Interview: Seth Lover on Inventing the PAF Humbucker and Why He Left Gibson for Fender | Bacon's Archive

Seth Lover. Photo used with permission.

Editor's note: This post is part of a series of unpublished interviews from the personal research archive of noted guitar writer Tony Bacon. These interviews will be appearing on Reverb in the coming months.

Stay tuned for more interviews from Bacon's Archive coming soon. For previous installments, take a look at Tony's interviews with Tom Petty and Chet Atkins, as well as conversations with Leo Fender's longtime partner George Fullerton, Fender visionary Dan Smith, and Gibson's Ted McCarty.

I interviewed Seth Lover in 1992 for The Les Paul Book, my first book about Gibson's various Les Paul models, and our conversation focused on the humbucking pickup. Seth (1910–1997) devised the "Patent Applied For" humbucker at Gibson in the mid-'50s, and for that alone he was near the top of my list of people to track down, although his achievements were many, not only at Gibson but also later at Fender.

I went to his home in Garden Grove in Orange County, California, where I spent an enjoyable afternoon with the 82-year-old Seth—who was unassuming, friendly, and bright as a button—and his charming wife Lavone.

How did you come to work for Gibson, Seth?

Well, Walt Fuller at Gibson asked me in 1941. I think it was in April 1941 I went to work for them. Then the war started. I had been in the Army from 1928 to 1931 and I figured they'd be knocking at the door drafting me. So [laughs] I joined the Navy, because they gave me a second class radioman spot and sent me to Noroton Heights, Connecticut. We were there for a couple of weeks, and then Treasure Island up in San Francisco was opened up, and they sent us out there to go to a school.

The original Gibson Guitar factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan (1941). Photo by Kalamazoo Public Library Historical Photographs. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

We learnt about the basic principles that they wanted the Navy radiomen to know—radar had just been born. During the war, I spent most of the time teaching radio and electronics at Bliss Electrical School, just outside of Washington D.C. Then after the war, I went back to work for Gibson. I think it was just a little bit later that Ted McCarty came to work for Gibson.

Ted joined in '48. What sort of man was Ted?

Well, he was alright. In some ways—I didn't think he paid me enough. But anyway, yes, in '45 I went back to work for Gibson and started to design some amplifiers, the GA-50 amplifiers. It was not—well, I didn't think they were paying me enough. So the Navy built a training center in Kalamazoo, and I could make more working for the Navy than I could working for Gibson. So I quit Gibson and went to work for them. That was about 1947, '48. I did teaching there as well as installing all their electronic equipment and stuff of that nature.

After I had been with the training center there, Ted McCarty came to me and wanted to know if I would design a single-coil pickup for them. They had a competitor down in Ohio [DeArmond] who had designed a pickup with large, round magnets in it—very strong. Apparently it performed so much better than the P-90, that was the reason why they… and of course, when you bring out something new, it always gets a certain following to it. If it performs well, fine. Anyway, I said yeah, so I went to work and designed a pickup for them.

Then in 1952, the Navy decided I'd been there long enough and had to be shipped out. I was in the Naval Reserve and I decided I just did not want to be transferred out to Minnesota. Now, Lavone [who is sitting nearby] would have been happy to go. [Lavone: "I almost cried!"] I didn't want—well, I'd built my home there in Kalamazoo, and I just didn't feel like selling the house and moving out.

Matter of fact I was born and raised in Kalamazoo, which is sometimes called Oozamalak [laughs], born there January 1, 1910. Anyway, Ted made me an offer that was equal to what I was getting in the Navy, and I thought I might just as well take that, and I went back to work in 1952 for Gibson.

What was that first Gibson pickup you designed?

Matter of fact I can show you one. [Seth goes off to his workshop. Lavone says she would have liked him to stay in the Navy, because she loved to travel, and they could have rented the house. Seth returns with a box of items, and he holds up a pickup from the box.] This is the one that I designed for them.

People call that one the Gibson Alnico pickup.

Yeah, this is alnico. I made it rectangular rather than having round pole pieces, and they're adjustable. The thing of it is, always for the guitar player, louder is better. And the closer you get it to the strings, the louder it gets. With this strong a magnet, it has a tendency to produce wolf tones, you know? A slurring type of tone.

1950s Gibson Alnico V Staple Pickup

You developed this in '52?

Yeah, about 1952. This was never patented. This [he puts the pickup on the table] is one of the original lab samples that I built by hand.

Why did you make the pole pieces rectangular?

