Swineshead Xbucker Review
Original author: Buttmonk
Weapon: Electric Guitar Pickups
Model: Swineshead Xbuckers
Price: Price paid and where it was bought, (9/10), £50 per pickup, direct from Swineshead web site in UK (free shipping).
Swineshead Pickups Xbucker bridge and neck humbuckers, matched pair, plastic finish, 1 cream and 1 black coil on each pickup (Xbucker specs).
I bought these about 6 months ago and initially put them in my Carvin Bolt+ kit. Have just recently transplanted them into my new USA Custom Guitars/Warmoth home grown all mahogany Ultra V. Wiring is 2 push/pull 500Kohm pots with a 3-way which gives the following options: neck, bridge, neck+bridge, coil tap (same as here but without the tone pots: http://www.swinesheadpickups.co.uk/2hbpp.shtml). With the coils split it doesn't sound like your jingly jangly Bender Shat-o'-blaster, but it does produce its own rendition of the single coil sound and the tones are certainly usable.. Previously I have had guitars with crap stock pickups, Carvin pickups, and EMG81s. I have been using these primarily through an Orange Tiny Terror head and PPC112 cab without any effects.
Own musical preference
Rock, Metal, Blues. The Xbucker is a very high output pickup designed to help push your amp into distortion and work well with lots of gain. It suits rock and metal very well which is of course what it is designed for. It is perfectly useable for other type of music too, but of course there are more suitable products out their if you want to play clean.
Ease of use
(8/10): Well.....its a pickup, u stick it in ur guitar and it "picks up". the only reason I wanted to comment in this section is that I think (at least compared to my Carvin pickups) the total depth of the pickup is a little deeper than normal by a few mms since it has a thicker plastic base and the wire that comes out of the bottom is quite thick (well insulated). On both the guitar bodies in which I have fitted them, I routed out a small recess in the bottom of the pickup cavities to accomodate the wire. I would not say that you have to do this but I did it since it was a bit of a squeeze otherwise. Your mileage my vary, perhaps the pickup size is standard but the pickup routes in my Carvin and Warmoth bodies are not deep enough... At least they are both guitars that have low bridges (recessed Wilkinson in the Carvin and recessed tun-o-matic in the Warmoth) so of course the gap between strings and body is small and therefore pickups have to sit low, and the manufacturers maybe do not compensate for this by routing deeper pickup pockets.
(9/10): Very robust sounding. Lots of low end but not overbaring. Smooth treble, particularly from the neck. There is certainly enough high frequency information for heavy and distorted music, but not so much that it makes your ears bleed at high volumes. My impression is that the high end has been purposefully recessed to create a treble shy balance and it is a balance I am happy with for the mentioned music genres. This is also how Swineshead describe it in their specs. Mid range good, but maybe a little recessed, or maybe it is the bass that dominates it a bit. With high distortion, pounding away on your big E string, if you need to hit a high freqeuncy note you need to make sure that you strike it well otherwise it will get lost in the low-end. The bridge pickup really cuts through under heavy distortion but never sounds harsh, just big and heavy. Good for palm mutes. The neck is well matched to the bridge and has very similar qualities, but is of course smoother, good for "creamy" solos. I find it easier to do pinch harmonics with these pickups than any others I have owned. These pickups are not the most detailed pickups you will find, but again that is not the primary design requirement. By all means they are responsive to nuances of your picking, just not as much as some of the other lower output pickups I have owned. High sensitivty is of course not such a big deal if you play with distortion and may even be an unwanted quality for some applications e.g. my Carvin pickups are quite detailed and seem to have a fairly flat response which means you can hear everything, like the pick scraping against the winding of your big E when palm muting, which is not what you want normally.
(10/10): No issue so far. Seem to be built very well. Largely plastic but it seems to be good quality and the base plate is quite thick.
(11/10): Had to add this as a new section because Swineshead customer service really deserves a special mention. Of course their business model is pretty consumer friendly i.e. you go to their site, just chose the pickup you want and then select from the miriade options for the finish, from coloured plastic to real wood, to metal covered. Then they hand build it for you and deliver it direct to your doorstep for free without going through any "middle man". But on top of this, when I first put the Xbuckers in my Carvin I drilled out the mounting holes in the pickup base plate slightly because the Carvin has direct mount pickups which have slightly larger wood screws. Then when I built the USACG/Warmoth V, I built it with pickup mounting rings which means I needed the holes in the pickup to be smaller again:) So I mailed Swineshead and asked if they could ship me another pickup base. They responded saying that they could, but the pickup is quite delicate if you take the base of and they would recommend that I send it back to them to do the job, or alternatively they would post me (to Finland) some thicker screws, which they have done for free. I just thought this was pretty cool, it is of course no fault of theirs if I have been stupid enough to modify their product, but they were nice enough to try and help me out anyway free of charge.
(10/10): Gnarly yet smooth, big sounding, balanced, metallurgist's pickup, great value for money. Not the last word in subtlety, though neither is the music it is designed to play. Highly recommended. I have seen good reviews for the other pickups in their range, I will probably be putting Venoms in my next guitar, Swineshead describe these as having a more flat response across the frequency spectrum.