The Birth of PAF

As the second humbucker pickup ever produced, PAF was originally introduced in 1955 by Gibson on a number of company’s steel guitar models. Invented by Seth Lover, the PAF was reportedly manufactured only until the mid-60s. The patent was officially filed by the company in June 1955 and implemented on the first steel guitar series in 1956. The name itself came as an abbreviation of the words “Patent Applied For” stamped on the pickup’s underside.

Back in the 50’s, Gibson and Fender were essentially the only two major guitar manufacturers and therefore great competitors. Seeing how both the P-90 pickup from Gibson and the single-coil pickups produced by Fender had noise issues due to their current designs, Gibson opted to base their tactics for beating the competition on the production of high quality, low-noise pickups.

So Lover found the solution by connecting two single coil pickups in series, rather than parallel, and out-of-phase both magnetically and electrically, making the noise of each individual coil cancel out the noise produced by the other one. Interestingly enough, that is how the “humbucker” name was initially born.

PAF Magnet Specs

Initially, the length of a PAF magnet was approximately 2.5’’ with a 0.5’’ width and a 0.13’’ thickness. By 1962, mostly during 1961, the length was reduced to 2.25’’ with the introduction of the so-called short magnet PAF. The width and thickness were also reduced to 0.49’’ and 0.12’’, respectively.

Before introducing Alnico 5 magnets as a standard for each produced humbucker around 1961, Gibson used to randomly place Alnico 2-5 grade magnets into their pickups. To explain the technology further, we’ll first point out that Alnico stands as an abbreviation for aluminum, nickel, cobalt - the three metals alloyed during the magnet production. The magnet grade essentially marked its strength, with the higher grade marking the greater strength. Therefore, the sound inconsistency attributed to the early PAF models can be explained with the initial production ways.

As far as the short magnet PAFs go, their strength still outmatched the longer edition seeing that the Alnico 5 magnets were basically a standard for most of the short versions. So although the strength was decreased by the reduced size, the Alnico 5 magnets still well compensated such a loss and even overpowered the Alnico 2 long magnets with ease. More importantly, the inconsistency of the PAF was significantly cut down, making its purchase much less of a gamble for the musicians and all potential buyers.

PAF Wiring

Originally, the PAFs were produced with a purple bobbin wire wounded with a #42 plain enamel wire. The coatings change introduced around mid-60’s, reportedly in 1963, saw the company using the polyurethane-coated wires, switching the bobbin wire color to red.

The change in the coating domain also affected the sound, seeing that it determines the resistance of the pickup, along with the amount of wire wound. The greater amount of wire wound on each of the bobbins results in the loss of treble and a more massive, thicker midrange of the signal.

PAF pickups also proved as fairly inconsistent when it comes to the ohms measurements. Although Gibson started producing rather consistent pickups with 7.5 kilo ohms DC resistance at the end of the PAF era, approximately around 1962, the classic PAFs show a great deal of inconsistency, varying between 7.5 kilo ohms and as much as 9 kilo ohms. The variations were caused by the winding machines that were originally run manually, contributing with a human error factor during the production process.

Gibson switched to fully automated winding machines during the mid-60’s, reducing the inconsistency multiple times. However, the differences were also present between the individual bobbins, as one would often measure as much as an entire kilo ohm more than the other. But this type of inconsistency was in fact a good one, as it allowed some frequencies to leap out, essentially providing greater sound quality. The coil winder used in the process was Leesona 102; although Leesona 102 had an automatic system designed to keep the balance between the two windings, it was fragile and easily breakable, often causing unbalanced windings.

