What is a PAF Pickup: Patent Applied For 2,896,491

In the world of guitar technology, one might wonder, what is a PAF pickup? The term “PAF” stands for ‘Patent Applied For’ and represents a significant advancement in sound quality. These humbuckers, developed by Gibson engineer Seth Lover in 1955, tackled the persistent hum and noise issues associated with single-coil pickups. By employing a design with two coils wound in opposite directions, PAF pickups effectively canceled out electromagnetic interference. They became a staple in Gibson guitars from 1956 to 1962, cementing their legacy in the music industry long after their patent was secured.

Original PAF pickups are prized for their warm, rich tone, which varies from one pickup to another due to production variances at the time. These inconsistencies, resulting from the hand-wound process and differing numbers of windings, inadvertently contributed to each PAF’s unique sound. This individuality is a significant factor in their charm and the reason why they’re so sought after by both vintage enthusiasts and modern players.

The allure of PAF pickups extends beyond their sound to their impact on music, with many iconic ’50s and ’60s guitarists using them to forge classic rock riffs. Today, both original and reissue PAFs are considered a benchmark for humbucking tone quality, embodying more than just components; they are integral to shaping a guitarist’s sound. Understanding the legacy and sonic properties of PAFs is key for any guitarist seeking to enrich their tonal palette, whether aiming for vintage depth or a contemporary edge.

What is a PAF Pickup: Patent Applied For 2,896,491

History and Development

When you delve into the world of electric guitar pickups, the term “PAF” stands out as a significant milestone in their evolution. It represents a pivotal moment when electric guitar sound took a leap forward in quality and versatility.

Invention by Seth Lover

In 1955, Seth Lover, an engineer for Gibson, invented the humbucking pickup to combat the unwanted noise associated with the single-coil pickups like the P-90. Lover filed a patent for his invention, hence the name Patent Applied For (PAF). These original PAFs were significant because they effectively ‘bucked’ the hum, reducing the electrical interference that plagued guitarists of the time. The patent number 2,896,491 was eventually assigned to this groundbreaking design.

Gibson’s Adoption and Key Models

Gibson’s adoption of Seth Lover’s invention ushered in a new era for their guitars. Initially deployed in the Gibson Les Paul Goldtop in 1957, these PAF pickups contributed to the iconic status of Gibson Les Paul Standard guitars, particularly the models from 1957 to 1960, famously known as the “Burst.” With their warm, full tones, these pickups are a substantial part of the Les Paul’s sonic signature. The Gibson PAF became not only a staple for Les Paul guitars but for other models as well, such as the SG. Guitarists like Eric Clapton favored these pickups, cementing their status in music history.

Technical Specifications and Variations

In this section, you’ll uncover the intricacies of PAF pickups, from the magnetic components that drive their distinct sound to the modern variations that pay homage to the classic design.

Magnetic Components and Output

PAF pickups feature dual-coil design, a hallmark of humbucker technology. The coils are wound with copper wire and are polarized by magnets, typically made of Alnico, which stands for aluminum, nickel, and cobalt. Earlier PAFs were known for using Alnico 2 and Alnico 5 magnets. The Alnico 2 magnets contribute to a warmer low end and softer output, while Alnico 5 offers greater clarity and focus in the highs.

  • DC Resistance: Vintage PAFs often have a DC resistance ranging from 7.0k to around 8.5k ohms, though this could vary due to the hand-wound nature of the pickups.
  • Nickel Silver: This material is often used for the base and cover, giving the pickup a degree of transparency and brightness.
  • Output Level: The PAF’s output is significantly less compared to some modern humbuckers, which lends them their characteristic touch sensitivity.

Characteristics of PAF Tone

PAF pickups are prized for their unique tone—a balanced mix of warm low end, clear mids, and crisp highs. In comparison to single-coil pickups, PAFs exhibit a fuller sound with reduced noise due to their dual-coil construction.

  • Touch Sensitivity: They respond well to the varying touch of a guitarist, which makes them exceedingly versatile for various musical styles.
  • Definition and Clarity: With the nickel components and chosen magnets, they allow for articulate string separation, even when distorted.
  • String Spacing: The spacing between the pickup’s poles is designed to match the string spread of a vintage guitar.

Modern PAF-Style Variations

Today, companies like Seymour Duncan are creating PAF-style pickups that replicate the vintage characteristics with some modern enhancements.

  • Pearly Gates: A model that reflects the original PAFs, with an emphasis on slight mid boost and rich harmonic overtones.
  • Coil Winding and Wax Potting: Modern techniques ensure a more consistent output while reducing microphonic feedback.
  • Uncovered Options: Some players prefer uncovered pickups for a slightly brighter and more presence-oriented tone.
  • Material Choices: Advances in materials have allowed for finer tuning of tonal characteristics, whether you seek vintage authenticity or a custom sound profile.

Frequently Asked Questions

As you delve into the world of guitar pickups, you’re likely to encounter a variety of terms and specifications. In this section, we’re focusing on some of the most common inquiries about PAF pickups to equip you with a better understanding of their unique qualities and impact on guitar tone.

What are the characteristics of vintage PAF pickups?

Vintage PAF pickups are renowned for their warm, rich, and dynamic sound. Developed by Gibson in the late 1950s, these pickups typically feature Alnico II, III, IV, or V magnets, and have an uneven number of coil winds resulting in a more organic tone. The Gibson PAF pickups are often sought after for their sweet, singing sustain and are a staple in blues and rock genres.

How do PAF pickups compare to P90 pickups?

PAF pickups and P90 pickups, both initially produced by Gibson, offer distinct sonic signatures. PAFs usually have a rounder, smoother tone with less hum due to their humbucking design. In contrast, P90 pickups possess a brighter, more biting sound and are single-coil pickups, which means they are more prone to electrical interference.

What are the best brands for PAF-style humbuckers?

Several reputable manufacturers produce quality PAF-style humbuckers, each imparting its flavor. Brands such as Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, and Lindy Fralin are well-known for crafting pickups that capture the essence of the vintage PAFs, offering various models tailored to different playing styles and tonal preferences.

What distinguishes a Gibson PAF reissue pickup from an original PAF?

Gibson PAF reissue pickups aim to closely replicate the sound of the original PAFs but may use modern manufacturing techniques and materials. The originals, crafted during a period from 1956 to the early 1960s, have slight variations due to hand-winding and material inconsistencies, making each one unique. Reissues strive for consistency and may have a more polished sound than the originals.

How does PAF pickup output influence a guitar’s tone?

The output of a PAF pickup significantly shapes your guitar’s tone by determining its overall volume and dynamic range. Lower-output pickups provide greater clarity and articulate response, whereas higher-output ones will give you a beefier sound with more midrange emphasis, suitable for driving an amplifier harder for the natural breakup.

Can PAF pickups be considered bright in tonality?

While PAF pickups are generally known for their warmth, they also offer a clear top-end response which can be perceived as a bright tonality. This is particularly true for PAFs with Alnico V magnets, which are known to provide a slightly more trebly and aggressive sound compared to their Alnico II counterparts.

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