I love the sound of my Flys so much, I want to mod my strats...

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Jupiter
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I love the sound of my Flys so much, I want to mod my strats...

Post by Jupiter »

OK, here''s the deal...

I spent almost 30 years playing strictly low output SSS strats. I used to love that sound, I recorded a buttload of tracks until one day, late 2019, something was just wrong...I started experimenting with single coil sized humbuckers, and I found my sonic nirvana after I went HHH, single coil sized but full humbucker voicing in all positions. No coil splits/taps, everything in full humbucker mode.

So my #1 stat has the Tone Zone S/Pro Track/Pro Track (bridge/middle/neck) and my #2 strat has the Air Norton S/Pro Track/Pro Track (bridge/middle/neck). I love them both but my favorite is with the Tone Zone S in the bridge.

And then came the Flys...

I stopped touching my strats until a month ago, I wanted to have at least one of my strats available for recordings, well, it's nice to have different sounds at your disposal, right? Right...

Just one slight problem...even my #1 strat sounds dull compared to my #2 Fly (my prerefined Deluxe, I don't know why, but my prerefined Classic is my #1 guitar no matter the brand etc.)! Funny huh? I know that the internet is full of "Parker guitars sound sterile, hifi blah blah blah" but that's not what my ears hear.

Soooo, I am thinking of going full HHH and I mean normal sized humbuckers by modifying my #1 strat. The routing is SSS but it won't cost much to make it HHH. So, that's that. Wiring won't be a problem, both my strats are loaded with Obsidianwire harnesses, #1 has the HSH/HSS 7switch Gen 2, #2 has the old HSS 5switch.

Now, from what I understand the pups of my Flys (again, both prerefined) are based on the Tone Zone (bridge) and the Air Norton (neck), right?

So, logically, wouldn't these pickups be a good starting point? I think the Tone Zone in the bridge would be a safe decision. I really don't know about the Air Norton for the neck position, I had tried the Air Norton S in the neck and to me it was just unusable (I play mostly clean). On the other hand, the Air Norton and Air Norton S are different pups, so it could work.

I don't know, if you guys wanted to get similar sound (straight from the pups) from your strats (and let's assume that they can already accommodate normal humbuckers), which pups would you opt for?
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Re: I love the sound of my Flys so much, I want to mod my strats...

Post by Jupiter »

I forgot, question...

For my strats, I should go for the F-spaced ones, right?
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Re: I love the sound of my Flys so much, I want to mod my strats...

Post by mmmguitar »

Yes; the bridge humbucker should be F-spaced - But for most guitars, polepiece spacing is more cosmetic than anything else. I think the alnico V magnet types of the Gen 1 pickups are a safe spec to stick with, rather than a particular wind/model - You're liable to find pickups in the same output range which ultimately sound better in your Strat than the Fly pickups would.

As a fellow tonechaser, I'm looking forward to reading of/hearing your findings, @Jupiter. The short of my prescriptive thoughts on the topic is that identifying what it is about your Classic that your best-sounding Strat lacks, then finally arriving a pickup which sounds like it makes up the difference should be the shortest path to what you hope to achieve. Of course, this rabbit hole goes deeper than that:

Adrian Belew went down a path very similar to yours; in that he played customized Strats for 30+ years, then found he could no longer hear what he wanted from them once his Flys had spoiled him. He likewise put a Tone Zone in his most recent custom shop Strats; in the hope it would be a step closer to what he was accustomed to hearing from his Parkers. Unfortunately, it sounded less like a Parker Fly; and moreso like a Strat with a Tone Zone in it (he ended up settling for compensating in the global EQ settings for his Axe FX, depending on which guitar he's running into it).

As I understand it, the Dimarzio Tone Zone and Air Norton were decided upon as starting points for the OEM Fly pickups for the same reason the 250k tone pot was: R&D determined that players accustomed to other guitars were put off by how hi-fi the Fly sounded as a consequence of its novel construction and, so, the spec'd ohmage of the pickup winds and pots were chosen because they mitigated these distinguishing characteristics (in the manner of a low-pass filter through which the resonant peaks of the signal could be bottlenecked). This has informed my own preferences and experiments (which I'll ramble about, following the next few walls of text).

