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a pair of worse, they confuse overwound and distortion prone with old
PAFs was school organic. Wrong answer, try again. Gawd bless em, I
no longer sure couldnt do it, but I dont claim to have, either. There is
an option. quite a difference. For my money, if there is anyone who can
Goodbye figure it out and step up, it would have been Lollar. Lindy
dead-mint Fralin is a class act, too. Time will tell, and more importantly,
blonde tone will tell the truth. Anyone listening?TQ
Bassman, Riverhorse
wicked
'59 Les Paul
Telecaster,
sweet ol steel guitar wont miss you a bit. Hello Mr. 8.24 the PAF Lab Experients of Dave Stephens

Obsessed & Possessed


bridge and 7.2 neck PAF. I hear it loud and clear now, but it
aint on a piece of crap Walkman anymore, its alive and well
right here, and things will never again be the same. What
is the deal here? In a nutshell (more like a shotgun shell) Sometimes it just seems like this shit never ends
we have a clarity and boisterous presence from these beater Dave Stephens
pickups that are unrivaled. The strong top end is always
rounded beautifully, the low end holds unwaveringly firm, Well, it appears that some-
plus in-your-face resonance, bloom that seems like it pulses one was listening Dave
and throbs, and the most inspiring Doppler-esque cascade of Stephens has been keeping
chords, like a freight train coming by instead of the impotent us abreast of his tortured
notes we have come to know in so many new production coil. path in resurrecting true
Warm clean tones have always held a certain sort of magical PAF tones for years. He
spot in our hearts. When running these hot, hard, and heavy even sent us an early proto-
with a favorite 1951 TV Front Tweed Pro (Junior Watson type set several years ago,
was right) it is hard to take the toggle off that neck, if ever. graciously accepting our
The true PAF neck sounds like a massive single coil round, polite rejection with the
percussive, and waiting to be either viciously floored or circumspect resignation of
gracefully cuddled. My gawd, the girth of every string pain- an undaunted veteran. As a
fully rewrites perception itself. When slotted into the Aiken result of our initial contact,
Intruders Plexi side, they Beano onwards and upwards to however, many e-mail conversations ensued Its no wonder
much more raw, raucous, and brash places, and reveal an al- most pickup winders dont venture down the road Dave chose
most unforgiving demand to strike each note astutely, lest you in his quest to de-mystify the magic of some (but not all) PAF
come off sounding like a fool. There is no mud to hide under and patent number pickups Its expensive, incredibly time-
here... Very few could pull it off. Case in point: Jimmy Pages consuming, youve got to be willing to sacrifice a few vintage
wonderful parts, and youd better be damn sure you know exactly how
sloppiness an exceptional PAF in the neck or bridge (two different ani-
forever mals, there) sounds. Anyone willing to walk that walk gets
recorded our respect, while those that talk the talk without having done
on the the work remain in the majority. What were discussing here
early Zep has nothing to do with some super-secret winding pattern
albums for thesecret rests in the organic properties of the steel alloys,
poster- magnets and wire used, and anyone sourcing the same com-
ity. There monly available parts as the next guy in 2010 is getting the
it is, but same generic results. Heres Daves blow-by-blow description
there is only one Page. The good news, is you may be able of his personal PAF odyssey
to find some of these for yourself, and lets keep in mind that PAFPARTS2
Hound Dog Taylor didnt need a burst to throw down. Serving It went like this Three years into making humbuckers from
the song, and not just the gear, is still the main call. The bad kit parts it really bothered me that I couldnt get the tones
news, is that there really are only a few really great PAFs out Allman, Page, or Peter Green were getting that mystical
there, and some are attached to 400 thousand dollar appendag- vocal quality that drives me into ecstasy. I suffer from a nasty
es. The Ugly, is that most of the winders claiming to be nail- obsessive compulsive streak, chronic insomnia, and my own
ing PAF tone are full of shit. Shame on them, as they didnt artistic cranky temperament, so I struggled trying to find the
do their homework by going back to the source. And even right questions to ask, and never really let up on that, or, it
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TONEQUEST REPORT V.12 N.2 December 2010
pickup