I wanted to be different—I didn't want round [laughs]. Also, by doing that I could put these screws here like that [in between the pole pieces] for adjustment. I don't like to copy things. If you're going to improve something, make it different.

Did this pickup have an official name at Gibson? The P-90 already existed.

The P-90 already existed, yeah. I don't know whether they ever gave this one a name or not, but it was put on a couple of models of guitars. On the P-90, there were two magnets underneath—two north poles would touch the screws—therefore the top end of the screw would be the north pole, and the magnetic lines of force would slip around each side.

That P-90 was a good pickup, except that it wasn't humbucking, that was the only thing I had against it. Whenever you got too close to your guitar, you'd have to position yourself to get away from that hum. But the P-90 was never too popular, because the players would always adjust them up too tight to the strings, and they'd get that slurring type tone, and they didn't like that.

I think one of the first models to get the Alnico pickup was the Les Paul Custom, in '54.

1961 Gibson L-5 CESN Archtop with PAF Pickups

It might have been. I'll go and have a look at my catalogues. [Seth goes out to the workshop again. Lavone asks me if it really does rain all the time in London. Seth returns with a pile of papers, and he sits down and points to an inside page of a Gibson catalogue of 1958.] Here, see? This Super 400 has that pickup, and this L-5CESN too. [He looks through the '58 Gibson catalogue some more, and comes to the Flying V on the back page.]

Remember this one here? That's a body style I designed for 'em when I was at Gibson. The idea behind that was to get some new shapes, and I designed this. I sketched out a number of shapes and styles that I thought would be different for guitars, rather than going back. The first ones that they approved was I think an even worse-looking shape than this. I called it the bent beer can [laughs].

That nickname, the Alnico pickup, I think refers to the metal used.

Yeah, the magnetic material. And this here [Seth points to a rogue pole piece that's rolled across the table] is cunife. That's copper, nickel, and iron. That I used in some of my later pickups.

How different did the Alnico pickup sound? Did you try to make it different to the P-90?

I tried to make it louder. Always louder was better.

That was what they asked for? To make a louder pickup?

Yeah—well, also they wanted a different pickup. The old ES-125 had that P-90 pickup.

When you joined Gibson again in 1952, what kind of a set-up was it there? What impression did you get of the company?

They had built additional buildings. When I first went to work there it was just the main building, 225 Parsons Street. The one just west of that they had built between the time I left in '41 and got back in '52, although as I said, I came back in '45 and stayed for a couple of years. Later they completed that building, and when I went back in '52 that's where the lab was at. Before, it was up in the main building on the second floor.

The Gibson Guitar factory. Photo by Kalamazoo Public Library Historical Photographs. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Walt Fuller was the head of the lab, the electronics department?

He was the head, and I was the only other one working in there, except for the draughtsman, eventually. Now I also used to do drafting—I'd draw schematic diagrams and stuff of that nature for the giveaways with the amplifiers. Later on, in the '60s, we finally got a draughtsman so I didn't have to do that anymore. But I would always draw a schematic of it to start with, and the draughtsman would go and pretty it up.

I had a lot of ideas that I wanted them to work on. I designed a bridge where you could make a change in the bridge and change it from a banjo sound to a guitar sound. I built a couple of banjos using this bridge, and by switching it back and forth I could change it from a banjo to a tenor guitar. The tenor guitar had the same four strings as the banjo normally has. They thought it sounded pretty good—in fact Julius Bellson, who was the treasurer at Gibson at the time, he thought it sounded pretty good, but I could never get them to do that. Never built any to sell.

Also, they bought out what was left of Epiphone in the late '50s, and they had a guitar that had push-button switches on it. Every time you pushed it, it'd go clunk and the sound would come through the amplifier. I designed a switch that got away from that noise, but it never happened [laughs]. They finally wound up with a rotary switch, because they were already on the market, to change the tone of the guitar. It wasn't as quick to operate, because with the push button you could snap it into position in a hurry, whereas here you had to twist it around to the one you wanted.

Did you meet Les Paul?

He rarely ever showed up at Gibson, maybe once a year, something like that. I can remember him coming a couple of times—we talked a little. He was quite into low-impedance pickups. He liked those because they didn't have hum problems that you had with the others. That was one of the reasons why he probably wasn't too happy with the humbucking pickup, but I really don't know. I can't remember talking to him as to how he felt about the humbucking pickup.

How did the Gibson humbucking pickup come about?

