A newby among noiseless Strat pickups: Kinman Impersonator 54
on 2011-03-03 22:51:54
Here is what I consider as the "interesting part" of my review for another site...
My hobby horse (cable capacitance) is also in it... LOL!
Set of 3 noiseless pickups for Strat. Described as close to the Fender CS54’s, minus the noise. Unlike other Kinman models, the Impersonator is presented as producing “un-aged tone”, as if a time machine was bringing you back in 1954 to play a brand new Strat of this era. It’s also said to be the first noiseless model to offer such truly un-aged tones, while other noiseless stack designs from all brands would compress the sound and deliver less high / more mids. See Kinman’s website for further details…
Being someone who passes his time to test guitar pickups, I had carefully read the related patent. I had understood that they work on the same principle than the P90Hx and I expected something technically “special” when I’ve received the set. As a matter of fact, I’ve quickly noticed that its sound can’t be translated in usual data: unlike with conventional pickups, their resistance and inductance don’t match exactly their tone and anyway these measurements are complicated by the presence of a “noise sensor” coil. For those who want to know, let’s say that the “useable values” shown by my multi-meter recalled roughly the specs of a “first generation” SSL1.
Anyway, I’ve been as impressed as usual by the high tech design of each PU: their noise sensor coil are each built of +/- 120 “H” shaped laminated steel bits (!). Despite of this complexity, the impedance of these coils appears to be really low… and despite of this low impedance, the pickups are totally dead quiet.
I’ve appreciated the fine tuned building of each PU according to its position: magnets spread and specs (resistance/inductance) are slightly lower for the neck PU than for the mid one, itself lower in width and specs than its bridge neighbor.
Let’s use the same words to define the design of the Impersonators and their voice to my ears : “Smoothly clear and brilliant”.
I’ve mounted the set in a Fender Strat Dlx (ash body, maple neck), with the usual 250k controls.
For the record, I’ve then compared it to the stock pickups of an American Std (with rosewood fingerboard), going back and forth between the two axes, plugged in the same amps through the same cable. The comparison involved my ears but also a frequency analyzer that I use each time I test a pickup model.
According to my feelings and to my testing gear…
-The attack and dynamic range were similar.
-The output level was the same.
-The resonant peaks of the two sets were located at the same places in the audio spectrum.
-The high mids were identically scooped.
-Harmonics produced by a mono 1khz signal were dispatched in the same way along the spectrum.
-THD measurements along the audio bandwidth were almost exactly stackable.
Some differences (beyond the hum in single coils and its absence in Impersonators)?
Of course, since the guitars are different. But variations due to the woods aside, I’ve quickly noticed that the Std Fender PU’s had a slightly higher Q giving a narrower tone, drier low mids (almost sterile, in fact), and a duller extreme upper register, with less presence and clarity. With these regular single coils, there’s also “dead spots” here and there on the neck, shortened sustain on the last frets and the usual hum veils the sound.
The Impersonators, on the contrary, sound absolutely quiet, with an even response and sustain all along the neck. They respond accurately to picks and fingers. They react well to volume and tone pot variations, with a special “crystal clean up” character. They accept friendly clean as dirty tones, from FX’s as from amps.
Although their low gauss magnets avoid fret crash and buzz, the designer has found a way to make them sound like traditional Strat pickups, whose “string pull” results in that twangy harmonic content above 10khz: the Impersonator’s appear to mimic that effect through other ways than excessive string pull, with a convincing accent and much clarity.
They don’t sound thin, though: their prominent character to my ears is rather a “glassy smoothness”, with deep piano bass, sweet full low mids, airy hollow high mids and snappy top end sizzle.
I don’t know if they sound like CS54’s : I’ve never tried in person this precise set of Fender PU’s (even someone passionate can’t try all existent guitar pickups). But sonically, the Impersonators remind me something of the ‘Apache’ set from Bare-Knuckle… without the hum and with a bit more modern accent. I’ve also found them truer sounding than DiMarzio Area’s, that I had tested recently and found too raw/brash/bold/loud with an unclear distorting voice.
The perfect pickup, therefore?
