The Sound of Innovation: Introducing Epiphone's Premier Pickups

Boutique sound anyone can afford with the ProBucker™, P-90 PRO™, and CeramicPlus™

In 2014, Epiphone celebrated its 141st anniversary as the world's #1 maker of professional and affordable instruments. And though today's Epiphone reaches more fans around the globe than even founder Epi Stathopoulo himself could have imagined possible, at its core the "House of Stathopoulo" is not so different than it was in the 1930s. Back then, Epi transformed his family business into one of the great instrument companies of his era and put Epiphone on the same path it's on today, innovating with the same adventurous spirit.

Today, Epiphone gives its fans--both pros and pros at heart--not only beautifully crafted instruments but also incredible sounding instruments with pickups that match or rival any of the boutique manufactures. If you just think of Epiphone as "affordable" or a "classic name," get ready for a big surprise when you fire up an Epiphone Les Paul, Wilshire, or Casino and compare it to vintage models that cost ten times as much.

In 2014, Epiphone introduced three incredible new pickups, the ProBucker™, the single coil P-90 PRO™ and the CeramicPlus™ that for the first the time have made the sound of hand-made boutique pickups affordable to everyone. Whether you're looking for a classic tone or something new, Epiphone's new line of premier pickups can take you there.

The Sound of Innovation: Introducing Epiphone's Premier Pickups

ProBucker™ Humbucker

Epiphone's ProBucker™ humbucker has quietly become one of the most talked about pickups in the industry. It has fooled experts, vintage purists, and even luthiers who have worked with the best vintage examples from the late 50s and early 60s. Epiphone ProBucker™ humbuckers are the real deal--made with 18% Nickel Silver unit bases and covers, the same alloy used by Gibson at the Kalamazoo factory when the humbucker was first invented. The use of Nickel Silver reduces the occurrence of eddy currents due to low conductivity and provides a more transparent and crisp output. The size and shape of the bobbins also has a great impact on tonal response. And the bobbins used on ProBucker™ pickups duplicate the size and shape of the gold standard in the industry, Gibson humbuckers. Epiphone ProBucker™ pickups also feature sand cast Alnico II magnets, high quality 4 conductor lead wire, and are vacuum wax potted to eliminate microphonics.

But what really counts is the sound, and Epiphone's ProBucker™ pickups have delighted and puzzled some of the toughest critics around, who are always on the hunt for the elusive and impossible-to-define tone of the "Patent Applied for Pickups" that first found a home in Les Paul Standards in the late 50s.

The first generation of Kalamazoo-made humbuckers (often called "PAF" or "Patent Applied For" for the telltale sticker found on the back) has acquired a mythical status among guitar players. Originally hand-wound, each vintage example sounds different but share the same combination of a smooth tone with colorful, edgy overtones that are as expressive as violin or viola. The humbucker pickup was really invented, in fact, to "buck the hum," the annoying "buzz" that amplifiers and electric guitars picked up in poorly grounded bars and nightclubs. Add to that noise the powerful signal of AM radio stations coming in and out of one's amplifier and you can understand why "bucking the hum" was a such a concern in post-war America where bands were having to turn up louder and louder to be heard over a Saturday night crowd in a honky tonk.

Inventor and Gibson/Epiphone staff technician Seth Lover, who first applied for a patent for his humbucker pickup in 1957, had a mission to give guitar players a pickup that brought down the noise without sacrificing tone. Coincidentally, Gibson/Epiphone owner Ted McCarty, who put Seth onto the task of making the humbucker, was also looking for a way to perk up flagging sales of the company's flagship electric, the Les Paul.

Initially the Les Paul Standard and its new humbucker pickup didn't take off and were made in low quantities. In fact, the Les Paul Standard as we know it today was actually discontinued for most of the 1960s.

But the humbucker and the Les Paul Standard did not go quietly into the night. As music fans know, guitar heroes like Eric Clapton, Michael Bloomfield, Duane Allman, and Peter Green took to the "P.A.F." sound as the ultimate blues guitar tone. Their inspiration? Probably Keith Richards, who played a late 50s Les Paul Standard (with a Bigsby™) on the T.A.M.I. Show film which also featured James Brown in one of the great performances in rock and roll history. (Just before the show, Keith had put aside his Epiphone Casino, his main axe for a dozen early Rolling Stones hits including "Satisfaction."

