Stewart-McDonald Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups
Giving a kit guitar a better (and louder) voice
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 9-24-2012
The pickups that came with my Custom 1 kit guitar did make guitar noises but we have to be realistic. Kits are meant to be cheap so they are not going to include the high-dollar electronics that can define how a guitar sounds. After playing this kit guitar for a while I thought that it could use some help so I decided on the basic hot-rodding change of aftermarket pickups. The Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickup Set (from Stewart-MacDonald.com) reviewed here were chosen because of the widespread respect they have earned and the reasonable price tag. My kind of guitar parts!
The Stewart-McDonald literature says that they patterned the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups after the legendary PAF (Patent Applied For) vintage models that pretty much got modern day rock music started. Along with brute power I wanted pickups that would give me a nice tone and the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups seemed to be right for the task.
The Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups are like the originals in that the slug coil has more windings than the polepiece coil, and neither coil is potted. The old PAFs (patent applied for) were never designated as being for the neck or bridge but the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups are available that way. The old standard versions had a DC resistance of 7 to 9 ohms and that was it. The Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups come in neck-position versions that are wound to mid 7K, and bridge-position models wound to low 8K.
Stewart-McDonald also gives you two magnet choices. The Alnico 2 for warm tone with smooth highs and a soft bottom response and the Alnico 5 that produces a clear tone with more pronounced highs and a tighter low end. Those are Stewart-McDonald descriptions right from their literature but now after hearing the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups on my guitar, I agree wholeheartedly. If anything Stewart-MacDonald might be understating things just a tick.
Other Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups features include nickel silver covers, 1.97" (50.04mm) polepiece spread, enameled AWG42 coil wire, a wood spacer, nickel-silver baseplate and a single-conductor braided shield output wire that keeps things nice and quiet between the sweetness the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups are capable of producing.
I opted for the Stewart-McDonald kit that comes with a #5416 Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickup for the bridge position that features an Alinco #2 magnet and a #5409 pickup for the neck that uses an Alinco #5 magnet. Both pickups come with a set of screws and springs for mounting in Gibson style mounts.
The Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups are direct replacements for the ones that came in the guitar kit originally with even the mounting rings fitting the new pickups. The Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups are 2.75" (69.85mm)-long, 1.5" (38.10mm)-wide and .840" (21.34mm)-tall measured at the mounting tabs. I did use the new springs and screws that came with the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups but this really is a “drop in” installation.
I did have to unsolder the wires from the original pickups and replace those with the much heavier, shielded wires coming from the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups. If you do this installation one pickup at a time it goes easily and you get the right controls wired to the correct pickup.
To say that the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups woke up my kit guitar would be a major understatement. The Custom 1 Kit guitar is now louder overall but the full range of sound has expanded as well. There are more lows, mids and highs with a clarity that surprised me a bit out of these distortion-king pickups. They certainly do sound great when overpowered through the amp but if you want deep, clear full sound, the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups deliver that in a big way.
I have yet to fully adjust the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups height or the polepieces individually but the performance increase so far has been dramatic. I expect that once I get them fully dialed in after thrashing the Custom 1 Kit some the sound will get even better. I am fully impressed!
The # 5416-S Kit from Stewart-MacDonald has a street price of $110.95 (8-18-2012) and is worth every penny in my estimation. I am still exploring the full range of what these pickups can do but the improvement right now is far beyond what I expected. If you are looking to replace some plain-Jane Humbucker style pickups, consider the Parsons Street™ Humbucking Pickups. I expect that you will also be very happy with the results.