Gibson alnico v pickup

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The pickups that rocked the world!

Gibson pickups have arguably done more to change the direction of guitar development than any other. When the brand developed the first humbucker in , it inadvertently provided music with a new, more raucous voice.

There are many varieties of Gibson humbucker available, each with their own character. Here, we’ll take a tour of these, and explain the differences between them.

1. The PAF (Patent Applied For) aka The Holy Grail

The PAF is the name given to the original Gibson pickup developed in by Seth Lover. Up until this point, all pickups had been single-coil designs. The problem with these was that they were plagued by hum and noise.

The principle of the PAF was ingenious. Two coils of wire were used but put out of phase with each other such that the hum was effectively cancelled out. The PAF was much quieter than the typical single coil.

However, there were several side effects of this process that would take the humbucker, and music, into all-new territory. Firstly, the effect of a second coil made the pickup much more powerful than a single-coil design.

Secondly, the phase cancellation also cancelled some of the guitar’s high frequencies, whilst reinforcing the lower frequencies. The result? Thick, rich, powerful guitar tone that has characterised the tone of Les Paul instruments ever since.

The PAF is no longer available, but Gibson has a far wider range of pickups that offer classic PAF tones and beyond. For example, the Gibson Les Paul Standard 50s emulate these classic tones, using the Burstbucker pickups described below.

2. Burstbuckers 1, 2 & 3

Burstbuckers are Gibson pickups that aim to authentically recreate the classic tone of a PAF in a modern pickup. Gibson describes these as ‘Time Machines’, creating vintage tone in an all-new pickup. Who are we to argue with the guys that built the original?

The original PAF humbuckers varied hugely due to several factors. Firstly, whilst Alnico magnets were always used, the type of magnet (2, 3, 4, or 5) could vary. As these have different magnetic properties, the characteristic tone of the pickup could vary considerably.

Secondly, as pickups were wound using machines operated by humans with no definite ‘stop’ point, pickup windings could also vary hugely, with a great effect on pickup output.

The standard Burstbucker aims to recreate the best of PAFs with three differing models. All three have unbalanced coils (less turns of wire on one coil than the other), which results in a tonal ‘bite’.

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The Burstbucker 1 is a slightly under-wound model, with medium output. It maintains the classic ‘creaminess’ and edge that typifies a PAF, but with an output that means it is equally adept as a neck or bridge pickup.

The Burstbucker 2 is slightly ‘hotter’, with more turns of wire. According to Gibson, its output is closer to that of a ’57 Classic.

The Burstbucker 3 has more windings still, and its over-wound design makes it the highest output Burstbucker, but again, with classic PAF tone.

NB: All of the above are available in Nickel, Gold, Zebra and Black finishes.

Adding a modern touch - Burstbucker Pro

The Burstbucker Pro is a more modern incarnation of the model, which swaps the Alnico II magnet for an Alnico V magnet. Unlike the other Burstbuckers, which are sold individually, the Pro models are sold in calibrated pairs.

Tonally, they offer ‘enhanced’ PAF tone that’s a bit brighter with more ‘bite’. These are available in gold or nickel finish.

All Burstbuckers feature 2-conductor wiring.

Highlighted Model: Gibson Les Paul Modern Graphite

3. ’57 Classic

The ’57 Classic is another hugely popular Gibson pickup. In many respects it is very similar to the Burstbucker- it offers ‘vintage’ PAF style tone, too, for example. It is also based around an Alnico II magnet.

However, where the ’57 Classic differs is that its two coils are balanced. This gives it a slightly richer, less ‘edgy’ tone that tends more towards ‘vintage’. In terms of output, it’s comparable to a Burstbucker 2.

The Standard model is paired with ’57 Classic Plus. This adds more turns of the vintage, enamel-coated wire, for higher gain. Perfect for adding some classic, blues crunch.

Available in black, nickel, gold and zebra finishes, an example of '57 classics in action can be found here.

Highlighted Model: Gibson ES Dot Graphite

4. Dirty Fingers

Whereas all of the above are based around Alnico magnets, the Dirty Fingers is based on a ceramic magnet. Ceramic pickups are usually characterised by a hotter, more aggressive tone.

The Dirty Fingers first appeared in the ‘80s, and its ceramic design makes it one of the hottest pickups Gibson produces. Loud and aggressive, this pickup is a favourite among those who like to drive tube amps hard.

In addition to the enhanced gain, the Dirty Fingers also provides excellent sustain and clarity. Plus, wax potting prevents issues with microphonic feedback.

The Dirty Fingers is a 4-conductor design. Available in black only. These can be found in the Gibson Flying V Tribute.

