PAF vs Humbucker Guitar: The Main Differences

PAF vs Humbucker
PAF vs Humbucker

The sole dependence of the guitar tones is not on the genre but also the tuning, the kind of material used in the construction of the guitar, and the tools on the guitar. The use of a guitar pickup directs the picking style and the way you play with the strings.

Studying the guitar tunes can give you an idea of how diverse the world of pickups is. Modern-day electric guitars can run into the models of PAF and Humbucker guitar pickups because they are the most common ones.

These are confusing terms in the musical field. A set of differences between the two can help you choose the pickup that you need.

Comparing the PAF vs Humbucker Guitar

Before moving on to elaborate on the comparison between the two pickups, it is necessary to have information on the individual features of PAF and humbucker guitar pickups.

Features PAF Humbucker
Preferable for beginners No Yes
Noise cancellation Less More
Sound Bright Warm and clean
Modern More Less
Harmonic richness More Less
Sustain Less More
Output Weaker Stronger

PAF Guitar

PAF, Patent Applied For, is an older model of Humbucker guitar pickup. When Seth Lover was working for the Gibson company in 1955, he developed this pickup.

The first humbucker to achieve a massive level of use and popularity was PAF. The hype it got was unreal. Gibson Les Paul Standard guitars have PAF as their essential tonal characteristic, which replaced the P-90s.

Gibson Les Paul Standard

There is no denying the fact that PAF is an earlier model of the humbucker, but it does share significant differences from the present-day humbucker pickups. The use of PAF was on acoustic or semi-acoustic guitars.

Guitarists back then were in love with the early PAFs, thanks to the latter’s unique output level and tone. PAF did face many iterations in all these years, but you can recognize its classic tone in the legendary rock records of its prime age.

Beginners of guitar learning cannot do well with the PAF pickup because the tone and output level may experience fluctuations. Therefore, players with insufficient experience are unable to take PAF as their primary option of a guitar pickup.

The warm tone of PAF shines when it is overdriven. There is no such aggression in a round top-end, but it can perfectly cut through the mix with its personality. However, the sound resulting from the PAF pickups can be muddy, which can resist many players from choosing PAF.

PAF still remains an excellent pickup choice for guitar enthusiasts who want to add a vintage touch to their sounds with refined clarity and compression.

Humbucker Guitar

The popularity of Humbucker guitar pickups has known no bounds ever since their launch. They negate the loud hum generated from the single coils while getting more input from the pickup.

The dynamic microphones on the humbucker cancel the electromagnetic hum in every way possible.

The launch of the humbucker pickup in 1934 brought a new life to the world of guitar music. It rendered an exceptional picking experience for guitar lovers. Designed for perfection, the Humbucker pickup offers standard tones and intonation.

humbucker pickup

You don’t have to worry about getting your guitar out of tune because the humbucker pickup can be kept on for hours and even days.

The name humbucker is derived from its feature of ‘buck the hum’ or, in simple words canceling the extraneous noise produced from the two coils that lie right next to each other.

The purpose of keeping the two coils together is to give a warm sound that is big but not loud. That’s exactly the sound produced by the Gibson guitars.

The working mechanism of Humbucker pickup includes the pairing of the coil with the North Pole in up orientation. The second coil is placed alongside the first one with the South Pole oriented up.

To reduce the interference, the two coils are connected out of phase. The placing of magnets in opposite polarity adds up the string signals, improving the signal-to-noise ratio.

The winding of Humbucker coils is done counterclockwise. The connection of these coils for achieving the noise cancellation effect can be either in parallel or in series.

However, it is favored that the Humbucker pickups are to be connected in series to double the signals of the strings along with the reduced hum.

The addition of ‘coil tapping’ has added more to the humbucker guitar pickup. It involves the engagement of only one of the coils upon a knob pull. It results in a single-coil sound that is as bright and clean as it can get.

The humbucker has some alternative designs such as mini-humbuckers, stacked coils, rail humbuckers, and coil-splitting and coil taps. This pickup is durable enough to last a long time. You don’t have to worry about the scratches or wear and tear on it.

Mini humbucker

Comparing The PAF Vs. Humbucker Guitar

The tuning on PAF had its complications because of different characteristics in each pickup. One cannot do tuning on pickups out of a textbook approach. Therefore, the humbucker was innovated as a primary pickup for electric guitars.

PAF is superior to the humbucker in its versatility, expression, and dynamic response. You can get a touch of airy brightness to the sound, whereas humbucker produces a thicker sound with a warm and round vibe.

When talking about the better suppression of external noise, Humbucker guitar pickups win the race. On the other hand, the most prominent feature of PAF guitar pickup is its unique tone and output level.

PAF is usually called the holy grail of vintage pickups because of the dynamic touch sensitivity and harmonic richness it offers. It has got everything you need to gain clarity and openness in the sound.

Talking about the humbucker pickup, it is not as versatile as PAF. It doesn’t provide extra treble clarity for country music.

Turning down the volume controls doesn’t bring the loss in definition and clarity of sounds produced from PAF. That’s not the case with a humbucker, as it is not that rewarding.

PAF pickup has less sustain as compared to the humbucker. There is also a difference in the output of the two of these pickups, with the humbucker having a stronger output than the PAF.

Magnets used in PAF are Alnico magnets that have different grades and variable tonal characteristics. The most common magnets used are Alnico 2,3,4, and 5. On the other hand, a humbucker just needs one magnet and two coils.

A humbucker pickup


PAF and Humbucker guitar pickups were originally the same, but some differences have definitely developed between them over time. Players who frequently use overdriven tones can pick PAF. The latter is also a standard for solid body guitars.

However, if you are looking for a variety of tonal options at your fingertips, you should opt for Humbucker guitar pickup.

If the differences seem trivial or technical to you, the best thing to do is to hear them yourself. You can find YouTube videos on them. Another option is to visit your local guitar shop and play both of these pickups to assess the treble and other factors.

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