PAF pickups

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Holdsworth & Co. A New Side Of Allan’s Music. (Guitar 1980)

Have you had the same struggle to get a guitar you1re really happy with?

I1ve always gone through a lot of equipment in a continual search for things, and that process has slowed me down over the years as I1ve got nearer the mark. There was a time when I tried loads of guitars, but I don1t think I1ll be changing too many things on guitars in the future. I now have one Strat with a Boogie body and a Dick Knight neck, and that1s the newest one. The other Strat is the nicest one, the dark one, and it1s older and has been played more. That1s an original Fender that I bought when I was working with Tony Williams, and I got it for 300 dollars including case, about £150. It was fairly new one with quite a narrow nut, and being so cheap and fairly nasty I decided to take the neck off and sell it. With the money from that I had Dick Knight make one for me. I had a few teething problems with that but he1s sorted them out now. I also had two Gibson humbuckers which I took off a couple of SG Customs - over the years I1ve built up quite a collection of old PAF1s from the centre position of SG1s - and they are what I put on that Strat, and I really liked the sound. I1d always fancied the idea of putting Gibson pickups on a Fender guitar because there1s something about the guitar I liked, the long scale length. It seemed that the strings rang a lot more. I also noticed that if you put the Fender pickups a long way from the strings that horrible harmonic caused by the powerful magnets disappeared. When I put the old PAF1s on the balance seemed just right between the power of the magnets, the amount of windings on the coil and the fact of being humbucking, which I liked for obvious reasons- they also didn1t affect the string movement. I1ve found that a lot of the very powerful pickups, the Super Distortions and so on, have an incredible effect on the way the guitar sounds to me acoustically, and I didn1t like that. If you use thin strings like I do these pickups practically stop them from vibrating, and when you1ve got to a point like that it1s pretty ridiculous. I think there1ll be a swing back soon to pickups that actually sound better rather than having lots of volume. With amps the way they are these days who needs hot pickups? They1ll probably find a less Mickey Mouse way of amplifying strings than bobbins and magnets anyway eventually. It1s like loudspeakers, you1ve got all these thousand [sic] of pounds of equipment and at one end you1ve got a little magnet on the guitar and at the other end you1ve got a big magnet and a piece of paper. It1s very strange. That side of it has been the same for many years and they haven1t improved on it. Like those high-output pickups: The sound of a lot of them is pretty disgusting, and I1m looking forward to the guys who are going to make the better sounding ones.

Why do you think the old Gibson pickups sound so good?

I don1t know really. I was a bit confused about that because I put those DiMarzio PAF1s on both my Strats now, and like the sound of them very much. I had a funny experience the other day with this guitar that Dick made, on which I had two DiMarzio PAF1s. I also had an old Gibson PAF and a humbucker lying about, and so I tried them to find the difference between the Gibson and Di Marzio PAF1s. Although there had never seemed much difference before, this time there was, and the DiMarzio sounded much thinner in comparison. Perhaps it was faulty. When I put the other Gibson pickup on that sounded good as well. Gibson say there1s no difference between the old ones and new ones.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

ALAN: As far as guitars go I prefer the Fender tone and characteristics but I don1t like weedy, metallic sounding pickups. I think Leo Fender is a genius but I like PAF pickups. I1m trying one of his new G&L guitars at the moment and they1re very hot. The guitar I1m using is a 19701s Fender Stratocaster that1s been modified. I enjoy experimenting with modular guitars and I do all of my own electronics. The neck of the Strat I had custom built because I like wide necks, but unfortunately it still wasn1t wide enough at the top when I got it back so I had it bound to give it extra width. The neck has an ebony fingerboard.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1982)

What kind of guitars did you use?

I just used my old faithful Strat that I had back then. It had two humbuckers on it: one by the bridge and one by the neck. I changed them a lot. For a long time I had a couple of old Gibson Patent Applied Fors that I took off of some old 160s SG Customs that I owned previously. I didn1t like the middle pickups on the SGs -- they always got in the way -- so I took them out and saved them. I used them for a long time, and then I changed to the old DiMarzio PAFs, and then I finally changed to a pair of Seymour Duncan 59s. I found that there was a little bit of difference between the Seymour Duncans and the PAFs. So I sold all the PAFs from the SGs and just bought Seymour Duncans.

