Gibson is a household name - even in households without guitarists. It’s a brand closely associated with tradition, quality, and countless legendary musicians.
But Gibson is responsible for a lot more than the Les Paul. They manufacture pickups that are highly-regarded and used in many genres. In some cases, their pickups are partially responsible for creating new genres. Namely, rock and jazz.
No, Gibson didn’t invent the blues so that jazz would have emotion to draw on. Nor did they encourage the social revolution that birthed rock and roll. They did, however, provide an outlet for the movements. Gibson invented the pickups that lent a voice to a whole new era of music.
We’re speaking, of course, about the mythical PAF. The acronym means “Patent applied for”; a humble name for the first humbucker. That innovation enabled a new generation of pickups – one that Gibson has consistently been leading. Without further ado, here are the best Gibson pickups on the market today.
Best Gibson Pickups
- Angus Young
- Dirty Fingers
- 500T and 496R
- 490T and 490R
- P-90 Super Vintage
- Mini Humbucker
- Burstbucker Type 2
- Burstbucker Pro
- '57 Classic Plus
This unassuming pickup has a lot to offer the intrepid rocker.
The first thing you’ll notice is the attention to detail paid to each piece of this pickup. It’s got the newest Alnico V magnet under its ceramic face. Typically a bridge pickup, the Angus Young has 4-conductor wiring that can be utilized in series, split, and parallel coil configurations. It offers great versatility. To top it all off, it’s double wax-potted so as to completely remove any interference from microphone feedback.
The second thing you’ll notice is the sheer volume. This thing screams. It’s got the punch to match any of the greats – and it won’t sacrifice any quality to get you there. To maximize efficiency, be sure to get both the neck and the bridge pickups for that sweet, sweet synergy.
Here's a video so you can see how they sound. Skip 30 seconds in for the playing.
The Dirty Fingers pickup is an exact replica of the super hot Gibson humbucker made in the 1970s. It's a hot pickup. Not the most versatile, but if you want the hottest pickup Gibson offers then this is it.
Tom DeLong of Blink 182 uses one, but if you are reading this page on the best Gibson pickups then chances are that does nothing for you. It's a solid buy if you are looking for a nice, tight high output ceramic humbucker.
A common pickup compared to the Dirty Fingers is the Seymour Duncan's Alternative 8. Some owners say it is a more versatile version of the Dirty Fingers.
To cut down on the squealing factor, the ceramic magnet humbucker is wax-potted. It’s perfect for high gain, high-volume gigs.
Check out how it sounds in this video. It's a great demo of them clean and dirty in a Les Paul.
500T and 496R
The 500T and 496R are a dynamic pair geared towards facilitating modern rock. Despite the contemporary goal, the pickups stay true to the tenets of classic rock and roll. They provide gravely, crunchy gains with ease. The 500T, positioned at the bridge, is the only Gibson pickup that can dare to challenge the Dirty Fingers on a dirty channel.
But they wouldn’t be rock pickups if they didn’t have screeching highs to accompany the gritty lows. The 496R obliges with splitting notes on the upper register… and pretty impressive sustain too, thanks to the ceramic body.
What sets these humbuckers apart from others is their 4-conductor design and split-coil capability. Modern-day rockers and old-timers alike will appreciate the high-gain and enduring sustain of this set.
Here's a review of a 1960's Les Paul Classic with the 500T and 496R. Skip 2 minutes in for the playing
490T and 490R
A modern version of the original PAF, the 490T and 490R pay homage to their ancestor. The design is very similar, but substitutes outdated technology for fancy, new materials that perform even better.
While these two pickups certainly have bite in both the upper and lower registers, that’s not what you would purchase them for. The 490T and 490R are instead characterized by the stellar mid-range. As a generalist pair, they can compete can punch above their weight in many non-specialized applications.
The thing that sets the 490T and 490R apart from other similar pickups, like the Burstbucker series, is that they have 4 conductors each, and they have access to a split-coil mode. This feature only increases the incredible versatility of the pair.
Here's a video of a great player putting them through the paces in his 1995 SG.
P-90 Super Vintage
Unlike most of the entries in this list, the P-90 Super Vintage is a single-coil pickup. If you had a habit of taking apart pickups (for some reason), you’d find it to be a pretty close match to traditional Stratocaster pickups.
The thing that sets the P-90 apart from standard single-coils, and makes it worth considering, is the alnico bar magnet used in place of magnetic pole pieces. In combination with wide, flat coils it produces a sound that is quite unique among single-coil pickups. Its nostalgic, vintage sound has an authenticity that simply can’t be matched by humbuckers.
