Of the many clever little bits of technology that music has inspired, few are as useful as the humbucking pickup. First popularized by Gibson Guitars in 1955, the humbucker solves a vexing problem intrinsic to single-coil pickups: hum. In essence, the thousands of turns of copper wire required for the typical pickup do more than reproduce the sound of a vibrating string; they also happen to make a great antenna for all of the electromagnetic interference infecting the modern world. Through some clever wiring and attention to magnet polarity, a humbucker uses two wire coils to cancel this noise but pass desirable signal. Yet a humbucker’s construction—especially its extra magnet and coil—make it sound qualitatively different from a single-coil. This sonic difference is neither good nor bad, but if you want a true single-coil sound, you’re pretty much stuck with hum. The Illitch Electronics Jazz Bass system offers a potential solution, promising to deliver the near-silent output of humbuckers, but with single-coil pickups.
Engineer Illitch Chiliachki paid his dues in well-respected luthier and repairman John Suhr’s shop, first offering his new system in Suhr’s instruments. Since then, he’s teamed up with legendary pickup maker Lindy Fralin to offer his product to a wider audience. In bass form, the system consists of a replacement pickguard, with Fralin’s fantastic single-coil J-style pickups, for a 5-string. The pickguard disguises a wide-spread wire coil with only a few total turns that emulates the noise-reducing impact of a humbucker, without adding enough wire to fundamentally alter a single-coil’s tone. Installation is pretty simple, although there is some rewiring and soldering involved, so if you’re not experienced, it’s best to have a local repairperson handle the job.
I tested the Illitch System in a Fender Jazz Bass. Under normal circumstances, the bass would hum. In fact, I intentionally A/B’d the Illitch-equipped bass against my own ’66 Fender Jazz, trying to move as close as I could to sources of induced hum (AC mains source, transformers, etc.). In every case, the single-coil-equipped vintage Jazz hummed like mad, and the Illitch-equipped Jazz was silent. Given the small impact that the Illitch system has on pickups’ DC resistance, there’s also no evidence that the tone is altered in any significant way. It’s literally a single-coil pickup sound, only hum-free.
There’s not much more to say about the system than that, except that certain basses may require some routing to get it to fit right. Also, you’ll have to replace your pickguard. If these things aren’t an issue, it’s really the only way I’m aware of to get true single-coil tone from a hum-free pickup.
Jazz Bass Pickups
Pros Illitch System works as advertised; made sexy-sounding Fralin single-coils hum-free
Cons Requires a pickguard swap and possible minor woodwork to fit
Bottom Line No-hum single-coil sonics.
Made in U.S.A.