Ever Put Old Pickups in a New Les Paul?

roxrob

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I would argue the players hands are the greatest tone generator but that tends to start a poo flinging contest. :io:
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absolutely agree with this statement. Give a great guitarist a mediocre guitar it will probably still sound great. Give a mediocre guitarist a great guitar, it will probably still sound mediocre. I've spent 45 years perfecting my technique and feel...……….., and I'm still working on it...despite having some great gear. Personally I dont think I'll ever be happy..it could always be better, but I realized long ago it was not a problem with my gear.


You need to be able to adapt to each individual instrument and learn it's particular strengths and weaknesses, how to control it....much like the difference between a Les Paul and a Strat...to get the best out of them you may need to use a different technique.


Rob
 

crstine

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Here's a sample of a couple of original Gibson '59 PAFs in my Les Paul conversion (converted from a 1955 Les Paul Jr. by master luthier Brian Monty four years ago). I recorded this through my PC using SoundForge Audio Studio against a backing track with vocals. When I play this guitar live I play it through a Mesa Boogie Express Plus 5-25; such killer tone! I lucked out and got two original PAFs (separate purchases) that sound sweet.

Blue Jean Blues

My favorite third party boutique PAFs are Lollar Imperials; to me they sound so warm and sweet to my ear... I use those in a couple of my guitars.


1959 Conversion.jpg
 

bross63

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I currently have “patent number” (ie post PAF sticker, pre t-top) pickups in my 2019 custom shop 1960 Sunburst reissue VOS. As a reference I also have a 1970 es-335 that I have had for 30 of its 50 years, and it is fully stock with original patent sticker t-tops, pots, etc.. I also have a 1982 LP Custom silverburst that I got around 1988-89. The silverburst had 300k linear taper pots for neck and bridge volume and 100k pots (actually measured 77k and 78k respectively) in the neck and bridge tone. I removed the “grounding plate” in the silverburst and put in 500k audio taper pots in both volumes and both tones and wired it all up with ‘50s style wiring in the harness. I share that to say that while it is a 1982 LP and was very dark as it came from the factory (neck pickup was unusable for anything other than jazz, even with tone all the way up) it now sounds dramatically different (waaay better) and really shows off the Tim Shaw pickups that are original to that guitar. So I do have experience with Gibson guitars of different eras and with different pickups, pots, etc..

Now back to my 1960 reissue... that guitar just happens to be one of those individual examples that resonates wonderfully as a “guitar”. When I play it I can feel the whole body vibrating against my body the way my 335 feels. It’s 8.2lbs so obviously made from a very dry piece of mahogany, which I believe definitely contributes to its resonance. I changed out the stock abr-1 bridge, bridge posts, and thumbwheels replacing them with a Faber ABRH bridge from Larry Corsa and nickel plated brass posts and the vintage thin model of nickel plated brass thumbwheels from Philadelphia Luthiers because the stock thumbwheels were steel, and I couldn’t verify the posts were brass so I changed them to be certain. The Faber bridge alone made a monumental difference in the sound of the guitar both acoustically and amplified. I won’t go any further down that rabbit hole in this post, but know that these changes have made an already very good body sing even better. It really is a fantastic sounding guitar now, electronics not even factored into the equation.

When I got the 1960 reissue it was fully stock with unpotted custombuckers. Those pickups sound very good! I was surprised right away when auditioning the guitar (prior to buying it) how much different it sounds than my 1982 silverburst. They are no doubt totally different guitars (11.5lbs vs 8.2lbs and hardware differences) but there is clearly a difference in the sound of the Custombuckers compared to the Tim Shaws in my silverburst. Like many I began researching PAF replica/clone pickups in hopes of getting even closer to vintage sunburst tone, or at least my individual preferences and idea of what “vintage sunburst tone” means to me. I wound up getting a set of Amber Spirit of 59 pickups, and they are awesome pickups. They did improve the character of the guitar and got me more of the things I was wanting to hear out of my LP. I’ve heard great things about Rewind, Jim Rolph, ThroBak, etc and don’t want to turn this into a “best replica/clone” debate, but the Ambers impress me, and I recommend anyone seeking great sounding PAF replica/clone pickups give them a look and listen as well.