Today, there's hardly a player in the world that doesn't regard the prospect of owning (or just playing) a late 50s Les Paul with those rare humbuckers as the ultimate electric guitar experience. Prices for a late 50s Les Paul Standard are close to $200,000. And then there are a few out there (rare left-handed models, artist owned, and even a few un-played Les Pauls that still have hang tags) that easily approach the cost of a house in a city of your choice.

For Richard Akers, Epiphone's Director of Research and Development, securing Epiphone a place in the crowded race to produce a great Patent Applied For-style humbucker was the ultimate design challenge.

"The new ProBucker™ pickups are not just slight improvements over previously produced pickups. They were completely designed here in Nashville and tooled from the ground-up at a new factory dedicated to high end pickup production," said Akers. "These pickups use only the highest quality components and are based on the most sought after humbuckers of Gibson's history. I spent many, many hours making sure these came out great and I am really happy with the results. They sound fantastic."

With the new ProBucker™ pickups, Epiphone now gives its players the confidence that any instrument they purchase with ProBucker™ pickups will have that classic rock and roll patent applied for ("P.A.F.") tone.

Epiphone ProBuckers™ got their official debut in July 2013 during Epiphone's 140th birthday celebration during an open house that saw many --including some of the top guitar magazine editors in the US--take the "humbucker challenge" and pick Epiphone over many other fine boutique challengers. While every pickup sounded fantastic and the differences were slight, Epiphone's ProBuckers were chosen as the preferred pickup by a majority (61%) of the players. Check out the video to see the challenge in action and some of the surprising results (and guests)!

Alnico Classic PRO™
If you’re looking for the traditional tonal charteristics of Alnico pickups but with a higher output and a slightly more modern sound, check out our critically acclaimed Alnico Classic PRO™ humbuckers. Alnico Classic PROs are found in nouvo classics like the Epiphone ES-339 PRO, the G-400 PRO, and the Les Paul Traditional PRO™. Alnico Classic PROs are similar to ProBuckers in construction except they use Alnico-V magnets, making them higher in output for enhanced mids and highs.

The Sound of Innovation: Introducing Epiphone's Premier Pickups

Epiphone P-90 PRO™ Pickup

Following in the footsteps of the ProBucker™ is the new single coil P-90 PRO™, a rebirth of one of  the greatest and most versatile pickups in popular music, also invented by Seth Lover. The original single coil P-90 pickup was inspired by the now legendary (and super rare) "Charlie Christian" pickup used by the revolutionary jazz guitar player from Oklahoma who plugged in with the Benny Goodman band and transformed the guitar from a rhythm instrument to a solo instrument.

Just like originals P-90s, the Epiphone P-90 PRO™ is an extremely sensitive pickup that easily bends to a player's unique touch. With its distinctive growl and wide range, it's great for rock and roll, pop, jazz, country, or anything you want to throw at it.

The creation of the Epiphone P-90 PRO™ once again followed the same principles used to create the ProBucker™. "Just like a good chef uses science and art to create unique dishes, a good pickup designer is able to use ingredients in unique ways to create sound," continues Richard Akers. "All the ingredients are available to anyone willing to look but you have to know how to combine them and what is important. Knowing the ingredients in a fine family recipe and how they combine is very similar to how I went about producing these pickups that are synonymous with what our ears have evolved to know as the sound of Rock and Roll."

The P-90 pickup not only powered the earliest Les Pauls but were also the engine behind the almighty Epiphone Casino, which has hardly ceased production since its debut in 1961.

In the 60s, the Casino was heard on an incredible variety of hits including the Kinks "You Really Got Me" and virtually every Beatle recording made from 1965-1969 including "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Paperback Writer," "Revolution," and "Get Back."

