Pickups: Part 1 PAF to Patent #

This is a pretty big topic, so I’ll split into 3 or maybe 4 pieces. There are a lot of good articles that have already been written about Gibson’s humbucking pickups, so instead of getting deeply into the evolution and technology, I’ll just try to cover the basics to the ES. The PAF-which stands for “Patent Applied For” is the first incarnation of the Gibson Humbucking pickup invented by Seth Lover in the early 50’s and in use on Gibson guitars since 1957. The PAF is considered by most to be the best sounding pickup ever made. Not all of them, though. Because they were largely made by hand, there as many different winding patterns as there are pickups. Some have more wire in the middle, some have more at the edges, some have more on one edge, some are evenly wound and every combination in between. Call the brilliant sounding ones “lucky accidents”. As they added things like counters which counted how many times the wire was wrapped around the bobbins, they became more consistent. As better winders were introduced, a more even and consistent wind homogenized the sound-made more of them sound exactly alike. This, however, didn’t occur until much later and so it is possible to get a great PAF, a good PAF and even a not so good PAF. I’ve never heard a bad one but they probably exist. The PAF had 2 separate coils and was wrapped with enamel coated wire that was a dark purplish color and from 1958 until they replaced it, the sticker on the back of the pickup said “Patent Applied For”. When they finally got their patent, they switched (although it took them years and they put the wrong patent number on them) to a sticker that said “patent number 2737842″ which is the patent number of a Gibson bridge. The new sticker was phased in from 1962 to 1963. It is typical to find 335s with one Patent number and one PAF in the 62 and 63 models as Gibson slowly used them up. the guitars which used gold plated pickups made the switch later because there were far fewer of them and the PAFs on hand lasted into the mid 60’s-some say as late as 67.
Another change that occurred was a change in the alnico magnet in the pickup. In the early PAFS-through 1960 (or so-nothing happens overnight at Gibson) the magnet was around 2.5″ long. These are called long magnet PAFs and are considered the most desirable type. In 1961, the magnet was shortened to 2.25” or so. These are called…wait for it…short magnet PAFs. The short magnet PAFs had the same windings as the long magnet but many say they sound different. I’m one of them. The difference between the short magnet PAF and the early Patent number pickup is the sticker. Period. Nothing else. Yet, a PAF equipped 1962 ES 335 can bring a few thousand dollars more than a Pat # equipped one. Same pickups. I would recommend if you’re a player to buy an early 60’s ES 335 with Patent number pickups and save some serious money-a few thousand dollars is not out of the question. If you’re a collector or investor, buy the PAF equipped one because it will always be more valuable when you’re ready to sell. The next change to occur was a change in the type of wire used to wrap the bobbins-a change which occurred in or around 1965. We’ll cover those and the T-top type that followed in another post. Oh, and one other point…this will be considered sacrilege by many aficionados but I’ll say it anyway. In my opinion, if you want to be assured of a great sounding pickup, get a guitar with short magnet PAFs or the early patent numbers. Almost all of them sound  excellent-they are more consistent and you are almost assured of a great sounding well balanced pickup.  Why not early PAFs? The problem is that there are hundreds if not thousands of PAFs that just don’t sound alike due to winding differences. I’ve owned long magnet PAFs that sound exactly like short magnet PAFs. I’ve owned long magnet PAFs that have full resonant lows and screaming highs or dull, lifeless lows and screaming highs. Or compressed highs and dominant mids. Find one you like and keep it no matter what the label says.  But I believe you are most likely to get a great sounding pair of pickups if you get a guitar with either 2 short magnet PAFs or 2 early patent numbers or one of each. There are other changes to talk about-double whites, “zebras”, no sticker PAFs, chrome covers, nickel covers in phase, out of phase and on and on. We’ll get to all that and ways to identify the real deal among the many copies and fakes.

Above: PAF

Above: Patent Number

3 Responses to “Pickups: Part 1 PAF to Patent #”

  1. Gregg Nickens says:

    I have a very good question for you. Did the mid 60’s ES-335 guitars that utilized short A5 magnets in their “Patent Number” pickups typically exhibit scooped mids?

    Reason being, is I have what I believe to be a pair of Fujugen Gakki (Patent Number) humbuckers from the “Mint Series Collection” of the late 80’s to early 90’s that were previously in a Greco SG. It is my desire to install these pickups in an ES-335. With short A5? magnets the neck measured around 7.35K and the bridge measured around 7.43K Ohms. The only problem with these pickups in the SG were their noticeably “scooped mids”. The lows and highs were both articulate, clear, sharp, and balanced but, again lacking in mids. Is this a common feature or trait of the mid 60’s Patent Number or T-top humbuckers that measure in the 7.5K Ohm range? I swapped in a pair of un-oriented alnico 5 rough cast long magnets which should give me slightly rounded highs and lows with more mid range but I can’t help but wonder if rough cast short alnico 5 magnets with more mids might be the ticket.

    What brought this whole subject to my attention was when I installed a WCR Pickups – Bet Set humbucker pair into another ES-335 guitar of mine. The neck measures 7.5K Ohms and the bridge measures 7.4K Ohms. The WCR pickups have the necessary mids and are the most articulate set I have. The DC resistance measurements made me wonder if Jim Wagner (WCR now JWP Pickups) is copying an optimal “Patent Number” humbucker set from Dickie Betts goldtop Les Paul guitar. Can you please provide more info on this subject? Thanks

    Gregg Nickens

  2. cgelber says:

    You can’t judge pickups by DC resistance alone. While it has a lot to do with frequency response (according to Seymour Duncan), there are other factors as well like wire gauge and how they are wound. Mid 60’s patent numbers had short A5 magnets and are fairly consistent at 7.5K. I also find many t-tops to have scooped mids as well. I don’t find that to be particularly objectionable but to generalize that an A5 at 7.5K is always going to be scooped is an oversimplification.I have swapped the short A5 magnet for long A2’s and for long A5’s with very little difference. My experience is that you have to put the pickup in the guitar and listen through your favorite amp. If you like it leave it. If you don’t, try something else. It seems to be more voodoo than science.

  3. Gregg Nickens says:

    In your opinion, do you hear “scooped or hollow mids” from the A5 short magnet Patent # humbuckers in Eric Clapton’s 64′ Gibson “Crossroads” ES-335 guitar ? I am aware that one cannot judge humbuckers or any pickup by DCR alone however, for many ES-335 guitars of the mid 60’s era a DCR of approximately 7.5K Ohms or thereabouts yields “THE” magical tone.

    cgelber – “My experience is that you have to put the pickup in the guitar and listen through your favorite amp. If you like it leave it. If you don’t, try something else. It seems to be more voodoo than science.”

    That’s all well and fine for a Les Paul where pickup pulling and pickup parts swaps are easily done but we’re talking about ES-335’s and f-holes here. What you’re telling me is a given.

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)