The Seymour Duncan JB is one of the most popular guitar pickups in the world. Today we take a look at its legacy, the artists that swear by it, and reviews from multiple sources.
The Seymour Duncan JB: Over 40 Years Of Tone
Seymour Duncan was in all the right places at the right time in the ’60s and ’70s. This was the rise of innovation when it comes to electric guitar. We had some of the greatest players really making their mark on the world. People like Jimi Hendrix and Les Paul had completely changed the scope of what could be done with electric guitar.
This was a defining era for guitar, and it would influence future generations of guitarists to continue to take innovation further and further. The electric guitar is almost synonymous now with Rock and Metal, yet we still look back at the guitar heroes of the ’60s and ’70s for inspiration.
But what we rarely look at as guitarists, is what was going on behind the scenes and backstage during those years. To be fair, the history of some of the gear that was used back then is just as famous as the people that used it! Look at something like the 1959 Les Paul, and how these are still sought after today. It’s because of legend, and sometimes…a bit of myth mixed in.
Some of these pieces of gear can still be purchased today. A great example of this is the Seymour Duncan JB humbucker. The JB came about in a time when most guitarists used whatever pickups came in their guitar. They never really questioned the likes of manufacturers like Fender or Epiphone. Back then, if you had a Fender guitar, you just used the guitar as it came.
It wasn’t until the late ’70s and early 80’s that people started to really mod their guitars. Some people had a vision for what the perfect guitar was, and others like Eddie van Halen… well they had a wild idea that had never been done before. But to mod your guitar, you needed after-market parts. This is where people like Seymour Duncan stepped in.
Seymour Duncan discovered pickup mods by necessity when his pickups started malfunctioning in his own guitar. He rewound the pickups himself and noticed a huge improvement in tone. This lead to him becoming a humble guitar tinkerer and eventually producing his own products. None as famous as The Seymour Duncan JB.
The Seymour Duncan JB gets its name from Jeff Beck. He had asked Seymour for a pickup to go with a custom-designed double-humbucker Telecaster that was being built. He needed a pickup that could cut through the mix, handle distortion, but also clean up nicely when needed. Seymour was more than up to the task.
The rest is history!
The Seymour Duncan JB: Specs and Features
The Seymour Duncan JB humbucker is popular for a good reason. It works with just about any wood combination you can think of, in just about any type of guitar. This is due to how the pickup is designed. The JB has an interesting EQ that allows the guitarist to really take advantage of their amp or rig.
Because of the EQ being in the highs and mids, some people think the Seymour Duncan JB can sound a little “ice picky” at times. I have never had this experience before, but I can see what people mean. I would rather have more mids and treble than I need, and just dial it down on my amp, than to have a muddy pickup. You can also use 250K pots with the JB, which makes it a little more mellow, yet less defined as an end result.
The JB humbucker has lots of treble and mids dialed into the design. This allows for each string to ring out evenly, where sometimes the bottom strings can get seriously muddy with a humbucker. The JB is usually used in the bridge position for this reason. It still has some bass dialed in, but the bass is less pronounced than the highs and mids.
That’s not to say you cannot use the JB in the neck position, because you absolutely can! But I think it was designed to work best in the bridge. In the neck position, it is not quite as warm as I would like, especially on a 24 fret guitar. You can mess around with the tone knob to dial it in just right, but I honestly think the JB is better in the bridge.
Basically, the JB is meant to be a classic “PAF” style humbucker, on steroids. It still retains most of the qualities of the original humbuckers from the ’50s and ’60s. The JB is just a little more boosted, and a little meaner. The construction features of the JB are modeled after classic humbuckers, and that shows in the way they are made:
- Alnico 5 Bar Magnet
- Nickel Silver Bottom Plate
- 4 Conductor Wire (For Coil Splitting)
- Can also Be Used In Parallel Or Series
- Vacuum Wax Potted
- Available in 6 and 7 String Models
- Several Color Options
- Comes Open Coil, Or Covered
The main feature of the JB humbucker is its versatility. You see these pickups in lots of different styles of guitars, playing all kinds of different genres of music. While the JB is known mostly for Hard Rock and Metal because it sounds so good under distortion, it has been used by Jazz, Blues, and Country players all the same.
It definitely has the stereotype of “The Heavy Metal Pickup” but I think it can do a lot more than just shred. Don’t let the stigma that the JB has gained over the years fool you. Of course, Seymour Duncan is known for making pickups especially for Metal, but that’s not all the company does.
Many Country players actually prefer the Seymour Duncan JB in the bridge, because of the highs in the EQ. It not only cuts through the mix, but it gets pretty close to the “Chicken Pickin” tone that Country guitarists are looking for in a bridge pickup. Usually, this sound can only be achieved with a single-coil pickup, yet the JB replicates that sound really well.
