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This article was originally published in issue #20
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The USA's Lace Pickups has a long pedigree with its specialist replacement guitar pickups and now it's tackling the bass market head-on with the newly launched Man O' War range. Dan Veal did battle.
Much like many musicians my age, the first time I heard of Lace Sensor pickups was seeing them on Fender Plus model basses, as well as on a range of Fender guitars, back in the '80s. The company may have had a fairly low profile since (especially outside the USA) but though Don Lace Snr passed away in 1992, he left a huge product legacy and a company that has continued producing high quality pickups. In fact Lace seems to be going from strength to strength now, with new models and a growing list of endorsers. So what does Lace have to offer we bassists? Well, to start with, there is this new range known as Man O' War, available in P, J and MM configurations.
The problem with reviewing replacement pickups is that you need something to compare them with and we were fortunate that Hinesite, Lace's UK distributor, was able to lend us two (let it be admitted, not particularly special) 'Tuscany' um, 'replica' basses, one with the original pickups and one with the Lace alternatives.
On our video we have first a sunburst bass with a tortie pickguard that features a 'standard pickup' installation: a single Alnico split-coil and in the bridge position an Alnico humbucker. Both feature large pole pieces. The bridge model looks a lot like a Music Man style pickup. As it happens, on plugging in, the standard models do indeed impart the tones you're expecting. The P bass pickup has a pronounced mid-range growl and even though the bridge model is close to the actual bridge in positioning, it also does a good job of adding that characteristic zing you'd hope for if but a rather tame version of.
The second bass is the same model but in white and sports the new Lace Man O' War pickups. They look black and stealthy with no exposed pole-pieces.
In bridge position we have the Lace Sensor Man O' War MM4, again a Music Man style pickup that utilises 'Lace Sensor technology' to provide “power and punch with great top end definition”. It is a splitable pickup, which means that each coil can be used separately or together. You can also use one coil in its 'split' mode to get a more single coil Jazz vibe. The review bass is hard-wired in humbucking mode though, so I can't demonstrate that for you!
Also, we have the Man O' War P pickup. Lace describes this pickup as featuring “precise harmonic detail with an attitude that cuts through in any situation.” It goes on to say that the pickup features a low magnetic pull that increases sustain and broad dynamic range. “The Man O’ War provides vintage vibe with modern punch and definition.”
As we didn't have to fit these pickups, we can't say how difficult or easy it is, but I understand that Lace provides some really clear and easy installation instructions. I also really like that, unlike some companies, Lace units drop straight into basses. These pickups won't need to be modified, nor will your beloved bass to get them to fit.
By the way, the Lace pickups are all passive and are extremely quiet in the studio under the lights - no hum or buzz and certainly no signs of being microphonic when the cases were tapped.
So to the sound. First of all let's take the P bass pickup. It has a much more modern vibe to that of the standard unit in the sunburst Tuscany bass. By this, I would describe as having a less defined mid-range, more clarity and perceived low-end punch. I'd say that in comparison, the standard unit would be great for that old P bass vibe - vintage and suited to driving with a dirt pedal. The Lace sensor has a really nice roundness to it that would sit in the mix rather than define the mix with its character. The word I am looking for is 'transparent'. The sound coming out of the bass is more like the acoustic tone of the bass verses the sunburst instrument's P bass pickup.
Still, you can hear that for yourself on the video and make up your own mind.
With that we can move to the bridge model. Here's where I noticed the greater difference in pickup tone. It was quite obvious with each bridge pickup soloed, that the standard model sounded a little 'peaky' on reflection. It had bite, but not as much depth as I would need in a pickup sited this close to the bridge. A bug-bear I have is with basses using pickups that are not really suited to bridge positioning. It can make the bridge position sound thin, wiry and not very usable and it's something that budget instruments are particularly prone to.
The Lace Man O' War had a smoother frequency output, which allowed the lows to come through with more definition and substance, rather than being lost when switching between it and the P model.
I'd have loved to have put these pickups up against other premium pickups and it was unfortunate that we had little information about the standard pickups in the 'control' bass. I hope that the video shows that actually these pickups have a great full tone and would sound fine in applications where a broad range and clarity is required, with a traditional, passive, bass sound at its best. If you're looking for a pair of really high quality passive pickups with a traditional sound, these are certainly worth considering.