When you think of the “Mount Rushmore” of electric guitar, who comes to mind? Many names played huge roles in its development and refinement, including Leo Fender, Orville Gibson, Les Paul, Adolph Rickenbacker, and Jim Marshall, amongst others. Certainly deserving of a spot is Seymour Duncan, whose pickup work graced the guitars of titans like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Jimmy Page, and David Gilmour, even before he started his namesake company. Today, the Seymour Duncan brand continues to produce many of the most prominent pickups ever played and reviewed, including the popular 59 model aimed at rock and blues guitarists.
Seymour Duncan 59 Humbuckers Emulate Vintage Rock Sounds
The Duncan 59 is inspired by the famous “PAF” (Patent Applied For) humbucker designed by Seth Lover in the mid ’50s. Credited as the inventor of the humbucker, Lover’s PAF pickups replaced P90s in Gibson Les Pauls of the era, making their way into guitars built between 1956 and 1962.
Lover was also one of Seymour Duncan’s mentors and friends. He regularly attended the NAMM show with the Duncan team, and even helped design his own pickup with Seymour Duncan in 1994 — the SH-55 Seth Lover humbucker, a faithful recreation of the original PAF pickups.
So we have the 59 humbucker that’s a slight twist on a classic PAF, while the Seth Lover set exists as a replica. Both pull off the “vintage” rock/blues/country sound well. The 59 has a hint of modernity, which we’ll discuss more below, and the SH-55 is as smooth and sweet as the day it was born.
Seymour Duncan 59 Review: How Do They Stack Up?
How Do They Sound?
59s share an open and airy quality with authentic PAFs. It’s a sound we call “vintage” today, but at the time, it was just the regular sound of electric guitar. What sets the 59 apart from the original 1950s humbuckers, though, is a moderately hyped top-end and more compressed sound.
The 59’s enhanced highs retain pick attack. Conservatively scooped mids lend themselves to a smooth and open tone that’s still articulate when playing chords. The Duncan 59s remain a popular pickup set because they’re faithful to the origins of rock guitar.
Specs & Build Quality
Duncan 59 humbuckers utilize Alnico 5 magnets and run on the hotter side of middle at an output of 8.2k Ω (bridge) and 7.6k Ω (neck). Build quality is exceptional, as is the case with all Duncan pickups. An interesting side note, the Duncan company winds all of their PAF-style pickups on an original Leesona 102 machine from the old Kalamazoo Gibson factory. We’re not entirely sure how much that contributes to the vintage sound, but it probably can’t hurt!
Bridge vs. Neck Model
Particularly the neck version of the 59 is one of Seymour Duncan’s most popular pickups overall. Many guitarists will pair a 59 neck with a mismatched model in the bridge. It’s not uncommon to take a hotter, more modern bridge pickup with a 59 neck for utmost versatility. The 59-neck model is round and full sounding.
The bridge 59 obviously plays well with a matching neck pickup. It’s airy like vintage PAFs, but also more powerful than true old-school humbuckers. You can effectively use it with lighter gauge strings and way more rowdy amplifiers than players ever had in the ’50s. Again, it’s a little bit vintage, a little bit modern.
Seymour Duncan 59 Pros & Cons
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of the 59 humbucker set is just how versatile it can be. Many users have noted that the 59 bridge is actually more than capable of handling high-gain rock and metal tones, which may come as a surprise to some. Contributing to their tonal variety is the addition of four-conductor wiring for split-coil sounds.
If we had to pinpoint a con, it would be that these PAF-style ‘buckers are too full for some players and a bit wooly. Being able to split coils can help tremendously if you like the overall voicing but want more tonal options.
Who Would Love These Pickups?
It’s safe to say that anyone with a penchant for classic rock and blues guitar would find the Duncan 59s a well-tailored set of pickups. Throw them in your contemporary Gibby and you’ve got yourself a certified mojo machine.
Closing Thoughts: These Pickups Offer a Modern Take on Vintage Tone
PAF-style humbuckers are replicated time and time again. Considering the Duncan brand’s proximity to the man Seth Lover himself, the 59 pickup set is one of the best renditions of a classic guitar sound money can buy. We didn’t mention it at all yet, but Seymour Duncan pickups are always fairly priced, too, so it’s not like you’re spending hundreds on replacing your stock ones.
If you’re unsure of whether the 59 set is right for you, start with the neck position first. You might find that that gives you enough vintage style at the flip of a switch while keeping your preferred bridge pickup.