Here's an abridged series of paraphrased quotes from Steve Blucher (Dimarzio) concerning Fly pickups (originally posted on Jemsite):
The first generation Parker humbucking pickups were derived from an neck Air Norton and a bridge Tone Zone. These pickups were not designed
specifically for the Fly [...] Steve told me that he and another Parker Fly enthusiast/DiMarzio employee designed the custom P1/P2 [Gen 2] pickups for themselves and found that they were a drastic improvement over the originals so they presented them to Parker. At the time Korg was still distributing Parker guitars and these new pickups were analyzed in a "big and fancy" Korg soundroom and compared against many traditional and vintage instruments. Here they found that the new pickups also gave the Fly a more traditional sound so they decided to go with them as standard equipment. One of the biggest complaints from early Fly owners was that they wanted more traditional sounds so this was one factor in Korg/Parker's decision to make the change.

[...]There are two significant design limitations for any pickup in the Fly. 1) size restriction, and 2) native instrument tonality. He told me that quite simply the pickup's output is dependent on the size of the pickup's magnet. And the size of the Fly's pickup cavity will not allow a large "distortion class" magnet (like an X2N or a Super Distortion.) Secondly, the bright tonality of the Fly, which Steve felt is one of its coolest features, requires that a pickup have a lot of winding to reduce the brightness and produce a smoother tone. I guess this is why the DC resistance of the P1/P2 pickups are so high compared to other DiMarzio humbuckers.

Steve told me that the mass of most guitars reduces the string's treble response. The Fly is different because of the partial composite construction, the bridge, and (most significantly) the reduced weight. He said that the Fly is one of the brightest guitars he's worked with (he mentioned the aluminum bodied Able Axe as the brightest he's heard.) He said that this brightness and even frequency response is a fantastic feature of the Fly. It gives a pickup designer a lot of leverage and gives the players a very linear and consistent tone. He told me specifically that one unique result of this is that on a Parker Deluxe/Artist/Classic you can not hear any (or as dramatic of a) difference between a 12th fret D on a wound D string and a 7th fret D on an unwound G string as you can on just about any other electric guitar. I tested this on my Supreme vs some of my other guitars and he's right about this. I never really noticed that before.
My inference is that, because the original intent was for the Tone Zone to make a Fly sound less like a Fly, one can't expect the pickup to make a Strat sound more like a Fly. Of course, this speaks to a more universal principle in tonechasing: We expect transparency in a transducer to the extent that it doesn't diminish what we like about a particular instrument, while also expecting it to color or accentuate whichever characteristics we feel are lacking. The struggle is in that said traits do not necessarily remain consistent between two examples of the same instrument - much less two products of differing construction philosophies.

I was blessed to have had four Flys laying around my house for a few years prior to scoring my Belew model. That they each had their own character meant that I threw a lot of money at experimenting with swapping different pickups and component values between them, just to learn whether I could get one to sound "better" than the others. When I felt I had, I would try to get one of the others to beat that one. At the end of the day, I felt there were immutable characteristics acting as a hard ceiling on how much further each guitar could seemingly be refined (to my shot ears, anyway).

So where my '96 Deluxe sounded "best" with a 12KΩ Pete Biltoft bridge pickup and 1MΩ volume pot, my '11 Supreme (with the same pickup and pot transplanted into it) failing to share enough baseline qualities in common with the other guitar meant that the combo was ultimately not prescriptive for anything more than that one, particular guitar. My experience has been that it is all case-by-case evaluation and prescription.