Again, Ted McCarty wanted me to design another pickup, and that's when I designed the humbucker. Walt Fuller was the chief engineer, as I say, the guy in charge, and I did a lot of design work for him. The Les Paul model used the P-90 pickup originally, and then later it went to my humbucking pickup. And this [points to another pickup] is the original humbucking pickup, one of my handmade samples. I put those on there for decoration. [Seth points to two rows of circular indentations in the top.]

When the sales force over in Chicago saw it, they said they didn't have anything to talk about adjusting screws. So [laughs] they wanted adjusting screws, and that's why we brought out this style here that has the adjusting screws. [He gets out from his box a recognizable humbucker pickup and puts it on the now-crowded table.]

And I set the pickups in the guitar with the screws towards the bridge and towards the fingerboard. People wanted to know why did I do that. For decorative purposes! [Laughs.]

Seth Lover working in the Gibson Lab, 1958. Photo used with permission.

Electric guitars were important for Gibson by this time.

Oh very, they were more and more important. You might say in the late '40s the pickups that they had were big and heavy. When you put them on the guitar they would deaden the sound of the guitar. A lot of musicians used to the acoustic sound didn't like that. That was one of the reasons for me designing this humbucking pickup, to get away from those big, heavy pickups, and to get away from hum.

Now, this here metal cover was an important part of it. See, that's nickel silver, German silver, whatever they want to call it. This helps shield away electrostatic noises from fluorescent lamps and so forth, and I wanted to get rid of that, because the older pickups that had plastic covers, with this wiring and so forth connecting up to it, the pickup itself would tend to pick up that noise.

Did someone come to you and say this is specifically what we want, a pickup that would not pick up hum?

Oh no. Ted McCarty just wanted me to build a new pickup, and I thought well, why don't we get an improvement over… because every time you got a regular guitar near an amplifier you had to twist yourself to get away from the hum. So I thought gosh, there are humbucking choke coils, so why can't we build a humbucking pickup?

Gibson GA-90 Ca. 1953

What's a choke coil?

A choke coil is where they have two coils wound, one on one leg, one on the other, and since they were wound and connected just right, they would eliminate any hum pick-up. We used it in audio amplifiers in, let me see—in the early '50s we had the amplifier that used that, the GA-90, I think it was.

What function did it perform there?

It was the tone control, tone choke. If you put an ordinary coil, single-coil, in there it would pick up hum from the power transformer. I didn't want that. So I had them make me a humbucking choke coil. I had that in mind: If we can make humbucking chokes, why can't we make humbucking pickups? So I designed the pickup.

How many stages of development did it go through? This one you're showing me was obviously a prototype. Where did it go from there?

Before we produced any, we never sold any like this. Sales had to have adjusting screws so they could talk to the dealers about it.

You think the adjustment screws weren't especially useful?

Umm, not really necessary, because this pickup was very sensitive and you could pull it up close to the strings, so long as when you picked on 'em they didn't buzz against the cover. It also had a good treble, because of this type of cover material. Now if it was brass on that it'd deaden it, and aluminum would have deadened the high end. I went through the chemical handbooks and looked at metals that had a high resistance, not low resistance. And I found that non-magnetic stainless steel, which this happens to be, has high resistance.

Only thing was, you can't solder to it. German silver has high resistance, and I tried the different covers just to see what effect they would have on it, and nickel silver and stainless steel did not affect the high-frequency response. So I picked out the German silver because you could solder to it.

1964 Silvertone 1446 with Seth Lover pickups

And that's what was used in production?

That's what was used in production, until they got to the point where they wanted some gold. I said, well, don't put gold plating on it, paint 'em gold. They painted them, but the thing of it was, people playing 'em would knock the paint off [laughs].

What was the difference between plating and painting?

Gold is a very good conductor, and it doesn't take a very heavy coat to damp out the high-frequency response, and that's why I didn't want 'em to use gold. But they did. Then, all at once, the guys started taking the covers off the pickups, you know? I have an idea that somewhere along the line someone had a gold or a brass cover on his, and when he took it off he noticed that difference in sound. So he left it off.

And everyone else started taking them off.

Oh yes [laughs].

So, in theory, there isn't much difference in sound between one with a nickel silver cover on and a cover off?

No, the only difference is that a cover helps to prevent pick-up from fluorescent and neon lamps. That was my reason for using a cover.

And that works, presumably?

