The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickup was designed with a few specific purposes in mind, but what we got was a genre-defying pickup that any guitarist would love!
The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates: A Little History…
We have talked a lot about the different variety of Seymour Duncan Pickups, and how there is definitely something for every guitarist out there. Pickups can change the whole attitude of a guitar if that’s what you’re looking for. Sometimes, guitarists are looking for more gain, others may be looking for more clarity and headroom. No matter what you are looking for, a good set of pickups can help you craft your special tone.
The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates set came from an absolute legend of a player, who also happened to have a “magic” ’59 Les Paul. You see, the ’59 Les Paul models are something of a “holy grail” guitar. This was the year that Gibson made some changes, and the myth began that these were some of the best Les Paul guitars ever made. The neck was thicker, the top was a different type of maple…these guitars had MOJO.
Someone that happened to have one of these holy grail Les Pauls was Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. His ’59 Gibson was his number one guitar for years, and there was definitely something special about the tones it produced. Seymour Duncan approached Billy about the “Magic ’59” the same way he approached Jeff Beck. He wanted to recreate the sound of the pickups in Billy’s Les Paul, and Billy granted him permission.
The rest? It’s history!
The Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates is based on Billy’s famous Les Paul pickups, and it nails that tone. For this reason, you often see Pearly Gates pickups in Les Paul guitars, as that is what it was designed after. But I have also seen them used a lot in Fender guitars equally. This is not a “one trick pony” set of pickups, and today we are going to take a look from around the web at why they are so beloved.
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates: Design And Specs
The specs are standard fare for a PAF type pickup, and these are pretty low output when you look at some of the more popular Duncan pickups:
- Wire Gauge: 42 AWG
- Plain Enamel Insulation (Cloth on Custom Shop)
- DC Resistance: Neck: 7.2K
- DC Resistance: Bridge: 8.3K
- Alnico II Bar Magnet
- Four Conductor Cable
The main aspects of the Pearly Gates Set is that it is a semi-faithful recreation of the original PAF humbuckers that were factory installed in Billy Gibbons ’59 Les Paul. Seymour and Billy both agreed that there was something special and different about this set of Gibson PAF pickups. The neck was creamy and smooth, while the bridge had some serious bite.
Back then, all pickups were hand wound by the factory workers. This means that it was rare that any two pickups were “exactly” the same. There was variety among the same pickups because of human error. Sometimes, even different magnets were used in the same pickup models by Gibson. So while you may have a Les Paul from that period, and I might have one too…the two instruments may sound vastly different.
Billy’s Les Paul was definitely special, as the bridge was hotter and meaner than most PAF pickups of the time. This comes down to luck, and as we know, The Reverend is a lucky guy! Billy and Seymour went to work on developing the Pearly Gates Set so Billy could have the pickups installed in his huge collection of guitars that he often toured with.
But this is not exactly a “signature” model. It is more “inspired by“. While Billy uses the Pearly Gates, he also uses tons of other pickups on stage. He is not a man that is known for commitment, and he will play a Telecaster just as often as a Les Paul. Billy has one of the biggest guitar collections in the world, so it’s no wonder he prefers variety!
The Pearly Gates neck captures all the mojo of the original neck pickup from Billy Gibbons’ 1959 Les Paul. It is a P.A.F. with a unique tonal variation that provides more midrange than typical humbuckers from that time. The result is a neck pickup that cuts through with stronger tailored mids, but still has the open and airy treble attack of the alnico 2 bar magnet. Combined with a warm, spongy low-end, this pickup is great for both rhythm and lead playing.
Seymour discovered Billy’s bridge pickup had slightly more output than most P.A.F.s, which helped to give it the extra drive that make this pickup so special. The alnico 2 bar magnet keeps the high end sounding airy but focused, and the midrange emphasis gives it a unique Texas sizzle. It really has a growl all its own and will help to bring any humbucker-equipped instrument to life.Seymour Duncan
The Pearly Gates Set comes in all kinds of different designs. You can get them covered in chrome, gold, or black. You can also find them in “open coil” options, with multiple color combos that will suit just about any guitar player. These come in regular spacing, and Trembucker spacing for guitars with a tremolo system.
