I’ve got nothing against humbuckers … right? I’ve played, and gigged many guitars fitted with them and got the job done just fine. The problem for me is that they are a compromise … and for some … not all types of music they simply lack something. Okay, if I want the easiest route to smoking, full bore, metal grind and scream I’d take humbuckers pretty well every time … at least as a bridge pickup. Trouble is, I have a Telecaster™ fitted with my Oil City ‘Hardman’ Bridge single coil, that, given the right amp setting will produce gallons of grinding, doomy ‘dropped D’ chord work. Or face melting picked harmonic squealage for that matter. Okay so the ‘Hardman’ is over 9k of evil mutant force, but wound back it will do blues or even country quote happily. Try that with some ‘Metal’ humbuckers and you will get the sonic equivalent of drowning in lukewarm, unsalted porridge! Those who are interested … go check out the fantastic lead and rhythm work of Steve Zodiac guitarist and frontman of ground breaking metallers Vardis from the late seventies/early eighties … barefoot on stage … with a Telecaster™ and a groaning vintage Selmer valve amp. Pure magic!
The problem is, that in taking out hum you take out some of the good stuff too: harmonic sparkle, attack, twang. And simply having the ability to shut off one coil and make a limp, ‘pseudo single coil’ isn’t enough. And the hotter the humbucker is wound the more soulless and muddy it becomes if you try any subtlety with it. I firmly believe that about 9 or 10k is as far as you can go without making the whole thing pointless … Just stick a pedal in dude!
Don’t get me wrong, I love Peter Green or Gary Moore’s tone from a PAF Gibson™ pickup. But remember, the PAFs that gave the sound we all love ... the really early ones ... were not wax potted. That made them brighter, more dynamic .... and a total squealing bitch in high gain situations.
Now I have every intention of offering vintage style PAFs in my pickup range (8k or so, with Alnico 5 magnet). They should sound much better than mass produced 'buckers,' as they will get back most of their brightness and 'openness' through being scatter wound (the early Gibsons™ were all machine wound I believe).
For myself ... when all’s said and done, with a little tweaking I can get similar from my Strat™ fitted with my ‘Triple Blues’ set of single coils. Too much noise? Fit a noise gate. If you only buy one guitar, gigging or ‘bedroom hero’ … buy one with single coils … you will get loads more mileage from it. Remember … this is my opinion only!