The "Bad" PAFs

Valtiel

Member
Messages
41
This is something i've had clanging around in my head for a little bit. Almost every conversation I have read about original PAFs makes some reference to the "bad ones" or that there were "just as many magical ones as duds" etc etc. It makes perfect sense given how they were made back then, but I always wondered....

What are common denominators of these "bad" PAFs, or are there any? We hear so much about these "duds" but not what made them duds or in what ways they sounded bad. Were they ones that ended up underwound with very unbalanced coils and more powerful Alnico V magnets so they sound brittle? Overwound with Alnico II and very balanced coils that ended up dark and mushy? Other? Is it just as much subjective as it is objectively measurable? Maybe even wild volume/tone pot tolerances come in to play as well. I'm curious!
 

Franktone

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
3,105
I had two stickered PAF's in my 58 Gibson ES335 with no neck binding with a really chunky neck. The neck pickup measured around 8K ohms and had that thick and wide smooth sound and was able to overdrive the Marshall JMP master volume 2x12 combo I had at the time. That was a wonderful sound that I couldn't quite get out of the 66 ES345 (patent numbered pickups) I also had at the time. The 66 ES345 had its own capabilities though.

The bridge pickup in the 58 ES335 was kind of underwound to around 6.5 K ohms and didn't quite drive the master volume JMP as hard as I would have liked at the time. But who knows, maybe that underwound bridge pickup would be perfect if I swapped it with the more powerful neck pickup. Now that would probably have been the perfect balance. I later sold and traded away those two guitars which probably wasn't a good idea. As good as those fairly early patent numbered pickups in the 66 ES345 were, they just didn't have as warm and smooth wide sound as the 58 ES335 had. But the 66 ES345 patent number pickups had a great amount of output and were definitely a pair of really great pickups such that I should have kept that guitar. Definitely eyebrow raising pickups.

Today I have a 63 ES345 with two stickered PAF's and these pickups are different from my recollection of the 58 ES335 (stickered PAF's) and also the 66 ES345 (patent number stickers). These 63' PAF's sound big, wide, but not quite as smooth and buttery as the 58 PAF's. The 63 PAF bridge pickup gets into the Billy Gibbon's Pearly Gates territory, so that's kinda fun. The neck pickup on the 63 seems half way between the sound between that the 58 ES335 and 66ES345 had. The 63 PAF's measure right around 7.8 k ohms but likely have the shorter alnico V magnets.

I don't see any of them that were duds but perhaps it would have been better if the pickups in the ES335 were switched in locations. I'd say that the 58 pickups had alnico II which brought something different to the table and I know that the coils in those pickups were wound kind of loosely because I removed the covers at one point and then put them back on very carefully after how I'd seen how loosely the coils were wound. So like I said, the only dud would be that the 6.5K ohm pickup should have been the neck pickup. But for some people wanting a clean underwound bridge sound with that underwound bridge pickup just might be what they are looking for.
 

AaeCee

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
18,370
IME, one common denominator that seems prevalent in 'bad PAFs', is one pickup or the set being muddy or lacking in definition. Everything I've ever read about the originals noted a good degree of clarity along with some punch, even at the cost of a bit of noise sometimes due to being unpotted. Woofy-ness or being overly hot at the expense of clarity is generally undesirable in the PAF realm.
 

mad dog

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
10,975
Some sounded great. Some didn't. Same thing with the patent number p/us. My '66 ES-355 has the latter, and they are sweet. Tried older 335s with PAFs that sounded so fine, others that didn't come close. I've also played other 335s with the patent number p/us that had nothing much going on.

No idea why that is. It can't be just the p/us. Has to be the whole guitar.
MD
 

Stratburst70

Member
Messages
5,610
Pickup making wasn't as much a science as it is today. Guitar makers back then didn't know how different wire or the number of turns in a pickup affected the tone.

For instance, Fender's pickup winder was powered by an old truck battery. When the battery was fresh, it wound more wire onto the pickups. When it was worn down, it wound less. All those pickups were then thrown into a box and pulled out willy-nilly to be wired into Strats or Teles. There was no concern about "this pickup is hotter, let's use it in the bridge" because no one had yet noticed that the bridge position required a higher output pickup.

