Bare Knuckle Humbuckers - Cold Sweat and Miracle Man Review

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General Information

Original Author: Shime

Weapon: Humbucker Pickups

Make: Bare Knuckle

Model: Cold Sweat and Miracle Man

Price paid: 100 € each (local BKP dealer Belgium)

INSTALLED IN: Gibson Explorer (2008), mahogany body and set mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard
REPLACING: stock Gibson 496R and 500T humbuckers

Description and Specs

Cold Sweat Humbucker

Web ad/description (you can find it here):
"Screaming highs and ultra fast bass response harness all the drama of thunder and lightning!
The Cold Sweat humbucker is designed for the rock guitarist seeking evolved vintage attitude with a completely modern edge. Coils of vintage correct plain enamel wire are scatterwound by hand and powered by a custom sized ceramic magnet [note: it's an alnico for the neck - Shime]. The tone is enormous with a detailed intensity and incredible amounts of high end cut and fluid sustain."

Technical Specifications (neck position)
Hand wound passive humbucker, black, open-poled
DC: 8.3K
Magnet: Alnico V
Coil split option installed

Miracle Man Humbucker

Web ad/description (you can find it here)
"Straight talking attitude, colossal power and trademark harmonics. The Miracle Man features individually scatterwound exposed coils and a powerful ceramic magnet for maximum drive and clarity. Tight bass, smooth mid range response and an articulate top end prove that power need not be a substitute for tremendous sound quality."

Technical Specifications (bridge position) Hand wound passive humbucker, black, open-poled
DC: 17.5k
Magnet: Ceramic
Coil split option installed

Reasons for Replacement

My Explorer was sounding a bit one-dimensional, with stock pickups being very hot and great for hard rock and heavy metal, with full deep tone but often missing subtleness and versatility with cleaner sounds (and everyting in between). At the same time basses in the neck sounded a bit boomy and had issues of muddiness when played at the bridge with heavy distortion, especially as compared to the EMGs on my other guitar. I was looking for new pickups that could handle metal very well including drop tunings, but with enough versatility and dynamics for a range of other tones as well. Bare Knuckle's Tim Mills recommended the Cold Sweat/Miracle Man combination.

General Evaluation

This pickup combo does everything I was looking for and so much more. Tonewise the Cold Sweat and Miracle Man each deliver as advertised on the Bare Knuckle website. Both in their respective positions sound full and deep yet very clear. Excellent control and channeling of the Gibson's mahogany wood tone, no boominess or muddiness. Tight note definition, plenty of punch but retaining maximum articulation when played even with heavily saturated distortion; subtle and sparkling cleans. The pickups are perfectly voiced for their respective neck and bridge positions. The key words are balance, versatility and dynamics for both, with added 'power' (Miracle Man) and 'depth' (Cold Sweat). In combination, three positions (neck, middle, bridge) together with split coil options on both pickups provide for an incredible range of tonal options, from drop-tuned modern metal to vintage rock, blues and jazzy cleans.

Sound quality - Specific Impressions

This appreciation is inevitably subjective and also depends a great deal on the kind of gear you play. So I start with some notes on the equipment I use and which I can compare the pickups with. Then I give some impressions on sound quality from 'metal' to 'clean' and everything in between.

Equipment Used/Compared to

Pickups/guitars:- Stock Gibson 496R and 500T humbuckers in the Explorer
- EMG S-S-81 active pickups in my 1986 Aria Pro II stage III Mega Metal series (alder body, maple neck, rosewoord fingerboard)
- Fender hot single coil pickups in my American Vintage '62 reissue Jaguar (alder body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard)

Amps played through:
- Peavey 6505 tube 2x12 combo
- Fender 75 all tube 1x15 combo

Effects used:
None except for the amps' spring reverb; gain and overdrive on the tubes, with added distortion (boss ml-2) and dynamic exciter for metal sounds on the Fender 75

Metal (mainly Miracle Man, bridge)

The Miracle Man in the bridge is suitable for anything metal-ish from 80s thrash to contemporary metal & metalcore, in standard as well as dropped tunings (I haven't gone below dropped Db for now). Chugging is bliss on these, there's punch, attack and tight bottom end. Note articulation and definition remain intact with the heaviest of distortions, even when strumming open chords. Sound is superb on the mids as well for high-gain leads (here I tend to a/b switch from the Peavey to my mid-boosted Fender amp). On the high side no harshness is detected even in the most trebly settings. Sustain is massive, but that I think is more an issue of woods, necks and amps.

As compared to the EMG81 in my alder metal axe (**drumroll**), the Miracle Man has the same aggressiveness, tightness and punch, being slightly more organic at the same time. The EMG81 continues to have a slightly more compact edge on the lows. With the same amp settings, the Miracle Man in my mahogany Gibson is even a bit louder than the EMG81 in my Aria. In short: the EMG remains true to its metal reputation, but if ever there was a high output passive humbucker for metal, then the Miracle Man is it! Compared to the original stock pickup, the Miracle Man takes away all the boominess and muddiness of the Gibson 500T and tonewise only leaves the memory of a rather dull and lifeless sound. The same goes for the Cold Sweat in the neck as compared to the Gibson 496R.

Cleans (mainly Cold Sweat, neck plus various neck/bridge combinations with Miracle Man)

This is where this pickup combo truly takes off and leaves the other ones lightyears behind. No effects necessary; the dynamic response of the pickups, combined with the wood of the guitar, tone/volume controls, the neck/middle/bridge switch and coil splits gives me a whole spectrum of beautiful jazzy clean and bluesy semi-clean tones. I wish I knew more clean stuff! But with this combo I could just endlessly strum or arpeggiate simple clean chords in different ways and at different speeds, without ever getting bored. The depth and subtlety of esp. the Cold Sweat alnico neck pickup is amazing. On clean settings these pickups make my Peavey 6505 sound like a boutique vintage amp (I kid you not; impossible to do with EMGs nor with the Jaguar single coils). And when I switch to my Fender tube amp... Before, I thought nothing could beat the cleans of my Jaguar when played through my Fender 75. Now, with the Bare Knuckles with coil splits in my Gibson Explorer, I don't even need the Jaguar anymore (I sold it as a matter of fact). I'm sure there's plenty of good pickups for clean sounds, but for now the Cold Sweat has some of the most beautiful cleans that I have ever heard.

Blues to vintage and hard rock (Miracle Man - Cold Sweat combo)

I have only begun to scratch the surface here but as may already be obvious from the above, there's a huge range of tonal possibilities for anything from extreme metal to jazzy cleans depending on amp settings and the amount of tube gain and overdrive you use these pickups with. Most of your favourite blues rock & vintage tones can be captured without effort - Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Lynyrd Skynyrd, SRV, etc. etc. etc.

Customer Suppport

Service and support at BKP is exemplary, staff are extremely knowledgeable and friendly. All my questions by e-mail were answered within 2 hours max (!). Explain what you are looking for and Tim Mills and his people will point you in the right direction. Their recommendation of the Cold Sweat / Miracle Man combo turned out to be a full hit.

Overall Rating

These pickups may be expensive but they are well worth their money. Until now I owned and played a Gibson Explorer with Gibson 496R/500T pups, an Aria Pro II metal axe with EMG 81/S/S pickups, and a Fender USA Jaguar with hot single coils. Tonewise, this combo covers them all - and then some. Truly amazing.

Further Resources

- Harmony Central user reviews: Miracle Man; Cold Sweat
- Sound clips for these and any other Bare Knuckle pickups can be found here (recording sound clips myself didn't make any sense as I don't have the proper recording equipment)