All you ever wanted to know about Gibson T Tops

What's Hot
OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 4947
edited December 2019 in Made in the UK tFB Trader

Amongst Gibson owners the 'T Top' humbucker is, next to the PAF, arguably the most sought after 'vintage' Gibson pickup. Examples change hands for what can be quite a lot money ... so what's the deal with the T Top. 
Well firstly the T Top (it was never called that by Gibson) isn't so much one pickup, as a family of pickups from around 1968 to about 1980, that all happen to use the same type of bobbin. The old PAF bobbin with its distinctive little holes at one end was distinctly fragile, and when Gibson re tooled the bobbin they made it a beefier moulding. There is some crap on the internet about T Top bobbins having a wider winding area ... this simply isn't true ... there is the 6.25mm winding area the PAF had, but with a slightly thicker top and bottom plate/flange, presumably to help stop bobbin 'flare' when winding. 

Some time before the introduction of the T Top bobbin Gibson had made the switch from the dark brown/black PVA coated plain enamel winding wire that had been used on the PAF and on the 'patent' pickups of the early sixties ... to poly coated winding wire ... in shades from red to copper. The change made sense to Gibson I'm sure. PVA coated plain enamel is an utter bitch to work with, difficult to solder, hard to handle when threading winding machines, and more prone to mechanical damage in the winding process. Fender too had changed to poly wire at about the same time. All T Tops are wound with 42awg poly wire. 

Gibson's production techniques were much more standardised in the T Top era than in earlier PAF days, so it's not surprising that every pickup I've handled with T Top bobbins (bar one which I shall come on to) came in around 7.5k bridge and neck. 

Regarding magnets, the T Top used ... according to most sources ... alnico 5, rough cast 'short' magnets ... but this is where I prefer to call the T Top a 'family' of pickups, because around the mid seventies Gibson seem to have used alnico 3 for a while, then by 1978 ... possibly prompted by the popularity of aftermarket DiMarzio replacements, they had started to use double thickness, slightly narrower Ceramic magnets exactly like the DM Super Distortion. These variants will, of course each have a different sound.

The one pickup I have encountered that didn't have the expected 7.5k output was a very early Gibson 'Dirty Fingers' humbucker that was around 13k and also used T Top bobbins ... obviously in that case with the extra 'outrigger' magnets that characterised the Dirty Fingers. 

Right ... let's take a look inside a T Top that's been on my work bench recently: 


note the distinct 'bullseye' tooling marks have gone from the tops of the pole slugs (a feature of PAFs) ... and how the slugs don't actually come up flush to the top of the bobbin. 

Here you can clearly see the twin white plastic spacers that the T Top used ... as opposed to the maple ones used in PAFs and early 'patent number' pickups. You can also see the end of the rough cast A5 magnet in this example.


Here you can see that the coil connections were made on the same side as the output cable comes in ... unlike the PAF and Patent, where the braided wire feeds under the bobbin and the connections are made on the other side. This saved Gibson a whole two inches of hookup wire per bobbin ... though is arguable less secure and more prone to breakage. 

So now you can recognise T Tops ... so how do they sound? Well different to PAFs, but not as different as some people would have you believe. The chief difference is that both coils were wound with the same number of turns ... unlike the rather erratically wound PAF. This combined with the bright A5 magnet that most use make for a biting and aggressive sounding pickup. True, low in output by modern standards (especially in the bridge position), but quite happy when used under heavy drive ... but watch it ... they are unpotted, and can squeal under very heavy gain. Potting is actually not a good idea, as the bobbin material, like the older PAF's butyrate can warp with heat. 

Personally I really like the alnico 3 versions I've come across ... they have a natural compression all of their own, and take pedals wonderfully. 

Well that Folks is the T top ... As the months go on ... I will endeavor to bring you some other 'famous pickup types on my work bench' articles ... watch this space.   
Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 14reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Comments

  • Really interesting, thank you!
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 1reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • NPPNPP Frets: 176
    Really interesting, thank you!
    what he said!

    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 1reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 4947
    edited December 2019 tFB Trader
    Really interesting, thank you!
    I try to be of service :-)
    we do a huge number of rebuilds and rewinds on all sorts of interesting pickups ... and sadly there tends to be a lot of incorrect information passed about online as fact. I deal with some pretty mouth watering pickups regularly ... from early Fender stuff to PAFs and some of the more unusual vintage Japanese offerings ... so often I can quash daft hearsay by actually showing you!  
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • KoaKoa Frets: 64
    Very informative, I guess Oil City have seen many T Tops, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’ve never seen a zebra bobbin (white/black) one, wonder how common they were? Great pickups!
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 4947
    tFB Trader
    Koa said:
    Very informative, I guess Oil City have seen many T Tops, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’ve never seen a zebra bobbin (white/black) one, wonder how common they were? Great pickups!
    There seem to be a few later T Tops in cream and black zebra ... though double black seems much more common. The cream bobbins seem to crack quite badly (evidenced in the top photo). 
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • @OilCityPickups  ;  Great information, much obliged.
    I have 2 Gibson 'The Paul's' with original T Tops & I was interested in what you said about the bullseye tooling marks on the polepiece slugs.
    Just looked & my T Tops seem to have a mixture of plain top slugs & some with variations of 'nipple' or concentric tool marks.
    I have tried to capture the images but the light is poor.
    Is this 'normal', transitional or irrelevent  :)
    And yes, I possibly could clean them up a bit  ;)




    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • Very good. Thanks for this.

