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  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

Dimarzio Air Classic Neck Review (DP190)

Updated: Feb 21

You all may know what do they tell about a true vintage style neck humbuckers: nickel silver base plate is a must. So does NOS plain enamel wire. So does American made sand cast alnico magnets. So does the vintage accurated pole pieces. Even they must be wound on a same machine that PAFs were wound and must have maple spacers cut down from the same tree from 1950s. If you are trying to exact reproduction of the 50s yes, they “might” be a must. But for a great PAF-ish neck tone, it is not an obligation and Air Classics may be the ultimate proof.



Installation



Custom Made Ibanez JS of mine

Air Classic neck i have still sits in the neck on my hand-made Ibanez Js/Radius formed guitar that has a lightweight korina body, a Q-sawn one-piece Honduran mahogany neck in a chunky neck profile (very similar to the Gibson R8 necks), Pao Ferro f.board, Hantug made titanium alloy fixed bridge, 25” scale, Jescar 55090 (narrow tall) steel frets, CTS 500K long shaft pots, and Elixir strings tuned half step down. The guitar has a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates bridge (wound in 8,52K). Its essence (unplugged) tone ranges from balanced to warm.


Although the form of the guitar is Ibanez JS, the tonal design aimed for a Gibson Les Paul or SG. Therefore, the guitar has a distinct nasal sound due to both the selected woods and the scale. Anticipating the clarity issues on the neck found in some guitars with 24.5” or 24.75” scales, I envisioned the PRS scale to be more favorable. As a result, the guitar combines the comfort of the Ibanez JS/Radius series with the sound of a Gibson LP/SG.


Evaluation


Let’s read the official desciption first;


We love the sound of late 1950s humbuckers, but we didn't want to simply imitate them by using Alnico 2 or “aged” Alnico 5 magnets. Airbucker technology was created to capture all of the best sonic qualities of vintage humbuckers while avoiding the technical problems. The Air Classic has the same sweet sound as a classic humbucker, but Airbucker technology permits us to use a more reliable full-strength Alnico 5 magnet and still reduce string-pull to increase sustain and sensitivity. The result is an almost vocal, three-dimensional sound that jumps off the string faster and stays true as it sustains. The sense of touch and control this provides will offer you an unequalled ability to create your own sound.


There's no doubt that a weak magnetic field allows a vibrating string to ring longer, but the standard Alnico II/weakened Alnico 5 method also muddies the tone the longer the string sustains. By contrast, the Airbucker magnetic field preserves high end sustain; it's easier to capture and hold harmonic feedback at varied frequencies, and chords maintain better clarity”.




Well, As a fan of Alnico 2 and aged Alnico 5 magnets, I can't fully agree with DiMarzio's perspective. While there are examples that align with their statements, I have come across numerous exceptions in humbuckers. In other words, an Airbucker is not indispensable for a clear neck humbucker tone; there are also pickups with Alnico 2 magnets that provide a clear and warm tonality. But i agree for most of the rest of the description.


Anyway, here comes the technical mambo jambo

Dimarzio Air Classic Neck (DP190)

Magnet – Alnico 5

Advertised DCR: 8,34 K Ohm (Series)

Measured DCR: 7,55 K Ohm (Series)

Inductance @100Hz: 3,48 H (Series)

Measured C : -35,5 nF (Series)

Output: 206 Milivolts (advertised)

EQ (B/M/T) – 5,5/4,5/5,5 (old catalogs) – 3/4/3,5/6,5 (actual official website data)

Gauss: 280G slug, 250G screw (measured at top center of D-G pole pieces)

Wire Gauge: AWG42

Patents: Airbucker

 

Before presenting my thoughts and ideas, the difference between my measurements and the advertised numbers makes me wonder why? As far as I know, Dimarzio is one of the most consistent companies in terms of production quality. They are known for reliable products. So i can’t believe that lower values in the manner of “production tolerances” and there must be a purpose. I just wonder…

 

What do you expect from a PAF clone or PAF type pickup for the neck position of your guitar? Chimey? Clear yet warm? 3-d depth? Sensitive to touch and phrasing? Relatively affordable than many boutique humbuckers? Well, while choosing a PAF clone for my guitar, I would prefer it to capture clear and balanced tones, enhance harmonic richness, and possess a slightly warm, vintage character. Additionally, I would expect it to deliver top-notch performance in terms of sustain and touch sensitivity. These criteria would be the essential factors for me in selecting a pickup that can produce a versatile sound suitable for various music genres and allow me to achieve a “tone friendly” sound.


Air Classic has all of them. And even some more. I tried it on two of my guitars on the neck. What did i get from both guitars? Very classy good ole PAF tone with mojo. I really enjoyed its round and sweet tunes. Dynamics feels so good with them. You can manipulate your tone by volume knob and also the picking intensity. Reaction to picking is not fast and tight but warmer and rounder.


Air Classic neck has nice and warm high end response. You will enjoy your meal in your upper registers. Low end ise somewhat feels flat to me. Not as tight as many alnico 5 neck pickups like PAF Pro nor spongy like some humbuckers with alnico 2 magnet. Somewhere between those two but still feels closer to the ones with alnico 2. Mid frequencies are more pronounced than a mid-scooped or even flat EQ pickup. However, we still can't label it as mid-rich or really “honky”.


It’s not a powerful humbucker, you must remember while combining it with a bridge pickup. You can rise it but you don’t get too much output.

In short, if I were to describe it with two popular pickups that I assume you are familiar with, it would be warmer than the Duncans Jazz and have clearer tones than the '59; I would say it falls somewhere in between, capturing the best qualities of both.




One of the most frequent users of this pickup in recent years is likely Paul Gilbert. From the musicians I follow, I haven't come across anyone who showcases the Air Classic pickups as much as he does. However, for some reason, I have to mention that I wasn't too impressed with the tones in some of the recent promotional videos for the latest signature Ibanez PGM guitars (PGM50&PGM1000T) featuring Air Classic set. I haven't personally tried the new PGM models, so I can't provide a firsthand opinion, but I found the tones in the videos to be somewhat darker. While it's true that you can achieve those kindo tones with Air Classic pickups but you can also go beyond them. I wanted to emphasize this because I don't want you to build an image of Air Classic tones only with those Gilbert videos, you know.


Conclusion


Unfortunately, the electric guitar community is quite conservative. Therefore, a guitar with various design flaws but somehow considered a classic can be sold for thousands of dollars without any changes since its 1959 version. Of course, I must admit that PAF clones with Alnico magnets, pole pieces and nickel silver baseplates produced with 1950s metallurgy, maple spacers, double cream butyrate bobbins, and vintage-accurate plain enamel wire also enchant me. However, it's important not to forget that these are not the only way to achieve the beloved vintage tones. Good tones can also be obtained from relatively more contemporary components. DiMarzio, with many of its models, has demonstrated this. However, due to the conservatism of the market and perhaps DiMarzio's failure to properly promote or market them, we witness that these pickups don't reach the right people, just like in the case of the Virtual Hot PAF. Some people, after reading this review, may not give Air Classics a chance because they don't match their preconceived PAF image in their mind. Even if they try, some may not make a fair evaluation due to biases. However, I would at least recommend you to be open-minded and set aside your prejudices for a few hours to try out the Air Classics. In the end, the one who is happy will, probably, be you.


Well, “if” part is here. But don’t need making a long list. If you like to have good PAF clones for your guitars, Air Classics have everything you are familiar.



dimarzio-dp190-air-classic-neck DP190

Dimarzio Air Classic Neck Review (DP190)

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