Gibson Guitars Using PAF

Although the iconic Gibson Les Paul is without a doubt the most famous Gibson guitar ever produced to have used the PAF pickups, several other models stand out and are definitely worth mentioning. The PAF models are as follows:

Jazz Guitar Edition PAF

The main difference between the Les Paul PAF pickups and the hollow-body jazz guitar Gibson pickups was based around the neck position pickup. The bridge pickup was exactly the same as the Les Paul Standard’s bridge and neck pickup, while the neck pickup had a few points that made it different than the regular models. Firstly, there was the narrower string spacing, as well as the 2/16’’ difference in distance between the centers of “E” adjustable poles when compared to the standard-spaced PAF. In the aesthetics department, the jazz guitar Gibson neck PAFs usually came in gold, matching the rest of the guitar’s hardware components.

Inside the PAF

To get to the very core of PAF, we’ll start from the outside. Most PAF pickups are known to have a brass cover with nickel plating; however, the earliest 1956 models were known to have a different cover made from brushed stainless steel. The models can also be set apart based on the bobbin screws, as the earlier pickups feature a set of brass screws, while the later ones were produced with a set of steel screws. Note that some of the earlier PAFs weren’t stamped with a “Patent Applied For” mark, but are considered as original nevertheless.

The marking itself features a distinctive gold lettering on a black background bordered with the same golden line. Due to the age of most of the original pickups, the letters have a tendency to turn slightly green.

Important note: While we’re on the subject of the PAF’s interior, we feel it is of great importance to stress that under no circumstances should you ever remove the original cover from any PAF you might encounter. Such action will severely deteriorate the pickup’s value, so if you really need to inspect the inside details, do it by unscrewing any of the bottom screws and taking a peak through the hole.

PAF Color Variations

Depending on the bobbin color, several different PAF pickups can be distinctively singled out, including the double black PAF, the so-called zebra PAF and the double white PAF.

Double Black PAF

There are several factors indicating that the given double black PAF is an original. Firstly, the inside wire should be a copper one and have the distinctive purple-like hue. Differences between the adjustable and non-adjustable side are also always visible, as the latter always features a bit larger circle. Reissue PAFs often tend to copy each of the features; however, the natural aging process and some of the older model’s distinctive characteristics make the original pickup easily recognizable. After all, it’s a 40-year-old device we are talking about.

Zebra PAF

As the name indicates, zebra PAF pickup features two differently colored bobbins, with one being white and the other one black. The zebra PAFs were initially introduced during the early 1959 with the black bobbing being the adjustable one in almost 100 percent of the cases.

Double White PAF

Featuring two white bobbins, the double white PAFs were introduced around the same time as the zebra pickups. The use of wire bobbins stopped by the mid-60’s, with the company turning all PAFs to double black models.

PAF Changes Timeline

From the first introduction in 1955, the PAF underwent several significant changes. We’ll sum up each of the pickup’s transitions in a timeline below.

1956 – fall of 1957

The time when the original PAF emerged. Featuring a long magnet and no signature “Patent Applied For” sticker, the pickup consisted of black lead on each of the two coils, double black bobbins, stainless steel covers and philips base screws. On the inside of the bobbins, purple wires can be found, while ohms vary from 7 kilo ohms to 9 kilo ohms. Also featuring tool marks shaped as the letter “L,” the pickups had a standard length of 2.5’’, width of 0.5’’ and a thickness of approximately 0.125’’.

Fall of 1957 – 1960

The PAF sticker was added, but the pickups still remained the original, classic models. The bobbin wire was still purple, the magnets were long, both coils had black leads, philips base screws and nickel-made covers. Tool marks shaped as a letter “L” were still present, ohms still varied from 7 kilo ohms to 9 kilo ohms. Black bobbins were dominant, although the cream colored type also began appearing from 1959.

1961 – 1962

This was the time of some of the very last PAFs. The major change occurred during the summer of 1961 when the short magnet PAFs were introduced by the company. Still present were the “Patent Applied For” stickers, purple bobbin wires, double black bobbins, black leads on each of the two coils, nickel-made covers, philips base screws, as well as the L-shaped tool marks. The new short magnet pickups had a length of 2.37’’, 0.5’’ width and a 0.125’’ thickness.

