REVIEW: DiMarzio PAF Master Humbuckers

There are many, many different pickups out there that are inspired by Gibson’s ‘Patent Applied For’ humbucker invented by Seth Lover. Some makers go to incredible lengths to replicate not only the raw materials but also the chaotic, random unpredictability that went into the creation of those original 50s PAFs. DiMarzio’s PAF® Master bridge and neck models are designed with the spirit of those original PAFs in mind but DiMarzio says they’re more about paying tribute to the original sound rather than cloning it. So these pickups use several of DiMarzio’s patented ideas, and the coils are purposely tuned to specific differing frequencies to generate a version of the legendary PAF snarl without compromising the pickup’s ability to hum-cancel (which can be a problem with some of the originals and some of the more randomly-constructed PAF-alikes of the kind you tend to find from some of the smaller builders). See DiMarzio pickups on eBay here.

DiMarzio PAF MastersAlrighty, so what have we got here? Well, the bridge pickup uses an Alnico 4 magnet – one of the lesser-used Alnico magnets –  with a DC Resistance of 7.69 Kohm and an output mV reading of 278. It’s available in 4-conductor or 1-conductor versions (the former allows coil-splitting), and can be used in the neck position too. The neck version uses an Alnico 5 magnet, has a DC Resistance of 7.37 Kohm and an output mV reading of 193. It’s also available in 4-conductor or 1-conductor wiring. The sets sent out to reviewers are made up of a double-cream bridge pickup and an aged-nickel-cover neck pickup. The ageing appears a little rushed and won’t be fooling any vintage experts when examined up close, but it looks cool from a few feet away.

The bridge pickup has an edgy bark about it which is right in line with what you would expect of a PAF-style pickup. It has a tight, restrained low end which seems to allow the mids and highs to ring out nice and clearly, and which gives the pickup an almost single coil-like twang when played through a clean channel. The pick attack is immediate and bold, and the upper mids hit pretty hard. If you’re used to high-gain humbuckers you might be a bit surprised by how directly a vintage-output ‘bucker like this will respond, but if you welcome the kind of ‘everything is out on the table’ way that these types of pickups present your phrasing, you’ll dig this pickup.

The neck pickup isn’t as distinctive as the bridge model. While some PAF-style pickups have a warm, round tone when you pick softly and a ‘juicy’ attack when you really dig in, the neck PAF Master seems to lack a bit of character when you play softly, and it tends to get a little boomy. It does the juicy thing really nicely though, and it sounds great when played clean. So if you’re the kind of player who likes to really thwack the string through an overdriven amp or, paradoxically, to caress it quite gently while playing through a clean sound, you’ll like this. If you tend to dwell somewhere in between, it’s not quite as satisfying an experience.

It must be said though that the ‘both pickups on’ setting sounds great. It has attack and body, with a slight drop in output which seems to allow chords to open up a bit more, and which rounds off and sweetens up the bite of the bridge pickup while adding character to the neck pickup.

These pickups are definitely voiced more towards the ‘edgy rock n’roll’ edge of the spectrum rather than the ‘fat and chunky’ side. Some players will really dig the treble kick and the way the tone opens up when you really hit it hard, while others will continue their tone search.

See DiMarzio pickups on eBay here.

DiMarzio PAF Master