While pleased with the Ambers I still wondered what real, vintage PAF or patent number pickups would sound like in my 1960 reissue. So I found out. I was able to get first one then a second patent number pickup and have since auditioned other vintage PAF/patent number pickups in my guitar so can share my experience with not just one vintage pickup but a few. I also tried the different pickups in both neck and bridge positions and additionally swapped magnets in the pickups trying to determine if that made any of the pickups sound better (again to my ears).

What I learned, which is nothing new other than I was able to experience and confirm it for myself, is that there are absolutely big differences in vintage PAF/patent number pickups and the various characteristics each of them possesses and expresses. I also learned that different magnets definitely impact the way a pickup responds and the way its natural characteristics come through (or don’t). In my admittedly limited experience what I have learned is that a pickup’s primary character is in the coils (individually and together) and that doesn’t change with a swap in magnets. If a pickup produces a lot of overtones it will do so with whatever magnet is in it, and if it doesn’t produce lots of overtones no magnet will cause it to do so. That’s just one example, but the same applies to other characteristics. The change in magnet can however change the frequency response with one magnet producing more bottom, one a more even curve, and another more emphasis in the mids and highs. Some magnets produce a “hotter” output out of a given pickup also, so that has its own effect. So the magnet does certainly impact the overall sound of the pickup, although I believe it only enhances (or doesn’t) what is already there in the coils. And there is a “best” magnet for a given pickup in terms of helping or allowing that pickup to more fully express its inherent qualities, but that can become a very deep rabbit hole indeed ha ha.

So how do the vintage pickups sound in my modern, historic replica? Fantastic! Do they sound different or better than the stock custombuckers or Ambers? Yes, they do, and notably better to my ears. Maybe I got lucky and just happened to get a couple of very good vintage pickups. And maybe someone else may think these pickups sound terrible and worse than the custombuckers or Ambers in this guitar. But to me these vintage pickups do the things and produce the tones and sounds that I have in my head as great Sunburst LP sound. Note that I didn’t say great PAF sound. That’s because PAF/patent number pickups do have a sound, but that will never be heard or allowed to fully express unless they are in a great guitar with correct hardware. I don’t listen to pickups but guitars, specifically vintage sunburst (and PAF equipped ‘57 and ‘58 goldtops) and vintage, PAF/patent number equipped es-335s. I do listen to “pickups” but only in guitars that are quality instruments, whether vintage or high quality modern production, and without effects, etc.

One thing of note is that no matter what pickups I have in this guitar it still sounds like this guitar. That’s a testament to the importance of the guitar itself and how much a role it plays in the final sound that gets passed down the instrument cable to the amp. Do different pickups sound different in it? Yes, but even with very different sounding pickups there is the common sound of the guitar that comes through.

That’s my experience, for what it’s worth. There are lots of options in the PAF replica/clone market, and some are outstanding. But so are the unpotted custombuckers that come stock in current production historic reissues from Gibson. I’m confident the best replica/clone pickups are as good as or better than some PAF/patent number pickups, especially given the variability in those vintage pickups. But for me I am thrilled with the sound of my 2019 1960 reissue with vintage patent number pickups

For those who either have or are in the market for PAF replica/clone pickups, talk to the winder of your choice and explain/discuss the sound(s) you want to achieve so they can make a recommendation of pickup model, magnet type, gauss level, etc for you. And if you ask most will sell magnets individually so you can try some different magnets in your existing pickups or some you may purchase in the future whether replica/clones or vintage pickups.

Lastly, if you don’t already have a great guitar with correct hardware, save the money you would spend on pickups and put that into getting a great, highly resonant guitar first and/or changing out the hardware to complete the guitar part of the magical potion, er I mean equation. Only then will you be able to hear and appreciate the true and full character of whatever pickups you put into it.
 

mjross

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Wow, that was great ... it sounds like R8 from 2016 which may be why i love it more than my other Historics.

That guitar in that video has good compression sound with scooped mids that I like often described as "Smooth" pickups.
Hands help!
 


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