1962 – 1965

The PAFs of the 1962 – 1965 era still featured some of the classic PAF marks, including the nickel cover, philips base screws, PAF pickup style bobbins and L-shaped tool marks. However, the short magnets were now vastly used, the red bobbin wire was introduced around 1963, the bobbins started appearing in white color and became flat instead of bowed.

The final PAF edition of the previous period (1961 – 1962) is essentially identical as the 1963 nickel-plated Patent# pickup. Similar goes for gold parts guitars, seeing that the Patent# pickups featured on guitars produced as late as 1967 are an equivalent to PAFs of the 1961 – 1962 era. The only notable technical difference between Patent# pickups from the 1964 – 1965 period and the 1963 Patent# pickups is the switch from purple to red color.

Also note that the gold-plated PAFs featured in archtop Gibson guitar models can be detected as late as 1965. This came with a relatively simple reason – the Variton guitar models featured gold-plated pickups with one of them having a reversed magnet. Seeing that such pickup style was used much less than the nickel-plated model, the gold-plated Variton archtops can be found with a singe, or even two PAFs well throughout 1965.


The 1965 Gibson models featured the later “Patent No.” sticker without the T-top, while the bobbin wire color was changed to orange. Additionally, the covers were made from chrome, the pickups had short magnet models, philips base screws were still present, but the L-shaped tool marks started to disappear. The pickups also had a single bobbin head, as well as consistent 7.5k ohms. Note that the L-shaped tool marks began to resurface around 1972.

1965 – 1975

The PAFs of the final era featured the “Patent No.” sticker wit a T-top, as well as the orange bobbin wire and a short magnet model. Bottom base screws were mostly slotted out, but could still prove as philips, hole in the bobbin giving the view of the wire is no longer present, while the L-shaped tool mark can only be seen on the early T-top models.

Once the PAFs were out of use, the Patent# pickups have stepped in and were used from 1962 through 1965. Gibson introduced the next generation humbucker in 1965. The so-called “T-Bucker” or the “T-Top” was named after the T-shaped molding part in the front part of the two bobbins and was used well through 1975, rounding up an entire decade. The new pickups featured a “Patent No. 2,737,842” sticker, making cover removal the only actual way to notice the “T” mark. The T-Buckers have used either philips or slot screws to attach the bobbins; the only smaller alteration consisted of switching the black bobbin wires to white PVC type.

When it comes to the actual purchase of the used Gibson humbuckers, the buyers often go for the “Patent No.” stamp with the closed (unopened) nickel cover. Such an approach had proved itself as the safe one and most likely gives the buyer a solid guarantee that the pickup will be of high quality and at a decent price. The Patent# pickups are generally an excellent value, seeing that their sound is rather close to the original PAF models, but come at a much cheaper price.

The chrome-covered pickups on the other side, are bit more of a shot in the dark, seeing that the buyer can never be fully certain on what exactly he will find inside. There’s a good chance that he might get a T-Bucker, but there are also no guarantees. Therefore, such a purchase should usually be avoided, unless the price is too low or tempting to refuse.

PAF Forgery

Seeing how iconic the PAF magnets have become, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the forgeries occur relatively often. Although the differences between the original and the fake PAF can be detected when the two are taken up against each other, some of the forgeries have proven themselves as good enough to fool the careless buyers. When it comes to fake models, most attention is given to the physical appearance and the “Patent Applied For” stamps. As previously noted, the distinctive features of the original PAF sticker are the golden letters and border rounding up the black background.

Pickup Rings of the PAF

Usually called the M-69, the pickup rings featured on the PAF come with the black or possibly cream pickup ring, with the color being the only actual difference between the two. As a fully unique and customized feature of the Gibson guitars, they come with two different markings – the thicker MR470 bridge pickup rings and the slightly thinner MR491 neck pickup rings. The black-ringed PAFs occur more often, as the cream models were used solely for the Gibson ES-295 and Les Paul models.

