It is no exaggeration to say that Gibson’s electric guitar innovations during the mid-20th century helped define the sound of music in the contemporary era.
The story of Gibson’s world class pickup designs goes back to the pre-war years of the 1930s. During this time, the company were going head-to-head with jazzbox rivals Epiphone, and this healthy rivalry instigated some significant leaps forward in the guitar world.
Gibson began to electrify their flagship archtop, the Super 400, while their first Electric Spanish model, the ES-150, was announced in 1936.
World War II put a temporary pause on electric guitar evolution. However, by 1946, Gibson had resumed production of their groundbreaking ES models.
Fitted with P-90 pickups, these instruments proved highly popular. And with the ability to be heard more clearly during performances, guitarists moved further into the limelight, taking the Gibson sound with them into the history books.
Around a decade later, Gibson electronics engineer Seth Lover perfected the PAF humbucker design. Initially appearing on lap steels, the new pickup was first seen on such iconic guitars as the Les Paul Model and ES-175 from 1957.
With such a rich history of innovation, Gibson has returned time and again to these winning pickup designs when building guitars. Now, the firm has launched their very own Pickup Shop, offering a broad choice of options across three Collections: Historic (opens in new tab), Original (opens in new tab) and Modern (opens in new tab).
In time-honored tradition, Gibson’s hand-built pickups feature bespoke magnets (carefully magnetized at the Pickup Shop); maple wood spacers; high-quality cover materials; and four- or two-conductor wiring.
Back in the day, Gibson wound pickup coils using machines made by Geo-Stevens, Leesona and Meteor, and the Pickup Shop continues this practice by utilizing a Meteor ME-301 – the same machine used at Gibson’s Kalamazoo factory in the ‘50s.
According to Gibson, “Meteor ME-301 coil winding machines are highly accurate, precision winders that can handle winding a larger quantity of coils simultaneously.”
“Our updated lineup has been categorized into Original, Modern, and Historic collections to be in harmony with our Original, Modern, and Historic guitar collections,” said Jason Davidson, Director, Product Development and Gibson Archives Curator at Gibson Brands.
“The Original collection includes pickups based on our original designs from the classic P-90 Dogear single coil to the Dirty Fingers humbucker.
"The Modern Collection includes pickups built for more modern tones and includes 4-conductor wiring to allow a variety of switching options.
“Our Historic Collection launches with the aftermarket debut of the Custombucker, previously available exclusively on Gibson Custom Shop guitars.”
Click here (opens in new tab) to visit Gibson’s new Pickup Shop.
Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World (opens in new tab), Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and MusicRadar (opens in new tab) in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.
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