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In the first in­stal­ment on PAFs, we take a look at the piv­otal for­ma­tive years of Gib­son’s epoch-defin­ing hum­bucker…

Guitarist - - Contents -

Dur­ing the late 40s, Gib­son be­gan to build upon the ini­tial suc­cess of its pre-war Elec­tric Span­ish range by ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion of elec­tric gui­tars sport­ing its new P-90 sin­gle-coil pickup. By this stage, the elec­tric gui­tar had be­come a much more prom­i­nent and pop­u­lar in­stru­ment within sev­eral mu­si­cal gen­res, due to its po­ten­tial for am­pli­fi­ca­tion in a band set­ting. No longer was the gui­tarist con­fined to thrash­ing out acous­tic rhythms in the back­ground – the stage was now set for them to take the lead.

Dur­ing this time, Fen­der be­gan com­pet­ing di­rectly with Gib­son in the elec­tric lap-steel mar­ket. Mean­while, be­hind the scenes, both com­pa­nies were si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­vel­op­ing their own ver­sion of a solid-bod­ied elec­tric Span­ish­style gui­tar. Fen­der pipped Gib­son to the post in 1950 with its Esquire and Broad­caster instruments, and the Les Paul Gold­top Model ap­peared in 1952. As the early 50s pro­gressed and the new solid­bod­ied ‘elec­tric Span­ish’ gui­tar trend took hold, Fen­der as­cended to mar­ket leader sta­tus and be­came a se­ri­ous com­peti­tor of Gib­son’s, while carv­ing out its own Tele/ Strat-shaped fu­ture in solid ash.

With a far lesser propen­sity for un­con­trol­lable feed­back than hol­low­bod­ied electrics, the new solid-bod­ied instruments en­cour­aged guitarists to push the en­ve­lope even fur­ther with vol­ume. How­ever, with greater vol­ume of­ten comes greater noise – as many guitarists fa­mil­iar with the omi­nous 50/60Hz un­der­tone of AC mains hum em­a­nat­ing from their am­pli­fier speak­ers will at­test to! Gib­son pres­i­dent Ted Mc­Carty was to find a so­lu­tion to this per­ceived prob­lem – one that might put the com­pany a step ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion – as elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer Seth Lover overde­liv­ered on his lat­est pickup de­sign for the com­pany us­ing hum­buck­ing dual coils.

Seth be­gan his as­so­ci­a­tion with Gib­son as early as 1941 and de­vel­oped its sin­gle-coil Al­nico V pickup around 1952 in an effort to max­imise loud­ness and com­pete with the high-out­put DeAr­mond

Model 200/Dy­na­sonic pickup that was be­lit­tling its beloved P-90. By 1955, Seth’s work on the new Gib­son hum­buck­ing pickup was com­plete and a patent was filed in June of that year. Al­though phase­can­celling dou­ble-coil tech­nol­ogy had been ‘buck­ing hum’ since the 30s, it was a first for Gib­son and the com­pany soon be­gan in­te­grat­ing it into pro­duc­tion, be­gin­ning with lap steels in 1956.

Mi­grat­ing from elec­tric lap steel to Span­ish-style elec­tric gui­tar in a sim­i­lar man­ner to Fen­der’s orig­i­nal sin­gle-coil Esquire bridge pickup, Gib­son’s new hum­bucker first started ap­pear­ing on elec­tric solid­bod­ies and arch­top gui­tars from 1957. Later that year, a black rect­an­gu­lar de­cal read­ing ‘Patent Ap­plied For’ in gold-coloured cap­i­talised font was added to the base of the pickup, giv­ing rise to the ‘PAF’ acro­nym. Al­though a patent was granted in July 1959 (num­ber 2,896,491), the ‘Patent Ap­plied For’ de­cal re­mained com­mon­place un­til 1962, when a new de­cal fea­tur­ing the patent num­ber of a Gib­son trapeze tailpiece ap­peared read­ing ‘Patent No. 2,737,842’… Yes, it’s con­fus­ing! And the jury is still out as to why this oc­curred.

In spite of Gretsch re­ceiv­ing its Fil­ter’Tron hum­bucker patent vir­tu­ally

in tan­dem with Gib­son, the hum­buck­ing pickup has re­mained chiefly syn­ony­mous with Gib­son for many years – ar­guably the most iconic im­age be­ing that of a PAFloaded Les Paul Stan­dard or ’Burst. The char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally dense, chunky tone of these Gib­son Les Pauls – as com­pared to Fen­der’s typ­i­cally thin­ner-sound­ing sin­gle-coil pick­ups – of­ten brings to mind those clas­sic-rock-era gui­tar he­roes who played their part in pop­u­lar­is­ing hum­buck­ers to­day, such as Eric Clap­ton, Jimmy Page and Billy Gib­bons. Seth Lover cer­tainly did not fore­see the path his in­ven­tion would take in terms of mu­sic mak­ing, and the ‘holy grail’ gui­tar tones these artists would later pro­duce seems al­most in­ci­den­tal. As is so of­ten the case in the world of mu­sic mak­ing, cre­ativ­ity be­gins in the lab­o­ra­tory.

With a solid rep­u­ta­tion built upon Seth Lover’s PAF unit, Gib­son has con­tin­ued to evolve its hum­buck­ing pickup de­signs over the decades at the fore­front of the in­dus­try. And yet de­spite more re­cent ad­vances, the de­mand for mod­ern PAF recre­ations – as well as orig­i­nal ex­am­ples – has never been greater. With a bou­tique niche mar­ket in re­pro­duc­tion pick­ups fo­cus­ing on the finest of de­tails, un­rav­el­ling the se­crets of the PAF has al­most be­come an art­form in it­self.

The PAF-loaded Les Paul is iconic in looks as well as sound

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