Pickup Ring Forgery

To give you a better insight on how to detect the fake PAF rings, we’ll explain just how the forgeries are made in the first place. The entire process is based on producing the new Urethane plastic cast parts which are made through the use of RTV silicone rubber molds. So essentially, the forgers place the silicone mold around the original part and then remove the original part once the silicone is cured. The removal is followed by filling of the mold cavity with liquid urethane resin that creates the pickup ring reproduction once cured.

The process results in a perfect match of the original ring, down to such minute details as the original ring’s surface scratches. Therefore, the fake rings are often successfully sold by the forgers for the price of an actual genuine Gibson ring.

Several distinctive features single out the M-69 rings as identifiable, as they cannot be made through the use of a machined steel mold. One such feature is the so-called “funneled” screw boss mount located on the lead pickup rings which can be found on every original M-69.

Once the new fake rings are produced, the silicone mold used in the process seems worn and of low quality. One of the indicators of such state are the cavities formed around the bosses by the silicone webs. The silicone molds mentioned beforehand are can usually be used for producing between 10 to 20 parts, after which they tend to become fragile and basically unusable.

So although it may be hard to discover the fake pickup rings without the initial knowledge of the forgery technology, it becomes less of a problem once the basic fields are well covered. Another approach some of the forgers use is the sanding of the rings, which was actually something even Gibson occasionally did in order to make the so-called medium height pickup rings for numerous ES models, making the forgery much more difficult to detect, so be cautious.

PAF Pickup

PAF (also known as P.A.F.) is the humbucker guitar pickup produced by Gibson. Invented in 1955 by Seth Lover, the PAF is reportedly the second humbucker pickup ever produced. The pickup itself is often believed to be the very first of its kind, mostly due to company’s immense popularity and iconic status. However, the title of the world’s first humbucker pickup with an issued patent goes to Gretsch Filter Tron pickup prototypes.

Originally invented by Ray Butts back in 1954 after the personal request from none-other than guitar legend Chet Atkins, the world’s first humbucker was introduced in 1955 on the axeman’s Gretsch 6120 guitar. Despite the separate introductions, the production of both the PAF and Filter Tron began in 1957.

The name PAF comes as an abbreviation of the words “Patent Applied For” printed on the bottom plate sticker of each of the pickups. The name itself was reportedly not intentional and was forged after Lover and Gibson filed the patent during late June of 1955. Seeing that it took over four years (until July 1959) to have the patent number released, the unnamed humbucker was simply branded PAF by guitarists and guitar enthusiasts who used or encountered the PAF.

What singles out the PAF pickups in most cases is their appearance – the two internal coil bobbins located under the 1.5’’ x 2.75’’ metal plate. One of the two bobbins beneath the metal cover featured a total of six adjustable pole pieces located in a single row, while the other bobbin had six non-adjustable pieces. The standard classic PAF pickups usually featured approximately 5.000 wire turns on each of the bobbins, as well as the DC resistance varying from 7.5 kilo ohms to 9 kilo ohms. The later models had the more of a consistent 7.5 kilo ohms DC resistance.

PAF History

The PAF pickups were initially introduced on lap steel guitars back in 1956, as well as on the Les Paul Gold Top model and Les Paul Custom solid body electric guitar in 1957. The invention of the new pickup model was fueled by the company’s desire to beat the competition and replace the outdated post-World War II P90 pickups.

The time between 1956 and 1961 is most commonly referred to as the early PAF era. The pickups produced during this time show a great level of inconsistence, especially when the output strength and tone are taken into consideration. Several factors influenced such a difference, with the following three being the most significant:

1) The company’s early winding machines were operated manually and lacked automated mechanisms for wire cutting after the given number of turns. The different windings number on each of the produced pickups caused great tone and output variations. The same winding machine issues caused the coils of each pickup to be wound up a different number of times.

