Kinman Pickups Review

This is a quick review of the Kinman Pickups I installed in my strat. Next week I’ll do a review on the TremKing and Warmoth stuff too.


What I Wanted

Until recently I have only played classical guitar so I had no idea what pickups/amps could, or should, sound like. So before deciding, I went to many music shops to play their guitars and try to gain an understanding for what good gear should sound and feel like.

After trying various guitars and pickups at music stores, I noticed that cheap single coils tend to have a harsh top-end. Even though single coils need to have a bright, detailed sound, I felt it should be possible without extra harshness. Conversely, the stock noiseless pickups in the American strat which I tried seemed to lack brilliance and detail. Obviously, I was after a noiseless pickup with a top-end that was somewhere in between – not too harsh, but plenty of detail.

Another issue I noticed with some stacked humbuckers was that many did not respond well to picking dynamics, or had a squashed attack or both. Also, the low-noise Lace Sensor equipped guitar I played had a very slow attack which ‘thudded’ rather than ‘twanged’ (very technical terms :) ).

So I set about looking for stacked pickups known for having a wide dynamic range, a smoother top-end, and an articulate attack. According to reviews and popular opinion the pickups from Kinman were hard to beat. It was impossible for me to audition these pickups for myself, so I ordered them sight-unseen based on the reviews.

I had the choice of a Blues set, Woodstock set or a Traditional set. Being a classical-turned-electric I haven’t developed my own personal taste/preferences yet, so I played it safe and went with the Traditionals which seemed to be somewhere in between the Blues and Woodstock sets.

What They Delivered

These pickups are exactly what I was after. They are open and dynamic, so they respond well to changes in my picking strength, but not excessively open, so a crunchy setting on the amp would not result in overly distorted attack, with little overdrive on the tail. Rather, they maintained a consistent amount of crunchy break-up with regular playing, but would still ‘leap out’ if I played heavily.

Apparently the Woodstocks have an even wider dynamic range, but for me that would have been too much. My guess is that the increased openness of the Woodstocks would suit somebody with a heavier gauge string or a heavier picking technique, or both. For me though, with a fairly light touch and extra light strings, these pickups were adequately open without sacrificing much ‘meat’ or thickness of tone. The Blues set is supposed to be the exact opposite – thicker, meatier tone, and more output but reduced dynamic range.

I found that these pickups are quite sensitive to how high or low you set them. Setting the pickups closer to the strings created a clearer, ‘bitey’ tone, whilst lowering the pickup would create a ‘woody’ sound and smooth out the top end. Either way, the top-end was never ever harsh, and the mids were never muddy.

The K-9 NoSolder Harness

The wiring options in the K-9 harness make the strat extremely versatile – so much so that I will never likely have a strat without a blender pot in the future. Of course, you don’t need to have the K-9 harness to wire these pickups (or any other pickups for that matter) with a blender pot – you just need to have a few basic soldering skills and be able to follow a schematic.

Though I love the blender pot, I’m not so sure about the usefulness of the push-push pot to switch the middle and bridge pickups in series. The series option is supposed to create a thicker ‘humbucker-like’ tone. I won’t be using that setting very often but it is nice to have it just in case – though I’m not particularly fond of humbuckers
generally, so I didn’t really expect to like it.
One setting I’ve never heard of before, which I thoroughly love having, is the option of having the mid and bridge in series (using the push-push pot), AND blending the neck in parallel. This gives a gorgeous hollow haunting sound, which creates a nice (albeit, unconventional) jazz tone. It’s nice to be able to control the amount of neck pickup with a knob rather than a switch (ala tele wiring). It means that I can dial in just the right amount of hollowness, and I can get a wide range of usable sounds just by varying how much neck pickup I dial in.

Conclusion

Like I said, for the heavy strung, heavy handed blues player, you may like to go for the Woodstocks, but for me these pickups felt just right. As for the top end, the pickup can be smooth and woody without being dull; or bright and brilliant, without being harsh, simply by raising or lowering the pickup a few turns. And though the pickups are versatile in themselves, the K-9 harness adds another welcome dimension, which is well worth the extra few bucks.

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