In this order. Last being the best current choice for what I like.
Gibson Custombuckers. I had a love/hate relationship with these. The middle position was the cat's meow. But the bridge was one dimensional and the neck was too muddy. I think if I was playing with cleaner tones more often without any crunch they could of worked. Though still wished I had kept them.
Gibson '57 Classic/Classic+. I'm speaking of the original wind before Gibson changed the specs. These have a nice sizzle and a voice I would associate with a proper sounding Gibson guitar. Like most pickups from Gibson I've tried these could be a little too compressed and unclear at louder volumes. Also IMO a little too dark over all for a PAF type of pickup.
Seymour Duncan Antiquity. Really can't go wrong with these. I would tell anyone who didn't care for going down the infinite rabbit hole on finding the "right" pickups to start with these. The neck and middle tones are really vintage sounding. The bridge could be a little under wound and loose sounding under gain. But overall pretty solid.
RC Pickups. I have two sets of these, a '59 Bloodline with an A5 neck/over wound A2 bridge and a T-Top set. Great, musical pickups wound by Rob Conley in CT. He gives great attention to detail and you get exactly what you ask for. The T-Top set is my favorite of the two, a nice grind to them and enough juice on tap to turn down the guitar's volume for some sweetness.
Big Mike's Custom (formerly Guitar Works). Another winder in CT, Mike Mascagna. This time hand wound with three different builds (vintage, modern, hybrid) all based off the same idea, a bright (think Mike Bloomfield) cutting, PAF voice. I have all three sets. These pickups are for the guys like me who love to mess with the volume and tone knobs on their guitars and hear those PIO caps work. Very flexible pickups that can really cover an array of tones. I would say out of all the pickups I've tried these to my ears sound most like the classic PAF tones I hear on the old albums.
P.S., I have an older, hand wound set of Jim Wagner (WCR) Fillmores on the way. I'm hoping I can add those to the list.
Then the rest in random order....
ECPs Low Winds
Gibson 57 Classic (with 550k pots)
I have several paf style Duncans on the shelf, they’re ok. I love Custombuckers but have had one set that just don’t work together.
I really like the ECPs I have, I’ll have to try more. I’m getting to have so many Gibson pickups (and others) that I can usually find a great match for any guitar I want to experiment on.
The only PAF style pickup Gibson makes that I REALLY DONT LIKE are MHS. I’ve had 3 guitars with them now and I find them consistently dull and devoid of any character. I still have a set in my ES-175 but since I rarely plug it in, I’ll probably leave them.
1) CustomBuckers in the R9
2) The MHSs in the ESLP
3) SD 59s in the TradProII
4) Dimarzio SD I had in my 83 Explorer
5) 500T I had in the '99 Explorer
and the flipside
Disliked the C57/Super57 that came the TP2, and not happy with the 490R and 490T pickups in the SG Special faded. To me all 4 sounded alike thin and mundane. But after 1800+hrs flying, my ears are shot, WILL SOMEONE ANSWER THAT DAMN PHONE haha
In no order whatsoever......
Lawrence XL500 (God uses these.)
MMK45 (old Aria pickups)
Ibanez V2 (LOVE these)
Ibanez V7/V8 combo (Fantastic in guitars NOT made by Ibanez for some reason.)
DiMarrzio Super Distortions. (if there was ever a pickup that said 70's rock, these are them!)
- Gibson 87 - suspect they're Shaws based on resistance readings down in the low 7 range, but I have not investigated any further. Whatever they are, they're light and airy.
- Sunset Zuma/Venice sent - Sunset is a local SoCal guy that probably winds a few pickups in his spare time. I just bought these to put an old Kramer Focus for fun. They really sound good. I'll have to move them to a better guitar in the future, the wide neck on the Kramer is just not the fun to play.
- Seymour Duncan Custom - this just fits an 83 Kramer Pacer I have. Smooth and woody. Just a perfect match.