    I really like mine. Perfect output for me.
    MYMUSIC

    I wanna be a door
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • CeeJayCeeJay Frets: 149
    A good read and very informative, especially to someone still fumbling their way around the world of pick ups. That's me in case you wondered. Thanks.
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OssyrocksOssyrocks Frets: 1057
    I have a set of these too, in my '69 335.

    How can you tell the Alnico variant ? 

    Rob
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 4947
    tFB Trader
    @OilCityPickups  ;  Great information, much obliged.
    I have 2 Gibson 'The Paul's' with original T Tops & I was interested in what you said about the bullseye tooling marks on the polepiece slugs.
    Just looked & my T Tops seem to have a mixture of plain top slugs & some with variations of 'nipple' or concentric tool marks.
    I have tried to capture the images but the light is poor.
    Is this 'normal', transitional or irrelevent  :)
    And yes, I possibly could clean them up a bit  ;)





    A fine looking set! And yep ... as with all changes at Gibson in those days ... the pole piece tooling marks were a transitional thing. Gibson obviously got thousands of these made up ... and simply chucked them in the parts bin with the earlier sort. Pot luck as to getting ones with tool marks or ones without.
    With any old pickups I'd fight shy of cleaning them ,,, it's really easy to disturb the coil wires and get yourself a pickup that needs surgery ... even a rewind! With the 'pigtails' and coil start and finish wires T Tops are a lot less rugged than older PAFs ... be careful! 
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 4947
    edited December 2019 tFB Trader
    Ossyrocks said:
    I have a set of these too, in my '69 335.

    How can you tell the Alnico variant ? 

    Rob

    Pretty much impossible without a gauss meter. Obviously, if they are the ceramic ones a look at the end of the magnet will tell you ... the ceramic mags are twice the height of the alnicos (of course your pickup has to be uncovered to get a look at that).
    Having said that ...to someone who handles magnets and pickups every day ... I can usually take an educated guess based on strength of magnetic pull.
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OssyrocksOssyrocks Frets: 1057
    Ossyrocks said:
    I have a set of these too, in my '69 335.

    How can you tell the Alnico variant ? 

    Rob

    Pretty much impossible without a gauss meter. Obviously, if they are the ceramic ones a look at the end of the magnet will tell you ... the ceramic mags are twice the height of the alnicos (of course your pickup has to be uncovered to get a look at that).
    Having said that ...to someone who handles magnets and pickups every day ... I can usually take an educated guess based on strength of magnetic pull.
    Good info, thanks.

    A friend of mine suggested I might try some Alnico 4 magnets in mine ( I have a few in the parts box, same supplier as Wizz)

    Would you recommend that, and what do you think, if any, the tonal difference might be?

    Rob
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 4947
    edited December 2019 tFB Trader
    Personally I'd leave vintage pickups alone. A swap to alnico 4 would take down a tiny bit of treble, but also loose some tightness in the bass. The issue is in disturbing old wiring ... plus you need imperial not metric sized bar magnets or you will cause internal spacing issues. Pretty much all magnets come from the same factories these days by the way ... China has a virtual monopoly on alnico magnet production.
    If you want an alnico 4 PAF type sound ... I'd swap to any one of dozens of good PAF clones out there and carefully pack away your T Tops.
    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 2reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • Thanks for the advice.
    My idea of cleaning would be to brush off surface dust on the top surfaces  ;)
    As far as any interventions go, I believe in 'less is more' so they'll stay as they are   :)
    The two sets are very different in tone & character, despite being from the same year, in almost the same guitar.
    Really glad I resisted all attempts from mates to 'ditch those crap old pickups' :-D
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OilCityPickupsOilCityPickups Frets: 4947
    tFB Trader
    Thanks for the advice.
    My idea of cleaning would be to brush off surface dust on the top surfaces  ;)
    As far as any interventions go, I believe in 'less is more' so they'll stay as they are   :)
    The two sets are very different in tone & character, despite being from the same year, in almost the same guitar.
    Really glad I resisted all attempts from mates to 'ditch those crap old pickups' :-D

