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GFS Nashville Minitron Humbucker Pickups
Do these Gretsch-inspired pickups have the goods?



by Phil O'Keefe



There are certain pickups that are known for their distinctive sonic signature. Single coil Strat-style and P90 pickups are good examples, and the classic PAF humbucker is certainly another, but it's not the only classic humbucker. Developed separately, by Ray Butts (for Chet Atkins) at approximately the same time as the PAF, what became known as the Gretsch Filter'Tron uses a somewhat different design with narrower coils and is known for its lower output and distinctive sound. The highs that a Filter'tron produce are not piercing but still penetrating, with a unique jangly presence that's often easy to pick out on recordings and is a big part of the legendary "Great Gretsch Sound."

 

The signal from these pickups, especially in the highs, starts crunching up early and wonderfully, and they are loved by many players for the sound of their low to mid-gain snarling, biting breakup. While it sometimes gets overlooked, Filter'trons are still humbuckers and like most humbuckers, a healthy amount of low end comes along with that. This gives them more fullness and warmth than they're often given credit for. But what they haven't been as well known for is their wide availability, although that has started to change. Now several pickup manufacturers offer their take on this classic pickup type. Let's look at an example of one of the pickups that was inspired by the classic Filter'Tron - the GFS Nashville Minitron humbucking pickup. 





What You Need To Know

  • The Nashville Minitron is based on the full-sized GFS Retrotron pickups, which bear obvious visual and auditory signs of being influenced by the classic Filter'Tron. The review units came with P90-sized "soapbar" mounting rings.

  • The GFS Nashville Minitron uses what they describe as "a particularly sweet and somewhat expensive breed of ceramic magnets," but they don't go into the details beyond that. While some 70s-era Filter'Tron variants used ceramic magnets, the originals from the 50s and 60s used AlNiCo magnets.

  • GFS does offer various different versions of this same basic pickup in the form of the Hot Nashville Minitron (which is the same pickup but overwound) and the Liverpool Minitron and Hot Liverpool Minitron, which use AlNiCo magnets instead of the Nashville's ceramic magnets.

  • The Nashvilles seemed to me, based on the GFS demos, the ones that sounded the most similar to traditional Filter'Trons (which is what I was after) so despite the magnet difference, they were the ones I opted to try for this review.  

  • Size-wise, the Minitron is a bit smaller than a vintage Filter'Tron, measuring 1 1/8" x 2 5/8", not including the mounting rings. This is the same size as a Firebird-style mini-humbucker. In fact, GFS offers all of the Minitrons in Firebird-style mounting rings as an option.



  • This is also the same size as the Gibson mini-humbuckers you'll find in a vintage Les Paul Deluxe, and like the Deluxe, the Minitrons are available with soapbar-style mounting rings, so they are also a drop-in replacement for anything that uses those pickups.




  • In case the "Minitron" name isn't enough of a clue, the appearance of the Nashville Minitron bears enough similarity to the classic Filter'Trons that there should be no doubt that this is the type of color, sound and vibe that GFS is shooting for, especially with the similar looking "H-hole" style pickup covers.





  • The version I was sent for review came with P90-style pickup rings, but while the width and length is correct for my pickup cavities I soon realized I'd need to do some routing to fit them into my Pro Jet since the P90 rings sat a bit too high - especially the neck pickup. Fortunately I had a pair of Firebird rings available and was able to come up with a mounting that spaced the pickups where I wanted them using the foam from beneath my stock pickups, some extra springs, longer "corner" mounting screws and a pair of small nuts and bolts to mount the pickup to the ring itself.  

  • The main difference between the Firebird-style (below) and P90-style versions is the mounting tabs. The models that use the Firebird rings have longer, deeper tabs that are further away from the pickup shell and are designed to be used with springs to allow for height adjustment, while the pickups with the P90 style mounts have the tabs right next to the pickup shell's bottom, and are not designed for height adjustment within the ring.



