Discussion in 'The Pickup Place' started by hcsterg, Sep 21, 2019.

  1. hcsterg

    hcsterg Country Gent

    Feb 13, 2012
    Guys !

    I need your input, help, experience, etc... about PAF and PAF-like pickups. Yes, I must confess that my knowledge about that kind of (nonetheless well-known) pickups is less than weak... :oops::oops::oops:

    The only experience I have about PAF-style pickups is :

    1 - my 1980 ES335-TD :


    She had Tar-Back, Split-coil (post-1974) models, with 300K volume and 100K tone pots, and possibly Ferrite magnet... IIRC, these pickups are called "Super Humbucking", but I may be wrong.

    They sound good, but what do they have to do with PAFs ? o_O

    2 - my (now sold) Hagstrom Viking :


    She was fitted with Hagstrom pickups model HJ-50, that I remplaced with a pair of BT FT :


    Because I found the HJ-50 pickups "Jazzy-Dark-Lacklustre" sounding...

    Again, what do they have to do with PAFs ? o_O

    I installed the HJ-50 on my Epihone LPS II LH instead of the original powerful pickups :



    No way : I retrieve that "Jazzy-Dark-Lacklustre" tone of the HJ-50 pickups...

    Of course, I can install a pair of HS FT on that Epi, but I would like to stay in the Gibson-Epi vein, if I can say so.

    Pearly Gates, Original PAF57, PAF 59, Alnico II, Alnico V, Fralin, Seymour, GFS, Chinese, Korean, Machin, Truc, Chose, etc...

    I'm in search of a smooth sounding, warm, expressive pickup, but NOT lacklustre, having sweet highs presence, but NOT agressive.

    I play most of the time clean, or dirty - think Soul, Funk, Rhythm'n'Blues, Rock'n'Roll, Rockab' - my maximum overdrive style with humbucker being "à la Santana". No AC/DC, no metal, no heavy styles...

    Splittable is a welcome option (for thin Rhythm / Wah tracks), but not compulsory though.

    So you get the picture, right ? ;) :D

    What pickup would you recommend then ? What's your personal experience about that ?

    Thanks for your replies ! :)

    J Bird likes this.
  2. Floo

    Floo Country Gent

    Dec 16, 2012
    Elmshorn, Germany
    As far as I know, there are many different PAFs. Early models vary in output (windings) and type of magnet. For my style, I've settled on Rockinger AlNiCo II - lower output, splitable, can be biting in the bridge-position, clear in the neck-position. In splitting-mode, I have the inner coils together which resembles a Strat-in-between-sound. By far not exactly, but close enough for funky rhythm playing.
    Good luck with your quest for tone - there must be bazillions of PAF-type pups out there :)
    J Bird and pmac11 like this.
  3. MTurner

    MTurner Friend of Fred

    Aug 17, 2010
    Clayton, North Carolina, USA
    For clarity's sake, let me ask (and for the one thousandth time, expose my utter ignorance): when one refers to a "PAF" pickup, doesn't that usually mean a 50s Gibson-style pickup? That's the impression I have gained from 9 years of reading this forum, at any rate.
  4. loudnlousy

    loudnlousy Friend of Fred

    Oct 18, 2015
    Hildesheim, Germany
    Generally spoken: The PatentAppliedFor sticker relates to the two hum-cancelling coils. Thats the patented principle. Somehow all contemporary humbuckers base on it.

    A classic Gibson PAF is a medium output pickup. When talking about classic PAF tone we talk about that original 50ies spects Gibson product.

    Fom my experience good ones can sound a bit like a Tele pickup in the bridge position. That implies that they have some bite.
    The neckposition is the more problematic one. Some models tend to -soundwise- vanish here when played with some crunch. A lower output model helps at this position because it will deliver you some more heights.
    There are many good quality offerings from various brands. Even some budget models do sound really great.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
    JeffreyLeePierre and MTurner like this.
  5. wildeman

    wildeman Gretschified

    May 10, 2015
    I REALLY like the Duncan '59, it's got all that classic LP tone in spades. I have four of them, highly recommended.
  6. Ricochet

    Ricochet I Bleed Orange

    Nov 13, 2009
    Monkey Island
    It's a fine line. While the basic construction of a humbucker is the same. To me a PAF or clone is always vintage orientated. So #42 gauge wire, Alnico 2, 3, 4 or 5 magnet bar, around 8 ish KOhm(ok between high 7s or low 9s). Not or barely potted(the cover).
    The rest is really a PAF deviation like those Tarbacks, or I just think of them as either a underwound or overwound/hot humbucker.

