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  • Writer's pictureBarış Şahin

Dimarzio Tone Zone (DP155) Review

Updated: Feb 24

Dimarzio Tone Zone (DP155) Review


Dimarzio Tone Zone (DP155) Review

Every company has some products that have become milestones in its own history. Some products come and go, while others become a crucial component of that company. Moreover, when and how these products will emerge is unpredictable most of the times. Sometimes, these are designed, produced, and hit the desired target right in the bullseye. Sometimes, they narrowly miss the target at that certain period of time but somehow create an opportunity to hit another target for all of us. Tone Zone is just like this. How? We’ll read from the memories from Larry Dimarzio and Steve Blucher. I must note, now, that Dimarzio has some remarkable articles from guitar history, don’t you ever miss. One of them is called “Remembering Edward Van Halen” and it has wonderful memories with the legend Eddie Van Halen. But also the story of how Tone Zone emerged. Let’s read its part written by Larry Dimarzio himself;




Tone Zone Part of “Remembering Edward Van Halen” Article

Dimarzio Logo

The first few pickups samples we sent to Music Man weren’t hitting the mark and I was becoming concerned. I asked Steve Blucher, our chief technician, to fly to Los Angeles in order to get a better idea of what Eddie wanted. By that time the pickup shootouts had narrowed to between Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio. I was confident that Steve could turn the Van Halen sound into a physical reality but there had to be some face-to-face interaction. Just sending samples wasn’t going to cut it on the Van Halen project. When Steve arrived in Los Angeles, Dudley picked Steve up in his T-top Corvette and the adventure began. When they got to 5150 there were several unfinished Music Man prototype guitars (some with pickups and some without), a vintage red Tele with binding, an original late 50s Cherry Sunburst Les Paul, plus the striped 5150 guitar with a damaged pickup that Eddie loved. Sterling and Eddie were in the control room listening to test tracks for the next album.


Steve Blucher: Ed surprised me by asking, “Did you bring a winding machine to make the pickups?” I explained that I was there to get a better idea of what he wanted but did have several prototype pickups for him to try out. Ed was playing through a Soldano SLO-100 amp with a note taped on the front that said anyone who changed the control settings would be fired immediately. The first thing I heard at the studio was a track using the neck position in one of the Music Man prototypes. Ed said he really liked the sound. The sound was very processed (chorus and delay) and the actual sound quality of the pickup was hard to discern. The pickup was a Duncan Custom Custom (medium output, very warm sound, Alnico 2 magnet). My initial idea of the neck pickup sound Ed wanted immediately went out the window. I still thought it might beuseful to install a prototype of what eventually became The Humbucker From Hell in one of the Music Mans. It was a lot brighter and cleaner than the Duncan, and a lot different from anything I’d previously heard of Ed’s playing. It also cut through the effects better. Ed shook his head and said, “Nah.” I also brought a bunch of capacitors, to use as high-pass filters on the neck pickup to cut down on mud, and a PAF Pro for reference and a Double Whammy for the bridge. Ed had commented in several interviews that he had avoided using a neck pickup because EQing an amp for the bridge pickup always made the neck pickup sound like mud. That caused me to assume (incorrectly, it turned out) that the neck pickup needed to be very bright. Ed liked the sound of the Custom Custom in the neck position of the Music Man prototype and was reluctant to change it. He suggested that the production guitar could have a Duncan in the neck and a DiMarzio in the bridge. Sterling said that DiMarzio should be given the opportunity to supply both. I think he liked the fact that we wanted to go the extra mile to make Ed happy and not just pull something off the shelf. Ed plugged in his main touring guitar, the striped 5150, so we could hear the bridge pickup as a reference. The guitar had a damaged Duncan JB in the bridge and a Kramer neck. This became the starting point for the bridge pickup sound he wanted. Ed told me the pickup changed after the high “E” string had caught under the lip of one of the coils during a show. The sound changed in a way he liked, and this became his favorite pickup.When we compared it with a stock JB in one of the Music Man prototypes, Ed didn’t like it as much. The damaged JB sounded more solid and focused, especially in the mids, and the highs were fatter. Ed wanted me to make the new DiMarzio bridge pickup to be as good or better than the damaged JB. After assuring him I wouldn’t change or damage it, I asked Ed if he would let me remove the pickup to measure it. The DC resistance of a JB reads about 16.4K Ohms. Ed’s pickup measured 180K Ohms! Measuring the coils individually produced a normal reading on one coil (8K Ohms) and about 160K Ohms on the other. (Something peculiar happened when they were connected.) I think the 160K coil, being neither open nor shorted out, was functioning as an inductor as well as a standard coil. The damaged coil was clearly functioning, as the pickup still cancelled 60-cycle hum as well. Larry DiMarzio: When Steve told me that the pickup still worked but was reading 180K, I said, “Great, we’re going to build Eddie Van Halen a broken pickup?” SB: At some point in the afternoon, everyone in the studio took a break and went outside. (I remember some talk about doing wheelies in the parking lot.) I stayed in the studio and took the opportunity to check out the red striped guitar. What struck me immediately was how easily it played and how good it sounded acoustically; and the guitar had great sustain up and down the neck. The neck was very straight, and the action was low. The frets were pretty worn, but there was no pitting and no string buzz. Acoustically, the guitar had a very even balance both across the strings and all the way up the neck. This kind of response generally only happens when a guitar has been played for a long time. The studio day ended when Valerie came over from the house, telling Ed that dinner would be ready soon.


