Will DiMarzio Take the Crown From Seymour Duncan?

We here at TheToneKing.com noticed that, at some point, Seymour Duncan became the kings of OEM. They were ubiquitous. Every guitar manufacturer was using Seymour Duncan as the go-to brand to drop in their gear. Probably the most used were the “Duncan Design” models. Recently, there seems to be a change in the trend, and it looks like DiMarzio might be poised to steal Duncan’s crown.

The pickup market is a crowded one.  Personally, I think there’s more mojo around it than we care to believe.  There are definitely other things in a guitar player’s signal chain that can have greater effect on their tone than pickups alone. That being said, there is no doubt that having the right pickup is like having the right set of tires on a car.

DiMarzio ruled the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. For about a decade and a half, nothing rivaled the DiMarzio sound. They were huge, gnarly sounding pickups that gave players more punch and growl than they would’ve gotten out of anything else at the time.

SH-13That changed when Seymour Duncan started producing thicker sounds for metal and rock players. Arguably, more players have dropped the ’59/JB combo in their axes than any other pickup combo ever. And, there’s good reason for that. They’re great sounding pickups. And, Duncan has a slew of other monster pickups. I love the Duncan Distortion, and the Screamin’ Demon is a sure favorite as well.

But Seymour Duncan didn’t stop with killer sounding pickups.

Fans of TheToneKing.com will know the words “Duncan Designed” all too well (they did come on the BCR TTK-1 after all). Duncan Designed pickups were a lesser expensive, non USA made import pickup that served one purpose: To capitalize on the Duncan name.  (Lesser expensive product making it more affordable for companies to equip their axes with the Duncan name).

No matter what’s on the label, Duncan Design pickups are not Seymour Duncan pickups.  (An Epiphone isn’t a Gibson, and a Squier isn’t a Fender … am I making sense people?)  Some may argue that Duncan Designed are not quite as lush, warm, or thick to their USA counterparts, but it gave manufacturers a cheap(er) pickup that said “Duncan” on it to put into their guitars.  After all, Duncan Designed are better than No Designed, if that makes any sense! (And, for the record – TTK’s Jackson V has Duncan Designed, and that guitar screams!)

We believe, perhaps bad marketing at its best. Duncan Designed pickups became more synonymous with Seymour Duncan than their high quality pickups ever could. And, Duncan Designed quickly became those pickups that every (okay, maybe not every) player would swap out of their guitars the minute they got them home.  Here’s another analogy … how many kids wake up wanting a Squier, or an Epiphone?  Not as many as those who want a Fender or a Gibson!  We’ve seen the same … Folks wanting to replace the Duncan Designed for either a real USA made Seymour Duncan, or whatever other brand tickles their fancy.  In fact – this was one of the biggest complaints on TTK’s own TTK-1.

Now, I’m no plumber, but I thought that Marketing 101 was “make everybody like your pickups.” Not, “make everybody have to spend an extra hundred bucks to replace their pickups.”

Once a company crosses that line too many times, there’s no return. Unless they can stand up on their own laurels – and I don’t believe Duncan Designed DiMarzio_02_FastTrackBKhas done so (just our opinion) – they’ll always be known as a less-than-desirable import pickup. Compared to (for example) Rockfield pickups who have made a name for themselves and have even garnered a cult following demonstrates that the import thing can be done, but, as Duncan Designed are known cheaper alternatives for manufacturers to put in their guitars, it sucks as a guitarist to have a guitar with those ‘soon to be changed’ pickups.

Note to manufacturers: we’ve learned to calculate the cost of a pickup upgrade in the purchase price of the guitar, making a guitar with cheap pickups less appealing.

With all of that said … Seymour Duncan is still very much plugged in. They still have most of the biggest names out there playing their pickups. But, their biggest problem right now is that they’ve saturated the market with the import pickups. With that said, here’s some dirt that I can share with you: Seymour Duncan took the plunge on imports.

Now, we’re starting to see an uptick in people using DiMarzio again, which is pretty cool.  We here at TheToneKing.com have always been fans of DiMarzio. Of course, they still have a lot of work to do. In the game of Social Media, Social Marketing and being in touch with the players, and what’s hot/what’s trending DiMarzio is going to have to play some catch up if they ever plan on taking the crown away from Seymour Duncan.  Seriously … I don’t believe they are at all in touch like Seymour Duncan is!!!

Are guitarists no longer attracted to the Duncan’s magnetic personality?

Get it? Magnets? Pickups? I’ll be here all week!

I’ve seen DiMarzio show up on a Fender Limited Run Telecaster that I recently picked up and on some ESP / LTD gear. And, there’s always Ibanez and Music Man, which have been using DiMarzio as a staple on their signature guitars for years. Check out Ibanez’s Iron Label Series! It could be that these companies are simply trying to mix it up a bit. But at the end of the day, if Duncans were still working for them, they would still be using them.

DiMarzio never went the import route.  What you see is what you get. They haven’t flooded the market with a lesser expensive alternative pickup with their name on it. Which, may help drive the market in their favor. Also, with a lot of the more progressive players like Tosin Abasi and Ben Savage getting more ink lately, the progressive favorite DiMarzio is sure to follow.

Personally, I love DiMarzio’s Super Distortion.  I also love me some Duncan Distortions!  Both are so hot … they  can drive your amp into distortion.

The question is, where do you believe the market is headed?  Do you think we’ll see more DiMarzio in stock guitars or do you think Seymour Duncan will retain the strong hold? Let us know in the comments below.


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