War is hell - and so is trying to find the perfect replacement pickups to bring an anemic guitar to life! Bare Knuckle Pickups, a highly praised UK-based boutique pickup company, takes great pride in fashioning handwound pickups that often mimic the name of a popular song or album.
However, those bespoke pickups come at a premium, which is why the lovely chaps at Bare Knuckle have come up with a brand new plan of attack by introducing Boot Camp pickups, and if you ask me, they kick serious ass. In the company’s own words, Boot Camp is a “stripped back, no-nonsense” series.
Depending on how much shock and awe you wish to generate, Boot Camp pickups come grouped in three output ranges named Old Guard, True Grit and Brute Force, and judging from their monikers, you can easily extrapolate the kind of pickup you’re getting. For this review, I installed the True Grit Strat set in my Fender Classic 70s Stratocaster and a pair of Brute Force humbuckers in my Epiphone Les Paul, and lemme tell you: these pickups are no grunts.
Every Boot Camp pickup is hand wound and available as a humbucker (six- or seven-string), Strat- and Tele-style single coils and P90 soap bar, and all are found in the Old Guard, True Grit and Brute Force collections. Old Guard pickups use Alnico II magnets, have the lowest output of the three sets and serve up a blend of vintage and dynamic tones that many classic-rock, blues and country players seek.
True Grit employs Alnico V magnets and steps up the output for a range of warmer and fatter tones ideal for hard rock and hot blues, grunge and early metal. Brute Force is the bluntest of them all, featuring ceramic magnets in the humbuckers and P90, and Alnico V magnets for the single coils, while also possessing the highest output of all the sets. Their percussive attack, bottom end and saturated tones are tailor made for progressive and extreme metal, as well as hardcore music.
Changing pickups has always given me anxiety, mostly because my expectations are so high on the pickups delivering on the promise of the tone described. After trying out both the True Grit Strat set and Brute Force humbuckers, I have to admit I was smitten with them, and I attribute that to the fact that Bare Knuckle has sold me on the idea of a no-frills, hand-wound quality pickup.
The Brute Force ceramic humbuckers have a firm, midrange character with bite, but also incredible clarity, with just the right amount of beefed-up output to build a crushingly heavy tone around them, depending on your amp. The True Grit Strat set, with its flat magnet profile and reverse-wound reverse polarity (RWRP) middle pickup, is equally satisfying.
The Alnico V magnets really shine here, because each position (on the five-way switch) offers complimentary shades of single coil sparkle. The neck pickup is gutsy and full - almost as if a ’roid-raged Robin Trower designed it, while the notch positions are glassy and warm, kinda like the Sultans of Swing tone without the compression. There’s no harshness or ice pick tones to be found here, even when using the bridge single coil by itself, which sounds rich and full. Both guitars are currently deployed, with no plans of me removing the Boot Camp out of them.
STREET PRICE: True Grit Strat set, $150 (approx.); Brute Force pickup, from $94 (approx.)
MANUFACTURER: Bare Knuckle Pickups, bareknucklepickups.co.uk
• The Brute Force humbuckers are remarkably articulate for a high-output pickup, with incredible range and ferocity when dealt with saturated tones.
• The True Grit Strat set are clear and versatile single coil pickups, offering every beloved Strat tone with focused sparkle and oomph.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Bare Knuckle Boot Camp Brute Force humbuckers and True Grit Strat set are the closest you’ll get to custom handwound pickups that deliver all the requisite and classic guitar tones without compromise.