    Simplistic but clear, to me.
    pmac11 likes this.
  7. Ricochet

    Ricochet I Bleed Orange

    Nov 13, 2009
    Monkey Island
    To some a PAF is a vintage spec'd pickup, but I think nowadays it's mainly used to describe the type of construction.

    "Is this a real Filtertron? No, it's PAF sized"
    Robbie and MTurner like this.
  8. hcsterg

    hcsterg Country Gent

    Feb 13, 2012
    Thank you Guys ! ;)

    OK, @Floo. Rockinger AlNiCo II. Would you tell me more about your splitting mode ? I mean : you do not use the extreme coils (with adjustable poles protruding the cover) but the inner ones, and when switched in N+B position, you have that Strat-in-between tone : right ? o_O

    Yes, @loudnlousy : I don't want hot pickups, but a medium or low ones, and indeed no brutal tone. Think Don Felder / Joe Walsh "Hotel California" tune end chorus, to give an idea of the tone. Forget AC/DC and Arderoque styles...;)

  9. englishman

    englishman Gretschified

    Apr 5, 2014
    Just to be 'that guy'... Strictly speaking the P.A.F. only lasted to July 28, 1959, when the patent was granted. And they were only built 'that way' until 1975.
    The word "PAF" was trademarked by DiMarzio in 1978.
    The ones on my 74 SG sound really good.
  10. Bertotti

    Bertotti Country Gent

    Jul 20, 2017
    South Dakota
    If I was buying a PAF style pick up it would be a HighOrder pickup.
  11. audept

    audept Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Dec 1, 2010
    Sydney, Australia
    I have genuine PAF pickups on my 1962 SG Les Paul. They have the "patent applied for" stickers on the back of the pickups.
  12. Floo

    Floo Country Gent

    Dec 16, 2012
    Elmshorn, Germany
    @hcsterg , I've mounted them the other way, so I was able to fine tune the string balance of the splitted pups. It is not a "real" Strat-sound, but it's close enough for nice, crisp rhythm playing.
    @MTurner of course the real P.A.F. is, like Englishman said, only the Gibson humbucker of the late 1950s. Those had wide spread specs, different magnets, different numbers of windings. Lots of Pickup makers offer their take on the vintage Gibson humbucker, so that's what I meant. I guess if we were able to compare a dozen Les Paul's from 1955 to 1959, not two would have the same pickups/specs.
    hcsterg and MTurner like this.
  13. LivingMyDream

    LivingMyDream Friend of Fred

    hcsterg, have you considered the Gibson Classic 57 pickup? You get nice humbucker warmth, while also having the clarity in the treble range. I once had an Epiphone LP that I swapped the stock pickups to Classic 57/Classic 57 Plus (the Plus in the bridge position). To me, that Epi LP just came alive.
    DHart, larryb, hcsterg and 1 other person like this.
  14. audept

    audept Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Dec 1, 2010
    Sydney, Australia
    From Vintage Guitar Info article:
    Vintage Guitars Info's
    Gibson PAF (Patent Applied For) Humbucker Pickup Info.

    If you have an original Gibson PAF pickup and/or M-69 pickup ring for sale, please let me know by going to my Contact web page.

    Gibson solidbody vintage guitars history and collecting. Private vintage guitar collector. Pictures, history for Gibson solidbody vintage guitars.

    Picture Gallery, Gibson section.
    Gibson General Info.
    Contact the vintage guitar info guy.Because of the amount of "bogus" PAF (Patent Applied For) Gibson humbucker pickups out there, I was asked to create this web page (thanks to GW Dean and BurstMeUp for information and pictures). This web page includes information on the pickups themselves *and* their plastic mounting rings. The originality of the pickups and their mounting rings are both important factors in the integrity of a vintage Gibson guitar.
    There are some basic facts that should be known about these first-generation humbucking pickups. First PAF pickups came about in 1956 on Gibson steel guitar models, and on 1957 on many Gibson spanish guitar models, and lasted to about 1962 to 1965. Nickel plated part models transitioned away from PAF pickups first around 1962, since these guitars were sold in greater numbers. Gold plated part guitars can often be found with PAFs (or one PAF and one Patent# pickup) as late as 1965. PAF pickups of course have two internal coil bobbins under a 1.5" x 2.75" metal cover with one bobbin having a row of six adjustable slot-head poles, and the other bobbin being non-adjustable.

