This might be a bit of a rambling waffle but bear with me...
I know a few of you have been crowing about this for years And it's not like I didn't believe you, I just thought I was more comfortable in high-output territory.
I've recently started to build up a rig again. As a result of this massive amp testing day me, Mr S, and 7DT had a couple of weeks back, that put to bed what I like about amps. Tried all sorts of shit, and I ended up bringing home my old 8100 that I'd sold to 7DT, and have been absolutely loving it (like seriously loving it, preferring it over my love for Rectos even).
As a result I've been playing lots of guitar, literally any spare 5 minutes I have I'll fire it up. Playing for the sake of playing, the pure love of it. Nice and loud, with my pedalboard set up, 4 cable method, so I can really dive in with a smorgasbord of textures at my disposal. Boosts on and off, FX on and off etc.
But not just my guitar. My customer's guitars too.
After I've completed a set up I'll plug it in and play it for a while to get a feel for the set up, see what needs a tweak.
That often promps me to A/B it against my own of course. Especially if my ears are pricked up by a certain something.
But absolutely across the board I've massively preferred the tone, feel, and general response of the more medium-output stuff.
For example, there's a Gibson LP Studio I've got in my workshop at the moment which is just crushing it with the stock pickups.
I mean, I remember when I had that black Epi LPC (now owned again by Mr S) I took it to rehearsal with a Duncan 59 in the bridge, and it sounded phenomenal. So I don't know why I'm surprised by any of this...
I've clung on to the Duncan Distortion (and pups of that nature) for so long, but every few months (as if you hadn't noticed with all the pickup threads I start) I'll feel dissatisfied and swap it out. But I always end up swapping it out for something comparable. Same sort of output. JB's, Evo's, Aldrich, L500XL, D'Activator... Whilst they've all got their individual character, they're all practically identical in output and feel. Same "family" of pickups.
It's funny really but I guess this was inevitable; The reason I had that "amp day" was to shake free of the 5150/Recto trap, wanting to get away from *that* style of amp, that type of tone. It naturally follows that pickups were next I guess, as they're also a by-product of yesteryear when I was playing heavier music.
When I get some time towards the end of this month I'm going to try some of the more medium-to-high output stuff. Namely the Custom. Just the bog-standard Custom. I've tried the Custom 5 in other guitars and really dug it but the Custom sounds better to me on paper, and I think it will suit my Charvel more. That guitar is pretty much all mids. And with my use of 16k+ mid-heavy high output humbuckers, it's just mids on mids and it results in that fat wall of sound that gets kinda spongy, even with relatively low gain settings.
So my findings lately are that, whilst with a high output humbucker you don't as often need a boost, a lower output pup + a boost sounds so much thicker, grindier, tighter, more defined, more controlled, and better note separation than a high output pup straight in the front (or with a boost, for that matter). With use of the gain knob you can obviously get them to a similar level of saturation, but the character and feel of the tone is different.
Let's say you set up a good crunchy high gain tone with a moderate output pickup. You plug in afterwards with a high output pickup. Doesn't matter how you dial it in, the medium output pup just sounds more toneful. Has more body to it. The fact that you're having to dial in a touch more gain just makes the amp work harder, and the guitar still retains its inherent character, because you're not clipping the tone at the source.
And let's not forget about the treble attenuation that has to happen... The hotter the wind, the darker the pickup, so the tone has to be shaped by other factors to bring the brightness back up again. I think this is why a lot of hot pickups have such an undefined high end and don't get that separation you get with others.
Just for shits and giggles, check out the tone I was capable of getting from this customer's partscaster Tele
I mean that's just some no-name single coil for fucks sake
That's an extreme example... But you get the point.