By Chris Loeffler
One of the challenges of the single coil pickup (and one of the reasons it has its distinct sound) is the amount of noise the inherent 60 cycle hum can produce, leading to anything from “barely there” white noise to unbearably, unmusically buzzy depending on the setting and quality of the electricity. Attempts by pickup manufacturers to “buck” the hum (without just creating a humbucker) typically result in a pickup that is “single coil-ish”, but somewhat missing the characteristics or liveliness that make guitar players historically accept the hum.
DiMarzio introduced its Area series pickups quite a few years ago as an answer to copping the strat souns captured on thousands of iconic recordings from the 60’s through today with introducing the extra noise. The series, comprised of the Area 58, Area 61, and Area 67, are built to the sonic specifications of the best examples of the strat pickups built at that time.
The DiMarzio Area 67 was built to capture the sound of a late 60’s Stratocaster pickup and is named after Hendrix’s guitar tone in the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Best suited for the middle and neck positions, the Area 67 sounds like a dead-on classic strat without the 60 cycle hum thanks to the Area technology DiMarzio utilizes to kill the noise. And noiseless they are… even through a rig plugged into an outlet sharing an electrical path with a neon sign, the pickup is dead silent.
The Area 67 is bright and clear, easily copping the percussiveness and glassy sheen of traditional strat tones. The pickups are as bright as one would expect a strat pickup to sound without crossing the line into being harsh or ice-picky. Mids sound a bit scooped when compared to modern, high-fidelity pickups, but that’s part of the classic strat sound. The Area 67 excels at cleans and brings an almost piano-like punch to the attack and dirtying up the amp with increased gain yields warm, pleasing harmonics. To my ears, the Area 67 works best in the neck and middle positions as it already has plenty of brightness.
For enthusiasts, it is worth noting that while late 60’s strats were built using full strength alnico V magnets, whereas the DiMarzio Area 67s use alnico II magnets. Because of the efficiencies of the design, the alnico II greatly decreases the magnet pull without impacting output and reduces strain to sustain and the likeliness of intonation issues.
Unlike the Area 67, which aims at nailing the late 60’s strat sound, the DiMarzio Virtual Solo is a hybrid of two DiMarzio originals- the DiMarzio Virtual Vintage Solo and the DiMarzio Virtual Vintage Solo Pro. By combining the best elements of these two (now decommissioned) pickups, DiMarzio has created a pickup that is heavy in upper mids and deep and rich in the bass. Compared to the Area 67, the Virtual Solo has nearly twice the output and a bit of high-end roll off that perfectly complements the bridge position. Mids, while far from cartoony or unnatural sounding, are brash and bold and sit well over the extended bass range to create a focused, cutting lead tone. In short, the Virtual Solo has more bite and snarl than a traditional strat pickup but fits perfectly within the tonal range of what a strat should do.
The DiMarzio Area series pickups are best paired with a 500k tone pot, which doesn’t come stock in many strat-style guitars. While not necessary, the small costs of picking up a tone pot with the pickup will pay big dividends when it comes to dialing in the perfect amount of treble character.
Those seeking vintage strat tones without the noise really need look no further than the Area series pickups. Whereas most strat-a-like pickups that are “noiseless” sacrifice the liveliness and fundamental character that people are seeking in a classic strat, the Area 67 drips “that” sound. The Virtual Solo, by contrast, sounds fantastically vintage but compliments, rather than emulates, the strat sound by kicking up the bass, mids, and harmonics for a distortion-friendly, sustained growl.
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.