The Pride of the 80’s: The Shaw PAF

Tim Shaw PAF on my 1985 ES 335. Note the Sticker

I’ve already done a post about the 1981-1985 ES 335 but I didn’t go into very much detail about what’s right and what’s wrong with them.  As the most affordable of the breed (again, I write off the 70’s because there were more bad ones than good ones) the 81-85 335 can be a real gem.  Prices range from under $2000 for a sunburst to $3500 or more for a one piece neck blonde. These guitars come in a large variety of flavors and, kind of like late 60’s-ear;y 70’s Les Pauls, the value depends on what you have and how it was made. The good news all or nearly all of these guitars have what are known as Shaw PAFs.  These first showed up on the Heritage 80 Les Pauls in, uh, 80. Gibson was getting all kinds of complaints about quality and sound by 1980 because, under the ownership of the Norlin Corp, they had been cutting costs and making absolute crap for more than 10 years and the Gibson reputation was in the toilet. They asked an employee named Tim Shaw, who had working as an engineer at Gibson to re-create the pickup of the Golden Era at Gibson-the venerable PAF and to do so without spending any money. Because the mold for the old T-top bobbins was worn out, they let him make a new one and he brought back the PAF style bobbin-not that it would make the pickup sound any better. He studied a large number of original PAFs and came up with a remarkably good reissue PAF. He was not allowed to spend extra money for enamel coated wire like the originals, so he used the cheaper poly coated wire of the that was thinner to compensate for the coating being thicker to try to keep them close to the originals in terms of “turns” of wire on the bobbin. He used both Alnico 2 and Alnico 5 magnets. As I understand it, he wanted the sound of the Alnico 2 and he got it by using Alnico 5’s that had been magnetized in an “unoriented” way. Apparently, an unoriented Alnico 5 sounds a lot like a 2. He was quite successful-these can be wonderful sounding pickups. They look a lot like PAFs-the have a similar bobbin but the wire is orange instead of purple due to the different coating. I’ve had Shaws in the low 8K range and others as low as 7.1K. I find Shaws to be generally in the low 7K range and I also find many to be rather “dark”. This is not a bad thing because I find it easier to dial in more high end than to dial out harsh highs in a pickup. So, there were great pickups in virtually all of this era’s 335s. Identifying them can be tricky. Tim Shaw himself has said that they had no particular markings on them but most point to the stamped on numbers to indicate a Shaw. There’s usually a date stamp and a 3 digit number. The conventional wisdom is that the number 137 indicates a neck pickup and 138 indicates a bridge. But I’ve seen other numbers as well that seem to indicate Shaws. My 83 had 329 and 330. I’ve seen 179 and 180 too. There might be a few others as well. Some have a PAF sticker on them in a script like font and some have the same sticker on the pickup ring in plain sight on bass side edge. One of the obvious downsides however is wiring harness. Gibson used 500K pots on the original 335 but, for some reason (probably cost), they saw fit to use 300K pots which don’t sound good in my opinion-I find they give the guitar a very dark bassy tone that is a bad combination with a darkish pickup. I swap the entire harness with an RS or a Mojotone. Keep the stock harness intact because these will be collectibles very soon and folks might want them bone stock.  The pickup is just one of the positive things about these affordable Norlin Era gems. There is a lot more to talk about-the Nashville bridge, the smaller neck tenon, the 1 piece vs 3 piece necks, the harness and pots, the Grover tuners and a lot of other elements that make these great and some tips on how to make them even better. lastly, these guitars are 25-nearly 30 years old. Not only does that make them vintage-it makes them old. Think about playing a guitar from the 1940’s during the late 60’s and you’ll get the cold slap in the face that tells you that your youth has flown the coop. Yikes.

18 Responses to “The Pride of the 80’s: The Shaw PAF”

  1. tgee says:

    More excellent info… thanks! A little off-topic, but if you had a choice to buy a clean ’81 with one-piece neck or a ’59 Historic, which would you choose? Are all ’59 Historics created equal? Thanks.

  2. Will says:

    I love your site – I have learned so much about ES guitars from you – thank you! I wonder if you would consider doing a post about these aftermarket wiring harnesses and what makes them tick.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    I’ll get to it soon. I’ve used a bunch of them in the past and have had very good results. Sorry for the delayed response. My new spam filter is still being tweaked.

  4. JG says:

    Does the appearance of the Tim Shaw sticker on the base side of the bridge pickup make the pickups a PAF by default? If so are they both PAF-types? A little confused. I am considering a 1985 es-335. Thank thanks. Really great site.

