Gibson has introduced its first pair of exclusive, Collector’s Edition pickups – the ‘1959 Collector’s Edition Series 1’ set, which revives the brand’s “holy grail” Patent Applied For humbucker pickup design for a limited run.
However, the historic humbuckers return with a significant price tag attached to them – $999 a pair, to be precise, which makes this new-for-2024 set one of the most expensive pickup pairings on the market today.
In guitar lore, the 'P.A.F.' humbuckers are heralded as arguably the most influential pickups ever created, and for good reason. Developed in the mid-’50s by Seth Lover as an alternative to popular single-coils, the new pickups began to be rolled out into Gibson’s six-string catalog from 1957, and quickly became synonymous with the brand’s early golden era guitars.
Affectionately and unofficially named “PAFs” after the “Patent Applied For” stickers found on each unit, the hum-canceling innovations remain the most revered and elusive of all pickups, and many brands have since sought to emulate its tone with developments of their own.
You need not look far to find famous fans of the PAF designs. Billy Gibbons' '59 “Pearly Gates” Les Paul has them factory fitted, for example, as does a number of Joe Bonamassa's own vintage guitars. Kirk Hammett, Marcus King and Jason Isbell, to name just a few, also champion the PAF sound.
Fast-forward to 2024, and Gibson has reissued the PAFs in the form of the flagship Collector’s Edition pickup set, which is the result of a meticulous R&D phase that utilized a number of modern engineering processes.
Specifically, Gibson deployed 3D scanning, scientific analysis and reverse engineering of original PAFs to help craft the new-for-’24 examples, which were also designed with reference to specifications lifted from the Gibson archives.
According to Gibson, this has resulted in “the most accurate recreations of the legendary Patent Applied For Humbucker pickups ever made”, with a sweet, woody, loud and present tone to boot.
“Gibson’s original 'Patent Applied For' humbucker pickups from the 1950s are considered the holy grail of humbucking pickup tone,” Gibson writes on its website. “They have been highly influential, with many imitations. The originals are some of the most highly valued vintage pickups on the used market – when you can find someone willing to part with theirs.
“Using a combination of 3D scanning, scientific analysis, reverse engineering of original examples from the late 1950s, and specifications from the Gibson archives, the Gibson Pickup Shop has developed the most accurate recreations of these acclaimed pickups ever made.”
Specs-wise, the unpotted PAFs feature alnico 4 magnets, two-conductor wiring and True Historic nickel covers, as well as double vintage white butyrate bobbins and 42 AWG plain enamel wire. And, yes, they have the Patent Applied For sticker on the underside.
The pickups also arrive in a classy Lifton presentation case that contains a certificate of authenticity and wiring diagram.
But, because of the history surrounding PAF humbuckers, the lengths Gibson has gone to in order to faithfully recreate them, and the fact they’ll be limited to 1,000 units, the Collector’s Edition pair come at a cost.
Indeed, the $999 price tag puts the PAF set firmly in the “most expensive pickups on the market” conversation. Strictly speaking, that mantle must go to Ruokangas’ $2,200 Valvebucker Mk2, but that could be ruled out on a technicality owing to the fact you literally have to build a guitar around the tube-equipped pup.
With that out of the equation, Gibson’s closest competition is probably the Seymour Duncan Zephyr, which listed for around $959 back when they first arrived on the scene. However, that set is no longer in production, meaning the '59 Humbuckers ascends to the top.
It’s worth noting, though, that these are part of Gibson’s premium Collector’s Edition line, which has always had a very specific clientele in mind. Previous examples of CE releases include the ultra-rare ‘58 Korina Flying V and Explorer from 2021, Adam Jones’ $20k Reverse Silverburst Flying V and, of course, Kirk Hammett’s $50k Greeny Les Paul.
Notably, this isn't Gibson's first rodeo when it comes to reviving its PAF design. Last summer, it dropped the Greenybucker set – a pair of humbuckers that were inspired by the original PAF set found in the Greeny. That set, by comparison, costs $299.
To find out more about the new pickups, head over to Gibson.