- Zhangbucker Handwound Brownbucker - this is for an old Charvel. When I bought it, it had an EMG that wasn't my thing, I tried other pickups including the Duncan Custom...but it never got that woody tone I liked in my Pacer...until this one. I don't know if the true handwinding made a difference, but it's a great pickup that is just right for the warm/smooth but still bright overdrive tone I like (kind of in between Ratt and 70s VH). I got the sweet heat option as well because more is more.
- Whatever Ibanez puts in their low end Artcore AS73. Is it on par with the pickups above? Not really, but it's such a great sounding guitar for the price ,the pickups deserve some credit.
RS Guitarworks/Fralin True 60s (unpotted)
These are my favorite all-time pickups. They are so articulate, and have this awesome honk to them that I just love. They have amazing structure and texture. Super 3D, super dynamic, very clear, very woody, very percussive, and fat! Just stunning in every way. Just amazing!
Lust for Tone ‘59 Lustbuckers (unpotted)
These are a close second to the True 60s. They display most of the same characteristics of the True 60s, but are just a tad less dynamic, honky, woody, and fat... and a bit brighter. Otherwise they are just awesome and the neck in particular is stellar.
Bare Knuckle Mules (unpotted)
These are very articulate, lots of texture, very open and 3D sounding, woody and percussive.
The Buzztone ‘57s (unpotted)
These have great clarity. Very open, articulate, and 3D as well. The most affordable on my list and a fantastic bargain.
Wolfetone Marshallheads (unpotted)
These are the best hot PAF I’ve tried so far. They are very versatile (which explains why they are so well regarded) and can do classic rock and hard rock metal with ease.
Honorable Mention DiMarzio Super Distortion (potted)All of the above are takes on the classic PAF, but worthy of mention is this high-powered pickup from DiMarzio. True it’s kind of a one trick pony, but it does that one trick so well. For playing classic KISS (and/or lots of other classic hard rock/metal from the 70s and 80s) it’s hard to beat a Super Distortion. There’s a reasons it’s been around for decades.
I will always regret the guitar I sold these in. I don’t know if it was the guitar, or the pickups, but these pickups were absolutely the best pickups I’ve owned. I would buy another one on the spot, should it arise.
I own a Lord of the Blues set in my 13 Chicago Blue traditional. Amazing pickups. Split gives you some very true single coil sounds, and the drop off in volume is nothing short of beautiful. There is something about these pickups that force you to be honest with yourself when you play.
Another sale I regret. They had so much oomph and string separation. I’m having trouble finding another pair of these.
Big shout out to Wolfe for nailing the sound in my head. He has amazing customer service and winds a hell of a pickup. Amazing pickup and wonderful individual.
Sadly I haven’t bonded with any other pickups to really find a number 5. Not for lack of trying, $2k+ and counting.
Wizz clone A4
Tom Holmes 450/455
K & T NFS Weep Very low tension (wondering what magnets are in these, hard going thru the Japanese literature)
Rewind VLO (hoping to get another set or maybe try the A2 low output set soon)
Have not tried a lot but what I have bought I enjoy
Wolfetone Marshallhead and DR Vintage combo
Sheptone Blue Skys
Brandonwound low wind PAF (on the way for my 335 so not enjoying these yet)
1: Seymour Duncan Custom Shop FPX A custom bridge pickup I had made when Phil X wouldn't complete an Arcane signature order that I payed for. I had the Seymour Duncan Custom shop make it to my specs. 13K output, for hard rock and some metal, but able to clean up with the guitar's volume knob. FPX stands for **** Phil X.
2:Seymour Duncan '59, both bridge and neck.
3:Seymour Duncan JB I don't personally own a JB, but all of the guitars that I've played with one sound great
As for the other two spots? I have an Epiphone LP Snakepit with a Duncan Invader that sounds pretty good. P94s are really single coils, but they're humbucker sized and I love them.
The stock Burstbucker Pros I had don't even belong in the list.