wouldnt let PAF set. It sold pretty well and stood up against the real thing
up on me. I pretty respectably. That was about three years ago.
had to know
why. The Meanwhile, I
only real clue scored two real
I had was PAFs off Ebay
Seth Lovers at bargain prices
comment to needing new
Seymour that baseplates, but
they used soft iron for the pole pieces. Man, what a vague otherwise intact,
statement. I talked to some engineers and they told me it both sounding
was electrical steel. A couple thousand dollars later and a wonderful and
product based on that stuff, I realized that it got me closer, but became my object
ultimately it was a dead end and the pickups didnt sell very of dissection
well. I bought a lathe and a mill and started trying all kinds and measurements. I scored a few more stripped parts off
of different alloys and I got some really interesting results Ebay and more steel parts from dead P90s which share the
but no cigar. I came out with another set that didnt sell well. identical steel keepers, pole screws, magnets and wire with
I really put in long hours doing the wildest, most crazy things PAFs. The first batch of my VLs were pretty close, but the
I could think of, building prototype after prototype, making real PAFs had something beyond what I was getting. Then
recordings of each attempt and filling scores of clipboards suddenly the magnet wire I was getting changed radically and
with notes. I learned a lot of useful things about humbuckers was real bright sounding, and I got a batch of steel at the same
in general during that period. time that was shrill, and this threw me for a loop and into a
deep depression. I was faced with THE WALL, the recipe
At one point didnt work anymore, and I was stuck. My steel industry
it dawned on friend analyzed the steel and showed it to an old timer who
me, and the told me it was botched material, and they turned me onto a
engineers different source. Out of the blue, I was also gifted with origi-
told me that nal control drawings of PAF bobbins, and then a PAF came in
I could get a for repair,
metals lab to and sud-
analyze real denly
vintage steel our plain
parts and enamel
tell me what wire
they were source
made of. So, I did. It was expensive, and I was shocked by vanished
the data that came back way off from what Id ever thought. and Ele-
But there was something wrong there wasnt a direct 100% ktrisola
match to any modern equivalents, and some of the material took over
were alloys that are impossible to buy in this country unless making way better, more consistent wire. The PAF that came
you went to China and had it made into parts too expensive in revealed a bunch of details I had missed and the whole
for a one-man, tiny shoe-string business. So I was experiment- thing just came together over the course of about six months
ing with steel alloys all the time and frustrated by not being into a final detailed picture, and now everything just seemed
able to find exact matches for vintage alloys, and suddenly to work. I was able to identify variations in the brief time
out of the blue a guy from the steel industry contacted me and period PAFs were made, and I made four sets covering most
offered to help me for free, using all his companys high tech of those variations. There werent any more big questions to
gear. Man, did I ever take advantage of that! What a gift from ask. More freebie repair PAFs came in and there were no big
the gods, and he became a good friend. So, the short story is surprises inside them anymore. I also contacted Elektrisola
that I gained a complete knowledge of vintage steel alloys about the new wire and they graciously offered to analyze all
used in early P13s to late T-Tops and everything that hap- my vintage plain enamel examples Id collected forever and
pened inbetween. What I learned was of inestimable value, taught me what it all meant.
but cant be shared. Armed with that information, the pickups
made steady progress forward and eventually I offered my This is a short version of an eight year journey, with no
first Vintage Lab (the room where the crazy person works) secrets revealed. (Editors note: What Dave means here is

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TONEQUEST REPORT V.12 N.2 December 2010
pickups

that he is not sharing sorta nailed the tone of a PAF, but the unmistakable bloom,
the fruits of his labor for clarity and harmonic depth were absent. Our e-mail conversa-
consumption by competi- tions took on the form of a consultation in which Dave shared
tive pickup winders. There the general results of his ongoing experiments, and in August
is no fraternity of custom 2010 he sent prototypes of what he deemed to be his best
winders, nor a Research effort to date, having analyzed original PAF and P90 parts and
Committee of the Custom replicating them to the best of his ability. Well give him a
Pickup Winders Guild). solid A+ for his neck humbucker, which reprises the excep-
The current generation VL tionally smooth, bright and reedy qualities of a great PAF or
sets were made in the last early 60s patent number neck pickup. You know what the
nine months, and at last problem is with most neck humbuckers that sound muffled,
I am getting everything muted and neutered, treated as an afterthought by most
that can possibly be gotten winders because they have no idea how to fix the problem
with modern materials. Stephens VL neck is a stunning accomplishment that captures
There is probably about a 10% difference between what I can the clarity and character of a great P90, which originally pro-
make and actual real vintage parts theres just no overcom- vided the basis for Seth Lovers PAF design. Get one now.
ing that fact. Those old technologies and materials are gone
forever, but I did accomplish my goal and Im very happy The bridge position
with what Im getting. These VL sets are all hand machined is equally challeng-
in my shop, using the same techniques Gibson did, correctly ing, and as Dave
machine wound; my materials are very precisely chosen, and observed, there is
the techniques Ive developed are unique and give me the a certain degree of
exact results I want. Each one is built like a fine watch, with magical complex-
attention to every tiny detail I found in real PAFs that were ity that we still find
involved in creating those tones. Ive had some magnets made missing in his VL
and use existing commercial magnets and try them all in each bridge. Tonally,
design to get the most vintage character, pretty much disre- he nails it with a
garding what number Alnico they are as every companys bright, musical and
recipes are different from the others. The bottom line is what vocal tone that is
I make is what I learned from the horses mouth, it all came neither thin, sharp
direct from real PAF examples and deep back-engineering ef- or too hot, masking clarity with too much output. Still,
forts using the generous, gracious help of industry people who extraordinary PAFs in the bridge position possess remark-
donated their time freely to help me decode ancient artifacts ably complex and lush harmonic layers and a dynamic, tactile
and technologies. Ill omit the part about battling 14 dragons, sense of percussive bloom that we dont quite hear in the VL
being abducted by aliens, and serving in the Foreign Legion bridge. On the other hand, weve experienced varying levels
until my Muse came back. Thats another story of these same elusive qualities among Tom Holmes and Jim
Rolphs bridge pickups in the right hands (in this case, ours)
those pickups can almost sound as if youre petting a 12-string,
Review
which inspires an imaginary scenario in which Stephens,
Consider this
Rolph and Holmes pool their resources and deep experience
a prelude to
to definitively crack the code on developing a consistently
whats headed
true PAF once and for all. Theyd have to charge $900 or
your way in
more for a set, but that beats paying $2,000 for a single PAF
the upcom-
with 80/20 odds that it will not be one of those exceptionally
ing January/
inspiring happy accidents. In the meantime, stay tuned for a
February 2011
continuation of this topic in the January/February issue with
issue, and
more P90, Stratocaster and humbucking pickup reviews, a new
also a subtle
assortment of guitars and accessories, including tone caps and
reminder that
bridges. (P.S. We just received another e-mail from Dave
youll be receiving that blockbuster issue featuring expansive
hes still tweaking that bridge) And so it seems appropriate
pickup reviews on or about February 1st.
that we close with the opening line that launched this tale of
tone Sometimes it just seems like this shit never endsTQ
You might say weve been on the ground floor of Dave Ste-
phens pickup adventures. The first set he initially sent kinda
www.sdpickups.com, E-MAIL: sdpickups@comcast.net
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TONEQUEST REPORT V.12 N.2 December 2010