  • Of course if you're replacing stock soapbars, Deluxe-style mini-humbuckers or Firebird-style minis, none of these modification hassles will apply to you. The pickups should drop right in.

  • The Nashville Minitrons are available with raw wire leads or with the innovative, patent pending GFS Kwikplug configuration. The Kwikplug models have a small lead with an 1/8" jack attached to the pickup. A standard length of wire with a molded plug at one end and bare wires at the other came with the pickups I ordered (which lets you install them into your stock wiring relatively easily) while full solderless wiring assemblies that use Kwikplugs are also available for many types of guitars.




  • These are fairly low-output pickups, but a bit hotter than most stock Filter'Trons - DC resistance measured 6.97 kOhm for the neck pickup and 7.86 kOhm on the bridge pickup.
  • The GFS Minitron pickups can be wired for coil tap if desired.



Limitations

  • If you absolutely must have the real thing, this isn't it. It's very close in many respects, but the Nashville Minitrons do lack some of the complexity of vintage Filter'Trons in the high frequencies. While they have a similar look and visual vibe, they don't look identical either.

  • Some modification / routing to the guitar may still be required if you want to install a pair of these into an older, pre-2012 Gretsch Pro Jet.



Conclusions

I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by the sound of these pickups. I went into this review a bit skeptical about them - after all, at about thirty-five bucks each, how good can they really be? Turns out they're a lot better than I expected! Compared to the stock mini humbuckers that came in my 2005 Gretsch Pro Jet, the GFS Nashville Minitrons are decidedly brighter and have more chime, detail and kerrang! There's still some warmth and depth to them, but the mud of the stock pickups is happily gone now, and the guitar sounds a lot more "Gretsch-like" - or at least has a brighter, snarlier tone that I associate with that "Great Gretsch Sound." Even though they're not actually Gretsch pickups and don't sound identical to them, they're very similar.


The Kwikplug idea is pretty brilliant since it lets you replace the pickup with other GFS Kwikplug-equipped models without requiring you to warm up the soldering iron. If you're one of those people who likes to experiment with different pickups a lot they're definitely worth getting, even if you don't opt for a full Kwikplug wiring harness for the rest of the guitar.


I'm glad I installed the GFS Nashville Minitron pickups in my Gretsch. Here's a picture of it after the installation.

While they're closer to the right size than most 'Tron-style pickups, they still will require some surgery if you want to put them into an older Pro Jet like mine - but the results make the effort more than worth the relatively low price of admission. They made a considerable improvement to the sound of the guitar, bringing it much more in line with the classic Gretsch sound that I've always wanted from it. And they're very affordable too - well done, GFS! -HC-

 

Have questions about the GFS pickups, or comments about this review? Then please join the discussion in this thread in the Electric Guitar forum right here on Harmony Central!



Resources

GFS Nashville Minitron humbucking pickup  ($69.95 MSRP, $34.95 "street")


GFS Minitron web pages:

GFS Minitron (soapbar rings) - Nashville, Hot Nashville, Liverpool and Hot Liverpool:

http://www.guitarfetish.com/GFS-Minitron-Soapbar-Filtertron-Style-Pickups_c_282.html


GFS Minitron (with chrome Firebird-style rings) - Nashville and Liverpool:

http://www.guitarfetish.com/GFS-Minitron-Vintage-Mini-humbuckers_c_281.htm



You can purchase the GFS Nashville Minitron humbucking pickups directly from GFS (Guitar Fetish)  

Soapbar:

http://www.guitarfetish.com/KP--Nashville-Minitron-Humbucker-Vintage-Wound-P90--Soapbar--Kwikplug-Ready_p_21956.html

Firebird-style:

http://www.guitarfetish.com/KP--Nashville-Minitron-Humbucker--Chrome--Kwikplug-Ready_p_22023.html


















__________________________________________________

 




Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  

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