The year was 1955 and 45-year-old Gibson guitar tech Seth Lover set out to solve a problem. You see, at that point in the evolution of the guitar, single-coil pickups—and their notorious 60-cycle hum—were the only available option. So Lover put the electronics expertise he’d honed in the U.S. Army to work and came up with what is known today as the Patent Applied For (PAF) pickup.
Originally equipped in the legendary 1957 Les Paul Goldtop, PAF pickups featured two single coils that were wired together, side-by-side, out of phase with each other. This technique canceled out the hum and brought out the big, warm, rich tones still used to this day as the benchmark for great humbuckers.
So I’ve got good news if you’re on the hunt for that elusive, vintage tone—the DiMarzio PAF Master has arrived.
Know Your Tone
These Dimarzios are rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form. And while I’ve never had the opportunity to play an authentic ’57 Les Paul into a vintage Marshall, a pair of PAF Masters nestled into my G&L ASAT Deluxe running into a Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret MKIII got me (and my wallet) close enough to happily get lost in a slew of my favorite riffs.
The overall tone is classic, articulate and well suited for most types of gain, though you could certainly do better for metal tones. The EQ is fairly balanced, but the bridge pickup has a bit of added midrange that helps push the guitar to the front of the mix. The alnico IV magnets in the bridge deliver a stronger output than the alnico V magnets used in the DiMarzio 36th Anniversary PAF, but the tone is a little sweeter and not quite as aggressive, measuring out at only 7.38K[ilo-ohm] in the one I tried. Still, if you dig into the strings with some gain running behind the guitar, there’s definitely some bite and snarl to be had.
Clarity is the name of the game in both positions though, and the neck rolls off just a touch of bass to achieve it. The alnico V magnets in the neck are also underwound—clocking in at 7.26K—yielding great cleans, plenty of smooth, singing sustain and balancing particularly well with the bridge pickup in the middle position.
The Devil in the Detail
Part of the lore surrounding the original PAF design stems from the manufacturing inconsistencies of the early builds. Gibson used a variety of alnico magnets over the years—whatever they could most easily source at the time—and the coils were wound without the aid of modern technology, resulting in a range of winds and strengths. Some companies have tried to mimic this process in creating their versions of the PAF, but DiMarzio has taken a different path. I’ll quote directly from the company website:
“We’ve done the research and seen all the mythology around pickups made with NOS wire, unoriented magnets, butyrate bobbins, vintage alloys, unbalanced coils, et al. We prefer to focus on results rather than on replicas. The PAF Master uses several of our patented ideas to create a pickup that pays tribute to the original sound without imitating it. Instead of “accidentally” unbalancing the coils, we’ve tuned them to different frequencies to get the same effect without compromising hum-cancellation.”
I can understand why this process might deter those looking for the most authentic reproductions, but having actually played the PAF Master humbuckers—as well as fair number of similar designs from other companies—I’m highly satisfied with the inspired results.
What we like: It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to switch from my go-to single coil-equipped guitar to anything with humbuckers and not feel like my tone died. These PAF Master humbuckers are strong, clear and a delight to play. I like ‘em a lot.
Concerns: Seven different bobbin color and cover options and no standard (non-worn) nickel? Really? Hopefully DiMarzio adds this eventually.