DiMarzio PAF Pro – review

A modern classic

Since its release in 1986, the DiMarzio PAF Pro has become a standard pickup in many people’s guitars. It’s since been superseded by an army of similarly voiced pickups, but it still has its place in the pickup world.

It is a medium power pickup according to the DiMarzio website, and utilises an Alnico 5 magnet. DiMarzio state that it sits well as a bridge or a neck pickup. Steve Vai’s older JEM models utilised this combo, as has a couple of Paul Gilbert’s PGM models.

I installed the PAF pro in the bridge position of my Ibanez RG550 20th Ann reissue. I felt it was a good classic addition to a classic guitar. DiMarzio talk about the sound of this pickup, stating that low notes have a “snap and chunk”, and that it has a subtle “aw” vowel sound, coming from its strong mid range presence. I definitely found this to be the case.

Whilst these properties make for a great sounding guitar pickup that can cut through the mix, there are some issues I had. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been playing guitars equipped with EMG pickups over the last few years, but the PAF Pro just didn’t drive my amp hard enough.

When playing through my Blackstar HT-5 using a guitar with EMGs I get a great chunky tone on my dirty channel, with the gain rolled to 3 o’clock. Not insanely buzz-saw chunky, but musically chunky, great for Metallica, Iron Maiden, Opeth, etc type tones depending on how the amp is EQ’d. The sort of tones that sold me on the HT-5.

When using the same amp settings the PAF Pro just doesn’t hit the amp hard enough. There’s a bit of dirt and chunk, but not nearly at the same level as my EMG equipped guitars. I can see by this why more people nowadays may use the PAF Pro in the neck position of the guitar, but go with a more powerful pickup in the bridge position.

It’s a pity though, because I otherwise loved the tone of the PAF Pro. It really makes the guitar sing with lead playing, and gives rhythm playing the cutting power in a full band situation. Splitting the PAF Pro with the single coil resulted in a great chimy, Strat-like tone as well which was glorious for clean playing and blues lead. I typically use the split with the neck humbucker for these sorts of styles, but I could easily swap to the other setting.

Overall, if you are playing music that doesn’t need real high-gain tones, the PAF Pro is a perfect addition to your sound. It really sings in a way that cuts through the mix, and sounds great. If you are playing with higher gain tones then an overdrive or clean boost pedal, or an insanely high gain amp might make you happy with the PAF Pro. I decided to mod the pickup with a bigger ceramic magnet, and managed to get myself a bit more power and drive. I’m quite happy with it like this as it gives me some different tones in my guitar arsenal.

UPDATE 28/07/2010

Since installing a DiMarzio Tone Zone in this same guitar I have moved the PAF Pro to the neck position, and reinstalled the original Alnico magnet. It has completely blown me away in this position. To my ears it has the clarity of a neck Stratocaster single coil tone, but with some added girth due to the fact it is a humbucker.

With distortion the PAF Pro gives such sparkling tone, with a clearness that I wasn’t expecting from a humbucker. It provides a truly beautiful lead tone that sounds nice and clear at the lower ends of the fretboard, where playing with a neck humbucker typically can start to sound muddy. At the higher ends of the fretboard it sounds like it sits half way between traditional bridge and neck humbucker tones.

When playing clean the PAF Pro in the neck position sounds lovely and chimy, and sounds especially nice for slower strummed passages. Once again it provides Strat-like single coil tone and clarity, while still sounding like a humbucker.

Splitting the PAF Pro with the middle single coil provided  twangy Strat tones, although the 500K potentiometers installed in my guitar made it quite overbearing in the high-end if the tone knob wasn’t rolled down a bit.

The PAF Pro provided an excellent contrast to the roaring Tone Zone installed in the bridge position, making my RG550 an extremely versatile guitar.  I definitely recommend the pairing of a PAF Pro with a high gain bridge pickup to provide the ultimate in versatility.

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