    Some people see T tops as a 'lesser' option to PAFs ... I don't see it that way at all. The alnico 5 T top is a more modern sounding pickup than a classic PAF true, but very versatile. The neck pickups don't get as overly plummy as some PAFs can get, and T Tops can handle heavier styles without getting muddy.
    I see the poor T Top as a bit of a pickup that missed its proper time: So many were ripped out in favour of DiMarzio Super Distortions (also a great pickup) because of the way players used amps back then. No master volume and bigger amps meant that the T Top was never going to deliver the full on rock sound without help. Nowadays the majority of us use amps and effects in a very different way, and the lower output and very 'string defined' nature of the T Top design is back in vogue. A small amp run hard with a T Top is a total delight, and they deliver just the right gain for working well with fuzz pedals etc.
    There are surprisingly few T Top clones on the market ... probably due to market obsession with the all conquering PAF ... I make three different flavours myself ... but again, like their inspiration ... they tend to stand in the shadow of my more 50s like offerings.

    Professional pickup winder, horse-testpilot and recovering Chocolate Hobnob addict.
    Formerly TheGuitarWeasel ... Oil City Pickups  ... Oil City Blog

    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 2reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • OilCityPickups said:
    the T Top was never going to deliver the full on rock sound without help.
    You just described my musical collaborator's 1978/79 Les Paul Custom. (I wish that I had taken close-up photographs of it before he slid aftermarket covers over the pickups.) It only ever got properly filthy through a cranked AC30 or with the assistance of an MXR Distortion + pedal.

    OilCityPickups said:
    very 'string defined' nature of the T Top design is back in vogue.
    Ideal for Funk, Reggae and strummy stuff. (My P90 Standard sounds fatter than that 78/79 Custom.)

    Be seeing you.
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • IvisonGuitarsIvisonGuitars Frets: 6005
    tFB Trader
    Nice one Ash, very interesting indeed! :) 
    http://www.ivisonguitars.com
    (formerly miserneil)
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • impmannimpmann Frets: 8570
    Thanks for the advice.
    My idea of cleaning would be to brush off surface dust on the top surfaces  ;)
    As far as any interventions go, I believe in 'less is more' so they'll stay as they are   :)
    The two sets are very different in tone & character, despite being from the same year, in almost the same guitar.
    Really glad I resisted all attempts from mates to 'ditch those crap old pickups' :-D

    Some people see T tops as a 'lesser' option to PAFs ... I don't see it that way at all. The alnico 5 T top is a more modern sounding pickup than a classic PAF true, but very versatile. The neck pickups don't get as overly plummy as some PAFs can get, and T Tops can handle heavier styles without getting muddy.
    I see the poor T Top as a bit of a pickup that missed its proper time: So many were ripped out in favour of DiMarzio Super Distortions (also a great pickup) because of the way players used amps back then. No master volume and bigger amps meant that the T Top was never going to deliver the full on rock sound without help. Nowadays the majority of us use amps and effects in a very different way, and the lower output and very 'string defined' nature of the T Top design is back in vogue. A small amp run hard with a T Top is a total delight, and they deliver just the right gain for working well with fuzz pedals etc.
    There are surprisingly few T Top clones on the market ... probably due to market obsession with the all conquering PAF ... I make three different flavours myself ... but again, like their inspiration ... they tend to stand in the shadow of my more 50s like offerings.

    Interestingly, Page's No1 Les Paul gained a T-Top bridge pickup in the early 70s (apparently the original failed) and so a lot of those classic recordings were made using a non-PAF pickup... something missed by a lot of folks.
    Never Ever Bloody Anything Ever.

    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 1reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • rsvmarkrsvmark Frets: 761
    Nice one Ash. Thanks for posting. 
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 0reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
  • robertyroberty Frets: 1726
    Ossyrocks said:
    Ossyrocks said:
    I have a set of these too, in my '69 335.

    How can you tell the Alnico variant ? 

    Rob

    Pretty much impossible without a gauss meter. Obviously, if they are the ceramic ones a look at the end of the magnet will tell you ... the ceramic mags are twice the height of the alnicos (of course your pickup has to be uncovered to get a look at that).
    Having said that ...to someone who handles magnets and pickups every day ... I can usually take an educated guess based on strength of magnetic pull.
    Good info, thanks.

    A friend of mine suggested I might try some Alnico 4 magnets in mine ( I have a few in the parts box, same supplier as Wizz)

    Would you recommend that, and what do you think, if any, the tonal difference might be?

    Rob
     I love alnico 4 PAFs but my favourite pickup that I've tried is oil city nightfighter alnico 4. Got a pair in my 335, really fat and clear, they'll do pure clean to full on fuzz mayhem and excel at all of it. Bit of a plug there but I'm not kidding they are superb
    0reaction image LOL 0reaction image Wow! 1reaction image Wisdom · Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Sign In or Register to comment.