So I bought a really nice G&L Bluesboy. It was my first tele style guitar. It had a decent single coil, but I just didn't care for that pickup. It was just too shrill and tinny. It was bad enough that I knew I wouldn't use the guitar at all unless I got a better pickup.
I started looking for solutions. Some guitar owners went so far as to modify or replace their bridge as well as hack into the guitar body (using a drill or routing bit to make a bigger pickup recess cavity) to fit a full size Humbucker into their teles. That seemed like a shame to hack apart my new guitar. Plus a tele looks a little bit less like a tele with a huge humbucker in the bridge.
The previous year I had installed a set of DiMarzio Humbuckers in my Schecter and was really satisfied with the results. They were the Dimarzio Titans, the signature set made for Jake Bowen of Periphery. He uses them in his Signature Ibanez JBM100 and JBM27 models. Anyways, a quick Google search and I found that DiMarzio also made Humbuckers that were the size of a Telecaster single coil. A simple drop in replacement for my single coil. No chopping involved, just your typical solder job. Sign me up.
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Things to Consider Before Buying the Dimarzio Tone Zone T
Obviously, you are interested in upgrading your tell bridge pickup. But do you know if you want retain some of that single coil tone or just get rid of it completely?
If all you want is to get that Humbucker tone, this DiMarzio will do the job well.
If you want to retain some of that single coil tone, you can rather easily install a push pull volume potentiometer to split the new DiMarzio Tone Zone T.
That is what I chose to do. It's a great way to get the best of both worlds. When you split a Humbucker, you are in effect shutting off 1 coil of the pickup. This means your dual coil pickup (Humbucker), can now function as a single coil pickup just by pulling on your volume pot. It's one of my all-time favorite guitar mods.
It's a fairly simple mod, but you'll need a few things.
1. Your new Humbucker
2. A new push pull potentiometer that will fit your tele control plate.
For wiring diagrams for your guitar go to Dimarzio wiring schematics.
Wiring Diagrams for this pickup
Now with that out of the way, another thing to consider is that although this is a "Humbucker", it technically isn't going to sound EXACTLY like a full size Humbucker. I honestly don't hear much difference in tone. Sure, it doesn't have the bottom end umphh of a full size Humbucker, but its more than capable of searing guitar solos and overdriven, mean sounding distortion.
I've been pleasantly surprised by this tele sized Humbucker at every turn, and I think you will be as well. It's 100% capable of cutting through the deepest of mixes.
One last consideration before you buy, is that you will need to be able to solder. It's like any other aftermarket guitar pickup in that regard. All in all you'll likely do less than 10 minutes of actual soldering and a half hour of prep work.
The Details of the DiMarzio Tone Zone T
Dimarzio's original Tone Zone proved to be a big hit, so they decided to develop a Telecaster sized version of it. Apparently I'm not alone in my feeling that my tele needed a bit more pickup power. The design is quite clever. They used two blade magnets and stood them straight up instead of using individual pole pieces like their competitors, Seymour Duncan.
That design feature was ultimately what made my mind up for me. See, because of the way the telecaster bridge pickup is slanted, it makes lining up individual pole pieces rather tricky. If your guitar's string spacing or pickup angle is just a tiny bit different than the pickup manufacturers measurements, you can end up with pole pieces that don't line up with your strings. When that happens, your pole pieces won't pick up the string vibrations as efficiently, which effects your tone.
With the one piece blade style magnets of the Dimarzio, you have 100% string coverage from the Low E to High e string. That means uniform string volumes too. Which takes alot of guess work out of pickup height adjustments.
It's a very versatile pickup as well. Especially if you install a push pull pot for coil splitting. There is alot of discussion and heated debates about whether or not a split Humbucker actually sounds like a single coil. I personally, can tell the difference. It's not EXACTLY the same, but it's more than close enough for my guitar needs. The versatility the guitar gains by having a splittable Humbucker far outweighs any minor tonal differences.
I'm a bit of a tinkerer, so I actually installed three push pull pots on my tele. One bridge Humbucker coil split, one neck Humbucker coil split, and one push pull pot for phase shifting. The plethora of tonal combinations I have completely outweigh having just a plain old single coil bridge.
Convenient Drop In Replacement
Single Coil Size with Humbucker Power
Increased Low and Mid Range Tone
Dual Blade Style Magnets mean Uniform String Volume
Splittable and Tap-able 4 wire leads
Sleek Design, Cosmetic Upgrade
No Extra Parts Needed
No Body Modification
Removes "True Single Coil Capability"
Not as aggressive as its full size humbucker counterpart the "Tone Zone"
Requires Bridge Plate to come off to install in guitar.
