PAF Mysteries and the Leesona 102 Winder

Discussion in 'Pickups' started by ThroBak, Nov 13, 2007.

  1. ThroBak

    ThroBak MLP Vendor

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    I want to thank Flickoflash for suggesting that I start a post about this topic.

    Just a warning this is a potentially boring technical post. But if you are at all interested in how PAF's were machine wound read on.

    To begin with I just want to state that this post is not an effort to pass judgment upon those that wish to hand wind in their quest for PAF tone. I myself used to offered a hand wound PAF clone. But over the last two years I have changed my approach in favor of machine winding via a computer winding machine of my own design and now via my own Leesona 102 winding machine. I recently purchased one of the few complete and functional Leesona 102 winders left. Now having learned exactly what the Leesona 102 does it has clarified some of the mysteries of the PAF for me. I thought this would be of particular interest to pickup winders and vintage Gibson enthusiasts.

    So what is the Leesona 102?

    In the late 40's Gibson purchased two Leesona Model 102 coil winders to use for winding guitar pickups. These winders remained in use at Gibson until Gibson moved from Kalamazoo. It is widely accepted that the Leesona 102 winder was used in the manufacture of PAF pickups. It is also widely accepted that PAF's were exclusively machine wound. Here are some pics of mine fresh off the truck.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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  2. ThroBak

    ThroBak MLP Vendor

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    What accounts for the widely varying winding patterns of PAF's?

    The Leesona 102 was never exclusively used for any one pickup model. Consequently it would require a set up change for each different model wound on it. And each time it was reset up to do a PAF the parameters of the winding pattern would have to be changed. Some of these adjustments are very crude on the Leesona 102 and operators would only be able to do a ballpark adjustment at best which would mean wide variations in winding pattern between set ups. I have retro fitted my own Leesona 102 with dial indicators in order to make set ups repeatable and to allow for accurate experimentation between them. But the original machine is not capable of having some of the parameters fine tuned beyond a trial and error set up without this retrofit. So good enough would be all that was aimed for by the operator resulting in widely varying winding patterns.

    What factors account for the erratic and sometimes hand wound character of PAF coils winding patterns?

    The above factors in user setup account for much of the variation. But another important factor is the tolerances inherent in the machine itself. The Leesona 102 is designed to do coils as large as 3". At 3" the tolerances of the cam and other mechanisms of the machine are negligible. But if you ratchet the traverse down to 1/4" for a PAF bobbin these same tolerances now become a very large percentage of the now very small 1/4" traverse of the wire guide. The result is a sometimes very non linear wire traverse when compared to a modern computer guided winding machine or even compared to the same machine at a 3" traverse.

    Why does the wire diameter vary with PAF pickups and why do the bobbins warp?

    The first simple answer concerning wire diameter is that the difference between maximum and minimum tolerances of 42AWG plain enamel magnet wire. But this is not the whole story. The Leesona 102 came with tensioners that were only designed to accommodate 40AWG magnet wire. This means that when you use the thinner 42AWG wire it is very easily is stretched. My Leesona 102 has the original functioning wire tensioners and I can attest that they are a pain to set up. The only other functional Leesona 102 I am aware of uses a whisker disk for tensioning and I completely understand why as it is a breeze to set up. But if you don't use the original tensioners this higher tension factor can be lost. The additional tension makes for a very tightly wound coil which encourages the warpage of the already soft butyrate bobbins as well as stretching of the magnet wire.
     
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  3. ThroBak

    ThroBak MLP Vendor

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    Other facts about the Leesona 102.

    The Leesona 102 came with a standard gear set from the factory that would give several very specific turn per layer numbers. This turn per layer count is independent of the traverse travel adjustment. So the same gear set would give the same turn per layer count for a 1/4" bobbin or a 3" bobbin. In my experience there is only one PAF turn per layer number and this is one that the Leesona 102 would do with the stock factory gear sets. I have heard of another turn per layer count for PAF's but cannot confirm this personally with my own PAF research. But interestingly enough this other turn per layer count does jibe with the factory gear sets of the Leesona 102. So perhaps the two Leesona 102 winders Gibson had were set to two different turn per layer counts. But this again is speculation on my part which I have not confirmed to my satisfaction.

    The Leesona 102 has one cam for all traverse sizes and turn per layer counts. The ingenious design of the Leesona 102 means that one cam covers the territory for all winding scenarios of the machine. Knowing this when I first got my Leesona 102 winder I feared that the cam might be significantly worn. But the Leesona 102 is a mammoth machine that is way over engineered for what it does. The cam itself sits in a pool of oil as do most of the other moving parts of the winder. This meant the cam and in fact every other important mechanism on my Leesona 102 showed wear that was nearly non existent.

