It was Seth Lover who gave us the humbucker pickup whilst working at Gibson in the mid-50s. By wiring two coils and then ensuring they were out of phase and then reversing the magnetic polarity.
It took away that ’60 cycle hum’ that Fender guitars were notorious for. Some liked the new pickup. Others didn’t. Back then, a Seymour Duncan Black Winter Review such as this one could not have been imagined.
Not well-received by some…
Some players thought it was part of the Fender sound, that single-coil sound. It was, but it could be a pain. But not all the Gibson lovers liked it either. It replaced the P90, which had been the Gibson Les Paul pickups at the time. That didn’t go down well in some quarters.
Sales dropped as people weren’t sure. But guitarists and future players got used to it. It bred a whole new type of guitarist. People who wanted to play loud. It was great for that. In fact, would the Les Paul have attracted so much attention later on without it? Possibly not.
These days everyone seems to be making them. Though they are not all what you might refer to as any good. However, Seymour Duncan’s pickups are good. Very good.
A new word emerges…
So what exactly is a ‘Trembucker’? It isn’t complicated, it is still a humbucker pickup, and there are no tonal differences. But the spacing of the pole pieces is different. This is caused by the use of a Floyd Rose tremolo and bridge. Or, in some cases, the classic Fender tremolo.
By nature of its design, this tremolo spaces the strings out. The pole pieces are therefore not in line with strings, and they need to be made wider to accommodate that width. Say hello to the Trembucker, a humbucker with wider pole pieces.
Built for the bridge position…
We should mention that this only occurs with the bridge pickup. By the time the strings pass over the neck pickup, the width has normalized, and any pickup is fine. We will look at this more closely a little later on.
So let’s get into our in-depth Seymour Duncan Black Winter Review and see if it is the best Strat humbucker pickup or not. Before we do, let’s briefly remind ourselves of Seymour Duncan.
He worked for a time at the London Comedy Store. Sorry, that is what we used to call it. Others knew it as the Fender Soundhouse. A place where the American guitar giant showed us just how bad ‘Made in the US’ guitars could be. It closed quite quickly.
He went back to the US, got married, and set up the business in 1976. The company made replacement pickups, and they were very good at it. They also messed around for a time with effects pedals and some amps. But the pickups were what drew people’s attention. And now he was making his own versions of these classic pickup designs.
Hello, is there anybody out there…
Some ‘notables’ noticed, and his pickups found their way onto some quite significant guitars. Floyd’s Dave Gilmour’s Black Strat being one. If you want to hear one of the best Seymour Duncan pickups in action, you can. Listen to the custom-wound Seymour Duncan SSL-1C on ‘Comfortably Numb’.
This pickup we are going to look at is no SSL-1. If that is what you are looking for, then it’s time to look elsewhere. This pickup is nasty. Savage is the word we will use to describe it more than once in this review. This is heavy-duty. Maybe your parents won’t like it, but the ‘kids are gonna love it’.
Seymour Duncan Black Winter – Overview
Let’s give you a little clue about this pickup. There was a metal band from Finland, serious metal, called ‘Amorphis’. They recorded a song called ‘Black Winter Day’. It was dark, very dark. When this pickup was released in 2013, it was named after them and that track. Get the message?
This pickup might be described as passive, but there is nothing unassertive about it. They are certainly not for the faint-hearted. As someone neatly described them, this pickup is gonna make your head explode. You might think you’re playing is extreme. But, once you play using these pickups, you will know you were only ‘playing’ at being extreme.
Designed for a style…
They have been designed to suit the death metal, black metal genre, and anything that has a darker feel to it. They are not going to give too much in the way of subtlety. Or are they?
Seymour Duncan is known for being able to create pickups that suit different styles. This is another that does just that. So, let’s take a closer look…
If you are going to build a pickup with a menacing sound, then it needs to look the part. We think they have probably achieved that. It has to be black, of course. What other color could you use?
In fact, it is all black, from the bottom plate to the poles. Even the screws that fix it in place are black. And to add to the feel of the design, the Seymour Duncan name is written in an Old English font. The styling just seems to fit.
It has a four-conductor design with a ceramic bar magnet. The choice of ceramic over the more common Alnico is an interesting but good choice in our view.
Are ceramic pickups misunderstood?
Some guitarists have labeled the ceramic magnet unfairly. Ceramic is a cheaper magnet to make than Alnico because it is easier to get. This means it is often associated with cheaper instruments. And you know what that means with some people. They, therefore, get a bad reputation.
This is a misconception. They give you a different sound and flavor to Alnico-based pickups. Some great pickups use ceramic magnets. We are looking at one right now.
Hotter than Alnico?
