Gibson Burstbucker Pro Alnico 5 and PAF Pickups> history, facts, suggestions
Posted 12 May 2009 - 11:45 AM
Gibson makes a whole line of BurstBucker Humbucking Pickups. There is a Gibson BurstBucker Pro Neck Humbucker and a BurstBucker Bridge Humbucker. These are very similar to each other, except that the output of the Bridge Pickup is a bit hotter than the Neck Pickup. I shall get into a discussion of the reason for that a bit later in this review. Although the name BurstBucker is something that the Gibson BurstBucker Pro Humbucker has in common with the BurstBucker Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 Humbuckers, there are also significant differences between the BurstBucker Pro Humbucker and the other pickups in the BurstBucker series. I shall review some of these similarities and differences below.
Back in 2000, the engineers and pickup designers at Gibson realized that one of the things that made the early humbucking pickups sound different from modern pickups had to do with the number of windings of wire on the bobbins of the pickup. A crucial factor affecting the sound of a humbucking pickup is the equality or disparity between the number of windings between the two bobbins that make up a humbucking pickup. Generally speaking, a pickup that has bobbins with equal windings will produce a sound that tends to be warm and creamy. On the other hand, a pickup that has unequal wire windings on its coils will produce a sound that has a bit more of an edge or bite to it. Apparently, when humbucking pickups were being made in the 1950’s, there were no automatic shut off switches on the machines that wound the wire around the bobbins. Workers would turn off a machine when the bobbin “looked full,” which was at about 5000 turns. Thus, the bobbins were not precisely the same in the 1950’s Humbuckers, and the result is that the pickups had a rich, warm, sound, but they also had a bit of a bite and edge to them as well. Well, the one thing that all of the pickups in the BurstBucker series has in common is that these pickups are made with unequal windings to their different bobbins, and thus they are as close as one can get to the original 1950’s Gibson Humbuckers as one can get.
However, there are differences between the BurstBucker Pro Pickup and the rest of the pickups in the BurstBucker series. One big difference is that BurstBucker Pro Pickups use Alnico V Magnets, while the other pickups in the BurstBucker series use Alnico II Magnets. Wait a minute? Didn’t I just say in the paragraph above that BurstBucker Humbuckers sound as close to a 1950’s vintage Humbucker as one could get? Well then how can a BurstBucker Pro sound like a vintage Patent Applied For Pickup (PAF) from the 1950’s if the BurstBucker Pro has an Alnico V Magnet and the BurstBucker Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 Humbuckers have Alnico II Magnets?
The answer is a remarkably simple, but not an all too obvious one. There is a common misconception that all of the PAF pickups made by Gibson in the 1950’s were made with the strict quality control standards that we come to expect in modern pickup manufacture. It is commonly believed that all PAF Humbuckers from that era were made with Alnico II Magnets. The simple truth is that this was not the case. According to what was revealed in the “autopsies” of older PAF pickups, there was actually much inconsistency in their manufacturing process. One major inconsistency in pickup construction was that from late 1956 through 1961 Gibson used whatever magnets were lying around that would fit into their pickups. In some cases, Alnico V Magnets that were supposed to be going into P-90’s were instead used in making some vintage PAF’s. In some cases Alnico 2, 3, 4, and 5 type and grade of magnets were randomly being used as well. That is why two identical looking PAF Humbucking pickups made in the same year can sound so very different from each other, and it partially also explains why various inconsistencies in pickup construction caused them to vary so much in output as well. It was not until 1961 that greater efforts were made to bring about uniformity in pickup construction and design.
Well what does it mean to the sound of a pickup when different magnets are used? An Alnico Magnet is a composite alloy consisting of Aluminum, Nickel, Iron, and Cobalt, thus the name Alnico. There are various types of Alnico Magnets, each of which has its own specific ratio of one metal to another. Different ratio formulas yield magnets with different properties. There are various types of Alnico Magnets that are used in guitar pickups, and these various types of magnets each has a specific number assigned to them. The numbers vary from 1 to 8, and the higher the number, the stronger the magnetic field. The electro-magnetic field of an Alnico V Magnet used to construct the BurstBucker Pro is relatively stronger and more directional than the Alnico II magnets used to construct the rest of the pickups in the BurstBucker series, and they make a pickup have different tonal characteristics. Alnico II Magnets were noted for their warmth, and they are sometimes referred to “singing magnets.” Does this mean that the BurstBucker Pro sounds “better” or “worse” than a BurstBucker Type 1, Type 2 or Type 3 pickup? The answer is simply that the sound that all of these Gibson Humbucking pickups generate is great. The decision as to which one sounds “better” is solely determined by the individual tastes and sonic needs of the person who is hearing them.