    PAF History.
    I guess we should start with a little history of the Gibson PAF pickup. By the mid-1950s, Gibson wanted to counter the latest electric guitars introduced by Fender. Leo Fender had built a company that was a sizable competitor in the solid-body guitar market place. Gibson believed they could beat Fender with their high quality Les Paul, and by developing a low-noise pickup.

    The problem with Gibson's P-90 and Fender's single-coil pickups was inherent in their designs, allowing 60-cycle hum (noise) to interfer with the sound. Seth Lover was the Gibson engineer assigned to solve the problem. Seth connected two single coil pickups in series (opposed to parallel) and connected the coils out-of-phase electrically and magnetically. Thus the signal noise of each separate coil canceled out the noise of the other coil. That is how the pickup came to be known as a "humbucker".

    Seth/Gibson filed their patent for the pickup design on June 22, 1955. Gibson added the new pickups to steel guitars in 1956, and in 1957 on electric solid-body and arch-top guitars including the Les Paul Model. During late 1957, a small black decal with gold lettering was added to the underside of the pickup that read, "PATENT APPLIED FOR" (hence the PAF abbreviation).

    Seth Lover received his pickup patent #2,896,491 on July 28, 1959. By mid to late 1962, Gibson changed the pickup decal to read, "PATENT NO 2,737,842". Interestingly the patent number listed on the decal was not for Seth's pickup design but was for Les Paul's trapeze tailpiece! Perhaps this was a research roadblock for the competition, or maybe just a mistake?

    PAF Magnets.
    From 1956 until 1961 Gibson used different Alnico magnets in their PAF pickups. Alnico magnets (alloys ALuminum, NIckel, and CObalt) come in a different grades based on their magnetic strength. Gibson generally used the same magnets (size/grade) which was available for their P-90 pickups. But Gibson randomly used Alnico 2,3,4,5 grade magnets in PAFs until 1961 (remember the higher the magnet's number, the higher the magnetic strength). This can often account for how two PAF pickups can sound quite different. In July 1961 Gibson began consistently using a smaller Alnico 5 magnet (smaller as in the flat top side of the magnets were smaller lengthwise). The original length was 2.5" long, which was decreased to 2.25" long in July 1961. Generally speaking decreasing the flat side size decreases the power of the pickups, but this was somewhat counteracted by the Alnico 5's added strength.

    Pickup Wire and Winding Methods.
    The pickup were wound with #42 plain enamel wire. On original PAFs the bobbin wire appears purple, versus later PAF and patent# pickups that appear reddish. Gibson eventually switched to polyurethane coated wire around 1963. When wire coatings change, the sound of the pickup does change, contributing to the PAF following. The amount of wire (and coating) wound on each bobbin determines the pickup's resistance. When the bobbins are wound with more than a nominal amount of wire (either on purpose or by accident), they are more powerful with fatter midrange but less treble. Due to the human factor and the wide tolerance of the manually-run pickup winding machines used by Gibson from 1956-1961, PAF pickups usually measure between 7.5 and 9.0 thousand ohms (K ohms). By 1962 (the end of the PAF era), Gibson was making pickups very consistently with 7.5k ohms of wire (give or take .25k ohms).

    The separate bobbins of a PAF can measure very differently due to Gibson's manufacturing techniques. For example one bobbin could measure 3.5k, and the other 4.5k ohms (for a total of 8k ohms). This mis-matched ohms is actually a good thing, as certain frequencies will stand out if both bobbins have different resistance. This contributes to why two PAF pickups can sound quite different.

    Around 1965 to 1968 (exact date unknown), Gibson changed from a manually-run pickup winding system to a fully automated system. Because of this their humbucking pickups all became a consistent 7.5k ohms from 1965 and later. The manual-run system had a machine operator that decided when a pickup bobbin reach about 5000 turns of wire. So there was plenty of room for under and over-winding. When the fully automated system came into place, the pickups were very consistent in their windings (and hence total ohms).

