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Custombuckers vs. vintage T-Tops

Birdseye

Member
Joined
Sep 29, 2001
Messages
57
Hello and happy new year!

I am wondering if anyone has the experience to describe, compare & contrast these pickups. I have a set of humbuckers from a ‘68 Les Paul Custom that have been sitting in a box since the 70s. One is a T-Top and the other is a pre- t-top. They originally had gold covers. I took them out of that Les Paul when I owned it back then because the pre t-top one was dead. I recently had it rewound by ThroBak. So now they are a working set.

My guitar currently has the newest Gibson unpotted A3 Custombuckers. It seems like the old pickups would perhaps be an upgrade but I hate to swap out pickups on a stock new Gibson without knowing what to expect. Would the older pickups sound better? That’s very subjective I suppose but if they were actual PAFs I wouldn’t even need to ask, I’d put them in for sure, lol.

So what do you reckon? What kind of difference can I expect to hear? Any descriptions and comparisons could help me decide. Would you all go for the swap for the old pickups? I’m not very familiar with these 68 pickups but I love the sounds of the old PAFs I’ve heard and played.
 

Bluerocker

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Aug 27, 2022
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4
I have a 1976 Les Paul Standard with T-tops and a 2020 R0 with Custombuckers. I prefer the custombuckers but only slightly. I actually find the two guitars quite similar sounding, with some effect of the maple neck on the 1976.

I don't think the T-tops would be an upgrade. Perhaps a bit brighter. If I was really curious I'd try them in a less expensive guitar before messing with your stock new guitar.
 

Subliminal lanimilbuS

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Sep 28, 2023
Messages
318
I think T-tops are really good sounding pickups. They do come in a variety of flavors though. If you play rock with high gain amps the tarback version can be handy. The standard version is 7.5K, but they are found down to 5K and there is also the dirty finger at 16K. I am thinking more and more that age might be playing a role in how good some of these old pickups can sound. Maybe all the metal parts balance out in magnetism. All just speculation, but I still haven't found any copies of PAF's that match up with my originals. Particularly the warmth and balance that they have.
 

83Custom

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Joined
Jun 25, 2006
Messages
22
IMO, it depends in the guitar. I’ve had some T Tops in a couple of CS guitars and they sounded pretty good. But in a LP from the late 90s one of the same T Tops I put into it sounded comparatively weak.

To my ears, the 2019 CB I put into the same late 90s LP sounded better than the T Top. It was more boomy and had a little less high end treble.

FWIW, a BB2 from around 2012 is what I finally settled on for this particular late 90s LP.
 
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Subliminal lanimilbuS

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Sep 28, 2023
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318
IMO, it depends in the guitar. I’ve had some T Tops in a couple of CS guitars and they sounded pretty good. But in a LP from the late 90s one of the same T Tops I put into it sounded comparatively weak.

To my ears, the 2019 CB I put into the same late 90s LP sounded better than the T Top. It was more boomy and had a little less high end treble.

FWIW, a BB2 from around 2012 is what I finally settled on for this particular late 90s LP.
Definitely. Some guitars require some pretty lively pickups to come alive. My favorite guitar sounds good with pretty much any pickup I have tried in it.
 

latestarter

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Nov 9, 2009
Messages
4,173
I have T Tops in a Custom right now, with UOA5 Throbak magnets, and an original T Top in a modded Jr. They are bright, but I tame that with the tone knob. T Tops are focussed in the upper mids and can be a little tiresome if the guitar is already bright (e.g. Ebony board heavy custom!). They do sound good to my ears though, with that eq tweak.

It's a zero cost change. Have some fun.
 
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El Gringo

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Apr 8, 2015
Messages
5,665
I have T Tops in a Custom right now, with UOA5 Throbak magnets, and an original T Top in a modded Jr. They are bright, but I tame that with the tone knob. T Tops are focussed in the upper mids and can be a little tiresome if the guitar is already bright (e.g. Ebony board heavy custom!). They do sound good to my ears though, with that eq tweak.

It's a zero cost change. Have some fun.
You hit it right in the head with a magnet swap to the UOA5 ThroBak magnet the T-Top could be a game changer versus the stock A2 I believe ?
 

