When it comes to finding a PAF pickup for a Les Paul, about all you can do is put your head down on your desk. If you try to make sense of the 679 different pickups out there designed to sound “just like” a vintage 1959 Gibson PAF pickup, you will surely go mad. So when I finally decided to pull the Dirty Fingers pickups from my GLP 70’s Tribute, I was determined to use one of the pickups I already owned, rather than go shopping for a new one.
My go to PAF “clone” pickup over the past few years has been the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates. I’ve played a lot of humbuckers, and in recent years my two favorite sounding humbuckers have been the Pearly Gates by Seymour Duncan and the Shawbucker by Fender. You can’t buy a Shawbucker pickup, as of right now. They only come in American Strats. But you can buy a Pearly Gates, which I did, a while ago. I put it in my PRS SE Custom 24. And it made a big difference over the stock G&B pickup in the thing.
In the name of science (and an endless need to mess with things) I pulled the Pearly Gates from the PRS and re-inserted the stock G&B pickup. A quick play told me what I needed to know – the G&B sounded less “alive.” More muddy. It didn’t sound bad, it just didn’t sound as good. In other news, the sun will rise tomorrow.
I want my Les Paul 70’s Tribute to sound like a nice old Les Paul – smooth, basically, with some bite when I crank things. The Pearly Gates is an Alnico II pickup that’s smooth with some bite when you crank things. But I have another Alnico II humbucker in my collection – it’s from GFS, home of cheap parts and known to all guitar tinkerers as low end stuff that is sometimes very good. The Pearly Gates goes for around $110. The GFS Alnico II goes for less than half of that. In the interest of science, again, I took my Alnico II pickups out of my Squier Jagmaster and put them in my Les Paul.
So? Well… I like them better than the Dirty Fingers pickups they replaced. They measured around 9k, and the Dirty Fingers measured around 20k. The Dirty Fingers are hard rock/metal pickups in my book. I find them to be similar to the Dimarzio Super Distortion pickups. They overdrive the front of the amp very well and they have nice detail. But they’re not “warm.” Anyway, the GFS Alnico II pickups are… well, funky. They sound fantastic in the Jagmaster. They sounded good in the Les Paul – good enough to leave in there.
But in the same Les Paul, the Pearly Gates sounds better. More detail, warmer, more bite. I think GFS should be congratulated for their pickups – They’re a great deal. For inexpensive guitars, they’re an inexpensive upgrade. But I won’t be leaving them in my Les Paul forever. That Pearly Gates sounded too good. I think I’ll save up my pennies and buy another one and put it in the bridge position.