Another difference between the BurstBucker Pro Humbucker that was developed in 2002 and the rest of the pickups in the BurstBucker series, is that BurstBucker Pro Pickups are wax potted, and the rest of the BurstBucker series of pickups developed in 2000 are not wax potted. What does wax potting mean to the overall sound of a pickup? Wax potting a pickup makes for a pickup that can withstand the high volume and sound pressure levels associated with modern music with much less of a tendency for unwanted squealing and microphonic feedback. Wax potting also adds a bit of extra protection to the delicate interior workings of a pickup and also provides it some protection from unwanted moisture and humidity.
BurstBucker Pro Humbuckers are made to be replacements for either a pickup in the Bridge position or the Neck position. The BurstBucker Pro Bridge Pickup is slightly “hotter” than the BurstBucker Pro Neck Pickup due to it having a few more wire windings on its coils. This makes its sound inherently a slightly bit less sharp than the Neck pickup, but since it is designed to be used in the Bridge position, it gets an extra boost on the highs just because of its location. If you are considering replacing both pickups in your guitar with BurstBucker Pro Humbuckers, it is useful to know that they are offered in a calibrated pair, with the Neck position pickup being labeled as BurstBucker Pro Model IM59A, and the Bridge position pickup being labeled as BurstBucker Pro Model IM59B. It is always a good idea to have a Bridge pickup be slightly hotter in output than a pickup in the Neck position. The reason for that is that the vibrations of the strings above the Bridge pickup are not as pronounced as they are above the Neck pickup, and thus, in order to achieve a balanced sound, it is always good to have a Bridge pickup that is slightly hotter than a Neck pickup.
If you are a person who really wants a guitar that has great sonic versatility, I would suggest a BurstBucker Pro Bridge Humbucking Pickup with an Alnico V Magnet in the Bridge position, and a BurstBucker Type I with an Alnico II Magnet (the “singing magnet”) in the Neck Position. Another possibility would be a Gibson 1957 Classic Humbucker with Alnico II Magnets for the Neck position, as this pickup gives a very warm, creamy, smooth tone, which would compliment and contrast with the vintage bite of the BurstBucker Pro Bridge Humbucker.
Posted 16 May 2009 - 03:09 PM
tom brown]Does this mean that the BurstBucker Pro sounds “better” or “worse” than a BurstBucker Type 1, on Type 2 or Type 3 pickup? [b, said:
Posted 22 May 2009 - 09:26 AM
Pure Sweet Tone
The BurstBucker Pro enhances the vintage "edge" of Gibson's popular BurstBucker pickups with the added feature of an Alnico 5 magnet.
In 2000, Gibson's new BurstBuckers captured the subtle variations in true humbucker tone with historically accurate "unmatched" bobbin windings and an Alnico II magnet. Two years later, in keeping with Gibson's long history of experimentation and innovation in pickup design, Gibson developed an Alnico 5 BurstBucker specifically for new Les Paul Standards. The outstanding performance of this new pickup (originally called the BurstBucker V) led to an overwhelming demand for an after-market version. With the BurstBucker Pro, all "Pure Tone Lovers" can now have stunning humbucking tone.
BurstBucker Pro humbuckers are offered in a calibrated pair; the neck position (IM59A), and the bridge position (IM59B). Output of these pickups is similar to the standard BurstBuckerT #1 and #2 model. And BurstBucker Pro pickups are wax potted so that they can withstand loud volume pressures without annoying feedback.
About BurstBucker Pickups
BurstBucker pickups from Gibson Original Equipment now give guitarists a choice of replica sounds from Gibson's original --Patent Applied For pickups -- the pickups that give the '59 Les Paul Standard its legendary sound. The 3 BurstBuckers -- all with unpolished magnets and non-potted coils, like the originals - represent the variations found among vintage Gibson humbuckers.
The initial demand for Patent Applied For replica pickups came from Japanese collectors, and the BurstBucker was offered exclusively in Japan beginning in 1996. By 1999 word has spread of the unique replica tones produced by BurstBuckers. Gibson USA put the first BurstBuckers on a production model with the Gary Moore Signature Les Paul in the Summer of 2000, and Gibson's Custom division then equipped the Class 5 Les Paul, Custom Authentic '68 Les Paul Custom and Custom Authentic '58 Les Paul Standard models with BurstBuckers.
The variations in pickup output and tone came from inconsistencies in winding the bobbins, a result of the lack of automatic shutoffs on Gibson's winding machines in the late 1950s. Seth Lover, who invented the humbucker, always said they wound the bobbins 'until they were full,' and original examples suggest that employees stopped the winding machines after the counter reached approximately 5000 turns. When the two coils in a pickup have a different number of turns, that variation puts a little 'edge' or 'bite' on the classic humbucker sound. That's the sound BurstBuckers replicate. (The 'creamy' sound that Gibson's '57 Classics replicate comes from equal coil windings.) Gibson then carries the replication process two steps farther, with unpolished Alnico II magnets and no wax-potting of the coils, just like the originals...