    Gibson Models which Used PAF Pickups.
    The 1957 to 1962 Les Paul Standard model is probably the most famous of the models to have PAFs pickups, though other models had them too. Like the ES-175, ES-295, Byrdland, ES-350, ES-5 switchmaster, L-5CE, the Super 400 and the ES-335/ES-345/ES-355 (when introduced in 1958/1959).

    Jazz Guitar PAF Versions.
    The fully hollowbody jazz guitars often used a slightly different PAF in the neck position which had different (narrower) string spacing, where the bridge position jazz PAF was identical to the neck & bridge PAF in say a Les Paul Standard. The models that used this narrow spacing neck PAF was the Byrdland, ES-350T, L-5CE, S-400CE and some Barney Kessel models. The distance on a narrow PAF from center to center of the two "E" adjustable poles is 1 13/16", compared to 1 15/16" on the "normal" spaced PAF pickup. Also since most of these models had gold plated parts, the narrow spaced PAFs would be gold plated (except on some Barney Kessels). If the pickup cover is removed from a narrow spaced PAF pickup, the "normal" pole position tooling marks can be seen on the narrow spaced PAF pickup.

    PAF Guts (Covers, Decals, Bobbins, Tooling Marks, etc).
    First and foremost, never ever remove the cover from an original PAF pickup, unless you have a darn good reason. There is just no need for this, and it really makes the pickup "unoriginal" if you remove the metal cover. If you are dying to see the color of the pickup bobbins, just remove one of the underside bottom mounting screws and look in the hole, instead of removing the pickup cover.

    Early P.A.F. pickups as used on the 1956 lapsteels and 1957 Les Paul Standard had brushed stainless steel pickup covers (brushed to make them look nickel plated). This quickly changed to brass covers with a nickel plating. If the cover was gold, the brass was first nickel plated and then gold plated. Early PAFs also have four brass bobbin attachment screws, instead of steel screws. Also the early PAFs with stainless covers often did *not* have a PAF decal on the bottom (so some 1957 Gibson guitars will have unlabeled PAF pickups with brushed stainless covers).

    With that in mind, the first picture shows the bottom side of the PAF pickup, and the decal that declares the humbucker is "Patent Applied For" (PAF). Note the lettering and style of the decals. The lettering is gold, and sometimes the gold does turn green just a bit. The clear edge decal border around the black PAF decal has a slight green tint to it. Again remember very early stainless steel covered PAF pickups will not have any decal on the bottom. Also note the untouched solder joints holding the pickup cover to the pickup base plate. And the single stranded black cloth-covered lead wire, which is shielded with a braided metal wrap.
    Robbie, Groutsch, scthom and 2 others like this.
  15. audept

    audept Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Dec 1, 2010
    Sydney, Australia
    PAF Pickup Detail Summary.
    Here's a summary of Humbucking pickups. Just be aware that changes occur over time. When I say "1965" that does not mean January 1, 1965. All changes transition in as parts are used up and replaced by new parts.