HALF WAY THERE...

LD: When Steve got back to New York, all new prototyping got underway. We ended up with 5 bridge prototypes and 6 neck prototype pickups, and everything was rushed to Music Man as soon as they were finished. Within a few days, one of the new neck prototypes hit the mark displacing the Custom Custom. I felt Duncan was using AL2 to mimic old demagnetized Gibson pickups, but every time Eddie got a drill near it, the pickup died. The new DiMarzio neck pickup incorporated an invention that Steve devised to reduce string-pull and soften the magnetic field.


SB: Ed was happy with the softer and quieter sound of the Alnico 2 in the neck position. My thinking was AL2 was unstable, and when Ed ran a power drill or Ebow over the guitar, the pickup would begin to demagnetize. The solution was to use a fully charged AL5 magnet but create air gaps to separate the magnet away from the pole pieces. This new design yielded the same gauss at the pole piece as AL2 while producing a stable magnetic field at the same time.The air gap pickup had another benefit, it was clearer and more open than an AL2 pickup. I felt that would be a better choice for Ed’s neck position and DiMarzio got a patent for the new invention. (DiMarzio US Patent Number US5399802A.)Side note: We’ve continued to use the same or additional patent technology on lots of other DiMarzio designs over the years: Air Norton, Air Zone, Air Classic, PAF 36th Anniversary, and PAF Bridge model (DP103 & DP223), Fortitude Bridge, LiquiFire, Pandemonium Neck, AT-1 and Ibanez Kiko Loureiro signature guitar pickups.SB: Although the new bridge samples were better, Ed still preferred the damaged pickup.


LD: Steve got to work on two new bridge designs. One included an idea he had for unbalancing the coils (pickup A) and the other was a more traditional winding style (pickup B). Both had more of the mids and warm highs that Ed wanted, and magnetically both used fully charged AL5 without an air gap. DiMarzio had a test guitar that let you pull pickups in and out quickly and we compared them before sending them to Eddie. I thought Steve’s new designs were the best that I heard and much better than the JB that was also being considered. I liked the “E”, “B”, and “G” strings on the JB but the wound strings got too muddy for my taste. Both of Steve’s new designs kept the wound strings pristine by comparison.I preferred the mixed coil version (pickup A) and bet Steve that would be Ed’s choice.


THE FINAL CHOICE

LD: Sterling told me that both of the new bridge pickups were loaded into Music Man guitars and Ed really liked both of the new pickups. Dudley, Sterling, Eddie and Steve Lukather were all playing the guitars. They were stuck and Ed couldn’t make up his mind which he liked better. He was switching back and forth and Luke said “One, that one” pointing at the the guitar with Pickup B. So pickup A was rejected by a hair and it was Steve Lukather who made the final call. (Luke still has the number 3 Music Man Van Halen.) I loved pickup A, the one that wasn’t chosen and released it as part of the DiMarzio line later that year naming it The Tone Zone


SB: The Tone Zone is louder, but the pickup in the Music Man has warmer, more focused mids, pretty similar to the damaged pickup I heard at the studio.


Installation


Dimarzio DP155 Tone Zone on my Custom Jackson Superstrat
My Test Guitar: Pink Tiger

The last Tone Zone stood on my “Pink Tiger” for a long while. Before that i had also several Tone Zone hbs on varius guitars o f mine. That pink tiger is a superstrat has a Jackson Dinky made of alder body, one piece maple neck in modern C profile, German made Jackson Floyd Rose tremolo, 25,5” scale, nickel silver frets, Alpha 500K pots and elixir strings in E-std tuning. Guitar has Dimarzio PAF Pro neck and Jackson middle pickups. Its primary (unplugged) tone is neutral to fairly bright.


Evaluation

Reviewing a widely known pickup is relatively hard. Because it is already known by many people and there are too many ideas. And some of you may find reviewing a classic unnecessary. However, with many newcomers entering this “pickup swapping journey”, i believe that somewhere, a written review of these classic pickup models would be beneficial.