Highlighted Model: Gibson Flying V Tribute

5. R and T

These two Gibson pickups take the DNA of those original PAF models, and ‘evolve’ them slightly for the modern player. Based on an Alnico II magnet, the models provide similar output levels to the Burstbucker models.

Tonally, however, these pickups provide slightly more mid-range bite. Perhaps the biggest difference between these and the Burstbuckers, however, is that they feature a 4-conductor design, and can be used in ‘split coil’ modes.

The ‘T’ and ‘R’ in the names stand for ‘Treble’ and ‘Rhythm’ respectively- effectively bridge (treble) and neck (rhythm). An example of these pickups can be found in the Gibson SG Tribute in Vintage Cherry Satin.

6. R "Hot Ceramic" and T "Super Ceramic"

Two more ceramic Gibson pickups, squarely aimed at the modern rock fraternity, these are two incredibly high gain pickups. The T is, with the Dirty Fingers, one of the highest gain pickups that Gibson produces.

The R is very high output, aggressively voiced neck pickup, with a great, cutting tone and exceptional sustain.

The T usually partners the at the bridge. With an even higher output, the ceramic magnets provide searing lead tones with incredible sustain and note definition.

Both of these pickups are 4-conductor designs, meaning that they can also be wired to have coils split.


Quick summary of our Guide to Gibson Pickups:

Pickup ModelTonal Style
BurstbuckerVintage tone inspired by hallowed PAFs
'57 ClassicSlightly richer, less edgy tone
Dirty FingersCeramic pickup, loud and aggressive
R & TMore mid-range bite, in a 4-conductor design
R & TGreat cutting tone with exceptional sustain

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Jon Whittaker
Written by

Jon Whittaker

As part of the team at Dawsons Music & Sound, Jon is committed to producing excellent content for the Studio D blog – whilst finding time to tinker with new tech and keeping his gig-ready guitar chops up to scratch. Often to be found with several cups on his desk, too many tabs open, and perpetually waiting for the perfect pun.


Though the pickups had a specific designation at Gibson, they are referred to by collectors as "alnico V" pickups because they incorporated alnico V magnets.  Use of an alnico V magnet isn't particularly unique (Gibson has used the same magnet on several pickups) but that name has always stuck with that pickup. The pickup was designed by Seth Lover, the man who invented the humbucker. Gibson had been using the P90 pickup exclusively on all electric guitars for several years.  Gibson asked Lover, who worked for Gibson in its R&D and electronics department, to come up with a more powerful pickup that more closely resembled the D'Armond single coil pickup that was popular at that time (D'Armonds were most notably used on the Gretsch duo jet line and other Gretsch electrics).  Each of the polepieces is its own magnet.  Rather than have a long rectangular magnet at the core of the pickup on which metal polepieces (typically screws) are attached and consequently magnetized, Lover designed this pickup with long alnico V magnets operating as the polepieces.  When you take one of these pickups apart the polepieces look like tiny little bricks. Sonically, these pickups are very nice.  They have about the same amount of bite as a P  In my experience they are a little bit brighter in tone.  Although it is supposedly a more powerful pickup I have never detected a material difference in output between an Alnico V pickup and a vintage P  Seth Lover has commented that the reason these pickups never became too popular with players is because most players have a tendency to adjust the height of polepieces fairly close to the strings.  It's not a good approach with an Alnico V pickup because of the way the magnetic field operates with the six individual magnets - - the tone becomes a little "squawky" when you do that. Personally, I love these pickups.  Gibson first began using them in quantity in   It was deemed a higher end pickup so it was used on the Super CES, L5CES, Byrdland, and could also be found on a few ES-5s and ES-5 Switchmasters (P90s are much more common on the ES-5s of this period).  The first Les Paul customs from have an Alnico V pickup in the neck and a P90 in the bridge.  There may have been some other models that used this pickup but I can't think of them at the moment. Gibson ultimately took the pickup out of production when the humbucker became available on production guitars in   That's why you see so few guitars equipped with original Alnico V pickups - - it was only available on a few high end models (which are always produced in lower quantity) from through early Scotty Moore used an Alnico V equipped L5CES, Super CES and later upgraded to a Super with Humbuckers. Gibson has been making the Alnico V pickup again in connection with its Historic Collection guitars.  Most of the archtops in the Historic Collection can be ordered with Alnico V pickups in lieu of humbuckers or P90s.  It is also used, obviously, on Gibson's reissue Les Paul Custom.  Occasionally, vintage Alnico V pickups from the s crop up in the vintage market.  They typically sell for between $ and $

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The Top 7 Gibson Pickups

The Birth of the PAF

This saw the birth of the PAF pickup. PAF simply stands for Patent Applied For and refers to the patent that Gibson applied for on their design. In reality, this became synonymous with a guitar sound that was warm and fat and is now known as a ‘vintage’ tone.