Like you, I endeavored to somehow get my non-Fly guitars to sound closer to what I enjoyed about my Flys. I transplanted the Gen 1 neck pickup I had enjoyed in the bridge position of my '97 Deluxe over to my Strandberg and, again, found the results underwhelming. So I determined what it was I felt the Gen 1 neck was lacking in the Strandberg (output, bass, low mids), and purchased a Dimarzo DP202 Al DiMeola bridge pickup in the hope that its specs would make up the difference: Success! Though, of course, when I bought a different Strandberg and DP202 pairing, the magic didn't carry over. This resulted in that Strandberg being sold, and that DP202 found its way into the Belew Fly (where I'm quite happy with it).

Which circles back to my original point: If you play your Classic, then play your Strat through the same rig for the sake of identifying what your ears are telling you the Strat is missing, you can shop for a pickup which hopefully bridges those gaps to an extent you're content with. In fact, much of this is strictly a matter of peace of mind; which no one but you will be liable to detect or distinguish between.

I've attached two short, melodic phrases as an example: It's two different guitars with the same pickup, a short cable, and the same amp settings (along with a bit of reverb). Though I sound no less mediocre when playing the guitar I like more, it's certainly fun to tell ourselves we can achieve something to the contrary whenever we want to buy something.
Lead comparison.mp3
(318.69 KiB) Downloaded 185 times
Summary of the Parker Guitars speculator market from 2020 onward: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_fool_theory
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Re: I love the sound of my Flys so much, I want to mod my strats...

Post by Jupiter »

@mmmguitar wow, your reply is PRICELESS, thank you so much for your time!

All valid points, and don't get me started on the pup rabbit hole, been there, done that a "few" times.

Now, some extra infos on my side.

I've been playing strictly with Fractal gear since 2011 when I sold every single amp, pedal, recording gear I had and never looked back. Right now I own an FM9. I have only one preset I built for every single guitar I own. That makes things very easy for me in terms of directly comparing all my guitars to each other the moment I plug them. Another funny thing, this preset was built to complement my strats, lol, I haven't change it much or at all since my Flys came in. Come to think of it, I wish I'd still have the AF3, I would just Tonematch them (both ways just to be sure) and able to see exactly what's different in terms of frequencies...

Right now, soundwise, my #1 guitar is the Classic, followed by the Deluxe, followed by the Tone Zone S/Pro Track/Pro Track strat, followed by the Air Norton S/Pro Track/Pro Track strat (this one is retired nowadays, it has no role anymore). The reason I like better one strat over the other is just the bridge pickup, both are exactly the same otherwise.

Why the Classic sounds better than the Deluxe (to me), I really don't know. I know that for some reason my '98 Classic has a Gen2 bridge pickup (neck is still a Gen1) and a mahogany body instead of poplar. I play 99% clean, so while I do use the bridge pups, I don't spent a lot of time with them, so it's not the pups. I would be happy with either, but since I am lucky to own the Classic too, the Classic is my #1. The neck pup just sounds "warmer" if that makes sense (all things equal, guitar setup, pups height, same brand and gauge strings etc). In this case I think I could dial each of these to sound similar to the other with a few EQ settings.

I bought the Deluxe back in May and the Classic one month later. So. I've spent way more time playing these (I rotate them, if one needs new strings, it goes in its case and I use the other one) than my strats since. Truth to be told, for months and months I didn't touch the strats until a month ago.

Maybe my ears got reset? I never get my self out of the equation in "subjective" things like sound, I do trust my deaf ears (which are just the sensors) but I don't trust my brain (which does the "processing").

I play the Deluxe, unplug it, plug the strat, the strat sounds dull. Just dull. Not icepicky (ok, maaaaaaby a tad more highs), not dark, not middy, not scooped, just dull, lifeless. Mind that things like piercing high frequencies, extreme or lack of mids (no more a single coil guy, I just can't stand scooped pups), extreme attack (actually the strat has a tad more attack too, I think) etc. just piss me off and I don't need anything more to just stop playing any guitar with these qualities. Maybe irrelevant, but both strats and both Flys are equally resonant (VERY!).

Dull, just dull. Obviously, and since that strat was my #1 with that setup for the last 2-3 years, it's not the strat per se, it's the comparisson with either my Flys.