Anyway,


Dimarzio DP155 Tone Zone

Magnet – Alnico 5

Advertised DCR: 17,31K Ohm (Series)

Measured DCR: 17,45 K Ohm (Series)

Measured DCR: 8,25 K Ohm (Slug Coil)

Measured DCR: 9,29 K Ohm (Screw Coil)

Inductance @100Hz: 8,79H (Series)

Inductance @100Hz: 3,77H (Slug Coil)

Inductance @100Hz: 4,03H (Screw Coil)

Gauss: 340G Screw, 375G Slug (arithmetic mean of the values measured from the D and G strings)

Measured C: -15,8 nF

Output: 375 Milivolts (advertised)

EQ (T/M/B) – 5/8,5/8,5 (advertised)

Wire Gauge: 42 & 43 AWG

Patents: Dual Resonance


If you read the Larry Dimarzio article above, Tone Zone is somewhat a derivative of Duncan JB. So you can think of JB while considering TZ as a base. But remember, Tone Zone is not Dimarzio version of a "broken" JB so it has its own magic and tune.


Yellow Dimarzio DP155 Tone Zone
Dimarzio DP155 Tone Zone in yellow

TZ has bold lows, well adjusted mids and warm highs. Because of that TZ is a real cure for two kind of guitars; i) if you have a guitar with a very thin sound on the bridge, yep, TZ will be a cure. Remember what Dimarzio describes TZ officially? “Have you ever heard a bridge pickup that made a guitar sound like a giant mosquito attack? If you’ve run into this problem, The Tone Zone is the solution” Yes, it is. On the right kindo guitar, it will fatten your guitar in a very good way. And ii) if you have a guitar which is too bright, lacking of bass and low mids, yes again, TZ might be your chosen one. The one brings balance.


Dimarzio DP155 Tone Zone
Dimarzio DP155 Tone Zone in its box

On the contrary, if you have a guitar with a very warm tone, you may encounter clarity issues with the Tone Zone. Or some problems with warm guitars with lower tunings, wound strings may feel floppy and muddy because of TZs powerful bass and low mid response. What is so delightful with standard E tuning can be a mass with lower/deeper tunings.


So that’s the reason i don’t understand why Ibanez chooses the TZ for some of their guitars with mahogany body/thin maple neck configuration as a bridge pickup. If I were to make a generalization based on my relative observations&experience, i would say that Ibanez guitars with very thin maple necks and mahogany bodies tend to have clarity issues, especially on the wound strings. I’d go for something more “neutral” than Tone Zone, anyway.



Nevertheless if you are in that kindo trouble, you are not cureless. As i had told you on my ’59 review, you can fine tüne the humbucker by adjusting the pole pieces, first. You can also add a small cap (47nF) wired series to the hot conductor may help but this one is not my own experience but an suggestion from Scott Miller as taught by Seymour Duncan himself. More advanced mods in order to alter the tone is of course magnet swaps and air/half air mods. Personally, my more advanced mod on TZ was adjusting the pole pieces. I did not need anything further but if I did, I would prefer to replace it rather than modify it. Because Dimarzio has many options as branches from the same tree like AT-1, Fortitude etc.


Moreover Frank Falbo has a suggestion for Tone Zone on Jemsite;

"Yeah I've heard that one before. It's a "half air" zone. It sounds like a great mod although I haven't tried it. I would insert a nylon filler so that the poles stay equidistant from the magnet at all times, but it's totally unnecessary. And no, it's not like getting an Air Zone. Because only half the pickup is "aired" the mismatch between the coils starts to add overtones and harmonics that wouldn't be in either the AZ or TZ by themselves.


I don't know why people have to get all juvenile. It's a valid idea. Lately I've been making a lot of custom pickups by winding my own coils, but also by making some coil combinations from multiple pickups. I have a Fred/Tone Zone combo that smokes. Less whineyness from the Fred, less wall of sound from the TZ. It's a great combo. It keeps the desirable qualities of both and eliminates the negative ones. The possibilities are limitless when you can think of humbuckers as two individual coils rather than a single pickup."


TZ is more compressed than Custom Custom of Duncan as i have mentioned on my review but more dynamic than most relatives under “high power humbuckers” topic.


TZ teams up pretty well with Paf Pro, Air Norton&Fred from Dimarzio line and bridge version of some alnico 2 PAF clones from Duncan like Pearly Gates(b), Alnico 2 Pro(b) as neck humbuckers.



Verdict


As you may guess, i would not recommend TZ for guitars thats tone is “darker” than the “mild warm”. Because TZ might be "Too Thick" for some certain guitars. Not recommended for lower tunings much because Dimarzio have much better options for going down.


I can confidently recommend Tone Zone to almost any type of rock guitarist, excluding those above. Particularly the ones who have bright guitars, "thin" tone guitars and playing hard music. This humbucker designed for Eddie, under Eddies instructions and guidance. It can’t be that bad, in his approach to powerful rock guitar tone anyway.

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