Some 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.
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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