No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)

Allan has settled on DiMarzio1s replacement pickups. The electronic guts of his guitars are fashionably sparse:

"Single humbuckers with volume and tone. DiMarzio is making a prototype, testing some things out on me. I want a pickup that1s not the fashionable heavy output-high magnet. I1m looking for almost the opposite of that, which is probably the original that they selected for the original humbucker. Because that takes some beating, the balance between the magnet, the string pull and the natural output of the pickup. I1ve been using the PAF-type pickups."

Allan Holdsworth (Music UK 1983)

In Allan Holdsworth1s career, which spans 15 years, he1s gone from cello guitar, to Fender Stratocaster, to Gibson SGs, and today he plays Charvel guitars.

1When I first played the SG I fell in love with it instantly and I took the Fender which I1d bought on HP back to the shop, and traded it for the Gibson SG Standard they had. I stuck with that for a couple of years while I was a semi-pro, and then I got a job in a Mecca houseband, and that1s when I started messing about with guitars and experimenting with 335s and whatever. That was a real experimental thing, I changed the lot, different amps, different strings, different guitars. I still like trying everything and each one of these Charvel guitars I have is an experiment, but they1re getting closer and closer to what I want. All the necks are 2 ¼" wide at the top of the fretboard which is a lot wider than a Fender, and I really like that. I1ve always been anti heavy guitars, and all of these guitars are light. They1re made of spruce or Bass (as in ass) wood. Most of the older Strats were light.1 Allan Holdsworth had, at the date of our meeting, four Stratocaster type Charvels which included a blonde one w ith a pair of custom wound Dimarzio humbuckers, a red one with a single custom wound Seymour Duncan humbucker, and a white one with two more custom wound Seymour Duncan humbuckers in the middle and rear positions for a certain sound Allan was after. The fourth one is blue, also with a pair of custom wound Seymour Duncan pickups. All of these guitars feature one tone and one volume control plus pickup selector and brightness switches. Another guitar of Allan1s is a Charvel prototype that looks not a million miles from an Ovation Viper, also with Seymour Duncan pickups.

One of these instruments carries a Dave Storey (Kahler) tremelo (sic) which loads from the top, with no tremolo block in sight. Before he emigrated to the USA, Dave was England1s answer to Floyd Rose, and his unique tremolo system. Ah well, England1s loss, America1s gain.

The Innocent Abroad (Musician 1984)

Holdsworth1s current lead work is especially unusual because although his tone is as fluid and nimble as a synthesizer, he uses virtually no signal processing at all (he did use a Scholz Rockman for the sax-like bite of "Three Sheets To The Wind"). "I1ve noticed for a long time that lighter bodied guitars always seemed to sound better. [Charvel1s] Grover Jackson was unbelievable, going to all lengths experimenting with different woods. We finished up using bass wood; it1s a little bit like alder, but it1s lighter, very resonant. Grover made four Charvel guitars for me. He also widened the neck dimensions, more like a Gibson. The bridge is an aluminium DiMarzio and the pickups are Seymour Duncans, similar to a PAF but with two rows of pole pieces so that both bobbins are absolutely symmetrical; it makes the magnetic field more uniform." For strings, Allan uses .009 Kaman Performers. His favorite amp for lead playing has been a Hartley-Thompson with an occasional Fender.

The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever (Guitar Player 2008)

I like pickups with low magnetism because the strings aren’t affected by the pickups so much. A lot of people don’t realize how much that affects the sound.

How does it affect the sound?

The best example would be a Stratocaster. I got my first one when I was playing with Tony Williams, and I couldn’t intonate the thing. On the low E I’d get this wobble. But it was just the pickups sucking on the string, because when I put a couple of PAF humbuckers on it the problem went away completely. Then I realized that the older Gibsons that I liked the sound of so much had really weak pickups. So, sometimes I’ll use a booster pedal to bring up the gain and push the front end of an amp a little harder.