It’s not just a paragon of single-coil pickups. It has some qualities unusual for its class. Instead of the bright, crisp tones you would expect it’s a fat, chunky noise akin to a humbucker. It’s a strange pickup, to be sure, but it fills its niche well.
Don’t let the name deceive you – this small humbucker has a huge sound. It was created by Gibson’s child company Epiphone in the 60s.
Early humbuckers were larger than their single-coil brethren and wouldn’t fit in the standard pickup slot. The Mini Humbucker was cleverly engineered to fit in that smaller slot that was originally meant for the P-90.
The result was a totally unique pickup that is still well-loved today. Its sound is bright, happy, and clear. The sound range places it firmly between classic single-coil and humbuckers; a solid compromise that leaves plenty of room for innovation.
Here's a video with a side by side comparison of mini humbuckers to standard humbuckers, both in a Les Paul guitar.
The P-94 is a modified P-90 that is built larger to accommodate pickup slots meant for humbuckers. Being a single-coil pickup occupying a space for a humbucker, the P-94 has big shoes to fill.
And it fills them quite admirably.
For a single-coil to be able to compete with humbuckers in terms of fullness of sound is a herculean task, but the P-94 does it without breaking a sweat. It has a thickness that is uncharacteristic for single-coil, but also maintains the impeccable clarity of sound that single-coil is known for.
That’s where the P-94’s true strength lies. The clean, preciseness of a single-coil pickup that is unparalleled by any humbucker. The result? Amazing jazz tone. It can’t be beat.
Here's a video that is a great demo of the P94 tones and compares them to a similar Bare Knuckle pickup.
Burstbucker Type 2
The Burstbucker series is an attempt to bring the PAF into the modern day. It retains many of the traits of the first-ever humbucker, but newer materials allow it to operate with more efficiency (both tonally and mechanically).
It’s got an Alnico II magnet, rather than the industry-standard Alnico V. That lends this pickup a little extra oomph and a voice that is distinct from Gibson competitors. The tone of a Burstbucker Type 2 is best described as airy. It’s impressively precise and clear on clean channels, but it won’t hesitate to get down and dirty when you flip the gain on.
Burstbuckers are frequently used by jazz players. It can drop a chunky rhythm that you feel in your bones. It can enunciate every note of a trilling high-note solo. It’s responsive and organic, making you feel comfortable in any style and any range.
This video has me considering these pickups for myself. Great tone and a great demo of the Burstbucker 2 and 1.
The default pickup of the cherished Gibson Les Paul Standard model, the Burstbucker Pro is nasty in the best of ways. Do you like rock? The Burstbucker Pro likes rock. Rock and roll, classic rock, bluesy rock, hard rock. All rock.
The Burstbucker Pro is less like a machine and more like an animal. A ferocious animal that thrives off of shredding riffs and is sustained by high gain. It goes without saying that the response is organic; thrumming with potential.
As the youngest descendent of PAF, it has the newest in pickup technology. This passive humbucker has an Alnico V magnet and 2 conductors. It comes in both neck and bridge configurations, and can be open-faced or covered with nickel plating.
Here is a good demonstration of the tones of this pickup. Jam track is kinda iffy but the playing is good and the tone is awesome.
’57 Classic Plus
We wrap up with a true-to-its-name classic. The ’57 Classic Plus is what comes default on the high-end Gibson guitars. It’s not just an expensive bauble, though. It’s the piece that ties together the whole instrument and makes it worth the price tag.
It’s versatile in the extreme. Piercing highs, earth-shattering lows combined with a round and robust middle range. It mimics the original Gibson PAF using an Alnico II magnet that’s overwound with a vintage wire. The result is high output and crystal-clear tones.
The well-roundedness of this particular pickup can’t be overstated. It’ll gel with any guitar, sounds great on any amp, and plays well with pedals of all stripes. It plays clean and dirty channels with equal pleasure. You can play jazz one minute and rock the next, and sound damn good for both.
Additionally, the pickup can be customized with a variety of styles and a covered or uncovered face.
Here's a demo of the 57 classic vs the 490T mentioned above.
It’s a well-kept secret, but the best way to improve your sound (other than practice) is to replace your pickups. While strings, amps, and the guitar itself all have an influence on the sound, none of those are as influential as the device that actually picks up the sound.
The right pickup is the difference between playing your guitar and talking about playing it on a forum. The best guitar/pickups combo to have is the one that makes you want to play every day. It's fun to experiment with new options in search of the perfect tone for YOU. If shopping for pickups, youtube is your friend. Plenty of generous players have posted clips of their set ups to give you an idea of the tones you can expect.