As we discussed in our review of the David Allen P-51 humbucker set, Vintage PAF tone is not easily defined by whatever year the pickup was created. We've found that PAF tone is more a bundle of characteristics that combine versatility and raw power. In our experience this means moderate output, clean neck tones with good note definition, and a bridge pickup that has a balanced sparkle but enough midrange for satisfying rock ‘n roll rhythm and lead crunch.
With a little less output than the P-51's, the David Allen Alley Cats fully take on the PAF spirit. We installed a set in our Godin Core HB and used them for several practices and were really impressed with how much they sang.
The Alley Cats use Alnico II magnets with a modest 6.88K resistance at the neck, and 7.8K in the bridge. Workmanship is excellent and there are thoughtful features such as very clear labeling on the base plate, short “legs” so they’ll fit practically any guitar, and four conductor wiring with different color jackets for the neck and bridge (so you can tell them apart in the control cavity).
In the neck, the Alley Cats provide a warm midrange that gives the pickup a rich tone, but the high frequencies are exceptionally clean. There is even a hint of that glassy tone associated with single coils. Notes in the high register were also clear and had strong attack. Low-end response on the wound strings was warm, but never spongy or mushy, with noticeably better attack than other Alnico II pickups we have sampled.
Using moderate amounts of gain with our Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive generated great blues crunch with solid midrange drive and plenty of note articulation. With lower output than the P-51's, the Alley Cats can perform "single coil" jobs with ease while the enhanced low end response of the humbucker adds full-bodied dynamics. Kick it up with more gain and it screams something right out of the Jimmy Page playbook.
The bridge pickup has plenty of high frequency extension, but it was also balanced, without any harshness or edge. With the tone control rolled off a bit it made for some really snappy rhythm playing with sweet top end. Wound string attack is also percussive and clear. While you wouldn’t mistake this pickup for a Tele, you'll find yourself playing things that previously might have required a different style guitar.
Getting down to some rock ‘n roll, we found the Alley Cats to be less dense sounding than the P-51's, but offered a more open, singing top end. The Alley Cats retain clarity under gain better than many pickups, and also responds well to variations in guitar volume (we rarely run the volume control on the guitar full up, preferring to run the amp hotter and leaving some room to play on the guitar). If you really want thick chunk, you can get pretty close by upping the gain quotient, but in general the Alley Cats are made to showcase musicality. If heavier rock tones are what you're looking for, the David Allen P-51's or DIrtyCats are a step in the right direction.
The David Allen Alley Cats are extremely versatile pickups that will appeal to players that want rich humbucking tone with superior clarity and definition. Whether you just like to crank your amp or use pedals, the Alley Cats can get great roots and classic rock tones that have a superb blend of attack, crunch and sparkle. If this is what vintage pickups are supposed to sound like, count us in.