humbucking pickups have their coils wired in series. However, having 4-conductor wiring permits one to also have the option of wiring the coils in parallel, which produces a brighter tone, and still maintains the humbucking features of the pickup.  However, one sacrifices volume and power in this case.  Another more popular wiring option is the use of a coil cut or split.  A humbucking pickup like the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB with 4-conductor wiring can easily be wired to have a coil cut option. This option would permit you to use only half of the humbucking pickup's two coils, thus in effect rendering it a single coil.  This would make the sound very bright and crisp, but it also would disable the hum canceling effect of the second coil. The use of a coil cut switch would of course also be required, but this would allow a guitarist to have the option of switching from a humbucking sound to a single coil sound with the mere flip of a switch. One could also employ a three-way switch, which would allow one to go from series, to parallel to a single coil, or a push/pull Volume control which would serve the same purpose.

            Well who is the Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB Humbucking Pickup best suited for? This pickup is best suited for anyone who wants a high output pickup, which is also capable of delivering a classic tone associated with a "hot rodded" Gibson Humbucking pickup.  It is a pickup with enhanced upper midrange and high frequencies, and as such it can cut through any mix when soloing, and it can also deliver a vicious bite, wicked distortion, and aggressive sounding harmonics.  Rolling back on the volume and adding a bit of low end on the tone also warms up the sound that this pickup is capable of producing.  It is one of the best pickups that Seymour Duncan makes, and it is very versatile, and is very suitable for heavy rock, blues, and crushing metal, and it is a very modern sounding pickup.

            Deciding on which position to place a pickup in, as well as what kind of pickup to pair it with is always a very important consideration as well. The Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB is a replacement pickup, and it can go in any position on the guitar.  However it is a very hot pickup, and the manufacturers suggestion, as well as my own, would be to place it in the bridge position.  As far as what pickup might be good to pair it with, a good choice for the neck position would be a Seymour Duncan SH-2n Jazz Humbucking Pickup, which by the way is Seymour Duncan's recommendation for the best combination because it adds to the versatility of the sound of the guitar.  As a second choice, Seymour Duncan recommends a Seymour Duncan SH-1 '59 because of its P.A.F. sound.  Personally, the SH-1 '59 Humbucking Pickup would be my first choice.  If you would be willing to mix and match pickup brands on your guitar, I also like a Gibson BurstBucker Type 2 or BurstBucker Type 3 for the neck pickup.

            Since it is always best to hear a pickup before one makes a buying decision, I would suggest giving this pickup an audition before purchasing it.  Go to your local musical instrument store and ask if they have a guitar that has a Seymour Duncan SH-4 JB already installed in it.  If the local music store does not have one, you may get some idea of the sound of this pickup if you listen to Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd.  However, this is not the best way to judge the sound of a pickup.  One really needs to be playing the guitar themselves, or at least be there to hear it being played in person.

            Well, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my review. But now, if you will excuse me, I must get back to my practicing.

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