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I Use Gibson Pick-Ups, Why?

I Use Gibson Pick-Ups, Why?

For years or decades Ive played electric guitar in bands at bars, schools, concerts and recording sessions yet I couldnt tell you what pick-ups (p/us) were about. I mean, I didnt have a clue as to what a pick-up did what to my sound. I grew up in a Gibson family. I mean that my relatives, when they didnt ridicule me for my participation as a rock and roll guitar player, said if I played a guitar, it had to be a Gibson. So, I only had a clue about humbucker type pick-ups Gibson used. Oh yeah, its little brother the P-90.


My first electric was a Tiesco Del Ray I got for Christmas in 1967. I did get a Mattel Tiger guitar that was made of plastic and used a contact type pick-up. My brother and I each got one that XMAS so often times wed use one of the pick-ups as a vocal mic.

Those days electric strings were extremely limited in types and gauges available to young poor city folk like yours truly. I think I only remember Gibson, Fender and Black Diamond strings. This is before the Maestro Fuzz and the Vox Wha-Wha were available to the buying public like me. Back to pick-ups!

With the limited info as to how the stars were getting THAT SOUND we just kept trying to learn guitar without how to magazines and poor sounding phonograph players playing 45s on a tiny speaker. You could say there was no reason to discern between p/us.

In the mid 70s I was already playing full time and knew about vintage Les Pauls and the legendary PAF pick-ups that were installed in them. Around that time a N.Y. Co. was making a name for them selves as a replacement for your non- Gibson brand type (humbucking) pick-up, DeMarzio. I ended up buying one for my 76 Explorer. Mind you I owned since the mid 60s, a late 50s Epiphone symmetric cherry finish Coronet with a, I think someone called it a cobalt pick-up. It is referred to as the P-90, or soap bar single coil type pick-up. I loved that guitar and its sound. I just thought I should have a real vintage sounding guitar with a humbucking p/u installed. I also owned a Les Paul Deluxe with the mini humbuckers. It sounded great, I just thought it should have full sized p/us to sound and look right. To quote Ian Hunter in the mid 70,s, Rock guitarists seem to have this Gibson fetish, and I did! I wanted the look.


Gil Pini, the other Guitarist playing with me was using the DeMarzio super Distortion humbucking , and I for some reason didnt feel good about its sound and feel, although it was touted as heaven sent sort of thing, especially for Marshall amplifiers back then (no master volume on the pre-amp stage). I eventually purchased a Super 2 p/u, because it had more bite. And to me, meant, it would cut through cleaner and not be as transparent in the mix. I even bought the Alembic Hot Rod Kit for my 56 Les Paul Jr. (stupid) in 1976 or 77. That was supposed to be a good idea because it was hotter (better sounding) with a ceramic magnet to install, and since it was from Alembic (from California) and not some upstart p/u manufacturer it was the right thing to do. I didnt think about the DeMarzio pick-ups and I didnt know that those pick-ups used the ceramic magnets at the time.

As I started to record in major recording studios Id learn to discern my sound. I didnt have those how to magazines to hip me to that elusive vintage sound. Yet, I could hear my Gibson Explorer and my Les Paul Jr. distorting at all volume levels as well as attack approach. It just wouldnt smooth out. I was puzzled. Still trying to connect the look with the sound, I stumbled through the maze for years.

Not having the patience, or the money to buy and compare p/us, I just tried to make a sound with what I had. I had all the right Pro equipment. Yet I was looking back, wagging the dog.

A good sound starts from the fingers, to the guitar to the P/us. If you dont start there, youre spinning in circles and youll end up with a transparent (fuzzy) sound without body and response. Your fingers are your tone generators. Not the amps or pedals. Those are tools to augment your expression. And if you learn anything about trouble shooting on the fly, you go down the line to find the problem with your sound or rig. The same goes for finding your sound. When establishing your sound you start with you, through the pick-up on down to the amp. With trouble shooting on stage, you should start with the amp and go down the line back to you. Which makes sense since youve established your rig set up, and youre trying to fix what was working, you back track. If not, youre spinning in circles, again!


So, I had a friend who made the point about how some pick-ups play you and PAFs dont. I soon tried two 57 Classic pick-ups installed on my 92 Les Paul Classic and what do you know? I had a sound that was tight on the bottom ringing on the top and honking clear / dirty mids when I played hard, and subtle soft tones when I backed off the and played lightly. I was in HEAVEN!! And the great thing that went with it was that, this same thing happened regardless of the volume setting on the guitar.

My experience was that the tone I got on full could be bright and tight with honk, and as soon as I backed off the guitars volume, the tone would take on a dark or dull shade. This meant I would spend a lot of time tweeking the blend between my rhythms (clean and crunch) and lead tones. Looking for each was a drag, and a waste of time!

Im no tech. so I cant and wont waste your time with my take of their specs. I do know that theres something about the combination of the enamel coated copper wire and the alnico magnets that give me a sound I can play with and use dynamics. It was soon after I started using the Gibson 57 Classic pick-up, that Gibson came out with their 57 Classic plus. This p/u was designed as a bridge p/u.

In the 50;s the gals at the pick-up dept. would wind these pick-ups using an egg timer or something like that. Sometimes theyd be distracted and some pick-ups would end up with more winds. Other times they would end up with less.


The p/us with more sounded hotter and when people started going for the tone, theyd notice the sound of certain pick-ups compared to others. It wasnt rocket science to come up with the idea to put one of those hot pick-ups in the bridge position you would have a bright, tight, and honkn lead tone where there wasnt. And a whole new sub market in vinatge’ pick-ups came about.

Which brings us full circle, I use Gibson Pick-ups and Im sure that the other brands quality alnico pick-ups are a good sounding product. I do know what sounds good to me and what I know from my experience. Im a guitarist whos been around the block and my ears have a sense as to what a pick-up should sound like, thats what I go for all the time.

Make your self happy and keep the communications open!

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