Vintage Humbucker Stories

Every pickup we make tells a story, and our line of vintage pickups is particularly stocked with interesting tales. We asked our sales manager, Alex Semple, to share the stories behind some of our most popular vintage-style models. 

The ’59 Model

Seymour Duncan '59 Model

“There was a time when I first started here where we would get phone calls saying ‘I don’t understand why you call it the ’59 model when it has Alnico 5 magnets – shouldn’t it have Alnico 2 like a 50s humbucker? This isn’t period-correct.’ So I went to Seymour once and I asked ‘Seymour, what is the ’59? It’s not like the Seth Lover – is it wound to ’59 specs? Why does it have the wrong magnet?’ And Seymour said the Patent Applied For humbuckers had all kinds of magnets – Alnico 2, 3, 4, 5 – whatever Gibson could get their hands on. So I asked what the wind was based on and he said ‘It’s wound to Jeff Beck’s ’59 Les Paul pickup specs, but when we started out as a company in the late 70s I noticed more and more guitarists were playing .009 and .010 gauge strings, and when you play those gauges with an Alnico 2 magnet it can sound thin and weak.’ That’s why Antiquities sound better with heavy-gauge strings, for example. So Seymour said that to meet the demands and adapt to modern times they used Alnico 5 to compensate for lighter string gauges. But the coil wind was to replicate what was in Jeff Beck’s ’59 Les Paul.”

Whole Lotta Humbucker

Whole Lotta Humbucker

“We had done a limited run in Japan of a JB/Jazz Prototype set with Alnico 2 magnets and wooden spacers. Whole Lotta Humbucker started as a conversation with Rosetti’s Martin Hartwell. I asked him ‘Is there anything cool we could do?’ and he said he would love to do a limited run for the UK, much like we did for Japan with the JB/Jazz Prototype set. He said ‘I think it should be something celebrating Seymour’s time living and working in London at the Fender Soundhouse.’ I asked Seymour if he had a specific humbucker wind or mod that he would have done back then that would exemplify his time in London and he said ‘I don’t know, we could probably do what I used to do for Jimmy Page.’ It takes off from that classic ’59 voicing but overwound so it’s a bit meatier-sounding, but its essence comes out of the ’59 model.”

Seth Lover

Seth Lover

“Seth Lover created the humbucker, and Seymour befriended him and asked him all sorts of questions about his philosophy behind designing pickups. Right before he passed, Seth bequeathed the actual patent application drawings for the humbucker to Seymour. So as far as I know, only Seymour has that. And the whole thing with the Seth Lover is it’s built 100 percent as a Patent Applied For pickup was intended to be built, no more, no less. It’s the only correct model available. And we use the Leesona pickup machine that we bought from auction when Gibson moved out of Kalamazoo back in the 80s, so it’s as authentic as you can get.”

Pearly Gates

Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates

“Billy Gibbons had his favorite Les Paul, Pearly Gates, that was so valuable to him that he didn’t want to take it on the road any more, but that’s the tone, that’s the sound for that time. So he went to Seymour and said ‘I want my touring Les Pauls to sound like the Pearly Gates. Is there anything you can do?’ So Seymour took those pickups and analyzed them for gauss strength and DC resistance and everything, and he realized that much like a lot of Patent Applied For pickups they were wound out of spec. They were wound to be a little hotter than they should have been, and the pitch of the way they were wound favored this top-end sizzle, more of a treble response. That with a really dense, heavy Les Paul is magical. Lots of bite, crunch and body.”


Seymour Duncan Antiquity

“We released Antiquities in the mid 90s just as guitarists were beginning to relic their own instruments and salivate over very expensive vintage guitars. Antiquities were our way of delivering the tone you find in a well-seasoned, well-worn guitar. Imagine going back in time and buying a brand new Les Paul in 1959. It would essentially have Seth Lovers in it. Now imagine playing the same guitar today after all those decades. That’s Antiquity. $30,000 tone for $144.”


Seymour Duncan Slash pickups

“We’d been working with Slash for years and years. Ever since Appetite for Destruction he’d been using the Alnico II Pro pickups in his Derrig Les Paul replica, which is a 12-pound monster. All of his recordings are done with that guitar. As he was getting his signature Les Pauls made, he found that they didn’t have as fat a sound, either because of the weight relief or just different materials: it’s hard to find a Les Paul that’s that thick any more. So live he was having to compromise. He wasn’t getting the same tone that he was getting from his records. So when it became time to discuss doing something special, we took the Alnico II Pro as a base line and did a few iterations. We took that tonality and made it overwound to the point where his current Les Pauls sounded exactly like his Derrig Les Paul. Those pickups in a Les Paul-style guitar is as close as you’ll get to what recorded Appetite For Destruction.”


Seymour Duncan Jazz

“The ’59 is our most popular neck pickup and the Jazz is number two. It pairs perfectly with the JB, it goes great with the Duncan Distortion and some of our other high-output pickups. That’s the matching pickup on the Jeff Beck Blow By Blow album that Seymour made to complement the JB. The bridge version is very cool – it’s a totally unsung part of the family. Dean DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots loves that pickup because it’s clean and unbiased. You get a lot of ‘amp’ through it because it doesn’t really dominate your signal. It gives you a lot of headroom. It’s one of the rarer items we do every year but those who use it tend to love it. It’s a very open, un-colored sound. It’s definitely meant for bigger Gibson-type instruments. That’s where it excels.”

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