This is it - this is the big one - the best selling humbucker of all time. If you are starting a tone quest and are looking for a bridge humbucker or trembucker you should give the JB a real look. Even if it winds up not being your cup-of-tea, the JB has sold so well and its use is so pervasive that it is a valuable sonic reference-point regardless of if you use it or like it.
But there is a lot to like about it. This pickup is just great with mild to heavy distortion, giving a beefy tone with just enough snarl and cut to be heard in the mix. In part because it has been used so much to me it just sounds like a rock album - just plug one in and it sounds like a record.
The resale on these are very good (~$50-60 on eBay), so for this pickup if you're on the fence I'd say grab it, try it, and if you don't like it sell it at a slight loss, or just hold it in a drawer to try later with another guitar - it's a good one to have in the arsenal.
The JB in the name is a reference to Jeff Beck, for whom this pickup was originally wound by Seymour himself for a guitar known as the "Tele-Gib". Jeff used that guitar on the album "Blow-by-Blow" and several others after it - not bad for the first JB!
To close I'll paraphrase a reviewer on Ultimate Guitar who said: "If Chuck Norris played the guitar...this would be his bridge pickup". There you have it!
From the manufacturer:
The archetype hot-rodded humbucker for over 35 years. Great for everything from heavy blues to heavy metal.
Designed in the early 70s, the JB Model humbucker is our most popular pickup of all time, and is the world's most popular humbucker. It adds juice and versatility to the bridge position of any humbucker equipped guitar. With its hot coils, and alnico 5 bar magnet, this pickup delivers an unmistakable upper midrange attack, a tight, articulate low end, and harmonically rich highs that can really sing. The JB is the perfect bridge pickup for anything from blues & country to the meanest hard rock & metal. Often paired with the Jazz neck model for the ultimate Hot Rodded humbucker set. Compared to the SH-14 Custom 5, the JB has a stronger treble detail. Because of this, some players use it with 250K pots to smooth out the highs, though slightly rolling off 500K pots will accomplish the same thing.
Hand built in our Santa Barbara, CA factory, the JB Model uses an alnico 5 bar magnet, nickel silver bottom plate, 4-conductor lead wire for multiple wiring options, and is vacuum wax potted for squeal-free performance.
Recommended for bridge position. Often a JB is paired with a neck pickup like the SH-2n Jazz (Seymour's favorite) for versatility or a SH-1 '59 for P.A.F. tones.
For balanced and warm instruments. Works especially well with rosewood fingerboards.
Paul Stanley / KISS, Gary Rossington / Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ty Tabor / King's X, Steve Marker / Garbage, Nick Hexum & Tim Mahoney / 311, John Connolly / Sevendust, Dave Mustaine / Megadeth
Magnet type: alnico 5 bar, D.C. Resistance 16.4k"
Best videos/sound clips:
Here we have the positively epic 2012 Seymour Duncan 12-way bridge metal pickup shootout in all its glory! The top video is the "rapid fire" comparison (2 min total), and the bottom video is the 15 minute in-depth comparison. I've included these videos here as the SH-4 is in the video (bottom row on the right). What's great is that you get to hear the same song being played on the same guitar by the same player. The licks are tasteful and it's mic'd well. Now as a critique, the mix is pretty heavy and with the bass and kick drum I find it hard to tell much about the quantity/quality of the bass output of these pickups. My take on this video though: All of these pickups do a good job – really you could play metal with any of these and be happy. Note: As this is an older video it is missing the Black Winter, Pegasus, and Nazgul bridge humbuckers.
The player is Keith Merrow and the song is "Pillars of Creation". Keith is playing a Strictly 7 Guitars "Cobra" Baritone 6-string 27.5" scale guitar through a Rhodes Colossus H-100 head.
Here is the updated 2015 version of the SD metal bridge pickup comparison.