Oh yes, that works. Now the thing of it is, to completely shield everything in a guitar costs money, and that's one of the things that makes manufacturers hesitate. But if you completely shield all the things in the guitar—take the switch that they use to switch from pickup to pickup, if you put a shield around that, that helps. Because I went through a detailed study of that to find out how far I had to go to get rid of the noise.

Every time I'd shield something, I'd take away some of the noise. I wanted them to put a shield on the switch. They would not go for that, because it cost money. I thought Switchcraft could build a shield to put on that switch, because that's who we bought it from, Switchcraft. But I don't know, apparently it cost too much.

And then a little later on, I designed the small pickup [mini-humbucker] that we used on the Epiphone guitars. There they even balked at paying the cost of the mounting ring for that. Harmony came along and wanted to buy that pickup to use on some guitars they were building for Sears, and they put out the money for a mounting ring [laughs]. They spent the money for the mounting ring, so from then on we had mounting rings to put that pickup on [laughs].

1960 Gibson PAF Mini-Humbucker Pickup

Some people talk about the different colored bobbins in the humbucking pickups, black and cream, that they're better if they're a particular combination. Have you heard about that?

I don't think that had a darned thing to do with it! [Laughs] The reason for the different colors was that we used to buy our pickup bobbins and covers from a company over in South Haven, Michigan, called Hughes Plastics. Anyway, they ran out of black material, but they had white. So we were not gonna stop production just for that. So we got white bobbins, and I couldn't see any difference one from the other. And I think white was a better color for winding the pickups, because you could see the wire in there a lot easier than you could with the black. The wire was dark brown enameled wire, number 42 was the standard wire size for years.

Hughes made our pickup covers, too. To start out with, Gibson made their covers out of celluloid, but a guitar sitting in the window, the heat on that plastic would tend to flatten it out. So they finally had it molded with this plastic that would keep its shape. But I can remember some of the very early ones where the dealers used to complain, because they had it sitting in their window for a while, and the thing would flatten out. It tried to go back to its original flat state [laughs].

What material was used for the magnet in the humbucker? Alnico?

Yes, it was the same magnet used in the P-90, only we used just one instead of two. I think it was called a number 55 magnet, if I remember correctly.

Another thing you might have heard people get excited about now is the PAF version, the original pickup with the little "Patent Applied For" decal on the base.

Gibson P19 PAF Mini-Humbucker Pickup
with "Patent Applied For" sticker

They put that on because they started making them before they actually got the patent for it, so the patent was applied-for. They didn't want to give 'em any information as to what patent to look up to make copies [laughs]. I think that was the reason for it, because they carried on for quite a while.

Were there any changes to the number of turns on the windings?

That was not changed. As far as I recall, the old P-90 was wound with 10,000 turns of number 42 wire. The two smaller bobbins would fit in the same size body, and decrease the winding space available. So we couldn't get quite 10,000 turns, it's 4,300 or 4,400 turns per coil, something like that. And of course they would connect in series, so you had close to 9,000 turns total on the humbucking pickup. But because of the pickup hitting two points on the string, you were able to get considerable sound level, even though you used just one magnet.

On one side they'd have soft iron pole pieces underneath, and the other side soft iron screws. So they'd magnetize two points on the string there, and those voltages generated in the coil would be added together. They added together and made it louder.

So as far as you're aware, they never changed the number of turns?

As far as I know they didn't. Course, I left there in 1967, so what they did after that I don't know.

Who gave the humbucking pickup its name?

I gave it that name. It was bucking the hum that you pick up from amplifiers.

Did anyone else have much to do with the design of the Gibson humbucker?

There were several people who had designed humbucking pickups, and that's why I had a hell of a time getting a patent. I finally got a patent with one claim—claimed I built a humbucking pickup [laughs].

What reception did it get at Gibson?

I remember that if you had a salesman who knew what he was talking about—Andy Nelson, he was a Gibson salesman, he could really sell these things, because he understood and could talk humbucking. A lot of the salesmen for Gibson were players. They started out with acoustics, so if they couldn't play 'em they couldn't sell 'em [laughs]. I remember that we went to one of the trade shows in Chicago and we had a humbucking pickup, and there we discovered that another company had built a humbucking pickup.

Was it Gretsch? Ray Butts was developing a humbucking pickup for Gretsch around the same time.

It could have been, could have been.

So you got to the point where everyone was happy with the design. Was that a long process?

In '57 was when I think they first started building them, and I think I had started work on it in '55.

Were there many more prototypes beyond the one you've got here?

There were a couple more, but this one I kept for myself.

Good idea! What were the other two like?

