PAF Pickups: How to Choose the Right One for Your Guitar

Posted on October 10 2022

If you play guitar in a band, you may notice your sound drowning in a muddy, chaotic mess from time to time. The noise of your bandmates' instruments suffocating your guitar certainly won't help you be heard any better. If you're not outnumbered, there's still a chance you can reclaim your sound with a PAF pickup.

It may be slightly overwhelming to venture into the underground mythology of the PAF pickup sound, but we promise it's not that dramatic. Well, maybe a little, but you'll see what we mean when you cross over into the sound garden that is the PAF. We'll explain what that is and when you should change your guitar pickups. Not to worry: we won't hold back on all the fierce benefits this gear shift brings. 

What is a PAF?

The original PAF pickup is nearly the stuff of urban legend, surrounded by folklore about this iconic guitar gear modification. Its initial design was created to destroy that aggravating hum you hear when you play electric guitar since it's plugged into power and interacts with the national electricity Hz choice and all of the magnetic pieces and cables between your wall, guitar and amps.

That noisy hum is called the 60-cycle hum. Most electricity runs at 60Hz, translation, 60Hz cycles per second. In the US, equipment is made for 60Hz, while in Europe, they are made at 50Hz. 60Hz is known for being a bit faster than 50Hz. PAF pickups were made to remove that noise emitted from either cycle hums. PAF stands for Patent Applied For; weird name, huh? 

A Brief History Lesson

History about how the PAF got its name was due to the tag team effort by Gibson and Seth Lover in 1955 to develop a noise-cancelling PAF and file the patent. The infamous two coil separation was made in the pickups after being made within Gibson amps. The story goes that to get the PAF pickups into production immediately, they were named Patent Applied For, and the name stuck, literally, like the stickers adhered to the backs of each early humbucker. Although, the proper name was the humbucker PAF. 

PAF outputs are measured in resistance. The earliest PAFs had a higher output at around 7.5. Machines were used to wound the pickup, magnets, and other materials, which impacted the final sound such that pickups didn't always sound the same. Some guitarists love this uniqueness while others may want a more uniform sound.

What PAF Features Matter Most 

PAF pickups introduce you to an array of features; however, some features matter more than others. PAFs will give your guitar that vintage sound. Makers attempt to "clone" the sound of other famous PAFs like Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Green, or Brian May. A PAF cannot truly ever be duplicated. It's basically a unicorn. PAF features have a general aim and today have a ton more quality control than in the 1950s. 

In the intro example, we mentioned that muddy sound drowning your guitar to not. PAF pickups have beneficial byproducts that help maintain your volume while bringing clarity. You'll instantly notice a difference in guitar strumming and tone with the PAF pickup if you've developed your ear. What causes this to be so? The type of magnet and amount of wire wound determines your tonal profile.

Clarity 

Definition and clarity ultimately are the hallmark of PAF pickups. This means that every note you play is heard on the other end. Without a PAF, coherence is often lost as the hum can overtake your notes. Or, the amp will screech and scream when in overdrive without the pickup. 

Depth and Expanded Range

That ability to hear every note is due to the expanded and more dynamic range afforded by the PAF pickup. Your deepest notes will be fuller and almost fathomless. It's as if you've jumped into the guitar itself and can wholly feel its sound.

How to Choose the Right PAF Pickup For Your Guitar 

Choosing the best PAF for you is based on what sound you are ultimately going for, whether you play Jazz, Blues, Rock, or Go-go. For instance, you'll want something slightly more direct if you're in a band. Some guitarists have a style they are pursuing; others may happen on one suddenly by some nuance in the PAF. They are pretty purposely "flawed" due to their handcrafted nature. If you desire a neck or bridge pickup, those will also provide tonal differences. Overall, you want fat midrange, high ends with bite, and a funky reaction when you dig deep and play hard. 

Take the Retro Wind Humbucker. Like its predecessors, it's well known for its responsiveness to bass; as it hugs it tightly, it will get toothy playing mids and recoil into a flourishing bloom, thick with melody. The highs will be even more expansive, like taking the hike you weren't interested in, then reaching the pinnacle views and realising why all of that work was worth it. A wax-potted humbucker, such as the Retro Wind, is desirable for an even bold, straightforward PAF sound. The materials of this humbucker were all dipped in wax which acts as a preservative of sound. This ensures all excess moves out of the way, parting for the Retro Wind Humbucker like the Red Sea. Your amp won't be pushed to its limits, either.

The Jazzmaster-sized Leviathan P90 Pickup is limitless in power and grit if you want the widest, fattest tones. The transformative sound is as guttural and intuitive as any P90 worth its salt. Neck playing will have an edgy superior clean that folds blissfully into the moment you want to play with extreme power without losing your tonal range. Spring for the whole set of neck and bridge pickups if you don't want to be dangerously disappointed and miss out on these jacked ear drum-busting sounds.

Additionally, guitarists will sometimes decide to change their pots while changing their pickups. This is the general advice since the pots are already accessible, and you'll only boost your guitar sound quality. PAFs are for everyone; if you don't have one in your collection, you're not reaching your full potential. Shop our humbucker guitar pickups to graduate your sound from miry melodies to buttery bops.

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