Here's a video put together by SD that is just pure fun. They basically took snippets from a bunch of different YouTube contributors' videos and made one big compilation. Don't hear a lot of clean playing? Well, that's because (IMO) this pickup really shines with moderate to heavy distortion. The chewy, snarly, sustaining tone the player at 1:08 gets is to me is a great example of what you can summon up with the JB.
This is a really nicely recorded metal video showing the classic JB bridge/Jazz neck combination. This is really a JB rockfest, but you do get a nice solo on the SH-2 Jazz neck at 2:54. Really huge sound - I love it!. The player is Pete Cottrell and the guitar is an ESP LTD DV8R.
Here's another of my favorite types of videos - identical player, identical guitars (except for color), switching back and forth without a pause or break - the best way to compare tones. Here we have Rob Chapman (an excellent player and very funny guy if you've never watched the Andertons videos, which I highly recommend). The black guitar has the SH-4 JB bridge and the white guitar has the Custom Custom TB-11. Now, I assume that is a typo and that they were either both humbuckers, or both trembuckers (if they really are identical guitars that would only make sense). Given that they are "super strat" type guitars I'd wager they are both trembuckers.
By the numbers you'd expect the higher output (more windings and stronger magnet) SH-4 to be more rolled off in the high-end, a bit more compressed when distorted, and have a relatively stronger bass response, and I feel like this comes through in the video. I wouldn't say the tones are super dialed-in here, but this is another well-recorded well-played video to take into consideration.
Guitars are the Chapman CAP-10 played directly into a Blackstar HT-5. Mic'd with a Shure SM57.
This comparison shows the stock JB vs. the 35th Anniversary vs. the Antiquity JB. There are some very subtle tonal differences here, to my ear the Antiquity being a hair brighter, but we are in the fine-tuning zone for sure. Great tones here, and well recorded. This gives a good sense of what the JB can do when doing what it does best (rock of course!). Same guitar/strings/amp/settings used for each. Amp is a Princeton Reverb driven by a Weehbo JMP Drive pedal and a Badgerplex AC pedal.
Here's a good no-nonsense comparison video by Mike Stamper showing the SH-4 JB and the AHB-1 blackouts active bridge pickup. Note that no EQ was applied but two tracks were laid down per pickup, so that will naturally beef up the tone a bit.
The clean part at 1:43 shows best the tonal difference between these pickups. The AHB-1 has a more balanced, broader frequency response. The highest frequencies are more present on the AHB-1 as well. To me the JB's treble rolloff and mid-treble resonance peak are what give it its characteristic snarl. Since a lot of distortion sits in this treble range the JB doesn't sound too warm when distorted.
Guitars used are the Washburn Idol WI-45 (AHB-1) and the Washburn Idol WI-65 (JB) tuned to C# with D'Addario EXL-148 12-60 strings.
This last video is in German (Anyone speak German? If so please let me know what's happening in this video!). The Epiphone Les Paul with the zebra set is the JB bridge/Jazz neck combo. The other Epi Les Paul with the nickel pickups - honestly I'm not sure. There is more talking in this video than suits my taste, but frankly I recommend just skipping to the playing, which is solid. Around 12:30 there is some bluesier playing as well which is nice. The head used is the Marshall JVM410H through a Bogner cab.
canaryreicyan here compares the venerable JB trembucker (TB-4) to the Distortion trembucker (TB-6). The microphone used is on the video recorder, so the sound quality is a bit lower than I'd usually include and there is more string noise than I like in a video, but the playing is good, the comparison is good, and he is playing snippets of songs we all know, all of which bumps this video up. The player also shows the amp settings used at the top of the video, which is helpful. The amp used is a Peavey 5150 head played into a Mesa Boogie 4x12 (4FBBR) slanted cabinet.
Gerson Guzman also compares the JB to the Distortion in the below video. He plays LTD EC1000 and LTD EC1000T guitars through a Mesa Single Rectifier in "vintage" mode into a cab with a Celestion Seventy 80 speaker. He also uses a Fullton OCD v1.7 boost pedal. I really like that the same riffs are repeated for each pickup and that they are tied together without breaks.