Kim LaFleur talks PAF Pickups

Thanks to Clay from Antique Vintage Guitars info who put together an in depth account of the Vintage Patent Applied For pickups used on Gibson guitars from the 50′s and early 60′s. We were able to put this page together using photos from our own collection of original PAF pickups.

Let’s talk PAF Pickups Enjoy the read: 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.

Photo by Kim LaFleur  ~ Vintage Checkout ~

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/248304585_JQoSQ-L.jpg

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. Here is a great example of a 1959 Gibson Les Paul sunburst with real PAF pickups:

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? Billy Gibbons with his 1959 Gibson Les Paul (Pearly Gates):

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/556010718_sB7f7-S.jpg

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 length-wise). Since inconsistency was king at Gibson during this time, Alnico 2 short magnets are sometimes seen too. By 1965 though Alnico 5 was the standard for all Gibson humbuckers. The original PAF magnet length was 2.5″ long, which was decreased by 1/8″ to 1/4″ to around 2.25″ in July 1961. But the “short magnet” PAF can be seen as early as 1959 and is still original. Gold plated guitars (ES-345, LP Custom, etc) seem to use the short magnet PAFs before nickel plated guitars (like the ES-335, LP Standard, etc). Just from a consistency point of view, July 1961 is the date considered by most as when short magnets were the norm for PAFs. Generally speaking decreasing the length decreases the power of the pickups, but this was somewhat counteracted by the Alnico 5’s added strength. When new, the shorter A5 magnet is more powerful than the longer A2 magnet. So do short magnet PAFs sound worst than 1957-1960 long magnet PAFs? NO. In fact, they may sound better in many cases. But there are lots of things that effect sound, with the magnet only being one piece of the equation. Dimensions of PAF magnets follow (measured using a micrometer, and obviously this will vary a bit from magnet to magnet): 2.509″ long (”long magnet” version), .506″ wide, .131″ thick. The “short magnet” PAF length was the a bit different: 2.371″ long, .491″ wide, and .121″ thick. PAF Magnets Another interesting point are the magnets in 1950s P-90 pickups (remember P-90 pickups are single coil predecessors to PAFs). There are *two* magnets in the P90 pickups, and yes they are identical to the 1950s PAF magnets (rough sand casted). Because of this, there has been a fair bit of “magnet hijackings” where players take p90 pickup magnets and put them into newer pickups, hoping to get that original PAF sound. Albert King with his 1959 Flying V equipped with original PAF Pickups:

PAF 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. The coil winder was a Leesona 102, and did have auto stop counters to keep pickups windings consistent. But these winders ran using a fiber gear and were prone breakage. The work around to fixing the counters is to time the winding process. That is one reason for the randomness of PAF pickup resistance. 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). A fantastic clip by the Allman Brothers Band featuring Duane Allman and Dickey Betts:

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). Peter Green with his 1959 Gibson Les Paul:

Gary Moore with the same Les Paul:

Jazz Guitar PAF Versions The 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.

A narrow spaced neck position PAF on a 1959 L-5CES http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/574876288_GvQYz-M.jpg

A “normal” spaced bridge position PAF on a 1959 L-5CES.

http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/574876295_iXWfr-S.jpg

The internals of a narrow spaced neck position PAF pickup. Notice the tooling marks (circled in red) where the “normal” spaced poles would be.

Pic by D.Paetow

http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/574876300_VPHSL-S.jpg

PAF Guts (Covers, Decals, Bobbins, Tooling Marks, etc)

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/574895854_dCcFa-L.jpg

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.

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/248304555_JLW6g-L.jpg

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). Here is a pre-PAF sticker 1957 Les Paul goldtop pickup. Notice the lack of a PAF sticker, which is common for many 1957 PAF guitars.

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/156132065_ZLkGp-L.jpg

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/156132286_7uiQr-L.jpg

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. The “L” shaped tooling marks can be clearly seen on the feet of these PAFs.

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ hhttp://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/574918384_tZ2Dq-L.jpg

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/574915815_5LyhH-L.jpg

Zebra PAF. Note the “circle around the square” tooling hole at the top of both bobbins. Notice the hole on the adjustable pole piece side has a smaller circle around it. The non-adjustable side always has a slightly larger circle. Reissue pickups copy this somewhat but don’t copy it just right. Also on newer pickups the circle and square is very clean and crisp. On original PAFs they are less perfect. Also look inside the bobbin holes for the bobbin wire color. It should be a copper wire with a purplish hue. The color of the wire is very important, and it shouldn’t look too clean (the pickup is 40+ years old!) One bobbin removed on an late PAF pickup, showing the magnet. The length of this magnet changed in summer 1961 from 2.5″ to around 2.25″ (decreased in length 1/8 to 1/4″).

Photo courtesy of vintage guitar info

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Enjoy this great clip from Snowy White with his PAF equipped 1957 Goldtop:

Zebras PAF Pickups Zebra PAF pickups. Starting in early 1959, PAF pickup bobbins started to be (randomly) white. On all zebra (half black, half white) PAF pickups, the white bobbin is almost always the non-adjustable bobbin (though there are rare exceptions). "Normal" zebra PAFs with the black bobbins with adjustable poles.

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~

Photo by Kim LaFleur Vintage Checkout

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~

The tape that is used to wrap the bobbins. It is *not* a PVC plastic tape, but instead is a black paper-ish adhesive tape. It should not look like it was ever removed, unless the pickup was rewound (rewinds are a bad thing).

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~

"Rare" zebra PAFs with the white bobbins with adjustable poles.

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~

Another PAF equipped Gibson Les Paul:

Double White PAF Pickups A double-white PAF pickup. Again in 1959 white bobbins were fairly common, and some pickups were Zebras (as seen above) and some were "double whites" (as seen below). For example, on Les Paul Standards around serial number "9 0600", the plastic humbucker pickup bobbins can often be white. By mid-1960 the use of white PAF bobbins ceased, and PAF pickups again because all black ("double black"). Again notice the "circle around the square" tooling holes at the top of both white bobbins.

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~  http://vintagecheckout.smugmug.com/photos/574895854_dCcFa-L.jpg

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~

Photo by Kim LaFleur  ~ Vintage Checkout ~

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~ 

 

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~Double White PAF Pickup    

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~Screw removed with white coil

Photo by Kim LaFleur ~ Vintage Checkout ~Bottom screw removed reveiling white coil

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