They were similar to this. See, this was the old P-90 mounting ring, and I just cut it out to fit this in. This only uses one number 55 magnet, where the P-90 used two. So that made that one a little heavier than this one.

Did anyone else at Gibson work on the humbucker design, or was it mainly yours?

I think it was mainly my idea, but chances are Gretsch got their idea from someone—who, I don't know. I did all the work on the design of it. We also had steel guitars that had humbucking pickups, the eight-string guitar.

They wanted a guitar that had long sustain for steel playing, and I designed a body for them that did that, cutting the wood and laminating it together, edge-grained. Made it very stiff. It had a four-eight-four pickup, wasn't humbucking, and it had a steel neck in it, a rectangular steel tube that ran the length of the neck. The machine heads were bolted fast to it and the pickups were bolted to it, and it worked very well to give sustain.

Do you know which was the first Gibson guitar to feature your humbuckers?

I think it was the 175, if I remember correctly, the ES-175. Then they spread for more.

Can you recall any ideas that didn't make production?

Alnico became hard to find at times, so they were thinking about using ceramic magnets. Ceramic is kind of a strange magnet. It breaks easily, doesn't have the strength of alnico. Ceramic is ground-up powdered iron and other stuff, but it's been used in speakers for a while because it's cheaper than alnico. Doesn't take much to snap it, but alnico won't snap.

I know that when I designed a humbucking pickup for Fender, I changed to cunife. They did away with the magnet on the bottom—the pole pieces were cunife magnets. Cunife is copper, nickel, and iron. There was also cunico, and I suppose the "co" there stands for cobalt. But I used cunife because you could thread that stuff, and with alnico you can't do that—you have to mold it to shape, because it's so hard.

At one time on the solidbody models we started shielding the body with conductive paint. What we wanted to do was to shield out the external noise from neon signs and so forth. By using conductive paint, we could get a complete shielding of the whole system. That was very good, but the only thing was that it was expensive, because it took time and extra effort.

They always wanted pretty looks on the thing, so the last thing they did was put a coat of lacquer over it, and that would wrinkle that conductive coating, and it didn't look good. Maybe it didn't affect the shielding too much, I never checked too closely, but it didn't look good when you took the cover off and saw all those cracks down there. But I think the conductive coating idea never made them very happy. It was just one of those ideas I had that we tried, but I don't think they ever stayed with it.

Seth Lover's Humbucker Patent, 1959

Did you ever try stacking the coils, one above the other?

Yes, but it's not very efficient. The bottom coil is too far away from the strings, so very little voltage is induced in them.

I think you have the patent for your humbucking pickup in your papers there.

Yes, here it is. The original application was June 22, 1955. It took to 1959 for us to get that patent. And there was just one claim.

A lot of words for one claim.

Yeah, but a lot of this is describing the pictures I had here. I showed them a lot of different ways to build humbucking pickups—here's a double-coil construction, three on one, three on another, then here for the bass it's two on one, two on another. And then they had them turned sideways like this, and this is the most efficient way, which we used, having a coil laying flat with the magnets coming up. Because if you have the coil sideways with the magnet coming up, it works, but it's not as efficient.

You left Gibson in 1967, Seth. Why was that?

I could make more money out here [in California] at Fender. Before I left Gibson, Dick Evans was the chief engineer, amplifiers and so forth. He quit and came out to Fender. He contacted me and wanted to know if I was interested in a job out here. And I said what does it pay? Well, at that time I was getting 9,000 a year from Gibson, and they offered me 12,000. And they sent me a ticket to fly out, talk to 'em, look the place over, and I figured it was worthwhile.

Who did you see?

I saw Dick Evans. At the time I did meet Leo Fender, but he never talked too much to me.

I don't think Leo talked to many people.

No. Originally, he was a radio repairman, and I often thought that his early amplifiers were just outgrowths of the radio amplifiers that he was familiar with. But no, he never did talk to me too much. We never got along too well—he never came over to visit or anything like that.

Were things successful at Gibson when you left in '67?

Yes, I thought they were doing fairly well. I designed an awful lot of amplifiers for them over the years. Most of the amplifiers they built from 1952 to '67 were my designs. At one time I designed an amplifier [GA-100, 1960] that had compression on it, so that you couldn't overload the amplifier, which was a boon to the bass player—they were always having trouble tearing speaker cones apart. So I designed this amplifier for Gibson that would take it up to full power output, and you couldn't drive it any more—the harder you drove it, the more bias it put on that to hold it back. That went over for a year or two but never stayed too long.

Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1A

And then the old acoustic sound, well that went out-of-date. Anyone that could bring out a new sound—like we brought out the fuzz tone, I designed the solid state Fuzz-Tone for Gibson [Maestro Fuzz-Tone, 1962] from an idea that someone down in Tennessee or somewhere had for an amplifier that went bad and distorted. The guy liked that idea. So I designed a solid-state footpedal type of gizmo, you could single-string that stuff and play without any treble and get that distorted sound, which made people happy. Only thing was you couldn't play chords because it would wobble around.

When I was working for Fender, I designed a special effects guitar that you could double the frequency, you could divide the frequency, you could automatic-wah the frequency. Also I had a fuzz tone on there that you could play chords with. In fact I have one here that I built for myself, because when I built it for Fender they never produced it.

If the sales force doesn't have the idea in the first place, to initiate anything, they just are not very—I built a guitar and a bass that had all these special effects on it for Fender, and they gave it to the players, and the players would go wild over it. But do you think they would go with it? It has about 72 transistors in it. Today you could probably use integrated circuits and reduce the volume of it considerably.

Did that guitar actually get a name at Fender?

No. I called it the Special Effects Guitar.

Can you remember when that was?

Would have been about 1973, '74, right along in there. One of the bass players, Carol Kaye, she liked it. It had a doubler, a divider, wah, fuzz, and everything.

There were prototypes?

Yeah, just prototypes that I built. One of each. And when they didn't go, I built another special effects guitar with eight strings for one of the guys who worked for 'em, Gene Fields.

The two prototypes you made, were they in existing guitar bodies?

Yes, like the Telecaster body, and the bass was whatever their popular four-string bass was. But I don't know whatever happened to them, because they disappeared.

So, you came out to Fender in '67.

Yeah, came out here, and in '75 I got to be 65—I was with them not quite eight years—and that was the end of the line. Because CBS owned it at that time, and when you're 65, well, you're too old to work. [Lavone: "When you're 64 years, 11 months, and 29 days you're fine. Next day, you're too old. That was a bad move for a lot of people."] I've had loads of ideas of how to do things, and ideas of things to build since I left there. Maybe one of these days.

Tell me about the Fender humbucking pickup you designed. They used that on quite a lot of models in the '70s, like the Telecaster Custom and so on.

The sales force wanted a copy of the Gibson humbucking, wanted it to sound exactly like that. The patent had not quite run out—it had one more year to go—so I designed them a pickup, but I made it different. I didn't want to have an exact copy of Gibson's. They wanted it to sound exactly like Gibson. I hesitated there. I figured Fender is known for his brilliant type sound, so I kept a little more brilliance in the pickup than what there was in the Gibson.

How did you do that?

By making use of cunife magnets. They don't increase the inductance of the coil, so the inductance of the coil was lower than the other, so higher frequencies were more pronounced. And by winding on extra turns, I was able to get very good bass response with it—and I not only made a guitar pickup with it, but a bass pickup with the same idea. So about the only difference between the Fender and the Gibson humbucking pickup was the appearance and the type of magnet used.

I used the same style on the old Epiphone pickup, three and three [pole pieces]. The one I designed for Fender had three-and-three, but it was a little bit larger. And this [points to yet another pickup on the table] was the original bass humbucking pickup that I built for Gibson. The coils are sideways, and there were so many turns on that, you had all the volume you needed. It wasn't the most efficient way to do it, but it worked. Two number 55 magnets, one on each side there, set sideways.

Which models was that used on?

The early Gibson bass, I think the EB series. Not the first electric [Electric Bass/EB-1]—for that I'd wound a single-coil pickup. I know that I designed this one to fit exactly in the space that it took for the old-style pickup, which was single-coil. It may have been the EB-2.

It must be satisfying to know that your pickup designs, and especially the humbuckings, are on so many guitars all around the world.

Oh, it's one of the most copied pickups in the world. Seems like everybody is copying it.

About the Author: Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. He is a co-founder of Backbeat UK and Jawbone Press. His books include The Les Paul Guitar Book, The Fender Electric Guitar Book, and Sunburst. His latest is a new edition of Electric Guitars: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (Chartwell). Tony lives in Bristol, England. More info at

comments powered by Disqus

Reverb Gives

Your purchases help youth music programs get the gear they need to make music.

Carbon-Offset Shipping

Your purchases also help protect forests, including trees traditionally used to make instruments.

Oops, looks like you forgot something. Please check the fields highlighted in red.