The Pearly Gates: Pure Texan Tone

Posted on by Peter

Pearly GatesSome guitarists think there’s something magical about the PAF pickups produced in the 1950s. And in a way this is true: some of these pickups have been responsible for some of the most memorable tones in rock and blues history. But note that word ‘some.’ Back in the 50s, production tolerances weren’t as tight as they are today, and individual PAFs could come out quite different from each other. Some were wound hotter than others and some were underwound, so there’s really no such thing as ‘the PAF spec.’ But you can recapture the particular characteristics that make individual or similarly-wound PAFs so special. You can learn a lot by measuring and examining those really special ones.

Seymour, Billy Gibbons and Tony Dukes in 1979.

The Pearly Gates model is a perfect example of this knowledge put to use. In the 1970s Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top was about to go on tour and he wanted his guitars to sound like his beloved Pearly Gates, a ’59 Les Paul Standard with plenty of mojo. He brought us the guitars, we built pickups with the precise tonality he wanted, and he’s continued to be a good friend of the Duncan family ever since.

Vintage PAFs generally spec out to be low-output by today’s standards. For instance, the SH-55 Seth Lover set, which is designed to be an accurate PAF recreation, has a DC resistance of 7.2 k in the neck model and 8.1k for the bridge model. Like the SH-55 set, the Pearly Gates set uses an Alnico II bar magnet, but it’s very slightly overwound compared to the typical PAF. The neck DC resistance is 7.3k, and the bridge is 8.35k. The result is a humbucker that sounds slightly ruder than the average PAF, with strong sustain, noticeable warmth and a bright high end which really helps harmonics to sing. It has great articulation for fingerpicking, especially when combined with bright overdrive.

So what kind of guitar does a Pearly Gates belong in? Well it does feel right at home in a Les Paul, of course, but it’s also well-suited to guitars with maple or ebony fretboards, and it thrives on brighter-toned instruments where it can add warmth and body while simultaneously casting the high end in its best light. And while its history is based on a particular Les Paul with a blues-rocking Texan pedigree, it’s also right at home playing vintage metal.

Some players even like to pair the Pearly Gates with a basswood body for instrumental rock. And it plays very nicely with other pickups too: some players like to use a Pearly Gates in the neck with an SH-11 Custom Custom in the bridge position, while the bridge Pearly Gates goes particularly well with the APH-1n Alnico II Pro for those who need  smoother neck and neck/middle tones.

The Pearly Gates is available in regular or Trembucker spacing. It has four-conductor wiring as a standard feature (so you can perform wiring trucks such as coil splitting), and can be ordered with either nickel or gold cover or without a cover in a range of different colors.


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Written on August 16, 2012, by Peter

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  • Original Sinner

    Long-time user of alnico II pro’s and wanted to try something with a little more bite. As a fan of those and of ZZ TOP’s tone I recently installed a set of Pearly Gates in my guitar. What can I say,these are awesome! I can’t believe how musical they are!

  • I have a set of Pearly Gates in my Les Paul and she sings, screams, howls, growls, and squeals every time I pick her up!

  • Aceman

    The PG is one of my all-time favorite pickups period. I have used all the classics from the Duncan line: 59’s, A2P’s, PG’s (sorry – no Seths!). I love them all and they all have their place. But the PG – HAVE MERCY!!! I love it. Best Les Paul Neck humbucker EVER!
    PG neck + 59 Bridge = Nicely matched bright guitar
    PG neck + A2P bridge = Very even toned guitar, fattening the bridge and brightening the neck, while keeping the A2P sweetness!
    A2P neck + PG bridge = wide range Les Paul, with a really cool mid position that is different than either alone
    PG set: The Rev Billy G. Have Mercy!!! Sweet whispers or rude ‘tude!!!!

    I wound a PG at User Group day.

  • Steve

    Now I’m definitely getting one for my LP!

  • Jeff Gray

    I have them in my standard and spalted maple custom but went with the AL-14 custom 5 bridge and the PG in the neck in my les Paul access with two push pulls on the volumes to do the coil splitting. I’ve never been happier!

  • ronnie ray

    using the new pearly gates nickel set do i solder the red and white then use the green and ground on the back of pot for ground?

  • ronnie ray

    50’s wiring