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1961 Humbucker: A Classic Reborn

Gibson 1961 humbuckers

The 1961 Humbucker is part of the Burstbucker family, which features offset coils—of the two humbucker coils, one has more windings than the other. With typical Burstbuckers the slug coil has a few hundred more turns than the screw coil, so the slug coil sound tends to dominate; this gives a bit more of a single coil character. But even if the coils are matched (as with the ’57 Humbuckers), the slug coil dominates somewhat because it has more steel. With the 1961 Humbuckers, the wiring offset was reversed to give the screw coil more windings and provide a better balance between the two coils, where neither one dominates.

Also, guitars with the 1961 Humbuckers (LPJ14, LPM14, SGJ14, SGM, and Les Paul Peace) have “Zebra” coils with one black and one cream-colored coil. Zebra coils first appeared in the late ‘50s—and there’s a story behind this that has nothing to do with sound or performance. One day Gibson’s supplier ran out of black pigment; Gibson didn’t care because the pickups were covered, so natural cream coils were used as well as the black ones. Some guitars had Zebra coils, and some had two cream-colored ones, but no one really noticed until people started experimented by taking the covers off. Many liked the look, so Zebra coils became a new visual feature. (The Les Paul Peace has chrome covers, but you’ll still find the Zebra coils underneath.)

1961 is also when Gibson started using Alnico V magnets, which provide a higher output toward the high frequencies and greater touch sensitivity. Some people think Alnico V magnets are a bit too strong, but they’re great-sounding magnets and adaptable—you can always dial them back by moving a pickup further away from the strings, but you can’t ratchet up a pickup with Alnico II magnets. Regardless, what really determines a pickup’s sound has much more to do with pickup design than the magnet—and there’s a reason why the 1961 Humbuckers are considered classic pickups.

For further reading:

Bucking the Trend: Gibson Humbuckers

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