2) Gibson used to implement magnets with different properties randomly into each of the pickups. The type of magnets used was called Alnico (abbreviation of alluminum, nickel and copper) magnets with differend grades, ranging from II to V, with the grade V being the strongest kind and the grade II being the opposite. The random placings caused numerous severe differences within the guitars from the same production series. It was later detirmined that the most commonly used magned was the Alnico IV. Once Tim Mills, the pickup designer from UK’s Bare Knuckle Pickups, talked to Lover, the two concluded that the grade IV Alnico was the most ordered of all the magnet types.

3) The original pickups from the given time are currently well over 40 years of age and may have drastically changed in terms of magnetic properties. The most significant change includes the demagnetization of Alnicos, as well as the bending of the bobbins.

Pickups were initially wound with a purple-colored plain enameled wire No. 42, making them different from the later poly coated editions. Finally, the standardization of the PAF production took place during 1961, with Gibson installing automatic stops on the winders, significantly reducing the output signal differences between the individual pickups. However, it was only in mid-1961 that the crucial changes occurred, meaning that the early 1961 models greatly resembled the pickups produced during the early PAF era. By the late 1961, the shorter version of Alnico V magnets became a definite standard, further reducing the sound variations and inconsistency.

In order to cut the expenses, the company opted to use the polyurethane-coated wires during 1963, resulting in the wire color change, going from purple to copper red. The “Patent Applied For” sticker was also replased with a “Patent No.” sticker. From 1965, automated pickup winding mechanisms became massively used, giving the pickups a consistent number of wire turns and DC resistance. After 1967, the original pickup design was drastically changed, even resulting in a name change with the new pickups now known as the “Pre-T-Tops.”

The company began stamping the patent number 2,896,491 on certain PAF stickers; however, most of the pickups got labelled with a number 2,737,842, which is interestingly enough the patent number of a completely pickup-unrelated Gibson trapeze tailpiece bridge. The marked PAF pickups, wheter with the right or wrong patent number, remain quite rare and hard to find to this very day, resulting in its drastical price increase among the collectors and guitar enthusiasts.

By the end of the ‘60s, Gibson introduced the so-called “T-Top” pickups. Named afred a toolmark shaped as a letter “T,” their production continued throughout the next decade, well into the late ‘70s and even the early ‘80s. The T mark was initially placed in order to help the production workers place the bobbin in the right way during the assembling process.

Once the ‘80s arrived, an entire market for the vintage PAF pickups had emerged, leaving Gibson with a set of new business opportunities. Engineer Tim Shaw was designed to conduct a thorough research and produce a reissue eddition of the classic PAF pickups. For the first time, the company started producing Les Paul guitars based on vintage specifications. Such guitars were later dubed “pre-historics,” seeing that they presented the predecessor to an entire reissues line called the Gibson Custom Shop, also based on vintage specs.

Shaw’s initial research seemed to be brought to a standstill as his attemps of re-creating the PAF prooved as too expensive, seeing that the ideas were under srtict Norlin owners. The engineer ultimately managed to rebuild the bobbin without the T-shaped toolmark used in the ‘70s. Apart from placing the proper sqare hole and succesfully using the magnet of the same thickness as the PAF, Shaw figured out that the wire PAF used was enamel. Despite making progres in his research, the engineer was about to be set back once again as the enamel-coated wires were about $1 more expensive than the kind company regularly used. He also managed to reach Seth Lover, the original PAF designer, and discuss the production process and the specific parts used back in the day. Despite not reaching the desired goal, Shaw’s efforts resulted in a significant progress towards unlocking the secret behind the original PAF pickups. He later received recognition as the first engineer to embark on a journey of rediscovering the PAF.

Modern PAFs

The original PAF pickups are considered a rarity these days and come with a hefty price, so most of the prominent pickup manufacturers opt for producing the copies. As far as the tone goes, PAF is described as a vintage model humbucker pickup with a mellow tone and a low output. Some of the notable replica models include the following:


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