How to replicate ‘holy grail’ Gibson PAF humbucker tone with modern pickups

Gibson PAF humbucker pickups
(Image credit: Future)

Nobody disputes the ‘Holy Grail’ status of PAFs, but their relative scarcity means very few of us will ever get the chance to try the real thing. The danger with ‘Holy Grails’ is the way we project our hopes and dreams onto them. This partly explains why those lucky few who do experience vintage PAFs don’t always get what they expected.

Classic recordings are of limited value because any guitar tone that has been processed through random microphones, preamps, equalizers and so forth can only tell us so much. Let’s begin by describing what vintage PAF pickups actually sound like so you can judge whether the PAF replicas in your guitar are as accurate as the manufacturer claims.

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Huw Price

Huw started out in recording studios, working as a sound engineer and producer for David Bowie, Primal Scream, Ian Dury, Fad Gadget, My Bloody Valentine, Cardinal Black and many others. His book, Recording Guitar & Bass, was published in 2002 and a freelance career in journalism soon followed. He has written reviews, interviews, workshop and technical articles for Guitarist, Guitar Magazine, Guitar Player, Acoustic Magazine, Guitar Buyer and Music Tech. He has also contributed to several books, including The Tube Amp Book by Aspen Pittman. Huw builds and maintains guitars and amplifiers for clients, and specializes in vintage restoration. He provides consultancy services for equipment manufacturers and can, occasionally, be lured back into the studio.