The iconic “PAF” humbucker found in vintage Gibson guitars has been the baseline for many humbuckers. It seems that there a million and one variations of the original made by companies big and small, each offering their own interpretation of the sound. DiMarzio have certainly had a lot of experience making “PAF” styled designs and their latest releases, the PAF Master bridge and PAF Master neck, provides another flavour of the classic “PAF” tone. DiMarzio were kind enough to send me a set to review, a bridge model with the classic double-creme bobbins, and the neck model with an aged nickel cover. In this review I’ll be focusing on the bridge model.
With a unique selection of an Alnico 4 magnet and a DC resistance of 7.69Kohm, the PAF Master bridge offers a tone that is very much in the vintage PAF zone. The EQ specifications of 5 (bass) – 6 (mids) – 5 (treble) and low resistance indicate a bright, but not too shrill tone with a very open and dynamic sound.
I loaded the PAF Masters into my Saga PRS style kit guitar, which has a basswood body, maple bolt-on neck with rosewood fretboard, tune-o-matic bridge with roller saddles and tail piece. As usual I tested the PAF Master bridge through my Blackstar HT-5 head, running into a 1×12″ cabinet loaded with a Celestion Vintage 30.
Starting on the dirty channel, the PAF Master Bridge is an interesting pickup. For a vintage spec humbucker it packs quite the punch. The unconventional choice of an alnico 4 magnet offers a faster and tighter attack then what would typically be expected from such a low output pickup. This and the extra body makes the PAF Master feel hotter than it actually is. It’s not modern metal hot and sharp, but it certainly cuts like a knife for heavy blues, hard rock and more classic metal.
There are a range of different styled PAF style humbuckers, and the PAF Master is certainly in the “bright”camp. The tight low end ensures that the sweet mids and singing highs to really shine without being too shrill. There is an intrinsic clarity and articulation in the pickup that lends a bit of a single coil quality to it, but the ranch and aggressiveness makes sure that you know that the PAF Master firmly sits in the humbucker world.
Tight rhythm work sounds especially satisfying with the PAF Master. There is a nice snap in the attack that ensures each note makes it’s mark. Heavy muted chords have a massive thump that really punches through the speaker. On the other side, the articulation ensures that even complex chords shine in the best possible light, even with a load of distortion on tap.
Accuracy is key when playing lead parts with the PAF Master. If your technique is lacking the PAF Master will let you know all about it. But hit everything perfectly and you’ll be rewarded with some amazing sounds. The clarity and articulation ensures that all notes are clear and present in the mix, without getting too sharp at the upper end of the fretboard. Pinched harmonics are a little tricky with lower output pickups, but hit the harmonic right and the PAF Master will scream with the best of them.
While the PAF Master is pretty raunchy at full-bore, wind the guitar’s volume down and the tone cleans up significantly. Finger pick softly and the PAF Master gives a real nice glassy tone, but as soon as you dig in the hair comes back. Even at full volume the PAF Master is extremely dynamic, and the strength of your picking will really determine how dirty your tone is.
Switching over to the clean channel, and the PAF Master Bridge really shines. The single coil quality is much more present, with a bit more twang than you may associate with a humbucker. The tone is still very much in your face, but just so pliable thanks to the responsiveness to pick attack. The same dynamic qualities found under distortion are just as present here, with the tone getting just a hint of hair when the strings are hit super hard, and everything sweetening up when things are done more softly.
As would be expected of a matching set, the PAF Master Bridge works brilliantly when combined with the PAF Master Neck. The tone thickens up ever so sweetly, with a tone that is great for rhythm or lead, clean or dirty.
Overall the DiMarzio PAF Master Bridge is another winning entry to the DiMarzio family. While it’s another offering added the vintage PAF market, it’s not just an exact clone. It’s tight low end and clarity in the mids and highs, as well as it’s deceptive output level make it a very cool pickup for classic rock, hard rock, traditional metal, old-school punk and blues. It would be a brilliant candidate for a single pickup guitar, or as a matched set for a twin humbucker loaded guitar. It would sound great in many types of guitars, especially muddier sounding guitars that need a little brightening up. It you are looking for a super responsive and articulate pickup to rock out with then definitely check out the PAF Master.