PAF Test Run

From VG's
From VG's

Sorry the shop is a little crowded today, but I’ve invited some friends over to listen to a few PAFs. I have some Gibsons, Tom Holmes, and Lindy Fralins loaded into some really cool Les Pauls. Before we get loud, let me introduce my friends.

Terry Oubre, from Kendrick Amps, Dave Hazlett, from Guitar Resurrection, Les Paul connoisseur Bill Webb of Fullton-Webb amps, Black Dog Electronics’ Mac Pfieffer, who just plays guitar really well, and Jim Wilson, from Cedar Creek Recording.

We are going to compare Gibson patent number PAFs, ’63 humbuckers, ’78 reissue PAFs, ’57 Classic and Classic Plus PAFs, Tom Holmes PAFs, and Lindy Fralin PAFs, and pass the results directly on to you. We are playing through a Fullton-Webb 18-watt amp. It sounds like a cross between a good plexi Marshall and a new Bogner; in other words, it retains more clarity in the midrange than a Marshall, especially when overdriven. And it is surprisingly loud for an amp that uses two EL84s and approaches the volume of many 50-watt amps. Anyone concerned about their hearing may want to step outside…here we go!

All these pickups are pretty cool, and each its own personality. The old Gibsons were great for reference, but believe it or not the panel preferred most of the new pickups to the old ones. This may sound unbelievable, but the opinions of the panel were very consistent and differences in the pickups were fairly substantial. This is what we heard, along with the DC resistance of each pickup measured while it was in the guitar:

Patent Number PAF (9.3K) – (a very early one, identical to an original PAF). This one was on the brighter side and was fairly loud. It was smooth, but lost mids when pushed hard. It was a little harsh when played clean, but the highs were useful when overdriven. It contributed little texture or compression. One panelist termed it “quacky.”

’63 PAF (7.3K) – This pickup was low in output and otherwise had little character. It was very smooth and again turned bright when pushed hard.

’78 PAF (7.1K) – This was almost identical to the ’63 but with a little more compression and warmth. The clean sound was good but was somewhat muddy when overdriven.

’57 Classic (8.1K) – This pickup has a very nice texture and a medium output. The complexity of the high end is very cool, but hard to describe. It is fairly smooth, but tended to lose mids when pushed hard. It works well for a clean sound and also overdrives fairly well. May be a little bright for some.

’57 Classic Plus (8.5K) – This was almost identical to the Patent Number pickup. It is a little louder than the ’57 Classic but more harsh with less character.

Tom Holmes PAF (8.3K) – This pickup is similar to the ’57 Classic but with a little more character. Rich high-end without being too bright. It compresses smoothly when played hard, again with disappearing mids.

Lindy Fralin PAF (8.9K) – This pickup had the most output, most character, and most pleasant compression. It has a smooth response and had great clean and overdriven tones.

Since the verbage may mean little to most, here are the results in a very easy-to-understand format, best to not-as-good. I didn’t say worst because none are bad, some are just better.
Grand Prize Lindy Fralin in a unanimous decision. Biggest and smoothest, hands down. This was the obvious favorite. Double fat.
2nd Tom Holmes by a nose. A very cool pickup that defies description. Good vintage tone.
3rd ’57 Classic. This was preferred to the Holmes by two members who wish to remain anonymous. Not quite as complex, but very similar.
4th Patent Number PAF. Good, but a little sterile.
5th ’57 Classic. Almost fourth, but a little less character.
6th ’78 Reissue. Smooth with good clean tones.
Last ’63 PAF. Still good, but unremarkable.

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed your stay. I have to take that Patent Number out of Terry’s Townhouse and put in a Fralin. See you next time.

A host of humbuckers and media in which they were tested. Photo: Tony Nobles

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’98 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.