Every single one of Gibson’s current offering of humbuckers seems to have the mission of recreating the sound of the legendary PAFs of old. Simple task, one would think, no? Get the specification of those, and adhere to it? Ohhhhh no. Turns out that this is basically impossible, because it seems that the golden-era PAFs were lashed together “by feel” more than adhering to any particular design spec, and so varied widely from pair to pair in their tonal characteristics. Particularly, the amount of wire wound onto the two magnets was only approximately measured out, resulting in asymmetry between the two coils of the humbucker, the degree of which affects something called the “sonic bite”.
In an effort to capture this range, or at least a few discrete points within it, Gibson now offers countless variations and twists on the original design, the descriptions of which tend to include “but with a slightly more…”. Two of the most popular of these variants, appearing on stock ES-335s and Les Paul Standards respectively, are ’57 Classics and Burstbucker Pros. These are similar insofar as they’re both based on the PAF design at heart, but with the following divergences:
- Made to the exact same specs as the original PAFs
- The two coils of the humbucker are balanced, which is to say, each magnet has the same number of windings around it
- The magnet itself is an Alnico II
- The two coils are unbalanced, by a calculated degree to give rise to a little more attack
- The magnet itself is an Alnico 5, which is the same only a little stronger than the Alnico II featured in the ’57 Classic
The Difference: In Words
Attempting to verbally describe the difference in sound which these differences give rise to is a hilarious business. You don’t have to look far* to find descriptions such as the following, which can only be described as poetry:
- “a bit woodier, honkier, and more hair around the edges”
- “ultimately, they are PAF’s with a little sumthin’ sumthin'”
- “the bass and mids just jumps out and kicks you right in the nuts!”
* Source: the interwebz.
The Difference: In Sounds
Translating those into a sound in my head is beyond my inter-sensory capabilities, so let’s have a look and listen to these two clowns comparing guitars featuring the respective types of pickup: