Furthering the discussion of The Tone Chain, Guitar.com caught up with Steve Blucher of DiMarzio to talk about the history of the company, achieving tone, and the role of a great pickup. Pickups are another important decision in the life of a guitarist when considering what helps to create great guitar tone. Let's see what Steve has to say on the topic.
Guitar.com: Hi Steve, how are you?
Steve Blucher: Awake and coherent, I hope.
Guitar.com: That's a great starting point. Let’s start off with telling us a bit about your role at DiMarzio. What do you do?
Blucher: I’m mostly engaged in product research and development, artist relations and eccentric behavior. The more research I do, the more eccentric I get.
Guitar.com: Let’s talk about history: DiMarzio is credited to have started the aftermarket pickup revolution with the release of the Super Distortion pickup back in the 1970’s. How did Larry DiMarzio get into making aftermarket pickups?, and what were guitarists looking for in a pickup back then?
Blucher: Larry got into it for the most practical reason – he wanted to make his own guitar sound better. I think he basically wanted to get a bigger sound out of the electric guitar than he was getting with the standard pickups of the day, and he knew he had discovered the right direction with the Super when he saw the reaction it got from other players. Before the Super, I don’t remember a lot of talk among guitarists about changing pickups, because there were few (if any) available options. The amplifier market hadn’t really exploded yet, either, and there weren’t a lot of choices available in terms of heating up the sound.
Guitar.com: What’s the difference between what guitarists were looking for back then, compared to what guitarists are looking for today?
Blucher: I don’t even know where to start. I think guitarists were as equipment-oriented back in the day as they are now, but the market in available gear of all kinds was a tiny fraction of what it is today. I guess in some ways it forced players to define their sounds more by how they played than by their choice of gear, but I’d be the last one to say the music was better as a result. There are players doing things now that were pretty much inconceivable 20 years ago, let alone 30.
John Petrucci Talks about his experience with Dimarzio pickups - check out the DiMarzio YouTube channel
Guitar.com: There’s some debate out there as to what has more effect on a guitar’s tone: wood or pickup? Which do you think has more effect on tone, and why?
Blucher: I don’t think there’s a clear answer. For me, it has to start with the guitar. Pickups don’t exist in a vacuum – they have to be in a guitar to perform their function, and the specific guitar they’re in is going to determine what they can & can’t do. I know the point can be argued, but a pickup is a microphone, the strings are the voice the microphone reproduces, and the guitar is responsible for shaping that voice. 10 identical guitars with the same pickups are going to sound ten different ways because of variations in the wood. Naturally, 10 different pickups are going to make a difference, but it always makes sense to me to start with a guitar that sounds & feels close to what you’re after.
Guitar.com: There’s a lot of aftermarket pickup companies out there. What makes DiMarzio different from the rest?
Blucher: I don’t want to get slagged for saying this, but we’re more about helping players to craft their own sound than paying tribute to an imaginary standard that was supposedly set 50 years ago. We obviously make both vintage and signature pickup models, but the purpose of all of them is to try to get to the heart of the sound, rather than offer an exact imitation of something that really can’t be reproduced. Certain vintage pickups do neat things that I want our pickups to do as well. Like wise, signature pickups reflect specific qualities that the artists are chasing, but in neither instance is a guitarist going to become someone else by using the “right” gear. And now I’m going to hide in a locked room until the shouting dies…
Guitar.com: DiMarzio makes cable too. Does cable really affect tone?
Blucher: Without a doubt. It’s the direct link between the guitar and the amp. The only cable that won’t affect tone is the cable that’s sonically invisible, and such a cable doesn’t exist. Every cable I’m aware of is going to have some effect on tone, output and feel.
Guitar.com: What makes DiMarzio cables different from the other cable companies out there?
Blucher: I don’t know other company’s goals, but we’re trying to make cables that have a broad frequency response, don’t compress the signal and are durable. I guess that means we’ve got the working musician in mind.
Guitar.com: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers out there?
Blucher: It will probably seem strange coming from someone who makes a living from the sale of pickups & parts, but I’d like to caution players about getting too hung up over gear choices. It can be endlessly fascinating, but I don’t think it’s good if it takes away from playing time. Again, my opinion only.
Guitar.com: Steve, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for being a part of Guitar.com’s “Tone Chain”.
Be sure to check out the previous segments of The Tone Chain featuring Fender, D'Addario and others. And for more product information on DiMarzio Pickups and Cables be sure to visit: DiMarzio.com