Today, the list of Casino devotees –both new and vintage--include GRAMMY winner Gary Clark Jr., Thom Yorke of Radiohead, U2's the Edge, and Paul Weller. The new Epiphone P-90 PRO™ single coil pickups are also made with 18% Nickel Silver covers and have been designed and tooled from the ground up with new bobbins manufactured to historic dimensions, Elektrisola magnet wire, sand cast Alnico V magnets, and pole shoes manufactured using correct alloys and to Gibson dimensions. And for you sticklers to detail, the new Epiphone P-90 PROs™ also have tin plated brass base plates like used on 50's and 60's era Gibson P-90 pickups.

"What we perceive today to be a great sounding pickup is partially great because that is the sound we grew up hearing as the definitive sound of Rock and Roll. It's what our ears want to hear," said Akers. "There is also a lot of truth to the fact that through some very intelligent engineering and also some just plain old luck, Seth Lover and Gibson created fantastic sounding pickups that worked extremely well in the guitars they were producing at the time. Our modern manufacturing procedures certainly give us a higher degree of consistency but it's hard to top the sound produced by the best examples of the golden era."

The Sound of Innovation: Introducing Epiphone's Premier Pickups

Ceramic Plus™ Humbucker

New for 2014, the Ceramic Plus™ humbucker is the next step in the House of Stathopoulo's ongoing crusade to merge the tone of the past with the tone of the future. Like Epiphone's critically acclaimed ProBucker™ pickups, new Ceramic Plus™ humbuckers feature 18% Nickel silver unit bases, bobbins tooled to exact Gibson specifications, Elektrisola Magnet wire, but instead are powered by Ceramic 8 magnets.

Where as ProBucker™ pickups emulate the rich and subtle tones of hand-wound humbuckers from the late 50s, Epiphone's new Ceramic Plus™ humbuckers are high output modern pickups designed to provide a tight low-end response with both a smooth mid-range and a slightly more pronounced cut on the top end. Ceramic Plus™ pickups provide high output while still maintaining clarity and focus that's perfect for metal and hard driving rock. Ceramic Plus™ pickups also shine with incredible sustain, drive, and harmonic content at high volume. Modern hi-wattage amps are an especially good match with Ceramic Plus™ pickups, providing all the color and character of a classic humbucker but with the cutting drive that can keep up with intense volumes, fast and super articulate players, and more efficient modern amps.

The first generation of humbuckers used Alnico magnets for the simple reason that they were dependable, available, and gave any guitar that used them tremendous power and subtlety. But by the late 60s and early 70s, ceramic magnets became more readily available and as guitar-based rock became harder and edgier, the top players in all genres-- especially in the emerging genres of "metal" and "hard rock"--began looking for ways to step ahead of the competition. Ceramic pickups--then and now--provide an excellent alternative to Alnico pickups with their sharp, articulate, and more saturated tone.

Today, modern rock's need for volume, drive, and for hi-wattage amps that could maintain crunch for long shows without losing punch and clarity created an ideal need for ceramic magnets in new custom pickup designs.

" The physics dictates that when the impedance of a pickup increases the high end frequency response of the pickup decreases. As the need to drive amps further into saturation became desirable the use of Ceramic magnets to compensate for this loss of frequency response became a perfect fit," said Epiphone's Richard Akers. "Simply increasing the impedance of a pickup while maintaining the use of Alnico magnets in most cases creates a muddy sounding pickup that lacks clarity. The use of ceramic magnets helps to compensate for this and adds clarity and focus to high output pickups"

And the new Ceramic Plus™ humbuckers are not just for high volume either. Get acquainted with cutting edge tone of Epiphone's new stellar Ceramic Plus™ pickups with the new Les Paul Classic-T, which also introduces the breakthrough Min-ETune™ system to the "king of electric guitars" without breaking the bank. The Les Paul Classic-T has all of the Les Paul's trademark features including a Mahogany body with a AAA Flame Maple Veneer top, a combination that has made hundreds of hit records over the last six decades. And with Epiphone's Ceramic Plus™ open coil humbucker pickups, Epiphone once again puts a new twist on the legendary Les Paul sound.

Visit your Authorized Epiphone Dealer soon and check out the Epiphone line of solidbody and archtop guitars that feature the ProBucker™, single coil P-90 PRO™ and CeramicPlus™ humubuckers. And get ready for even more surprises in 2015.