Sheptone Tribute Humbucker Pickup Set
By Phil O'Keefe |
A tribute to a legend
Humbucking pickups. We take them for granted now, but before they first started appearing in guitars in the mid to late 1950s, guitarists had no choice but to deal with the hum and noise issues that come along with single coil pickups. While there is some debate over who was first to release a humbucking guitar pickup commercially, there’s no doubt that the famous “P.A.F.” was one of, if not the first humbucking pickup widely available to the public. Designed by Seth Lover for Gibson (and it should be mentioned here that Harmony Central is a Gibson brand), it has become the pickup design that defines what a great humbucking pickup is in the minds of many guitarists. Today, a pair of vintage examples can command a five-figure price tag, so it’s no wonder that a variety of modern pickup manufacturers have released their own products that take their inspiration from the legendary originals. This review takes a closer look at one example - the Sheptone Tribute humbuckers.
What You Need To Know
- Sheptone winds pickups in a variety of formats, with a wide range of options available. Whether you are looking for traditional humbuckers, more modern high-gain humbuckers, single coils - Sheptone has something for you.
- For this review, I was sent a pair of their original Tribute pickups. For testing, they were installed into a 1996 limited edition Epiphone Les Paul that has otherwise remained in its stock configuration since it was originally purchased.
- The Sheptone Tribute pickups are modeled after the 1957-1961 long magnet Gibson “Patent Applied For” (P.A.F.) pickups that are a big part of the tonal magic of vintage Les Paul guitars, and that remain highly prized by players and collectors.
- Sheptone has analyzed hundreds of pickups to determine what makes them sound the way they do, and uses their own winding process and carefully selected materials that are designed to reproduce the sound of those classic vintage pickups.
- The pickups arrived in a standard USPS Priority Mail shipping box, and were individually wrapped in bubble wrap. There’s no fancy packaging here… but since you’re only going to throw it in the trash anyway, I’m okay with this more environmentally responsible approach to packaging.
- The pickups are wrapped using 42 AWG plain enamel wire, which is what you’ll find in vintage PAF pickups. Yes, they’re scatter-wound.
- Rough finished, degaussed AlNiCo V magnets are used in the Tribute pickups. Various different types of AlNiCo magnets were used in the vintage originals depending on what was available, including AlNiCo V.
- For fans of Peter Green, the pickups can be ordered with one magnet in the set reversed for that classic “out of phase” sound.
- The review pickups have two-conductor wire and use a braided shield, but the Sheptone Tributes can be ordered with four-conductor wiring for use in guitars that are equipped with coil tap switches, or for those who want to explore alternate series / parallel wiring configurations.
- The Sheptone Tribute pickups also come with a set of mounting screws and springs.
- The bottom of each pickup is marked with a permanent marker to indicate the position in the guitar it was intended for - the TB stands for “Tribute - Bridge”, while the pickup marked TN is intended to be installed in the neck position. They also carry a stamped “Sheptone” moniker.
- DC resistance for the two review pickups measured 8.24K (bridge) and 7.8K (neck), but this can vary slightly from set to set - the Sheptone Tributes are wound based on the number of turns of wire, and not based on DC resistance measurements.
- Pole spacing is the same as on the pickups the Tributes are based on - it’s 49.2mm in total, from the center of the low E to high E pole pieces.
- The baseplate mounting “feet” or "legs" of the Tributes are the long style, which fit into my guitar just fine and with no modifications, but the short style is also available as an option if you need it.
- While the Tribute pickups under review came with shiny nickel covers installed, you can also order them without the covers, or with gold covers or even aged nickel covers. You can also specify your choice of black bobbins for both coils, or “zebra” (one black, one cream) or reverse zebra coil combinations.
- Speaking of bobbins, the Sheptone Tribute pickups use butyrate bobbins that are molded using original PAF bobbin dimensions, which differ from the bobbins many other companies use. A minor difference, but it’s careful attention to details like this that Sheptone believes makes all the difference in the overall sound of the pickups.
- Wax potting is not usually done on the Sheptone Tribute humbucking pickups (but is available as an option for a slight extra charge), but even when running them into a variety of different dimed tube amps from Marshall, Supro, Vox and Fender, and also in combination with various maxed-out dirt pedals, microphonic squeal was never an issue, while obtaining loads of controllable feedback was a breeze. This put a big grin on my face, and when you try it, you’ll be smiling too.
- Even when running with loads of gain and distortion, the tone remains clear and notes are well defined, even when playing complex chords.
- Sheptone pickups are covered against manufacturing defects by a one year replacement warranty.
- If you’re looking for super-hot pickups, then these are not for you; however, Sheptone does offer other pickups, including models with much higher output. And that’s one of the limitations of pickup swaps - you really have to try a few in order to learn what you like. No single pickup is right for everything, or for every player. Sound clips are available on the Sheptone Tribute product page (see link below) to give you a better idea of what they sound like, which can definitely help you narrow things down to what might work best for you.
- There’s no Patent Applied For sticker on the bottom, which may turn off vintage purists, but a replica sticker is available as an extra-cost option.
- Depending on their current workload, there may be a slight waiting period between when you order and when your pickups are wound and shipped to you; buying from a dealer’s stock can eliminate this, but also will limit your option selections to whatever they happen to have in stock.
It’s obvious that a lot of thought and care went into the manufacture of these pickups. The build quality is first-rate. More importantly, I really like the sound of the Sheptone Tribute pickups. They’re a significant improvement over the stock humbuckers that came installed in my 1996 Epiphone Les Paul. They’re beefier, warmer and fuller sounding, without the sometimes too shrill sounding high frequencies of the stock pickups. That’s not to say that they lack high frequencies or that they are muddy sounding - rather, they have just the right amount of shimmer and sparkle, are rich in harmonics, and the combination results in a very balanced humbucker sound. Sustain is also noticeably improved compared to the stock pickups.
With a wide range of user-selectable options, Sheptone pickups can be made to suit your own individual preferences in terms of wiring, baseplate feet length, bobbin colors, and covers.
While these are not original P.A.F. pickups, you won’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a set of them either, and they are comparable to other premium aftermarket pickups in both sound and build quality. If you’re looking for a reasonably affordable set of humbuckers that will give your guitar a more vintage type sound, the Sheptone Tribute pickups are well worth considering. -HC-
Want to discuss the Sheptone Tribute pickups or have questions or comments about this review? Then head over to this thread in the Electric Guitar forum right here on Harmony Central and join the discussion!
Sheptone Tribute Humbucker pickups ($249.00 - $279.00 "street" for a set of two pickups - some options will increase the price somewhat)
Sheptone product web page https://www.sheptone.com/collections/humbuckers/products/sheptone-humbuckers-tribute-set
You can purchase the Sheptone Tribute Humbuckers from:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.