Following on from my “Taming the Tone Zone – continued” post, I have been conducting some more “invasive” modifications to the popular DiMarzio pickup. I decided to open up the Tone Zone and try some magnet modifications.
Some people are probably questioning my reasons for doing so many modifications with pickups. “Why don’t I just buy something that suits you better” I’m sure is something many would say. The reason is that I’m quite often on a strict budget, being a family man with mortgage, kids and all. Tinkering away with things to suit me better saves me the hassle of buying and selling, and is usually quite minimal in cost. Plus it’s also fun to experiment with things, and make something kind of unique.
First up, here is a demo of the stock Tone Zone, taken from the samples I recorded in the capacitor tone tests. The same riffs are played for all subsequent modification demos.
The half-air mod
The first modification I tried was the half-air mod. I have written a guide on how to perform the half-air mod if you missed it.
Here is the resulting tone:
The half-air mod opens up the tone a bit, with a little less compression and output. The boomy low end nature of the Tone Zone is lowered a bit as well.
It is said that a half-aired Tone Zone is essentially what DiMarzio built for the bridge position of the Ernie Ball Music Man Eddie Van Halen signature models. I’d love to get my hands on one of the EBMM pickups to confirm this. Anyone have one they are happy to get rid of?
The IBZ/USA F2
DiMarzio have made a number of OEM pickups for Ibanez over the years. One of the most popular is the IBZ/USA F2, which was found in a number of RG series, S series, and Radius, to name a few.
DiMarzio compare the IBZ/USA F2 to the Tone Zone. The F2 has a little more output, a ceramic magnet (the Tone Zone has an Alnico 5), symmetrical coils, and uses Allen head screws for all pole-pieces (the Tone Zone has screws in one coil, and slugs in the other).
Here is the stock IBZ/USA F2 tone:
Listening to the IBZ/USA F2, it does have a similar tone when compared to the Tone Zone. It has a fairly compressed high gain tone with a lot of low end and mids. It is a little brighter than the Tone Zone, and not quite as boomy.
Comparing the two
I wanted to compare the Tone Zone and IBZ/USA F2 by swapping the magnets, so that the Tone Zone had a ceramic magnet, and the F2 an Alnico 5 magnet. This was brought on by the fact that both pickups are quite popular with Ibanez aficionados. Some find the Tone Zone to thick, and prefer the F2, while others like the organic fatness of the Tone Zone and find the F2 a bit too brittle.
I thought by swapping out magnets people would be able to save a bit of coin by getting pretty close to the tone of the pickup they prefer.
First I installed the Alnico 5 magnet in the IBZ/USA F2, and you can hear it has a similar tone to the Tone Zone, although there is more treble present. It feels a sounds a bit more balanced than the Tone Zone, and probably a bit less compressed than the stock F2. This would probably be due to the Alnico 5 magnet lowering the output of the F2 a small amount.
Here is a demo of the IBZ/USA F2 with an Alnico 5 magnet:
I was quite surprised when I installed the ceramic magnet into the Tone Zone. The ceramic magnet seemed to clean up the tone a little, although it’s probably got a bit more output. There is definitely a bit more clarity in the tone. The interesting thing is that both modified pickups sound remarkably similar
Here is a demo of the Tone Zone with a ceramic magnet:
So both of the modified pickups are sounding very similar, and I’m quite liking the resulting tone. I currently have the ceramic Tone Zone installed in my Ibanez RG550, and I think I’ll keep in there for a while now. I’ll still probably do some tinkering with it soon. Once you get the DIY bug it’s hard to stop.