The Pickup Line
No, not “do you come here often” or “what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this”, I’m talking about the Gibson line of pickups. You think picking up women with dumb lines is difficult? Wait. Gibson pickups are even harder. It shouldn’t be too difficult to do a timeline but Gibson, with its strange penchant for inconsistency, has made it nearly impossible. There are so many exceptions to the presumed “rules” that it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ve covered pickups before but there seems to be a lot of confusion.Let me say, right up front, that I am not always right. There will be exceptions to what I say but I think I’m mostly right. My knowledge is based on observation of actual guitars and not on what I read on the internet. PAFs showed up in late ’56 on steels (some with clipped pole screws so they would fit) and by 57 they were on some guitars. They had no sticker and the covers were stainless steel. I really don’t know exactly when in ’57 the very first stickers began to show up but by 58 they were the rule. Also by 58, the covers were nickel plated. We don’t really care that much about 56 and 57 because there were no 335s then. A 58 PAF has a long (2.5″) alnico 2 (usually) magnet and enamel coated wire for the windings. Every early PAF I’ve seen has had both leads black. PAFs stayed pretty much the same until a transition occurred somewhere between late 60 and mid 61. That transition was a change in the magnet from Alnico 2 to Alnico 5. Alnico 5 is a stronger magnet, so the magnet got smaller. It was 2.25″ or so. Again, there are exceptions. The wire (both windings and leads) remained the same. The covers were the same. The transition occurred earlier in nickel PAFs than it did with gold covered PAFs. It is common to find a short magnet PAF in a 61 335 but not so common in a ’61 345 or 355. I’ve had long magnet PAFs as late as ’62 on gold covered units. This is pretty straightforward stuff-everyone pretty much agrees on this. It’s the next pickup iteration (and the one after that) that causes most of the the confusion and the big reason for this is that you can’t really know for sure what you have unless you take off the cover and that’s not a good idea. PAFs and early patent numbers are, as everyone knows, the same except for the sticker (the $1000 sticker). Patent numbers can be found as early as 62 and coexisted with PAFs until late 63. It isn’t unusual to find one PAF and one patent number on 62 and 63 ES-335s. You might find one in 64 but it isn’t likely. On ES-345 and 355’s, you can find PAFs into ’65 but not often. I’ve heard of them as late as 67 but I’ve never seen one after 65, myself but then I don’t see a lot of guitars made after ’65. Even 64 ES-345s are more likely to have both patent numbers. But nearly all 62 ES-345s and 355s will have PAFs and many 63’s. At some point and it isn’t totally clear when that point occurred, the windings changed to poly coated wire. This is where experience trumps research. I’ve had more 64 ES-335s than any other guitar. Dozens. A lot of them had the covers removed at some point so I could look at the configuration. Research will tell you poly coated windings happened in 64. I think it happened in 65. I’ve still never seen a 64 with poly windings. I’m not saying it can’t exist, this is Gibson, after all. Research will tell you that a chrome cover 65 patent number will have poly windings and that’s a pretty good bet but it isn’t a slam dunk. I’ve had chrome covered patent numbers with enamel windings as late as 67 (in a Trini). The other question is whether there are poly wound pickups under the nickel covers. I haven’t seen one yet. So, I think that if you have a covered pickup with an unopened nickel cover, you can be pretty certain that it’s the same as a PAF. Now it really gets confusing. But not today. It’s a lot to digest.