While we can name some famous guitarists that used the JB over the years, it might be easier to name someone who hasn’t. The List is pretty diverse…
- Eddie Van Halen
- Scott Ian
- Richie Sambora
- Billy Gibbons
- Noodles (The Offspring)
- Paul Stanley
- Joe Perry
- Dave Mustaine
- Kurt Cobain
- Billie Joe Armstrong
- John 5
- Brad Paisley
The list could really go on forever. The JB humbucker has definitely made its mark on the music world. The most interesting aspect of the JB to me personally though, is the consistency throughout the years. You can take one of these pickups that was made in the ’80s, and compare it to one made yesterday, and they would be almost identical in output and EQ. This has actually been tested many times before, on an oscilloscope!
This means that even though the Seymour Duncan JB was once a hand-wound pickup, the new CNC machines do a great job of replicating the original. So in a way, it is like buying a piece of history. In the end, you can get some classic tones without paying the high price for a truly vintage pickup.
After all of these years, the design and specs have gone pretty much untouched, and the JB is still one of the best-selling pickups in the world. People from all over the place seem to be in agreeance. It’s pretty difficult to find a bad review of the Duncan JB anywhere. Many guitar manufacturers like Cort and Dean come pre-installed with the JB because it just works. It is usually paired with the Duncan Jazz in the neck.
Most Metal pickups use a ceramic magnet, while the JB uses an alnico. This gives the pickup a wider band of frequency response. You can throw a ton of distortion at the JB humbucker and still have clarity. The JB can do just about anything. There is a reason it's still one of the best-selling pickups in the world!
Seymour Duncan JB: Reviews From Around The Net
I could go on and on myself about how many guitars I have used the JB Humbucker with. Once I found out that Metallica and Megadeth used these pickups in the ’80s, I knew I had to have one in my Les Paul at the time. I went on to use the JB humbucker in a Gibson Explorer, a Les Paul, and even a Fender Strat at one point. It handled everything I ever threw at it and sounded great both live and in the studio. But don’t take my word for it!
The JB is offered in plenty of different flavors; F-spaced, standard spaced, covered, uncovered, and 7 different colors options. At the street price of $79, it’s really hard to beat for a metal tone. Although it excels in the rock/metal genres, it is also well suited towards jazz and blues styles as well.
Overall, this is a well-crafted, affordable, and evenly balanced pickup well suited for most applications. If you are looking for a high-output pickup with loads of clarity at a really good price, the JB will get the job done. It’s no wonder that it has earned the title as the ultimate “hot-rodded” humbucker.Wired Guitarist
Is it any wonder why this is Seymour Duncan’s best selling pickup, and has been for many years? This pickup has just the right amount of mids poking through the signal, nice highs without the “icepick in the ear” effect (with the right potentiometers), and nice tight bass. The JB is Duncan’s best selling pickup because it sounds good whether you’re doing hard rock, funk, chicken pickin’, or blues!Sweetwater Sound
The Seymour Duncan JB holds up great under heavier distortion. These pickups give good bite, cut, and note definition, with less of the high-end fizz than I’ve gotten from some other pickups. Single note runs are clear and crisp, while power chords have all the growl and snarl you could ask for.
The JB is also very clear and responsive by humbucker standards. You’ll hear the little nuances of your playing come through with these pickups. Now they’re not as clear and crisp as a single-coil pickup would be, but no humbucker is.Guitar Guru
The Seymour Duncan JB: Wrapping up…
The Duncan JB is almost legendary these days when it comes to gear-heads and guitar nerds like myself. It has stood the test of time, and has never really been tweaked or redesigned to be more “modern”. The JB is a wild character, and I don’t think that Seymour Duncan would have it any other way. Seymour gave guitarists new options, at a time when options were pretty limited.
When Eddie Van Halen made his “Frakenstrat” guitars, he tried to find the most suitable pickup to fit his unique style. The pickup had to be as unique as Eddie, and his guitar’s design only had one single pickup. Eddie found what he was looking for in the Seymour Duncan JB. Not to mention that the sound of 80’s Thrash Metal was largely due to the Duncan JB as well. It was used so widely because it was a vast improvement over stock pickups and could really open up the sound of your guitar.
If you were ever thinking of upgrading your stock pickups, the Duncan JB is a great place to start. While other Duncan pickups have more specific uses, the JB is the best when it comes to versatility and quality. Throw a JB into one of your favorite guitars, or put one in a guitar that maybe never sounded great to you.
Either way, I think you’ll be surprised with the end result!
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar, bass, and piano for 28 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. Chris has toured for years with several bands and music projects across the United States. He worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician and engineer working with many genres, but mainly Pop, Rock, and Metal. In between giving private lessons, he is usually recording under his various projects at home in Georgia. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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