  5. OK Guitars says:

    Shaws are NOT PAFs-they are a PAF copy. Gibson asked Tim Shaw to try to replicate the pickups of 58-63 and then didn’t give him enough budget to actually do it. They are decent pickups but not any better (and probably not as good) than most PAF type pickups available today. There are numbers on the underside that are associated with Shaws. The sticker is a good indicator as well that the pickup is a Shaw.

  6. Jonne says:

    This Shaw-PAF -thing seems a real mess. Even the man himself don’t remember how those pickups were used. There’s a huge diffrences on discussions groups and websites which prefix numbers are real “Shaw PAFs” and those list are rarely same.
    That sticker doesn’t seem to mean anything and it can be found only on minority of pickups. Only thing which seems to be consistent is that different numbers seems always belong to specific model:

    137/138 in Les Paul Heritage Standard 80/Elite, Spotlight Special and 30th Anniversary Gold Top.

    329/330 on early-mid 80’s ES-335 dot reissues

    153/154 on Flying V Heritage

    Plus the other numbers used:


    Are these all Shaw PAFs? If they are, why different numbers – it’s bit hard to believe they made special pickups for certain models or that they had time to measure and/or match them. And of course lots of people are selling now every 80’s Gibson pickups in eBay as Shaw PAFs…

  7. OK Guitars says:

    Nobody cared about measurements back then. I’m sure the codes meant something-I’m just not sure what. I don’t think they designated the model, necessarily as I’ve had 335’s with the 392/393 and the 137/138 code. And you’re right, every 80’s Gibson pickup is now, magically, a Shaw.

  8. I looked at the Red ’85 that you currently have in stock,as you suggested.After reading this post,does this guitar have the stock harness with the 300k pots?If I was to make an offer,should we talk about switching out to your suggested RS or Mojotone?

    you’ve got me started…

    Brad from Dallas

    PS You care to see my Tal Farlow?

  9. cgelber says:

    I just sold the 85 over the weekend. There will be others. It did have the stock 300K pots but sounded very good. I wouldn’t have changed them. Some 81-85’s sound a bit dark and a 500K pot equipped harness seems to cure that. This one was unusually bright.

  10. George Gohlike says:

    Hi, I have an 86 335 which I’m told has Shaws in it. Haven’t lifted the pickups yet to look but they appear to be low output (I’ll measure impedance when I get home). So my question is did some 86’s come with Shaws? Thanks

  11. cgelber says:

    Yes, some but not all 86’s had Shaws. I don’t see a lot of post ’85 335’s so I don’t really know how common they are.

  12. Neil says:

    I have a 1982 ES-335 dot that was purchased in the first Eric Clapton auction. The serial number on the neck is 329 882 and the bridge is 130 682. Do you think these are Tim Shaws? Thank you.

  13. cgelber says:

    They probably are Shaws. The second three digits are the date code, so they are likely original given they are both date coded ’82. I’ve seen 329 before but usually paired with 330, not 130.

  14. Neil says:

    Thank you Charlie appreciate the feedback.

  15. Matt says:

    Hi Charlie,

    What makes the ’81-’85 335s more desirable than the ’86s and ’87s? Is it strictly the fact that not all ’86 and ’87 335s have Shaw pups, or are there additional disadvantages?

  16. cgelber says:

    I think its the pickups. They really didn’t change much else.

  17. Lee says:

    Hi Charlie-

    Thanks so much for all your work on this site. It’s such an amazing resource for those of us afflicted with 335 lust.

    I’m curious to hear your theory of how Gibson came to make such a good re-issue in the early 80’s, then seemingly forgot again and has been reinventing the wheel since. I just can’t grasp how it’s been so challenging for them to recreate the same instrument consistently.

    I understand the decline of the Norlin years and the cutbacks to save pennies, but after they decided to start pursuing accuracy and got it somewhat right in the early 80’s, why do you imagine they slipped backwards again?

    I know there’s no definitive answer, but I’m very interested to hear your thoughts. I’d love an article strictly about the early 80’s 335 guitars if you think there’s enough meat there. I think it’s an interesting subject.

    Thanks for your time!

  18. Jim Mooney says:

    I have loved the 335 since I was 9 and the Beatles made me want to play guitar in ’64. My parents made me take lessons and my teacher had a sunburst 335 with a Bigsby…WOW!
    I have over 20 guitars in my apartment, but my very favorite is a 1985 The Dot in cherry red. Nothing plays or sounds quite like it, but it has been very difficult to secure info on it because Gibson has re-issued this instrument once again and the internet seems to have buried the original re-issue. Thank the good lord above that you have set up this site to promote and educate those in love with this wonderful instrument! Keep it up, PLEASE!!!

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