Blacks, Whites and Zebras

1959 ES-355 mono. Who knew there would be a zebra in the bridge and a double white in the neck? I love an extra added bonus, don't you? It's in the "sweet spot."

This is not a post about racial equality but it is a post about equality or its lack. As guitar aficionados, we are strange. That’s clear. Nuts? You bet. Obsessive? Uh huh. Eccentric? Erratic? Insane? Well, maybe. What is it about PAFs that gets everybody’s heart racing? I play a 64 most of the time and it doesn’t have PAFs and I’m fine with that. It sounds great and that’s mostly what I care about. But consider this…Between July 2011 and July 2012 I bought approximately 65 Gibson guitars (mostly but not all ES’s). Mostly but not all from the PAF era. Mostly and I mean almost completely, double black PAFs. Out of, say, 120 Gibson humbuckers during that period, I think there were six double whites and one zebra. It’s true that folks have been scavenging them for years now but 98% of these guitars had their original pickups. The larger reason is that I bought a lot of 60-64s and they don’t usually get the whites or the zebras. And why should I care? The black ones sound exactly the same as the white ones and with the covers on, they look the same too. So why (oh why) do I get so damned excited every time I get a 59 or early 60 ES. Whyizzit I can’t wait to see what color the bobbins are? Well, they are worth more. Period. It’s like a treasure hunt…something for nothing. I don’t generally ask a seller what color the bobbins are because I don’t want them messing with the pickups (and I don’t want them raising the price). But you can bet as soon

Early 60 with double whites. It don't get much better than this. Ok maybe a stoptail.

as I get the guitar, I check them out. I’ve also learned that there’s a “sweet spot” in the serial number sequence where the white PAFs seem to congregate. It certainly isn’t foolproof but, in general, I know when to expect a white or zebra and when to expect a black-at least with the nickel covered ones. With the gold ones, all bets are off. In the past 2 months, I’ve acquired around 12 ES guitars with PAFs from 1959-1961. An astonishing 6 of them have had at least one white or zebra PAF. Let’s look at the serial numbers of the whites and zeebs I’ve found in the past couple of years. The nickel ones had serial numbers in the A306xx-A309xx range. that’s a pair of zebras and 2 pairs of whites. The gold ones show a wider range -the earliest gold covered whites or zebras I found were a zebra and a white in A306xx and another zebra in 309xx and a pair of zebras also at 309xx (2 numbers away). Two late 59 ES-345s both at serial A321xx had whites and the blonde ES-345 I bought had whites and was serial number A323xx which is an early 60. Then, I found another pair of zebras in (gasp) a 61 ES 355. Serial was not even an “A” serial but a four digit numbers only type. So, perhaps the “gold sweet spot” is less a spot than a blob. But there is a pretty big contingent of them at A321xx-A323xx. As players and enthusiasts, we care about tone and playability, so why would anyone pay an additional few thousand dollars (EACH) for white bobbins as opposed to black ones? I look at it something like this: There’s a scene in the Broadway version of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (and maybe the movie too, although I couldn’t sit through it) where the window dresser character insists that the mannequin in his window had to have a Balenciaga scarf in her handbag. You couldn’t see it but he would know it was there and it was vital to his design (and comfort) that it be there. Because “she would have one”. I think whites and zebras are a little like that. You can’t see them under the covers but isn’t it nice to know they’re under there? As an aside, none of this applies to Les Paul guys who wear their Balenciagas, I mean their white PAFs, without covers for all to see. Showoffs.

Two of these have double whites. One of them is, uh, the refinned one on the right. That looks cool but it also looks wrong. Leave the covers on. Isn't it enough that you know there's a white under there?

5 Responses to “Blacks, Whites and Zebras”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, another winning posting. Yes, always fun to peek “under the hood” to see what color the bobbins are! The early ’59 ES-345 I had had a double white in the neck position; the ’59 355 mono had a pair of all-whites! But I agree, ES guitars look better with their covers on!

  2. Samba says:

    Entertaining as always. Thanks Charlie – love this blog.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    Like scratching a lottery ticket only you win once in a while.

  4. RAB says:

    This topic has been discussed elsewhere but has there ever been a documented sighting of a full white or zebra patent # pickup?

  5. OK Guitars says:

    Yes but really, really rare. I think there was one posted on the LP Forum a couple of years ago. There was also a double white T-top.

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