    So what effect does all of this have on the tone of the PAF?

    Well that is a question for every maker to decide for themselves. But make no mistake about it all of these variables effect the final tone of a PAF style pickup. I'm in the process of quantifying all of this for myself. As a hand winder much of the things I learned from experiments with my computer controlled winder and my Leesona 102 were entirely contrary to what I learned hand winding. Machine winding has a different set of rules but ultimately results in a coil and tone that I feel cannot be gotten any other way other than machine winding. The PAF is a compilation of parts many of which have a direct effect on the final tone of the pickup. But perhaps the most abstract of these variables is the wind if the wire. Placing this abstract within the frame of the Leesona 102 has given the winding of a PAF a mental, visual and auditory clarity that I had been searching for.
     
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  4. FLICKOFLASH

    FLICKOFLASH V.I.P. Member

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    Great post ThroBak
    I know you are known as a effects builder , Any pickups soon ?
     
  5. ThroBak

    ThroBak MLP Vendor

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    I have been winding pickups on a custom order basis for several years. But I will be adding some standard pickup models to my site soon. I am a one man shop with occasional help from freelance assemblers so there are quite a few ducks to get in a row before something goes up for sale on my site. But keep your eyes open for them.
     
  6. BOBBO

    BOBBO Banned

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    I heard that the Leesona can make a perfect PAF !! As well as cook dinner in under 30 minutes ,cure cancer and end world hunger !!!!!!!!!! YAY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
  7. Dave Stephens

    Dave Stephens V.I.P. Member V.I.P. Member

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    Bobbo YOU BAD!

    I would like to add a comment here about the mysteries of PAF pickups. Its like a never ending rabbit hole for me. The deeper you dig the deeper it gets. Its simple, all they did was buy some steel, some magnets and wire, put together Seth's modified design and put them in guitars. Thats all there is to it.....BUT.......that was the 1950's, with 1950's technologies, wire and magnets and winders. Virtually none of any of those products and materials are the same as what we have here in 2010. So you have to go back in time and figure out exactly how all that stuff was made, how it aged, what technologies were used to make those materials. We have several Leesona's winding pickups these days, but they aren't in the same shape they were when they were new and first put in operation back then. There's no way to tell what exactly changed from wear. As Jon said, the operators were unskilled labor. The coils varied widely, but you DO find some consistency in all of them. Now add the fact that various batches of steel even now can sound radically different as did back then. Magnets even now vary in different batches, and I know for a fact Gibson did buy reject magnets now and then. Pickups also age, look at some real early YouTube videos of Les Pauls when they were new and had PAFs in them. Some of them sound like teles they are so bright. Coils age, even new modern wire, pickups change over a couple years time just sitting around. As varied as PAFs can be the good ones all have similar characteristics that you can hear in every famous recording using them in early classic rock and blues. Some claim they can handwind a PAF but I haven't heard a hand wound PAF yet that retains those classic elements, the middle position chirp kinda dies, the trebly pick clicking signature almost disappears. You need to do them on a machine winder and set it up to duplicate the old patterns. Anyway, I'm on my 8th year now of studying anything and everything about them I can afford to do and there literally is no end in sight to it........
     
  8. ThroBak

    ThroBak MLP Vendor

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    The facts as I know them.

    1. Only two pickup makers use a Leesona 102.

    2. Gibson used at least 4 different makes and models of winding machines for PAF's.

    3. Steel varied or for PAF screws but the rest of the metal parts are fairly consistent in composition.

    4. Magnets varied widely due to suppliers. Gibson used General Magnetics of Indiana as one of these suppliers (now out of business). General had a bad reputation for QC (heard this first hand from former employee). The reject magnet magnet thing is a myth IMO.

    5. There is no unobtainium in magnet wire IMO. The process though is different in manufacturing it now for 99% of companies making PE magnet wire than it was in the 50's. There is one company still making it the old way warts in all. Warts are varied coating thickness and coating with a microfine texture that almost all modern wire lacks.

    6. all of these variables plus many more add up to a large palette if you are making a PAF clone.
     
  9. MrRhoads

    MrRhoads Senior Member

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    Great thread and great info :D
     
  10. cryptozoo

    cryptozoo Senior Member

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    Damn, blast from the past!
     
  11. Stowburst

    Stowburst V.I.P. Member

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    Thanks for this post, its a great read!
     
