Can it really be two decades since Tim Mills kicked off Bare Knuckle Pickups? Since then, it’s not only become the pre-eminent pickup maker in the UK, inspiring many others to follow, but it’s also one of the most respected worldwide, by players and guitar makers from Fender downwards.
I’d struggle to name a Bare Knuckle pickup I haven’t enjoyed. Like many, I use them daily for gigs, recording and as a reference for comparison. 20 years on, the company offers an extensive range of models, but its most recent electric guitar pickups have been signature models such as the Chris Robertson Peacemaker for the Black Stone Cherry guitarist, and Rabea Massaad’s Silo humbuckers. Joining them when it launched earlier this year is Rabea’s ultimate set for Stratocasters, the Triptych.
Rather than coming up with a radical new design, the Triptych set plays with the time-honoured recipe and creates what many players might consider a do-it-all set for Stratocasters.
For example, the set uses plain enamel coil wire, which replaced heavy Formvar in Fender’s production from around 1964. You’ll find Alnico III rod magnets in the bridge position, as used in the first couple of years of the Stratocaster, while the middle and bridge use the more common Alnico V.
Both bridge and neck pickups use a zinc-plated steel baseplate, while the middle pickup is reverse-wound with reverse polarity (RWRP), which means positions 2 and 4 on your five-way selector are hum-cancelling. You also have a wide choice of cover colours and flat or staggered poles, and each pickup can be ordered with or without that inductor baseplate.
Bare Knuckle supplied our set on a scratchplate with its full-size screening plate, CRL five-way lever switch, Bare Knuckle/CTS 10 per cent audio taper pots, and a Bare Knuckle .022μf PIO cap, all wired with cloth-covered push-back wire. I loaded the set onto a first-version Fender Road Worn 60s Strat.
I also had a well-gigged partscaster with a Bare Knuckle’s ’63 Veneer Board set; the coils are heavy Formvar wire and use Alnico V rod magnets slightly smaller in diameter than those on the Triptych.
With fresh strings and both sets adjusted to the same distance from the strings (fretted at the last fret the underside of the string to the outer polepiece was 1.6mm on the treble side, 3.2mm on the bass), it’s time to take a listen.
This is one very well-balanced pickup set. Running through the sounds, there’s no nasty surprise when you get to the bridge, with no risk of a thin, bright and weedy sound – there’s good body, with a clarity on cleans that avoids being over-spiky and really balances with the neck’s woodier percussive bite.
Compared with the ’63 Veneer Board set, the brighter high-end seems pulled back a little; the Triptychs actually sound a little more refined. Adding some crunch and gain, that bridge pickup impresses again, with a well-voiced tone control that can just be pulled back when needed, while the neck benefits in similar fashion.
Of course, this is nothing radical for a good Stratocaster, but our impression is that this set is very well behaved. The mixes rein in the spike, providing real musical depth; bridge and middle is another stand-out sound, while our Veneer Board comparison veers on the over-brittle.
But don’t confuse well-behaved with polite – even the middle pickup’s subtly lighter voicing has real vocal character, especially when you dig in hard. Far from over-wound rock monsters, these are very carefully voiced and very musical pickups that really cover a lot of ground exceptionally well.
Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of pickup sets for Strats out there – Bare Knuckle itself already offers well over 10 different flavours, some aimed at specific sounds or eras, others made for higher-gain needs. These Triptychs come across as having a foot in both camps.
The overriding impression is that this is not only a beautifully crafted pickup set but one that just seems to tune those oh-so-classic sounds to a point that whatever style or sound we imagine is easily achieved: a pickup set for any player who needs more than just a vintage-style genre-specific set.
These play extremely well with some cranked gigging amps or digital simulations, and offer exceptional cleans, too, all the while retaining their definitive Strat-y-ness.
- PRICE: From £320 (approx $375)
- ORIGIN: UK
- TYPE: Modded Strat-style signature set designed for Rabea Massaad
- MOUNTING TYPE: Standard
- POLE PIECE SPACING/STYLE: 52mm/56 vintage stagger
- HOOK-UP WIRE: Vintage‑style push-back cloth-covered single conductor
- MAGNET TYPE: Alnico III (bridge), Alnico V (middle & neck)
- COIL WIRE/WIND: 42 AWG plain enamel/scatter-wound
- POTTING: Yes
- DCR (kohms): 6.8 (bridge); 5.9 (middle) 5.9 (neck)
- OPTIONS: RWRP middle (as supplied); flat polepieces, zinc-plated steel baseplates (on bridge and neck, as supplied), cover colours. Pre-wired scratchplates from £222.
- CONTACT: Bare Knuckle Pickups