So, I too tried to think of a few reasons. I can't "hear" the woods as there are several other factors and I don't have the means to "isolate" it and come to a conclusion like that, hey, my strat is alrder body and maple neck, the Deluxe is poplar body and basswood neck (plus the composites), so that must be it. Same thing with the wirings etc. Too many factors synthesizes the final result.

Funny thing...I really don't know why, but until yesterday (duh!), I always thought the Fly pups were ceramic...stupid thing, I figured, well the Tone Zone S and Air Norton S are ceramics, so these must be too. Well, of course they are Alnico and I found it out when I was browsing the Dimarzio site, reading about the Tone Zone and Air Norton, trying to compare them with their single coil sized versions.

Could this it be what I am "hearing"? Could on of the factors be ceramic vs alnico? Who knows...

I would never want the strats to sound exactly like my Flys, I always need to have a guitar with a bit different sound, variety is good for recordings. In fact that why I love having three pickups, my strats don't sound like SGs, LPs etc, but every single position (no coil tap/split coils here, always full humbucker mode) is 100% usable to me.

What I would like is to make my strat to sound "alive" just my Flys do, just be in the same ballpark.

I am not gonna rush, I need some time to process all the infos you provided, do some thinking, do a lot of searching and take it from there. I really don't want to go through the rabbit hole again, I can't afford it in terms of time, energy and of course financially.

But If or when I pull the trigger, I'll opt for full size alnico humbuckers, that's for sure, which means I will fist have to route my strat for HHH config (naaah, I think I'll opt for a pool, maybe my luthier will remove so much wood it will also get significantly ligther, lol).

Thank you so much for the infos, God, I love this place!
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Re: I love the sound of my Flys so much, I want to mod my strats...

Post by mmmguitar »

FWIW, @Jupiter, it's the Gen 2 pickups which are ceramic; with the bridge pickup in your Classic spec'd by Dimarzio as "Ceramic magnet, output 334mV, DCR 17.54KΩ."

The reason for the ceramic magnets, in this case, is to offset the treble loss caused by the capacitance of having so many winds of wire on the bobbins. For your Strat pickups utilizing ceramic magnets, Steve Blucher has claimed in various interviews that he tends to go ceramic whenever he's designing within relatively small bobbin width or hight dimensions; and needs a magnet with sufficiently high gauss relative to its size. He's also using it to boost the inductance of pickups in which he can't achieve the desired level of output through number of winds alone, without also incurring a significant attenuation of treble frequencies as a consequence.

The "full-size" Tone Zone, for example, is spec'd by Dimarzio as "Alnico V magnet, output 375mV, DCR 17.31KΩ." The Tone Zone S is spec'd "Ceramic magnet, output 300V, DCR 12.39KΩ." The latter specs are merely the recipe Blucher arrived at to produce a pickup within single coil size constraints which his ears told him was similar enough in character to the "full-size" version that he was confident fans of the original would agree - The specs don't correlate in any other respect. And you can expect to find similar disparities in the specs of whichever pickups you find approximate what you like about your Flys (or, at least, to whichever extent you find similarly inspiring).

The bad news is that I've found every guitar to have a ceiling on how much you can tweak what isn't there - I'm not sure it's possible to get a Strat to sound like a Fly unless the Strat was similarly resonant as a consequence of having low mass and high rigidity. The only "Strats" I've found which come close are the Vigiers with the carbon-reinforced necks. And though they sounded great, they still didn't have the "extra" highs and lows I believe Flys exhibit as a consequence of their construction. I felt this was also true of the Steinberger, Strandberg, and Aristides guitars I've owned (with all having varying degrees of CF reinforcement).

Similarly to you, I use a Fractal rig in which each of my guitars has its own range of presets across genres. The other edge of that sword is that it quickly becomes apparent which of my guitars sounds the worst - It's a heavy punch to the wallet.
Summary of the Parker Guitars speculator market from 2020 onward: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_fool_theory
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