  12. Dave Stephens

    Dave Stephens V.I.P. Member V.I.P. Member

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    There is something about steel that I am keeping to myself for now. You can have two pieces of the same chemical alloy mix and yet they can sound night and day different. I buy alot of different steel batches of the same alloys, all of it pretty much PAF correct, yet some of it is virtually unuseable. It all boils down the luck of the draw in how it was manufactured that certain day. It can't be improved with treatment. Its the same now as it was then, though manufacturing processes for steel back then were also different. This is a fairly new revelation for me and it further complicates matters but does open up another whole bag of worms as well as tonal options.

    The "other" Leesona is apparently being used in other ways than it was when it wound PAFs, are they using the original gears, don't think so. A winder by itself won't give you an accurate PAF for sure. Jim at WCR talked to an old magnet salesman who said Gibson only bought their bargain basement stock. Just because a magnet is of vintage manufacture doesn't mean its a great magnet. I recently took every vintage magnet I have and a couple PAF magnets and listened to all of them. Frankly the modern magnets I have beat all the vintage ones for decent tone, the vintage ones all sound rather flat in a modern pickup.

    I don't think anyone is making perfect vintage spec wire, copper refining in the 50s along with any metal making technologies are vastly improved now over then. I measured a long length of vintage wire against same length of identical diameter modern wire and the vintage wire had noticably more ohms per foot. I don't think modern wire insulation recipes are the same and the old stuff was horribly environmentally bad, and I bet the dielectric constant of the old versus new doesn't match. So magnet wire isn't the defining piece of the puzzle either. This stuff is horribly complex. There are certain limits of turns per layer that were wound but even using that and copying a PAF winding pattern, just the variation alone within that fairly strict parameter gives widely different results. Varying tension a little bit throws in more complexities. This field of research can be fun but sometimes its excruciatingly frustrating too :headbanger:
     
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  13. honduras

    honduras Member

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    Can anybody please post the Tonequest interview with Jim Rolph. He is quite a legend and I own a set of his low wind '58 Pretenders which absolutely nail that PAF tone to my ears.
     
  14. Dave Stephens

    Dave Stephens V.I.P. Member V.I.P. Member

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    You can't legally post that interview, it is copyrighted material and is the current issue, the forum could be in legal trouble if anyone does.

    I would like to hear a clip of your pickups if you have a chance. There is almost no information, no harmony central reviews, nothing about his pickups except his single coils on the web. The only thing I found was clips of his PAF bridge pickup on this site:
    Komet Amplifiers - Sounds
    Maybe its the amps but these clips don't sound like good PAFs to me, they just sound overly handwound, the resonant peak typical of good PAFs is barely there at all. The Zeppelin clip is a total miss. But maybe those amps are doing something, and the wiring harness the pickup is in could be junk, alot of things, so its hard to really judge fairly.
     
  15. BCRGreg

    BCRGreg V.I.P. Member

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    I love the way this topic brings out folks that NEVER post here except to discuss their products.
     
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  16. Es Paul

    Es Paul Senior Member

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    Its always one knocking the other. Hard to stay focused on most of these threads
     
  17. Dave Stephens

    Dave Stephens V.I.P. Member V.I.P. Member

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    Do you know anyone else who CARES as much about nailing a totally accurate PAF as us buidlers do? :naughty:

    After you listen to the clips on that page I posted, listen to this video. THIS is my ideal. I suspect, unfortunately that probably a large part of this tone is coming from those era amplifiers, as I don't hear this tone from anything after the 70's:
    [ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85pNwGVMLG8]YouTube - Cuby & The Blizzards - Live 1968[/ame]
     
  18. BCRGreg

    BCRGreg V.I.P. Member

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    Actually I do, but Lindy is too busy to post on forums.
     
  19. captain tightpants

    captain tightpants Banned

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  20. Dave Stephens

    Dave Stephens V.I.P. Member V.I.P. Member

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    Its all just friendly competition, Jon is a friend and we frequently collaborate on information and vendors, if you read these exchanges you may learn something. The time we are living in right now, is bringing out more excellent research and better PAF products than anytime ever before. I don't post on guitar forums except for this subject because I am working on it every day, literally. I post on the pickup forum frequently but thats all the time I have as I am full time at this, and the PAF thing is worse than drugs for me, a total obsession and addiction, a "mission from God" ya know.... There is always something new to learn. Jon focuses on winders and magnets, I focused on learning as much as possible about the steel used and the many forms they can take. Neither one of us hand wind because they never were unless you sent one in for repair back then.
     

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