For many years, TV Jones was the only manufacturer offering a superior-quality alternative to the stock Gretsch Filter’Tron, and even Gretsch started installing TVs in high-end models.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for pickup makers to offer Filter’Tron replacements – and the Sparkletron is McNelly’s version. It features wax potted coils hand wound with 42 AWG wire, alnico 5 magnets and quarter-inch wood spacers.
Since these pickups don’t have the extended ears of vintage Filter’Trons, I put them in a La Cab-style Tele with a maple neck and swamp ash body. Fortunately, I had an almost identical La Cab loaded with a pair of TV Jones Classics to hand for comparison.
Both sets of pickups have obvious Filter’Tron attributes: low-ish output, a slightly scooped low-mid response and a tendency to twang. However, they are different in nature. The TVs are louder and more forceful, with more push in the upper-mids. The Sparkletrons sound clearer and smoother, making the TVs seem slightly harsh with overdrive.
I could also pick up more of the guitar’s woody character with the Sparkletrons, and the lower output interfaces well with old-school amps. On balance, I’d say the McNellys sound more like vintage Gretsch Filter’Trons than the TVs, although both sets lack the acoustic `fairy dust’ in the high treble you get with unpotted pickups.
All three settings sounded quite distinct. The bridge produces a fair bit of Tele-like quack, but compared to a Tele pickup the treble sounds a lot softer and sweeter. You can twang on the low strings, and the high strings have a full-bodied `pinginess’, with a slightly compressed transient attack.
The neck position takes on a sweeter and more vocal quality, that’s super-clear and balanced. These pickups are very sensitive and you can really tell the difference between a plectrum, thumb pick and fingers.
They also share the ability of an authentic Gibson-style PAF to sustain notes – regardless of gain and volume settings. The in-between setting emphasises the low-midrange scoop, and a phasey haze spreads across the upper-mids.The transient response is fairly forgiving and the middle setting softens things even more, which suits fingerstyle playing a treat.
Although they have a fairly low output by modern standards, the Sparkletrons don’t lack power. They’re well known for their countrified and twangy rockabilly tones, but this style of pickup works fantastically well with overdrive.
The Sparkletrons cut through dirt and fuzz to provide definition without edginess, and bass strings retain a tight and growly focus. After all, vintage Filter’Trons formed the basis of the AC/DC sound for decades.
McNelly has pretty much nailed the Filter’Tron thing with this set, although vintage obsessives might appreciate a bit more microphonic response to really open out the treble.
Whether that could be achieved by winding the coils a little looser or skipping the wax potting stage is something you can discuss with the UK distributor. Fortunately, McNelly is still able to fulfil customer requests but, even with this stock set, my La Cab has never sounded better.
• Price £94 each or £189 per set
• Description Soapbar-mount Filter’Tron-style pickups, made in Canada
• Specs 42 AWG poly-insulated magnet wire, alnico V magnets, adjustable polepieces, wax potted, nickel or gold covers
• Contact Home Of Tone 07976 972884