That's why, on many vintage Gibsons, the neck pickup often sounds hotter than the bridge pickup. They're approximately the same strength pickup but, because the string vibrates less freely at the bridge, the neck pickup sounds louder. Sometimes a great guitar happened by accident, sometimes it didn't. It's no surprise that someone like Eric Clapton bought 9 Strats from Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, took them apart and combined all the best bits to make his Blackie.
 

Valtiel

Member
Messages
41
Interesting info about the truck battery, thats pretty funny.

Not to be rude though, this is that stuff that I think has already been well established. Everyone pretty much knows at this point that they were working with very imprecise equipment with little to no QC. Some things were good, some were great, and some were bad, got that. I want to know more about what is making the bad bad and the good and great sought after.

Thanks to Franktone for sharing your experience, that is definitely interesting! And AaeCee, that is more or less how I felt as well. I would think that the "bad" PAFs were more on the muddy side than the brittle side. Single Coils were all the guitar world really knew up until that point so something single coil-esque like a very under wound humbucker would probably be much better received than an overly hot, dark sounding bucker on the other end of the spectrum.
 

sws1

Member
Messages
11,239
They could be under-wound, which would make them brighter, less compressed, maybe harder to play. Could be brittle. Or they could be over-wound and then really dark and congested.
 
Messages
4,107
No expertise in this area, but from what I've read the metallurgical composition of the magnets could vary significantly not only from manufacturer to manufacturer, but from batch to batch from the same manufacturer. Magnet charging apparently could vary significantly as well.
 

RickC

Member
Messages
7,457
Never played a bad PAF. Sorry. If the pickup isn't broken in some way, which happened more often than it does today due to mfg techniques and materials consistency, then okay. But an otherwise working PAF? They all sound good to me. I sometimes think these legendary "bad PAFs" are just internet myth. Never met one myself.

/rick
 

sws1

Member
Messages
11,239
"Bad" could also just mean..."not what I wanted my PAF to sound like".

I have 2 PAF guitars. Then pickups sound VERY different. It's easy to imagine that someone who didn't want variety, or who was going for a specific tone, would say one was "bad", while someone else with a different style / technique would go the other direction. Do I have a preference? Sure. But I learn to appreciate the other for what it is, and for that sound...it sounds great.
 

duaneflowers

Member
Messages
650
I've played 20-30 sets of original PAFs and I've never heard a bad one... I've heard they are out there, but I've never run across one. I would probably blame the set-up or the guitar itself (in that order) before blaming the pickups... at that point I would check that they weren't physically damaged somehow. Again, I'm not saying there aren't/weren't any out there... just that most of the claims I've heard were from a guy who knew a guy...
 

skhan007

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
9,624
Totally subjective, I would imagine. If I came across a "bad PAF" guitar and had Clapton play it, I'm sure my jaw would drop and it would sound great! Just a hunch and my opinion. EQ, amp, player, skill level, etc. will be rather significant in this equation.
 

sws1

Member
Messages
11,239
I also bet that anything labeled 'bad' is probably being evaluated in the context of a quiet home. Play it out with a band, and then see if it's bad.

I have guitars that sound a bit 'congested' at home. But in a full mix, are just so much fun to play.
 

JB6464

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
3,778
No such thing as bad paf's unless they don't work imo.
What one say sounds bad , others may say it's great .
Every individual hears differently and has different taste in tones .
 

guitarnut_1

Member
Messages
1,978
I've had boutique PAF clones which sounded muddy (Fralin). Not really familiar with original PAF thou.... but I can imagine there were muddy ones made back then as well.
 

ghostnote

Member
Messages
497
I've played 20-30 sets of original PAFs and I've never heard a bad one... I've heard they are out there, but I've never run across one. I would probably blame the set-up or the guitar itself (in that order) before blaming the pickups... at that point I would check that they weren't physically damaged somehow. Again, I'm not saying there aren't/weren't any out there... just that most of the claims I've heard were from a guy who knew a guy...
My thinking as well, reasons probably have more to do with poor set up or guitar itself, or just user error.

Thinking for a long time now that the TGP Lounge should have section just for "claims I've heard from a guy who knew a guy." Might be a little redundant though.
 




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