Birdseye

Member
Joined
Sep 29, 2001
Messages
57
Thanks for all the suggestions everyone. I like the idea of a magnet swap option for the T-Tops, that gives some ability to fine tune them. I thought about magnet swaps for the Custombuckers, but really don’t want to do the obvious mod to the original units. Since my T-Tops have already been opened, no problem swapping magnets should I want to try that.

I like the basic tonality of the Custombuckers but they could be a little bit brighter, they seem very polite, like great for jazz clean tones, but especially not great for getting crisp overdrive on e.g. the high E string. I do recall that T-tops can be a bit harsh and if the magnet swap cures that it would be great. I’d like to get that clear bright P.A.F. tone and the Custombuckers are just not quite what I think of that being in my admittedly limited experience with the real deal PAFs.
 

Subliminal lanimilbuS

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Sep 28, 2023
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318
You can, or have been able to in the past, get guitar pickup magnets in Alnico 2,3,4,5,8,9. Some in both sintered and cast varieties. Sintered being the cheaper to produce and weaker of the two. Some, also, in both oriented and un-oriented varieties. They all have different properties and strengths. The strengths for Alnico magnets generally go in the order of sintered 2,5,8 cast 3,2,4,5,8,9. Residual induction does not go in the same order. A properly magnetized/aligned Alnico 3 magnet can be stronger than a poorly magnetized/aligned Alnico 5 magnet.

Alnico magnets shouldn't loose more than 1% of their strength over a period of 100 years unless affected by high heat or impact. The very high heat required is unlikely to happen within a guitar pickup. Most will likely never see impact as they are usually housed inside a guitar. They are also housed inside the pickup. A magnet removed from a pickup and dropped onto a hard surface can be affected. A guitar played by Pete Townsend can be affected. A sintered Alnico magnet has a much greater tensile strength than a cast Alnico magnet. A cast Alnico 3 magnet has 2.3 times the tensile strength of a cast Alnico 5 magnet. If your pickup magnet has cracks or fissures it is compromised. The higher the tensile strength the less the possibility of this happening.

Play around with magnets in your guitar pickups if they are not living up to your expectations. You may find a variety more to your liking. A poorly magnetized/aligned or damaged magnet can detract from your pickup.
 

LCW

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Nov 29, 2021
Messages
15
Speaking of vintage T-Tops, does anyone have experience with the T-Types that Gibson is selling in their pickup shop? Any similarity as they claim or completely different? These new T-Types are listed as kinda of weak IMO, at 7.3 for the neck and 7.6 for the bridge.
 

Subliminal lanimilbuS

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Sep 28, 2023
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318
The T-tops of the 60's and most of the T-tops in the 70's were all around 7.5K. Don't take that resistance reading for how loud they are going to be, though. On a standard sized humbucker you usually have to use a slightly thinner wire with more winding when using the same material in the wire or a different type of material. By material I mean the composition of the metal inside. How thick the coating on the wire is as well. A thinner coating giving you more room to fit your windings. More windings does increase AC voltage output of your pickup. More windings also increases signal interference. A thicker or thinner wire also plays a factor. Combining these gives a hotter, more overdriven sound.

I find pickups in the 7K to 8.5K region to be the most balanced with highs and lows. You may want more high's or low's depending on the style of music you play. More windings increases bass response. A high impedance pickup will give you greater feedback, but less sustain. Less sustain because the stronger magnetic forces bring the strings to rest faster. Some people actually remove their neck pickup for better sustain. Sometimes people think they are getting better sustain because of the way the note blends into feedback. My favorite set of pickups have resistance readings of 7.2K and 7.9K and I have the 7.9K in the neck. Really pickup dependent as I have some the other way. I haven't tried Gibson new T-top pickups to give any opinion of them, but don't take those readings as having that much of a factor in how they are going to sound.
 
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Birdseye

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Sep 29, 2001
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57
Yes, these T-tops I have are around 7.2 and 7.4. I did the swap. They are a bit louder than the Custombuckers, which are both right at about 8k.

