Guitarist

Staple Diet

Want P 90 tone but with a bit more clarity? Try a staple pickup, writes Jamie Dickson, as he readies his modded Tele for a new addition

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Many years ago, in one of the first issues of Guitarist magazine I ever read, there was a report from a vintage guitar show. Among the pics of Paisley Telecaster­s and ’Bursts was a shot of a black Les Paul Custom fitted with what, to my inexperien­ced eyes, appeared to be an unusual neck pickup. It had chunky rectangula­r polepieces and looked like a relic from an earlier era. This, I later discovered, was Gibson’s Alnico V pickup, also known as the ‘Staple’ pickup because of those evenly spaced rectangula­r polepieces.

It was not all that surprising that I didn’t know what it was, however, because it had a short life in Gibson’s guitars. Introduced in 1954, it was designed to take the warm tone of the P-90 pickups fitted to most Gibson electrics at that point and add a little more clarity to the equation. Stuart Robson of Sunbear Pickups believes it was created to placate that eternal tinkerer Les Paul, who often fitted heavily modified pickups of his own devising to his Les Pauls, sometimes home-wound on DeArmond pickup internals. This would hardly have reflected well on Gibson’s then-standard P-90, the stock pickup of nearly all Les Pauls from 1952 to 1957, so Stuart believes they devised the Alnico V pickup to get closer to the style of neck pickup Les really wanted.

“Like so many things with the early Gibson stories, you never quite know what’s absolutely the truth or what’s what people have surmised over the years,” Stuart says with a chuckle.“But my personal take on this is that there are pictures of Les Paul in the early 50s playing what were probably the very first Les Paul Customs. And you can see that in the neck of those guitars, he had pulled out what was presumably a stock P-90 and put in [what looks like] a Dynasonic [also known as DeArmond Model 2000] pickup.

“So, while I’ve never heard this directly from anyone at Gibson, my presumptio­n has always been that Gibson probably turned around to Les and said,‘Well, we really would rather not have a Gretsch pickup in the guitar that you’re playing on stage every night. Why don’t we make something which is basically the same thing?’ Because the truth is that the original Gibson Alnico V staple pickup – with the exception of the wire and the shape of the magnet – is, in terms of constructi­on, almost a direct replicatio­n of the Dynasonic.

“Nearly everything about it is the same, right down to the way that the magnets are raised and lowered,” Stuart continues.“So I think I think probably what Gibson were doing was trying to give Les a neck pickup with the Gibson name on it that would do the job that he was swapping in the [modified] Dynasonics to do – which, in all likelihood, given his playing style, was to make the neck pickup clear.”

Take Five

Whatever the truth of this might have been, the arrival of the PAF humbucker in 1957 saw the Alnico V pickup consigned to the graveyard of history. When we asked Gibson’s now vice president of product, Mat Koehler, about the reason for the complete phasing out of the Alnico V a couple of years back, he gave this answer:

“I now understand that they’re very difficult to build. It’s part of the reason why we’re redevelopi­ng the staple pickup as we speak, to be more factory-friendly. The design itself was a little crude – we have Seth Lover’s original drawings and you can tell that this wasn’t his instinctua­l way to create a pickup. This was Les Paul in his ear saying,‘This is what you should do.’ I think that had a lot to do with it. But it does serve a purpose and it has a fantastic jazz tone, which is why you see it on archtop models, too. I think, really, the reason that it wasn’t more prevalent is just because of the difficulty to construct it.”

Gibson isn’t the only one to be taking a second look at the Alnico V pickup, however. A number of independen­t pickup makers have revived the design, in simplified form, because people are belatedly realising that the pickup’s clarity is its secret weapon, making it sound more like an immense Strat neck pickup than a vintage P-90. The effect is quite addictive, as I discovered when I tried

 ?? ?? The original Alnico V neck pickup, as used by Gibson on some of its earlier Les Paul Customs, was complicate­d to make and did not last long in mainstream production
The original Alnico V neck pickup, as used by Gibson on some of its earlier Les Paul Customs, was complicate­d to make and did not last long in mainstream production
 ?? ??

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