Features & Benefits
Description: The Tone Zone® T brings the performance of the famous Tone Zone® to a humbucking Tele® replacement pickup. We’ve built in the tremendous mid-range and bass response of the original Tone Zone®, and the same patented dual-resonance design produces great harmonics. 4-conductor wiring provides parallel humbucking and split-coil modes, so you can go from bang to twang at the flick of a switch.
If you compare the specs of the full-size Tone Zone® with those of The Tone Zone® T, you will notice they don't match. That's because the trick in building a single-coil size pickup to sound like its big brother is to go for the sound rather than the numbers. We also took into account the likelihood that The Tone Zone® T will be installed in the classic slanted Tele® bridge position, so we've warmed up the higher frequencies and brightened the low notes a little to compensate.
Quick Connect: No
Wiring: 4 Conductor
Resistance: 12.39 Kohm
What does it sound like in the guitar?
I can describe the tone, but ultimately you need to hear some examples. You'll be surprised when you hear what its capable of. So here you go.
Social Proof: What is the Rest of the Internet Saying?
One of the challenges of writing product reviews is maintaining your integrity. One way to ensure integrity is to be as honest and critical as possible, not just giving 5 straight reviews but also giving bad reviews when it calls for it. I'd like to be balanced and include some negative ratings/reviews but for this pickup, negative reviews are very hard to find.
The lowest rating I found was four stars. I've included 5 reviews from 4 different websites(amazon.com, andertons.co.uk, reverb.com, and thomann.de) in order to give you the broarder perspective. I would say I agree with all of these reviews.
Luckily for us tele owners, the demand for aftermarket pickups is quite high. Manufacturers have come up with a whole lot of solutions for our needs. Tele sized Humbucker are available from Seymour Duncan, Dimarzio, Rio Grande Pickups, Lollar, Bare Knuckle, and the list goes on.
To be honest, I was seriously considering the Seymour Duncan Hot Rails and the Lil '59. Comparing between different manufacturers is difficult because they don't measure output and tone the same way. They do give tone profiles which helps a bit. I ruled out the hot rails based on the tone profiles. I wanted more bass and mids, and the hot rails have very high treble.
So now it's between the Tone Zone T and the Lil '59. The Lil '59 has the tone profile I'm looking for, but it fell short in two details. It is listed as a "medium output" pickup, and it has individual pole pieces instead of the blade magnets. High output was important to me and the blade magnets seemed a more reasonable choice for uniform string volume. So I crossed off the Lil '59 and arrived at my final candidate the Dimarzio Tone Zone T. I hope that by showing you my thought process, you can quickly narrow down your own list to your ideal pickup.
I can only personally attest for the Tone Zone T. However these other options seem to be fairly popular and have decent reviews too. Whenever I get too bogged down in pickup shopping, I'm reminded of what my guitar instructor Bob Pheiffer told me, "If you are buying aftermarket pickups, chances are you are gonna be satisfied no matter what model you choose, modern manufacturing is just that good. Most pickups are an improvement over what you currently have." Thus far that advice has proven true for me in every pickup purchase
Seymour Duncan Hot Rails Tele - Bridge STHR-1b
Dimarzio Chopper T DP384 (very popular)
Lollar B.S. Tele Bridge Item #: 10-801
Bare Knuckles Cobra T
Dimarzio Fast Track T DP 381
Seymour Duncan Little '59™ Tele ST59-1
At the end of the day, this pickup solved the problems that I had with my Tele. It's made my Tele from "that guitar I bought" into "my go to guitar". Any product that can do that is well worth the money I traded for it. If you have a tele, and you aren't using it very much, even though you want to, this could be the answer.
I wrestled for weeks on which pickup I would buy. Sometimes it's just about pulling the trigger and trying out the product. If you are on the fence, I encourage you whole heartedly to go with Dimarzio on this, I've really enjoyed what they make. Plus sometimes it's just fun to choose the underdog and be surprised when things work out.
When it comes to guitars, one of the most dramatic changes you can make to the tone is a pickup upgrade. It's a gratifying experience whether you do it yourself or have a professional tech install it. If a more versatile axe is what you are after, this is a great place to start. I've yet to be disappointed with the dozens of pickup upgrades I've done over the years.
Good luck with your project, and I hope this review has provided some value to you. If you liked it, I humbly ask that you use these Amazon links when you decide to purchase. It would mean a great deal to me, to know I'm doing things that help.
The Axe Dr.