    • 1956 to Fall 1957: Original PAF. Long magnet, *no* PAF sticker, purple bobbin wire, black leads on both coils, brushed stainless steel covers, phillips screws on base, ohms can run from 7k to high 9k ohms, black bobbins PAF style bobbins ("circle in a square"), "L" shaped tool marks on feet. PAFs were first installed on lapsteels in 1956. The long magnet dimensions are 2.5" long, .5" wide, .125" thick.
    • Fall 1957-1960: Original PAF. Long magnet, "Patent Applied For" (PAF) sticker, purple bobbin wire, black leads on both coils, nickel covers, phillips screws on base, ohms can run from low 7k to high 9k ohms, black bobbins PAF style bobbins ("circle in a square") until 1959 cream colored pickup bobbins are often seen, 'L' shaped toolmarks on feet.
    • 1961-1962: last PAF pickups. Short magnet (starting July 1961), PAF sticker, purple wire, black leads on both coils, nickel covers, phillips screws on base, both bobbins are black again, PAF style bobbins ("circle in a square"), "L" toolmarks on feet. The short magnet dimensions are 2.25" long, .5" wide, .125" thick.
    • 1962-1965: Early "patent no." sticker, nickel cover, short magnet, PAF style bobbins ("circle in a square"), redish/copper colored bobbin wire (probably happened in 1963), some point in here bobbin lead wires change to one black and one white, phillips screws on base. Plastic on bobbins more durable and bobbins are flat (PAF style pickups often have bowed pickup bobbins), "L" toolmarks on feet. Note gold plated PAFs used in archtop electric guitars (especially varitone guitars) can be seen as late as 1965. The reason for this was simple - Varitone guitars had gold plated pickups with one pickup having a reversed magnet. This style of pickup was used far less than a nickel plated pickup. Hence these gold plated varitone equipped archtops are sometimes seen with one or two PAF pickups later than 1962.
    • 1965: Late "patent no." sticker with no T-top, covers are now chrome, orange wire, one white bobbin lead, short magnet, phillips screws on base, "L" toolmarks start to disappear off feet (but can be seen as late as 1972), ohms run pretty consistent at 7.5k ohms.
    • 1965-1975 (note overlap with prior bullet point): T-top, "patent no." sticker, no longer has hole in bobbin showing wire, orange wire, short magnet, screws on bottom of base are usually slotted but could be phillips. "L" toolmark can be seen on early T-top pickups.
    After PAF pickups were gone, the patent# pickups were next and used from 1962 to 1965. Then from 1965 to 1975 (note overlap) the next Gibson humbucker is known as the "T bucker" or "T top". They are called this because of a "T" that is part of the molding on the front of the two pickup bobbins. These also had the decal with "Patent No 2,737,842" (still the patent number of Les Paul's trapeze tailpiece). The only way to see the "T" is to remove the pickup cover. A small change in late patent# pickups was white PVC bobbin wires instead of black (black was used on pre-1965 humbuckers). Also T buckers can use either slot or phillips head screws to hold the bobbins to the base plate. From 1976 to the 1980s they still used the "T bucker" but now they had the correct patent number stamped in the metal bottom plate (no decal).

    When buying used Gibson pickups, many people will buy the "Patent No." style with an unopened nickel-plated cover. This pretty much guarentees you'll get a "good" pickup at a fair price (opposed to buying a PAF pickup with the "Patent Applied For" decal intact, which sell for more money). Sonically the nickel plated covered patent# pickups are excellent values, as they are very similar in sound to a real PAF pickup (but are much less expensive). Note if you buy a chrome covered Gibson pickup, it's a crap shoot as to what's inside - it could be either a T-bucker or not (but chances are good it will be a T-Top). For this reason I would generally avoid chrome covered Gibson humbuckers (unless they are really inexpensive), as the odds are against you in hopes of finding a non-Ttop.
    Floo and JeffreyLeePierre like this.
  16. audept

    audept Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Dec 1, 2010
    Sydney, Australia
    Sorry, the photos of the stickers would not print from the htm page
  17. pmac11

    pmac11 Country Gent

    Mar 4, 2018
    Toronto, Ontario
    I put a DiMarzio PAF in the neck position of my telecaster. Just what it needed.

    Sent from my SM-T560NU using Tapatalk
    DHart and hcsterg like this.
  18. ronbo

    ronbo Gretschie

    Feb 28, 2012
    Broomfield, Colorado
    I have a set of straight '57 Classics in my Epi Johnny A Custom and have found them to be very pleasing! They sound great clean...the neck really captures a good jazzy tone and the bridge has a nice bite without sounding thin...middle position is very balanced. With some crunchy overdrive they stay articulate so I can hear every note. I haven't played them with heavy overdrive much, since it is a full hollowbody it tends to feed back, but is pretty controllable. I've thought of putting the Classic plus in the bridge, but don't really need the extra drive and mids in the bridge...for now....
    hcsterg likes this.
  19. JeffreyLeePierre

    JeffreyLeePierre Synchromatic

    Nov 11, 2018
    Paris, north down Montmartre hill
    Very educational, thanks for posting.
    audept likes this.
  20. swivel

    swivel Synchromatic

    May 13, 2018
    I'm not that into HB pickups. As such, I try often to find the right one for me by trying a lot of models. I don't hear a huge difference in the different popular models personally, but my favorites for neck position are, best at top:
    #1: SD Alnico Pro
    #2: SD Seth Lovers
    #3: SD '59, Gibson 57 classic
    hcsterg likes this.
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