Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates (SH-PG1)

by Professor Guitarism

Willy G Pearly Gates
Willy G Pearly Gates

Ahoy from the realms of the dark Lord Of The Riff: Darth Phineas. This is Baris speaking (or writing, to be honest) again. Hope you liked my humble article about humbucker modding via magnet swapping.

Today I’ll introduce you one of my personal favourite mass production humbuckers from Seymour Duncan. Pearly Gates (SH-PG1) is an Alnico 2 PAF clone. But they are exact clones from the Les Paul named “Pearly” that belongs to ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.

The story of his “Pearly” is told as: Mr. Gibbons loves his matchless Les Paul. But time passes, those burst LP guitars get too precious to have it on long tours. Furthermore there are plenty of risks; they can be stolen or be damaged or even broken on tours, etc. So, Billy Gibbons goes to Mr. Seymour Duncan to replicate the exact pickups of his “Pearly” so that Mr. Gibbons can put the replicas on his newer Les Pauls. Mr. Duncan gets precise research and finally “eureka”, he shouts! He clones the pickups and the result of that project is what we call “Pearly Gates (SH-PG1)” now. Praise the Lord, he did, so that we, too, can get excellent tones 🙂

After the history part, let’s see the techical specs from the catalogs:

Wire Gauge: 42 AWG
Wire Insulation: Plain Enamel
Leg Type: Short Legged (old models have long leg versions, too)
Advertised D.C. Resistance: 7.3k (neck model) / 8.35k (bridge model)
Resonance Peak: 7.50KHz (neck model) / 6.50KHz (bridge model)
EQ: B/M/T = 6/5/9
Magnet Type: Alnico 2 Bar
Cable: Four Conductor

Well, first of all, keep in mind this humbucker as an Alnico 2 PAF clone. What does it mean? Lots of round and spongy bass freqs which are not as tight as ’59 with Alnico 5 magnet in, lots of soft low mids, plenty of detailed, mellow highs which never goes too harsh. Yes, PG has it all, plus, it is, actually, clear and un-muddy humbucker. But not only being a very good Alnico 2 PAF, PG has a speciality. The key factor lies on its hi-mid and mid-mid frequencies compared to many Alnico 2 PAF clones. That’s where the beauty of “Pearly Gates” lies. PG, has more pronounced hi-mid character. JB, too, has lots of screaming mids, you might say but, hey, tricky part of PG is, while screaming nasal mids are inevitable (you can’t hide, you can’t run from those mid attacks) with the JB, not happening with the PG because they are not that prominent. I mean, you still have the smooth “Texas Sizzle” sound but you are not the slave to that tone.

Satch Pearly Gates
Satch Pearly Gates

Want to imagine how it sounds? It’s simple. Think about nasal brown sound of ZZ Top’s “Brown Sugar”.  There you go. Anyway, we should also remind Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes and Joe Satriani as other users of PG.

Surprised to hear Joe Satriani? Watch his wonderful “Live in San Fransisco” DVD more carefully. Especially be careful when he plays “Crush of Love”. He plays one of his chrome js guitars named “pearly” which is still stolen now. “That “pearly” has Seymour Duncans on it and they are Pearly Gates as told by Evan Skopp on S. Duncan forum. Coincidence? I don’t think so: Billy Gibbons is Joe’s favorite guitar player.

Generally speaking PG set is very ideal from Texas blues to heavy rock or from blues to jazz/fusion stuff. It is categorized as “vintage output humbucker” but PG set has more balls to cut through a mix. The JB or some Rio Grande humbuckers does, too. But the PGs advantage comparing to JB or relatives which are overwound is you don’t have to live under that pronounced mid structure, inevitable nasal sound and some muddiness issues happen usually with overwound humbuckers.

I’ll also add three additional field of application: first, just as Joe Satriani, PG set is very good for light or melodic shredding. They are not muddy, they are responsive, strong enough and its natural mild compression especially under slightly distorted amp settings makes you feel so good while playing.

I must add, PGs are pretty responsive to phrasing and playing manipulations which is great and important to me. I hate dull and “No matter whatever you do, I’ll sound the same, you moron” humbuckers, you know 🙂

Another suggestion is about the PG bridge model. If you have an overwound PAF humbucker on the bridge, let’s say 10K PAF with Alnico 5 magnet, and you need a humbucker for the neck which is not too powerful, not too weak, clear enough and also want balance with bridge pickup, PG Bridge model is very great choice as a neck hb. On the other hand, if the need for clarity for the neck position is more important, PG neck is more preferable, btw. That’s how you can achieve a great shred neck humbucker.

Personally, I really do like early years of John Petrucci with Dream Theater. So, i like Air Norton as a neck humbucker. But even though its power is lowered by “airing”, Air Norton still can be muddy while shredding with it is fun. PG bridge model is the cure for that issue. It has enough mids just like Air Norton but much more clearer and controllable. Lastly, when you put a PG bridge on the neck and wire a push pull switch to operate the screw bobbin alone, you can get very stratty neck tones, depending on the guitar.

Moreover, PG works excellent with fat strats, too. Just take care of this video:

Best suitable strat combination with PG, IMO, is to set it with relatively stronger single pickups like Texas Specials of Fender. They suit like a gloves to me. Fender used to pair Texas Specials with a special version of PG in the mid & late 90s; “Pearly Gates Plus” which has Alnico 5 magnet within instead of Alnico 2. My preferance was always choosing the PG neck for the bridge of a Strat, btw.

As a note, official website says 8.35K DC (bridge) but my actual readings are always slightly lower than that: 8.17K. Almost a year ago I could achieve a PG bridge wound by Maricela Juarez herself from late 80s or early 90s, I think, and its DC value is slightly higher than today’s production models.

For neck, official website says 7.3K but my readings are, again, lower than that: 7.08K.

As a result, Pearly Gates is literally wonderful PAF clone that serves impressively on Les Pauls. On the other hand, have balls to make pretty good noise on Stratocasters and Superstrats. Pearly Gates set is little bit more expensive than regular Duncan humbucker line, okay, but much cheaper than some “boutique” humbuckers which Pearly Gates easily overcome. Going straightly for the expensive boutique humbuckers instead of trying Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates would be a loss. Don’t say you weren’t warned 😉

About Professor Guitarism:

Fan of electric guitar, metal, rock, progressive rock, blues, fusion jazz and classical music, Star Wars & Lord of the Rings (books), The Alien, Marillion, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, Frank Zappa etc.

Columnist since 2005-2016. Published many interviews made with Seymour W. Duncan, Steve Blucher, Lindy Fralin, Yuriy Shiskov, Steve Morse, Guthrie Govan, Bill Nash of Nash Guitars, Joe Satriani, Dave Weiner, Tony Macalpine, Alex Skolnick, Dream Theater, Ian Anderson, Tim Mills etc. 

Fields of interest: Once had a humble custom shop but now only medium to advanced level electric guitar modifications at home, electric guitar pickup modifications and sometimes even winding them, trying to play guitars never done before and, naturally, achieving more and more guitars.

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