Let’s be serious.
Any mature player knows that a guitar pickup has the qualities of its flaws and that its virtues are also its limits.
Compared to a good conventional Strat pickup, the Impersonator 54 has the same “strengths which are weaknesses and conversely” … minus the noise and string pull unwanted effects (stratitis and so on).
If you plug it…
- direct to the board,
-in some very wide band amp/cab,
-through a short and/or low capacitance cable,
you’ll find it very hi-fi and “immediate”, with an almost piezo / acoustic character which somewhat reminds EMG’s (in much less artificial, since the Impersonator remains a passive pickup built around six rods of Alnico 5). In such a case, I still prefer my Kinman Blues set, to be honest.
But if you choose…
-a warmer amp
-a longer and/or higher capacitance cable,
the Impersonator’s will deliver the same thing than a good set of “old school new” Strat single coils in such a situation: lively dynamic, attack and transparence, twang and smoothness, with girth and depth. According to the gear and settings used, I’ve not only been able to imitate convincingly Hank Marvin’s or Knopfler’s tones (as advertised) but also Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Hendrix, SRV, Gilmour, Blackmore, Bryan Adams or Gary Moore in their live albums, John Frusciante or Mayer, … and even some Swedish maelstrom soloists, with the help of a boosting OD. Not a hint of hum in any case.
Neatly built, with a lot of details in the design of the baseplate and in its printing. I’ve just found the end wire of the upper coil a bit loose in one of the PU’s when I’ve pulled off the covers. Fortunately, the plastic couldn’t rip it off. Nevertheless, I recommend you to be careful if you want to uncover the coils for some reason.
EASE OF USE
The set is pretty easy to solder, since the tips of the wires are of different colors for the three pickups.
As usual with Kinman pickups, the “proper” height setting is rather difficult to define: I’ve tried a gap of 3mm as well as 1mm (last fret depressed). It always works but it changes the output level and tone so much that it becomes uneasy to decide which setting is the “good” one…
As usual with Strat PU’s, also, some playing situations might require to “dial out” the harmonic content above 10khz, which is rather rich in the Impersonator sound as in regular single coils.
NOTA BENE -The best way to permanently tame this extreme high range if necessary is NOT to lower the tone control: it is to increase the cable length / capacitance…
If you find a Strat pickup too brittle through 3m of guitar cable, you have to know that this effect will disappear through a cable of 9m (like the one used by Hank Marvin in the beginning of his career AFAIK). If you don’t want to drag 9m of wire, you can solder a capacitor between the hot point and ground of one jack plug, in your usual cable (rule of thumb: 1m of wire = more or less 150 pico farad).
Nothing new compared to the tricks applied by pro’s to regular Strat single coils: Hendrix or SRV were already taking advantage of what I explain above about cables & capacitance (if you don’t see what I mean, read that doc, p.4: www.tonequest.com/pdf_pubs/samples/TQRDiaz.pdf).
But it’s worth to be said here, since many musicians ignore the Eqing effect of cable capacitance, especially noticeable and useful with Fender type single coils… This parameter governs the behavior of the Impersonator as well – and proves that it imitates convincingly regular single coils.
Perfection doesn’t exist in our human world but progress remains possible and Kinman proves it each time he releases a new model: I have the same positive feeling with the Impersonator than with my previous Blues set or P90Hx… Although I’m already too old to be fooled by honey moons, I’ve even felt younger during a few hours, when I’ve played this new set of pickups for the first time: it recalled me my first pickup upgrade on a Strat copy, 30 years ago (I had saved money during months for a set of SSL1’s).
As a matter of fact, I’ve found the Impersonator’s better sounding than stock American Std Fender PU’s and not sub-par compared to the real L series Strat that I’ve been lucky to test recently (even if different: aged pickups indeed sound softer and are more easily mimicked by a set of AVN Blues, once the proper pot values and cable capacitance used).
IMHO, therefore, the Impersonator is a step forwards and a keeper, at least for those who know how to deal with a typical clean and bright Strat tone.
The information above may not be current, and you should direct questions to the current forum or review the manual.