Players looking for a pickup on the PAF level of the Kelvin scale will dig the SWV (Select Wind Vintage; $75 retail/$49 street, each). This gutsy sounding pickup features alnico II magnets and comes standard with four-conductor cable for split-coil options. You can also order the SWV with chrome, gold, or antiqued covers, as well as with black bobbins. As with a vintage Gibson humbucker, the SWV delivers, bright, clear rhythm tones, and has a goodly amount of balls when you crank it up. The bridge and neck pickups both have excellent top-end clarity, but due to the fact that none of the Patriot Shadow guitars were equipped with bypass caps on the Volume controls, there was a distinct loss of top-end detail when running the pickups less than flat out. This was less of an issue in the split mode, where the sparkle is abundant at the cost of some output. In this mode in particular, the SWVs delivered very happening rhythm textures in the dual pickup settings.
The SWC (Select Wind Custom; $75 retail/$49 street, each) has more output than the SWV, and is well suited for rock players who want a pickup with a vintage vibe that can deliver a stronger kick to an amp’s front end. Based on alnico V magnets, and sporting four-conductor cable and all the cover and color options as noted on the SWV, the SWC has a great balance of sparkle and grind. The bridge unit packs a happening lead wallop, and the neck pickup—which has a tad less output—sounds cool for anything from jazz chording to jangly rhythms to bluesy soloing. Another oddity with the wiring in all of the Patriot guitars—which had nothing to do with the pickups themselves—is that whenever the selected pickup was turned all the way down, it was still possible to get sound from the opposite pickup simply by cranking up its respective Volume control. This made it a little tough to evaluate the full range of the dual-pickup configurations, although the SWCs still delivered an impressive range of sounds—from punchy, sustaining lead tones on the bridge position to a nice array of clean sounds and smooth overdrive textures with both pickups selected. And in split mode, the crispness factor is substantially greater. Again, turning down the either Volume control caused a loss of high-end detail, which was not a fault of the pickups—both of which had plenty of top end when played wide open. (According to Tracy Hoeft, founder of Michael Kelly Guitars,“the Rockfield pickups were installed in these guitars especially for this review by someone who is not a member of the Michael Kelly team, and these wiring issues would not be experienced by anyone who purchases a Michael Kelly instrument from an authorized dealer.
As the name implies, the Fat Ass ($75 retail/ $49 street, each) is designed to deliver the bottom heavy tones that metal shredders crave. Featuring larger polepieces and alnico V magnets, these pickups have lots of output and a bare-knuckles response that makes highly overdriven parts stand out with authority and presence. The Fat Ass sounds great for cleaner stuff too, making them a good choice for fusionistic jazz playing or heavy rhythm work à la AC/DC. If you’ve felt your guitar needed more booty on the bridge setting, a Fat Ass replacement would be a good thing to try. The cool thing is that these pickups still retain the spunky midrange snap of a classic humbucker, but with more lows and more drive. In full ’bucker mode the Fat Ass has a more subdued set of highs than the SWC, and that’s why the spilt-coil option is a good thing to use with these pickups.
The unrepentant thug of the Rockfield line, the Mafia ($75 retail/$49 street, each) features ceramic magnets for increased output, and is optimized for aggressive playing through high-gain amps. The Mafia wants to rock, but its tough, edgy demeanor does not come at the price of clarity. Rockfield has found a good way to give this ballsy pickup plenty of cutting power and definition while reigning in the highs just enough so that on the bridge position tones are on the buttery side with tight lows and lots of upper midrange presence. In the split mode, the tones open up very nicely for clean playing, yet there’s still enough output to get a decent level of overdrive. In split mode, the neck pickup yielded a burnished, full-bodied sound with silky highs—great for copping a clanky, Strat-like lead tone through a moderately distorted amp. Flick to the dual pickup setting with the bridge pickup in full humbucker mode, and the tones sounded great for bottom-heavy rock riffing, with plenty of juice on tap for scorching leads when you crank the bridge pickup’s Volume knob. Players looking for both power and clarity will dig what this tone enforcer has to offer.