In my opinion, the Pearly Gates really shine when under medium to high gain situations. The Alnico magnets keep the signal nice and clear with balanced mids. These pups were absolutely designed to handle just about any kind of gain that you throw at them. The medium gain crunch of the bridge pickup is something to behold through a cranked amp.
That being said, these also have a single coil quality to them, in the way that the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickups have a small amount of “quack” to them. This pronounced midrange is what gives the pickups their character, to me. I have rare heard a humbucker that can get such a defined sound. But if you run the Pearly Gates through a cranked Mesa or Marshall, you will hear exactly what I am talking about.
In fact, if you think about the song “Lagrange” and the almost nasal, “cocked wah” sound that the guitar has in that song, you will know exactly what kind of sound I am trying to describe. It is a tone that has been burned into my brain since forever, and it’s the best example that I can think of.
The neck pickup has all the same mid-range qualities as the bridge pickup. But if you turn the tone knob down just a little bit, you get an extremely “buttery” sound. This sound is synonymous with a lot of guitarist’s tones, but someone like Santana or Slash comes to mind when I hear the neck version of the Pearly Gates. To me, it has an almost vocal quality to it, and you can hear this sound all over ZZ Top records!
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates: What’s The Word Around The Web?
It has been almost 40 years since the original Pearly Gates set hit the market, but it is still one of the most best-selling pickups that Duncan has to offer. It is favored by all kinds of guitarists, all of the planet. We took a peek at what some other people had to say about this set.
The Pearly Gates bridge has the advertised sweetness to it, more so in the high end. The mids are relaxed and have a touch of a snarl. Lows are full but not loose. While obviously at home on a dirty amp tone, it handles cleans very well. Series wiring will give a bit of a spank, where parallel gets into a more chimey tone. Putting the set together in parallel reveals an excellent option for a clean tone.Darth Phineas
Well, first of all, consider this humbucker as an A2 PAF clone. What does it mean? Pearly Gates has lots of round and spongy basses which are never as tight as ’59 with alnico V magnet in, lots of soft low mids, plenty of detailed trebles which are not too harsh. It is, actually, clear and un-muddy humbucker. But the key factor lies on its hi-mid frequencies comparing many A2 PAF clones. That’s where the beauty of “Pearly Gates” lies. PG, has screaming/pronounced hi-mid character acts like it has alnico V magnet. Anyway, think about nasal brown sound of ZZ Tops “Brown Sugar”.Guitar Blogspot
Straight up…Billy Gibbons will sound like Billy Gibbons…no matter what he is playing, so installing a set of Pearly Gates simply does not 100% guarantee nailing his tone…
What it does guarantee a medium, cooking to hot, humbucker set, with excellent coil split capabilities, and a nice cutting high-mids & treble frequencies. For fans of pinch harmonics, and complex overtones…think something similar to the Duncan JB, just not as hot, harsh, or ice picky. This description also goes for the neck position, which sounds odd at first, but for someone who finds traditional PAF Neck humbucker positions to be on the muddy side, these can be ideal.
For the pure clean tones, some may not find favour, due to a shift in resonant peak, verging on a nasal-like quality, but i found the pickup set to be really controllable and responsive to the Les Pauls volume and tone control setup. Anything that my personal benchmark Seymour Duncan 59 set could do, the Pearly Gates could do, with the added benefit of being able to go, over the top when volume controls were at 10.Electric Pickup Artist
Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates: Final Thoughts…
As so many other reviewers have said, the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Set is a great way to enhance your tone, but it is not going to make you sound just like Billy Gibbons. Everyone sounds different, and there are a million factors as to why you sound different from the next guitarist. But being unique is a good thing!
You may never sound just like Billy, but you might be able to craft your tone around the versatility of the Pearly Gates set. I would not recommend these for anyone that is trying to get an Extreme Metal tone. But if you are going more for a Doom Metal tone, or outright Texas Blues, the Pearly Gate are an excellent way to get started.