Every humbucker since then has simply been a tweak on an age-old design. These tweaks have given us vastly different results from low output jazz-style pickups to hot and heavy rock and metal pickups.

All of the pickups in this list are a variation on the humble humbucker, but have all distinct voices and have been designed with a similar purpose – to serve the guitar they’re in with the best possible guitar tone.

Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul

The Best Gibson Pickups

Let&#;s have a look at some of the best pickups in a bit more depth&#;

Gibson CustomBucker Pickup

The Gibson CustomBucker is the holy grail pickup available in modern instruments. It’s only available in a Gibson Custom Shop guitar and is not available to purchase separately.

It’s also the closest Gibson come to recreating their perfect PAF pickups from the s. With a mellower sounding Alnico III magnet and smooth rounded tones on offer. It’s quite simply ‘that’ Gibson sound that you probably have in your head made famous by guys like Jimmy Page, Slash and so many others.

Gibson Burstbucker Pro – In the USA Les Paul Modern

Burstbucker Pro pickups enhance the vintage edge of the standard Gibson Burstbucker by swapping out the Alnico II pickups for the hotter, more modern Alnico V magnets instead.

These are meaty and fat sounding with loads of drive and attack and suits the ethos of the Les Paul Modern, ES and SG Modern down to a T. They’re incredibly versatile and clean up well and because they have such a defined tonal output, and can be used for a number of different styles of music.

In fact, the Burstbucker Pro Bridge pickup adds more coil windings to the magnet making it the highest output Burstbucker Gibson offer.

Gibson Burstbucker series

The Burstbucker series pickups offer those classic PAF tones without being too far over the edge when it comes to that vintage warm sound. They’d probably be described as vintage hot pickups due to the fact. These are utilised in a variety of styles to suit the Classic, Standard &#;50s and Standard &#;60s models.

Yes, they’ve got a mellow tone but when really pushed under high gain they drive and attack beautifully. It’s easily one of the most popular and widely used pickups that Gibson make. There are also a few different versions all differing according to output. They’ve got fantastic high-frequency definition but aren’t spiky or pokey sounding.

Gibson Custom Shop Memphis

Gibson 57 Classic Pickup

The 57 Classic pickup is very similar to the original PAF specs, however, the coils are evenly wound to give them a rich, balanced tonal output that the original winding machines could not achieve. They still have that vintage sweetness that you might expect but with a bit more balance and even distribution over the EQ spectrum.

You’ll see the 57 Classic pickups in SGs and Les Pauls as well as some hollow body guitars. They’re versatile and simple but offer consistently great guitar tones.

Gibson MHS – Memphis Historic Spec

This is probably the most recently designed pickup on this list and has been heavily implemented by Gibson in a lot of their hollow body guitars.

MHS stands for Memphis Historic Spec and was designed to give the likes of the ES and ES a warm and mellow voice, similar to guitars built in the &#;50s and &#;60s. They’ve got a lovely top-end bite that you’ll notice when picking a little bit harder – especially with a bit of gain – but generally speaking, they’re lower output and have a vintage response.

It says a lot that the luthiers from the Gibson factory heard these pickups and then put them in so many guitars. They’re versatile but offer a true representation of what a hollow body should sound like when plugged in.

Gibson Memphis argentine grey

Gibson T and R

The T is the treble/bridge pickup and the R is the rhythm or neck pickup. Both pickups are essentially the same apart from their output. They’re voiced in a similar manner – to provide a modern alternative to the PAF classic sound.

These pickups have a sweet mid-range with a beautiful singing overdrive tone. They&#;re designed to ensure that they don’t have high-frequency brittleness. You’ll find these pickups in modern Gibson guitars like the SG Special or Les Paul Studio and Tribute models.

Gibson T

The Gibson T is a super ceramic humbucker that simply doesn’t hold back. These pickups kick out some serious power and are there for the players that want a rich tonal response. They’ve got plenty of character but definitely work best under oodles of gain.

They’ll give you enhanced low-end and crystal clear highs. This is why they’re so great for modern music where you really need to find your place in the mix. These monster pickups cover a lot of ground tonally and are very popular amongst rock and metal players.

Shop The New Gibson Core Collection

Alnico III or Alnico V (Pickups): Which one is your favorite Gibson Les Paul tone?


V gibson pickup alnico


Alnico III or Alnico V (Pickups): Which one is your favorite Gibson Les Paul tone?


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