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1957 Alnico 2 PAF vs 1959 Alnico 5 - What's the difference between a 57 and 59

by vaughn skow May 28, 2019 3 min read

 I had a question come in via email that I felt was deserving of a through video/blog ... as I just bet it's a question many folks have pondered.  The question was "what's the difference between 1957 PAF pickups and 1959 PAF pickups.  At this point I should specify that there are no differences in the PAF pickups produced from 1957 through 1958 (none intentional anyway).  Likewise from 1959 to 1961 there were no changes to the specifications.  So when I say "57 PAF", that can be interpreted to mean PAFs made from in 1957 and 1958.  When I say "59 PAF", I'm talking about the ones made from 1959-1961.  Ok?  Let's go!

This will be a short blog (please hold your applause), because I made a LONG (22-minute) video on this where you can see and hear the differences.  Feel free to skip straight to the video if you wish!  Ya ready for the HUGE change made to the PAF spec in 1959?  ...wait for it ... it's huge ...

Gibson went from an AlNiCo II bar magnet to an AlNiCo V bar magnet.

Yep, that's it!  AlNiCo, in case ya don't already know stands for Aluminum (Al), Nickle (Ni), and Cobalt (Co), which is the magnetic materials in the bar magnets.  So the only thing that changed is the composition of the magnets.  Other than that, not a thing.  There was still about 5,000 turns of the same brown plain enamel wire wound around each butyrate bobbin (butyrate is an early plastic), the same 1010 phillister-head screws in one bobbin and the same 1215 slugs in the other, and they even got the same "pattent applied for" stickers applied to the backs.  Oh, again if ya don't already know, "1010" and "1215" are numbers that grade the amount of carbon in steel, the system was developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in the industrial age and is still the standard today.

There were flat-out no changes except for the magnet change!  Oh, one little change that was purely cosmetic ... sometime in mid 1959 some bobbins began being made in off-white (cream) butyrate.  Why?  No one seems to know for sure!  Most say the supplier simply had the material available at a discount ad Gibson said "cool", as they put metal covers over the bobbins anyway, and they never envisioned anyone actually seeing the bobbins anyway.  Some say it was to distinguish the screw bobbins from the slug bobbins, since at first the cream ones ONLY showed up on the slug-side.  At any rate, it made ZERO difference to the pickups sound ... so we're back to JUST THE MAGNETS! 

So what difference did the A5 magnets make over the previous A2 Magnets?

  • Alnico 5 is a little stronger magnet, resulting in a slightly brighter tone.
  • Alnico 2 is a little weaker, resulting in a slightly warmer tone.
  • Alnico 5 has more MAGNETIC material and less FERRIC material, resulting in slightly lower Inductance.
  • That lower inductance means a little less in the way of lower midrange tone, and again more brightness.
  • The Alnico 2 tends to sound just a little more "organic" "woody" and "vintage".
  • The Alnico 5 tends to sound a bit "harder" with a slightly mid-scooped tone compared to A2.

So what's my favorite?  It totally depends!

  • I like AII (57) PAFs for clean tones ... they just sound so full, complex, and juicy!
  • I like A5 (59) PAFs with more high gain tones, they just hold more solidly together when ya get dirty!
  • I like AII (57) PAFs in guitars without much wood, like skinny SG's and hollow bodies.
  • I like A5 (59) PAF's in heavy non-chambered Les Pauls (especially with GAIN).

But, these are MY feelings ... figure your own out by watching my video comparison (skip to about 12-minutes to bypass all my talking :-)

Oh, and yes, I mess up and say "induction" when I meant "inductance" ... and "Hernies" instead of "Henrys").  Cut me a little slack, I'm a one-man show, if you can do better make your own dang comparison video!

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