Yes, they usually are. The magnets are quite strong, which will normally make them hotter. And they produce very dominant mids and great bottom-end response. And they tend to keep their clarity even when run with extreme levels of gain. Does that sound like the best pickup for heavy metal to you?
This is where some say they are lacking. You can make that argument, but it is possible to get a clean sound if you want one. It is here, though, that Alnico will have the edge.
But what are we talking about? A metal pickup? What use is a clean tone then, you might ask? We shall go back to that.
Let’s return to the width of the pole pieces…
Do you choose hum or trembucker? The usual rule is: are the spacing of the strings less than 50mm or two inches? If so, the standard humbucker does the job.
However, if the spacing of the strings exceeds 2 inches, you will need a trembucker size pickup. This is because the pole pieces create magnetic fields, so the strings need to pass precisely over the pole pieces.
But if your two ‘E’ strings are way outside the pole pieces, this is going to have an impact. And will have a negative effect on the tone you produce.
This is an area you will have to consider. It will be different for every guitar, but you will need to look carefully, especially if your guitar has a pickguard. Normally trembuckers with covers won’t fit and may need some adjustments to the body. But in most cases, they just screw-in as normal.
The Seymour Duncan Black Winter hasn’t got a cover, but we would recommend asking them first to be sure. Seymour Duncan offers excellent advice on and through their website if you need some help.
Okay, on to what it is really all about. What was the word we said we might use a few times? Oh yes, “savage.” That might be an understatement.
We have already mentioned the genres that this pickup is built for. And if that is what you play and want to take your sound to the next level, this will do it.
The high-output design of this pickup is made for some extreme playing. Shattering riffs and ear-splitting solos make no difference. It turns them out. Excruciating high gain with great mids and a tight low end, and a shattering top end.
But there is something else…
This pickup might be described and marketed as the be-all and end-all of metal. But it is so much more than just that. What you don’t expect is well-balanced and crisp cleans. We talked about it a bit earlier. This pickup can deliver that. That makes it valuable for playing multiple genres.
Bear in mind what it is capable of, and then think about what you can make it do. If you think this is just a ‘black metal’ pickup, think again. If you think Alnico magnets’ own’ that side of the market, you may be in for a shock. This pickup has sounds you will not be expecting.
We have dragged you in a little bit, and we apologize. Savage, yes, but let’s make a slight amendment. “Savage, but Sweet” might be a better description.
It is easily one of the best high output pickups built for extreme metal. There is a ceramic magnet, a large one. It will give you all the output and sustain you will ever need when you are driving it – It screams at you.
The coil is over-wound. That means they are great for crazily high amp settings. But it also means they can be bright and sharp when they are played clean.
We have already mentioned the prominent mids and a controlled low-end. Something all humbuckers must-have. But the top end has a level of clarity that you may not be expecting.
To a certain extent, it will depend on the amp you are using, but it is in there. Inside this pickup is a surprising tonal range that maybe you didn’t think you would find.
And we ought to make one last point. This pickup is not going to cost you the earth, and the price point is another added attraction.
Seymour Duncan Black Winter Review – Pros and Cons
- Great styling with its almost threatening all-black design and scripted wording.
- 4 conductor design.
- Ceramic pickup.
- Can be shattering and ear-splitting, but also has a sweet top end when reigned in a bit.
- Plenty of output and sustain.
- Over-wound coil.
- Competitive price point.
- Some won’t like the idea of ceramic magnets.
- Some small modifications may be necessary when installing.
Looking for Something Else?
We have what you need to make your guitar sound great. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best DiMarzio Pickups, the Best P 90 Pickups, the Best Single Coil Pickups, the Best Telecaster Guitar Pickups, and the Best Stratocaster Pickups you can buy in 2023.
You may also like our comprehensive reviews of the Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups, the Best Humbucker Pickups, the Best Electric Guitar Pickups, the Best Jazz Bass Pickups, and the Best Precision Bass Pickups currently available.
Seymour Duncan Black Winter Review – Final Thoughts
This is a pickup that was designed for a particular sound. However, it was then realized that it was quite good at something else. Let’s say it again, it can be savage, but it also has its sweet side. Full of all the power and sustain it was designed for but open to some other tones as well.
Looking at this pickup has been a journey. It has taken us to places we didn’t think we would go when we started. That is the fault of the marketing people. Bless their little cotton socks. Metal yes, as they say. But so, so much more. They seem to have underplayed that a bit.
If the genre is for you, you won’t need much persuading. This does the business. But if you want something a little extra as well as all the distortion and sustain, then this could be it. And at this price point, it doesn’t come any more attractive. Great pickup, great sound. Seymour Duncan does it again.
Until next time, may your music make you merry.