Sticker Shock


Is this sticker real or fake? You decide. It's getting pretty hard to tell sometimes.

Is this sticker real or fake? You decide. It’s getting pretty hard to tell sometimes.

Or this one?

Or this one?

How about this one?

How about this one?

It’s a fact that plenty of Gibson humbuckers from the late 50’s and particularly the early to mid 60’s didn’t get a sticker. Whether they ran out of them or just weren’t that concerned when they reached into the pickup bin and pulled one out with no sticker, I don’t know. But there are plenty of them. In some cases, the stickers simply fall off and you can, at least, see the outline and know it was once there (although not necessarily a PAF sticker). In others, it simply never had one. I love the “philosophical” tree falls in the woods argument about whether a pickup with no sticker can be a PAF. Considering an early patent and a late PAF are the exact same pickup with a different sticker…yep. Tree falls int he woods. But I want to talk about fake stickers-especially fake stickers on real PAFs. I recently bought a PAF from a dealer I really trust and when I got it, I could tell immediately that the sticker was wrong. The cover looked right, the feet had the correct tooling marks and the solder looked good too. I returned it because a fake sticker calls the entire pickup into question-even if it didn’t have one from the factory and someone decided it couldn’t hurt to put on a good repro.

To my knowledge, no one has gotten the stickers right. The problem is that if they did get it right, I wouldn’t know it because it would be right. But I also figure I would see them for sale somewhere and that would tip me off. There are some really good fakes but they all seem to get something wrong. Usually it’s the font or the spacing but there are some that have that pretty much nailed. The next thing is the profile of the letters-they should be raised so you can see the dimensionality when viewed at an angle. There are fakes that got that right too. The letters should be metallic and at least some of the loops (open areas) in the “A”, “P”, “D” and “R” of “Patent Applied For” should be filled or partially filled and look kind of blobby. A few get that right as well but none seems to get it dead on. Part of the problem is that most players don’t get to see a wide range of PAFs. The stickers can age differently and they can shrink. I’ve seen stickers that look brand new and others that are virtually unreadable but they all have those same characteristics-raised metallic letter, tight spacing and blobby looking loops. There’s a pretty big range of surrounds from none at all to quite wide but not as wide as the surround on many patent number pickups.

Here’s another trick that unscrupulous seller might use…If you have a PAF with a complete sticker you could cut it in half and use the other half on another pickup. They don’t come off very easily but I’m sure someone has figured out how to do that. So, be careful of partial stickers. I assume the unscrupulous seller wouldn’t be dumb enough to put both halves into the same set of pickups. Well, maybe I shouldn’t assume that. Just look very closely when part of the sticker is missing and look at both pickups together.

But if it’s the real deal, it’s still the same pickup, sticker on not. The sticker doesn’t affect the tone and tone is the point. And, in general, if I get a guitar with one stickered PAF and another that isn’t and I can tell the pickups have never been out of the guitar, then I don’t worry too much about it. In a case like that, I pretty much know what it is and the sticker is a little less of an issue. And if the pickup is opened, I can at least tell if it’s either a late PAF or an early patent and, being the exact same pickup, I suppose it doesn’t matter which it is. There are characteristics of the bobbins, the wire, the tape, the lead wires, the base plate and the screws that are distinctive. I’m sure they can all be faked and I’m sure I’ve been fooled at least once but to get everything right-including the sticker-is a tall order and I truly hope nobody ever gets it 100% right. Answers: 1) Fake 2) Real 3) Fake,no, real. no? yes? You tell me.

Here's a really good closeup of a real one. It shows pretty clearly most of what I talked about in the post.

Here’s a really good closeup of a real one. It shows pretty clearly most of what I talked about in the post.

10 Responses to “Sticker Shock”

  1. Danny says:

    Charlie, how can you tell if a pickup has been opened or not? Is it the solder?

  2. cgelber says:

    You can usually tell by the solder. But, if the solder looks unbroken and pristine, take a look at the edge of the pickup cover. Is it bent outward? If so, it’s probably been off.

  3. RAB says:

    Interesting discussion and highlights the tremendous depth-of-knowledge of minutia required to be an expert in such things! When I sold a pair of mint all-white PAFs for $400 (that I took off of a mint ’59 ES-175D so I know they were stock) back in the late 70’s there wasn’t so much incentive to fake PAFs and stickers…with today’s price tag on a pair of full whites there is unfortunately motivation for the unscrupulous. I like to rely on a sense of the overall mojo of an instrument. After holding, owning and playing hundreds of old Gibsons you tend to know it when you see it!

  4. Hank says:

    If you look at a fake sticker with a loupe you will see the gold paint is actually multicolored. On real stickers the paint is solid gold.

  5. cgelber says:

    I’ll have to get myself a loup. I have a pretty big magnifying glass but a loup is probably a good investment considering how many PAFs I see.

  6. jamman says:

    Hi Charlie , When I look to try and determin if a PAF/Early Pat.# is the real deal , Better Hi-Res picutres are a must . Full, Sraight on pics ,imo, are a must . I Zoom in on the pictures to get a very good look at the details.

    The last picture is , from what I can see in the Low Res Picture , Not real . Still I’d want better pictures before making a final conclution .

    BTW , Great website . I’ve been hooked on 335’s since getting my Memphis 2103 ’59 335 .

  7. Allan says:

    Hey Charlie, I noticed the lettering was lower on the second one making me assume that it was a fake, is this normal? If so how much variance have you seen with where the lettering is on the sticker. The real example appears to be just a little lower than centre, but not as low as number 2.

    Thanks to this site I spotted #1 as fake pretty quick, and just as quickly decided that I’d never be able to determine #3 from that photo. Thanks for all the hard work!

  8. cgelber says:

    The position of the words on the sticker can vary. The relative position of the words to each other does not.

  9. Carter says:

    My guess is that #3 is real. However, I am no expert.

  10. Carter says:

    I was looking at the large pic of the real one. I now think the #3 is a fake. The spacing of the LI underneath the A in Patent is something I look for. It seems that sometimes the T above FOR doesn’t line up with the F in FOR, but it does in your pic. People used to tell me that if the T lined up above the F that it was a fake. I see now that that is not always true.

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