Results: very glad I did this. The T-tops have the sparkle and snap that the CBs were lacking, and they push the amp just a bit harder, especially in the highs. I can easily get a slight bit of drive on the highs now into my Deluxe Reverb even at low volumes. They are also much more responsive to variations in pick attack. They are brighter but not thin at all, and that can be controlled but how hard you hit the strings. Turning down the guitar volume a bit still retains that bite that I dig. The CBs were more sort of muted, more woody and less stringy, darker, and clean but not as much bite available. The T-tops are very responsive and fun to play, I couldn’t put the guitar down. It transformed the guitar, dialed it closer to what I’m used to. I think the Custombucker was fine on the bridge, but just too dark on the neck.
 
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El Gringo

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Apr 8, 2015
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Yes, these T-tops I have are around 7.2 and 7.4. I did the swap. They are a bit louder than the Custombuckers, which are both right at about 8k.

Results: very glad I did this. The T-tops have the sparkle and snap that the CBs were lacking, and they push the amp just a bit harder, especially in the highs. I can easily get a slight bit of drive on the highs now into my Deluxe Reverb even at low volumes. They are also much more responsive to variations in pick attack. They are brighter but not thin at all, and that can be controlled but how hard you hit the strings. Turning down the guitar volume a bit still retains that bite that I dig. The CBs were more sort of muted, more woody and less stringy, darker, and clean but not as much bite available. The T-tops are very responsive and fun to play, I couldn’t put the guitar down. It transformed the guitar, dialed it closer to what I’m used to. I think the Custombucker was fine on the bridge, but just too dark on the neck.
Bravo for making the switch and I am glad your loving the tone of the T-Tops ! P.S excellent tone report I must say !
 

Wilko

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Mar 11, 2002
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20,863
I'm happy that you got it to sound how you wanted.

I'm a big T-Top fan yet don't think of them as many do. IMNSHO, 60s PAF and T-Top are pretty much the same pickups. They all are in that mid 7k range as they all used the same winders with auto stop. They all have short magnets.

The biggest change to make the most impact is to swap the magnets. A long, strong magnet puts the output firmly in PAF territory with a bright sound as they have fewer windings.

The biggest place i differ from the popular notion around here is about the BBs. I think they sound just great. SAme type of voice with a high enough output drive any amp well. Distotion and sustain don't come from pickups. Those are functions of the amp and the guitar.
 

Subliminal lanimilbuS

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Just thought I would add some extra info here. Using the mid 50's as a starting point, Gibson had at least 3 different types of winders in use. They include the KZ/LP-115, Slug 101 and Leesona 102. Out of all of these, only the Leesona 102 had an autostop. The gears of the Leesona autostop are thought to have become unusable before the PAF era. It is, also, possible this failure occurred during the PAF era. The gears of the autostop on a Leesona 102 were poorly designed and prone to failure. Timing was used to estimate the number of counts during the PAF era. It is possible the KZ/LP-115 was only used for P-90 pickups

Sometime around 1963 it is estimated that Gibson got a Leesona 102B. Pickups generally begin a more consistent resistance reading at that point. Possibly earlier and possibly at the beginning of the T-top pickups. With multiple winders in use it may be hard to define. The autostop of the Leesona 102B was fully functional at Gibson during the 70's. Gibson had at least one other facility making their T-top pickups during the 70's.

The original Seth Lover design for the PAF pickup had either an impedance or resistance reading of 7.5K. Most pickups found during the PAF era fall within a resistance of 7K to 8K. Some, however, are found well above 8K. Most possible reasons for this variation are absent mindedness during timing or inaccurate timing of rotation of winder. The latter highly possible if employees were switching between machines.

Other major reasons for possible sonic differences in Gibson humbuckers between 1956 and 1980 include type and quality of magnet, type and quality of coil wire, tension of coil wire and scatter of coil wire. All three machines mentioned above tension and scatter windings in different ways. Future analyzation of magnets, wire and winding patterns may lead to a better understanding for those making pickups today that are trying to copy them.
 
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TM1

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Jun 27, 2003
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8,355
Seth was just trying to build a humbucking version of a P-90. I think by the time that they were doing them the D.C.-R was more even for each machine, but each machine was slightly different and wound coils different.
 
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